Mammoth Cave, Lincoln Birthplace and Boyhood Home

After we told the Smokies goodbye, we headed for Knoxville, with a stop at the RV Wash on the way (manual, this time).


We drove up to Knoxville, found a lovely Walmart to park in for the night, a McDonald’s for Chad to work in for a couple hours, and the kids and I headed for Mast General Store. My sister gave me a Mast gift card for my birthday and Mom and Dad wanted me to buy myself a birthday present there, so shopping we went! Fun, Fun!


After a trip to Costco and a quiet night at Walmart, we were off to Kentucky. We stayed just outside Mammoth Cave National Park, near Cave City, in the Singing Hills Campground.



We had a view of a nice little pond out of our windows, and there was a spoooooky old barn!


Sweet Pea and I took the Historical Tour of the cave. It was FABULOUS! It was a two-hour, ranger led tour. This is the longest cave in the world, with 400+ miles of passageways currently explored. I asked one ranger if there is an idea of how many more miles there are. His reply: “Countless. We might not ever find the end.” Makes you wonder what’s under your feet?!


Entrance to the cave. We experienced something really interesting. See the thin line of mist the arrows are pointing to? That was just a little flat cloud, hanging out over the entrance to the cave (down beyond the fence to the right). If we held our arms straight out in the plane of this mist, above it was warm and below it was cool, within a couple inches of movement.




On the tour, we saw salt-peter mines from the War of 1812—it was mined for use in gunpowder. I guess when we declared war on the British we forgot they were supplying our gunpowder, and had to find a new way to provide it to the troops. The cave’s constant temperature and humidity and lack of wind and weather preserves the wood and other artifacts from so long ago. Of course, slaves were the primary source of labor, and they would have to work in these dark caves 12+ hours/day. After the cave became a tourist attraction, slaves were used as tour guides. One in particular, Stephen Bishop, became a guide in 1838 and was able to meet visitors from all over the country and the world. In the process, he became quite educated, learning to read and write and even learning some of several foreign languages along the way. He mapped over 20 miles of the cave and spent as much time as he could down there. His owner wrote in his will that seven years after his death, Bishop would be freed. When he was freed, what did Bishop do? Continued leading tours in Mammoth Cave. Sadly, he only lived one year after seeing freedom.

Thousands of years earlier, Native Americans mined the cave for gypsum. No one is certain what it was used for, but two thousand years ago, mining apparently came to an abrupt end.


The portion of the cave we went through had tiny passageways, about 12-16” wide for your feet, knees and hips, some requiring visitors to bend over at the waist to duck through, many that required ducking down to protect our heads.


And then there were HUGE rooms with domed ceilings.


The picture below shows the entrance and exit to the cave. When we were finished with the tour and waiting to exit along this metal railing down a ways inside the cave, the tour line came to a stop. There was a major rainstorm happening outside, and the ranger was very urgently and loudly telling us all to choose to “make a run for it” and exit, or get back inside the cave, but to GET AWAY from the metal railing, because lightning could travel right down the railing. I’m thinking a CAVE isn’t exactly where I want to be with the amount of rain that was falling and had to go SOMEWHERE! Somewhere low! So Sweet Pea and I made a run for it, up all those steps and then a very steep hill back to the visitor center. We were drenched through and through when we got inside, and praying the whole way for protection from the lightning. At least the rain was warm—in Colorado we would have been popsicles by the time we got inside. Thankful for God’s protection!


Went to a great ranger program on how to identify trees, kids earned another ranger badge!


On the way from Mammoth Cave to the Cincinnati area (Creation Museum!!) we stopped at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace and Boyhood Home. This memorial was built in 1909, Lincoln’s 100th birthday, and has 56 steps, one for each year of his life. Inside is a real log cabin from the era of his birth, although it isn’t the actual log cabin of his family.



We enjoy studying Lincoln, especially Sweet Pea, who did a research report and presentation and even dressed up like and portrayed him two years ago for a Classical Conversations class.


His parents and their family Bible, probably the first written words Lincoln saw. Below, the Sinking Spring the Lincoln family used, and where Abraham’s first drink of water would have come from.


At the Boyhood Home, near Hodgenville, KY, we got to wade in Knob Creek, where Lincoln played, and one day almost drowned and was rescued by a friend. Right now there are only a couple inches of water there, but the ranger said the creek can really get deep and flow briskly after rain.


Another badge for the hat, and passport stamps!

Creation Museum, here we come!


Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Wow—looking back, we packed a lot into one month! And now we are all a little tired, just in time for our school lessons to start back up!! Here’s a little recap:

Exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An amazing place, full of history, abundant plant and wildlife (I saw 6 bears, many deer (and 1 fawn!), salamanders, butterflies everywhere, plants and trees I hadn’t seen before), waterfalls, hiking trails, bluegrass music, and so many charming old buildings:



A ranger teaching Sweet Pea how to clog before his presentation on The Names of the Smoky Mountains.


Another Ranger Program: Searching for Salamanders


Found one! We let him go again, right where we found him, after we tried to identify him. We were told that the total weight of all the salamanders in the park outweighs the total weight of all the bears in the park (and there are about 1600 bears; 2 per square mile)!


I never knew you could hold millipedes! Or how tickly they are! If he didn’t live in a National Park, he surely would have made a lovely motorhome pet. But being the good rangers we are, we put him back, too.



We learned that the tradition of building their structures on blocks at the corners stemmed from the German heritage of many of the settlers and the custom of assessing taxes based on how much of the building touched the ground. True? Who knows, but if so, it was a pretty clever way of minimizing those taxes!





What quickly became one of my favorite places, Cade’s Cove, has an 11-mile, one-lane loop going through it that is closed to vehicular traffic until 10am on Wednesday and Saturday. Cyclists galore take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and we did too, twice, the week we were there! It’s a very fun route, with winding, curvy hills walled in with thick forest, occasional open vistas where settlers farmed before this was a national park, and opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and peacefulness at one’s own pace. Imagine a cool morning mist, crickets and cicadas chirruping, no wind, fresh air, and a quiet stillness, except for the sounds of your sweet family or the occasional other bike. Aaaahhh….


The second day’s ride we got rained on and ended up absolutely DRENCHED! But it’s a warm rain and turned out to be more refreshing than bothersome.




I thought this bicycle-wheel-shaped spider web was rather creative and fitting! Thanks, Spider!


Cade’s Cove is a charming little stop on this 11-mile loop, if you can get there! The one-way, one-lane road gets quite backed up with cars at times, and can take 2+ hours to get to the visitor’s center halfway around! But it’s worth the ride. Spotting bears and other wildlife along the way is common, and once you get there, you’re rewarded with a tiny 1820s town, complete with a working mill, a house that used to be the post office and general store (run by a woman who never married but raised her brother’s children, ran the post office, the store, turned part of her home into a boarding house, grew her own food, sewed her own clothes, and she probably kept her blog updated, too), blacksmith shop, sorghum press, barns, and a log cabin that is now the visitor’s center.



This working grist mill and waterwheel were amazing to see and we were surprised to find the miller down underneath and inside, greasing the gears to get them ready for the day’s grinding. I asked how often the millstone needed to be replaced and the miller replied, “This one’s been in there for 145 years, so I hope I’m not the one who has to replace it!” He said they weigh about 1200 pounds.



We learned of a couple expressions that are related to mills: “Wait your turn” and “Keep your nose to the grindstone”. When area farmers would bring their grain into town to be milled, they would stay in a warming hut near the mill and wait while other farmers had their grain “turned”, thus “wait your turn”. “Keep your nose to the grindstone” has to do with the miller needing to diligently smell the grain he was grinding in order to tell whether the friction of the grinding was heating the grain too much, leaving the flour with a poor taste.



Of course, what would a trip to a National Park be without as many ranger programs as we can possibly get to, and  ***Ranger Badges***!!?



I even earned my “Not-So-Junior” Ranger Badge!



Our Cade’s Cove bear.


One of our last days in the Smokies, Sweet Pea and I visited Clingman’s Dome (6643 ft), right on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. This is the highest spot not only in the Smokies, but in Tennessee AND along the Appalachian Trail, and nearly rivals the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft), which is in North Carolina. The story goes that an argument broke out between explorers Clingman and Mitchell in the 1800s about which mountain was higher, so Mitchell agreed to take Clingman’s men along to verify his measurements. When Mitchell tragically fell to his death on the journey, Clingman chose to still honor his name and allow the highest mountain to be named after his adversary.




We loved these turtlehead flowers—can you see the turtle? Took a very short side-hike on the Appalachian Trail, just to say we’ve been there!


A wild forget-me-not perhaps?


After a quite steep 1/2 mile hike, this ramped, 1950s stone structure gets you to the top, where the view is uh, fog, on most days, apparently.


I absolutely adored the Smokies and could have stayed much longer.


Love, love, love these three!


Is it us?? We could totally live in a house this size after living in the motorhome—it would feel huge!


Sweet Pea’s Newsletter!

Just a short note that Sweet Pea has a new issue of her newsletter ready to go! You are likely already on her distro list and have received one—check your email! If not, and you’d like to receive it, just email me and we’ll get one out to you asap!

By the way, this is all her—she’s done all the planning, writing, graphics, and editing. I helped format the crossword and picked up a couple typos, and Chad has helped her learn the software, but we want to make sure she gets all the credit for this creative wrap-up of our adventure!


If you want to find me when we’ve retired…

(if we ever do, and if we’re retiring in Rocky), look here: Winking smile


Cove Mountain Campground in Wears Valley, Tennessee.

I know, it’s not Hawaii or Fiji or very glamorous at all, but it’s near the mountains, it’s green, quiet, peaceful, misty, close enough to civilization, yet out in the country, and there’s plenty of wildlife and plants to keep this former biologist interested. (And it has great internet, to keep Chad happy—ha! Oh yeah, I forgot, he’s supposed to be retired in this scenario….)


I’m feeling short on words and long on pictures today, so I’ll just post some pics, mostly from my early morning walks around the campground (so with my iPhone…not great quality, but I hope you’ll enjoy them!). We were here for 10 days from late July into August.






Who is this strange person taking pictures of us so early in the morning?


Which one do you like better? The one above or below? I couldn’t decide so I’ll post them both.






The tortoise and the hare(s) live here!


I hope you are enjoying a peaceful day wherever you are!


Rescuing Our Kids


Ken Ham—Final Session of 2013 Answers in Genesis Mega Conference


There were so many wonderful speakers at the conference, but Ken’s final session was excellent. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a way to adequately summarize, but I think the best thing would be to let him speak for himself! It’s about an hour long, but please watch if you can. These are important words to parents specifically, but to anyone who cares about where our society is heading.

If you would like an eye-opener into where our society IS heading (or has already arrived), here is his opening session:

Ken Ham—Opening Session 2013 AIG Mega Conference

It would have been good if he could have somehow combined the two talks, I think, because after the first one we were left a bit questioning what to do…how to love those around us without being judgmental and still do what is right, but he wrapped it up well at the end of the week (why I think it’s better to watch the one at top first).

I know not everyone agrees with all of his points, but I feel like he has an accurate perspective on many issues and he is able to back his statements up with the Bible.

I’ll be blogging more about our other favorite speakers soon.

Would love to hear what you think—is he on-target or off-base? Please leave your comments here or email me.



I love having people over to our home in Colorado and I haven’t had the opportunity to host too many visitors in Rocky, so I was thrilled when our friends from Colorado Springs popped in for a couple of days with their adorable little one!


We hiked with them on the trail to Grotto Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains.



It was a beautiful trail with plenty of rocks and tree roots to maneuver.


Getting behind the falls.




Someone said something about that guy in the background being on Survivor, but I don’t think that’s very likely. Maybe I should have asked him for his autograph!


We found out later that there are usually lots of salamanders around here—we didn’t see any.


Sweet friends.


I don’t know much about photography (would love to learn more someday!) and probably took this one all wrong, but I like the way it looks like the falls are pouring light into the water at the bottom.


The “I’m falling off the rocks!” pose…always a good one.


Happy hikers!


Thanks for coming to visit us, friends!

I’ll have lots more to write about the Smokies—loved them!!


There ARE Answers in Genesis!


We stayed in Sevierville, TN, at the River Plantation Campground while we attended the Answers in Genesis Mega-Conference. We’ve become growing fans of AIG as we’ve delved into more of their materials and teaching and it’s really challenged and changed our faith. Last year we attended their Family Conference in Branson, MO and were excited to see what we would learn this year!


The kids attended a VBS all week while the adults were in the main sessions. They had a really great time, and Sweet Pea made a good friend there.

One of the main messages AIG tries to promote is that worldview is so important, and to a Christian, the Gospel is everything! The scientific evidence all around us, what we see in nature, how we view others, all depends on the “glasses” (our worldview) we see life through. For a Christian, that should be the Bible. Everyone HAS a worldview of some sort, we all wear glasses–whether it’s humanism, atheism, me-ism, some other ism, or something without a name–and what that worldview is will determine how everything around us is interpreted.


This was a walking, chomping, tail-swinging velociraptor on a leash!! SSSCCCCAARRRYY!!! (Don’t look too closely or you might see an extra pair of human-looking legs underneath Smile)

Why does AIG talk so much about dinosaurs (that’s not the only thing they talk about by far…)? Well, I don’t know what they would say, but I think it’s because dinosaurs are cool!! And, if you understand how all the scientific evidence surrounding dinosaurs, fossils, and natural selection actually point to a CREATOR, it can change your ability to trust the Bible as infallible and as a steady place to base your faith upon. Short version: if we can believe the Bible is accurate in its first 11 verses about how our world (and we!) were created, we can trust our God about everything else He says in His Word.

As I grew up attending church, and also had a strong interest in animals and science, I never knew whether to go along with all that I learned about dinosaurs, the fossil record, etc. in public school, because

the message I got in science class: “clearly, all the evidence PROVES evolution, therefore there is no creator and God doesn’t exist. Or if he does, he is uninvolved with life on earth” and “any educated person can’t deny the earth is millions (billions?—it never seemed to be the same) of years old, therefore the Bible is wrong”


the message I got in Sunday school or church (if it was ever discussed at all, and it usually wasn’t): “clearly the Bible teaches creation, therefore all natural selection doesn’t occur and dinosaurs never existed, the fossil record is a lie”

What an amazing sense of freedom to know that science and the Bible DO support each other!! I don’t have to choose either of these extremes. I am free to wholeheartedly believe what is written in Genesis and I don’t have to deny the scientific evidence to do it!

(I’ll be posting more about different issues brought up at the conference and what I’ve learned, but I don’t want this post to get too long. For now, I’ll just say I’ve learned some FASCINATING things, God is an amazing Creator, and believing that has changed my life!)


The last day of the conference, all the kids got up front and sang a couple of the songs they had learned. Spunky Monkey was very unsure of doing this, so I had to laugh that he ended up front & center! (Steve Ham, Ken Ham’s brother is at the mic and Buddy Davis is on guitar on the right.) Looks like he got over his nervousness.


This is only about half of the kids who were there—Sweet Pea was too far in back and to the right of this picture for me to get a good picture of her.

Thursday after the main part of the conference ended, AIG had a group attend Dixie Stampede. Sevierville is Dolly Parton’s hometown and there is Dolly stuff everywhere, including DollyWorld. We skipped that one. The kids visited some of the performers after the show.


It was a fun show—beautiful horses, costumes, racing pigs and ostriches, fireworks, patriotism, and gobs of food! And no silverware to eat it with–Sweet Pea was very put out by that (I kind of was, too). And, take it from me, if you have the slightest horse allergy, dining in an enclosed space with LOTS of them running around for an hour and a half will certainly trigger said allergies!! I sniffled and sneezed for the next week. Sad smile


Georgia on My Mind

After leaving Charleston, we headed to Georgia. But first, a couple stops along the way.

Back in Asheville, when leaving Mama Gertie’s, our tire-pressure monitoring system let us know we had a leak in one of the tires on the motorhome. Chad was able to fill the tire and we made it along like that okay, but knew we needed to get the valve stem replaced. So our first stop was at a Wingfoot Tire Shop at a Flying J truck stop along the interstate.


Based on the price of motorhome tires (ouch—just bought six of them before we left home) we were nervous about what this would cost us. We were pleasantly surprised and amazed—$26 and less than an hour of our time! Now if we can keep the tire pressure monitor valves on the Mazda from being stolen again (replaced them after they were stolen off all four tires somewhere in Asheville) we hope to be in good shape with our tires for a while!

Next stop—washing off all of the sea salt residue from our time at the beach and near the coast in Charleston:


Waiting in line with the big rigs at the Blue Beacon Truck Wash.


We’d never seen a truck wash before! They wash by hand—about six guys did a very thorough job. Rocky was squeaky clean after this!


And of course, an hour later, by the time we reached Atlanta:


Ah well. At least we had the salt off.

We stayed at the Stone Mountain Campground outside of Atlanta in, well, Stone Mountain, GA.


It was pouring rain when we got there, in the dark, along with lightning and thunder (which we hadn’t had with the rains out east until this point), and we couldn’t get leveled in the back-in spot we were assigned to. We tried over and over, with the automatic levelers, manual leveling with me using a little level on the floor of Rocky while Chad adjusted the jacks, he tried pulling out and back in several times; nothing worked. We finally gave up and found a pull-in site nearby. We hadn’t had a pull-in site before, but this one was a much larger site, more private and super easy to level. So it worked out for the best!

The next day was beautifully sunny so we headed for the Stone Mountain Theme Park. We spent all morning on the Sky Hike ropes course. So fun and at times, scary! The kids were awesome and very brave. So were we, I might add. (You’ll have to look closely to find them in these photos.)


Spunky Monkey is appropriately named—he just basically zoomed over most of the elements.



This carving in the 825 foot high granite monolith near Atlanta was initiated as a tribute to the Confederacy. It features Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis and is larger overall than Mt. Rushmore—Robert E. Lee’s head (in the middle) is 12 feet tall! At one point in the carving process a dinner party with 12 guests was held on his shoulder! From the ground it is difficult to get a feel for the true size of the sculpture. Gutzon Borglum, a name you’ve heard if you’ve visited Rushmore, began the project and initially planned it to have a whole Confederate army on horseback following the generals. That never materialized, because Borglum couldn’t get along with the project planners and walked off the job. His work was blasted off the mountain and started over by Augustus Lukeman, who must have been easier to get along with—at least his work is there to stay.


We took a train ride around the base of Stone Mountain.


Here’s the backside. (Can a circle have a backside? I guess I should say this is the side away from the theme park.)



Another HOT, HOT day…P7188594


The kids and I rode the sky tram to the top of the big rock.


How is it she’s taller than me when she sits on my lap??!!


He really needs to learn to relax….


Waiting for the laser show to start.


The sculpture was the backdrop for the laser show—the graphics were pretty impressive. At one point, they made it look like the sculpture was opening up and we all got a peek at what was inside the mountain—huge crystals one moment, then a bustling city with aircraft the next. A tribute to the South, including the Rocket Center we visited in Huntsville was fun.


The patriotic portion and tribute to our troops had me tearing up, but that part always gets me anyway.


The end-of-show fireworks were enhanced with the “boom” of the fireworks echoing off the rock.


The next day, Chad and the kids went back for more part of the day, while I stayed around Rocky getting caught up on a few things and cleaning. They did more Sky-Hiking, mini-golf, butterfly pavilion and Geyser Tower. Fun! But all were worn out after. Time for a little down-time. We had planned on visiting Louie Giglio’s Passion City Church in Atlanta, where Chris Tomlin leads worship, but Sweet Pea wasn’t feeling well on Sunday, so we moved on up to Sevierville, TN.

Next stop—the Answers in Genesis Mega-Conference!


Book Worth Reading

Visiting the Magnolia Plantation (see this post) has me very intrigued with the slave culture of the South. While we were there, I asked the tour guide what kept the slaves from escaping. She said it was the family culture. Occasionally, one of the girls would be sent away if a man on the plantation took an “unnatural interest” (the term she used) in her, but the family knew they would likely never see her again if they did send her away, so they were very reluctant to do so. The different families lived together, cooked together, helped each other raise their children, tended house together and of course, sang and worshipped together.  I didn’t have enough time on the tour to chat with the guide about all she had learned about this particular plantation’s slaves, but she did recommend this book for a firsthand account of slavery.

Product Details

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, by Harriet Jacobs


It was free on Kindle and very affordable in paperback. I highly recommend it. My kids will be reading this as part of their history education (not quite yet, though, as there are some parts they aren’t quite ready for).

Within the first few paragraphs, I was struck with the quality of this woman’s writing—both her vocabulary and her style. And by the end I was completely captured by her strength, faith, determination and love for her family and God. Quite an amazing story–heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. Read it if you have the chance.


Magnolia Plantation- Part 1

When I think of Charleston, I think of plantations. Chad was working, Spunky Monkey thought hanging out at Rocky (even with Chad working) would be more fun than visiting a plantation, so Sweet Pea and I had a day together, visiting Magnolia Plantation


The entrance to the plantation:


Sweet Pea took this while I was waiting in the amazingly hot, SLOW line to buy tickets…



The main house. This is actually the third house that has been on the property. The first burned down after a lightning strike, the second was burned down by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The faithful head slave, after being freed, walked for five days to find his former master who had fled the war to the north. He told him what had happened and that he needed to return right away to claim his property. The owner did, and quickly moved a hunting shack from elsewhere on the property onto the foundation for this house. It didn’t fit, but apparently satisfied the requirements to claim the land. It was the left portion of the house below. The rest was added on later, to fit the original foundation and expand the home.



A lovely porch view, I’d say! As lovely as the surrounding gardens, the oldest (since 1870!) public gardens in the country. The variety of scenery, from duckweed-covered ponds to meadows for grazing ponies, to manicured flowers, bridges and statues, was splendid. We spent hours wandering and talking (and sweating—it was so HOT and HUMID!!!).




Monk’s knees!



We really liked the “Zoo & Nature Center”.


The goat looks pretty impressed…


Then it was off to a Swamp Ride in a pontoon boat. In addition to hearing interesting facts (& some tales?) about the area, we saw this guy…


He was 12 feet or so from the boat, and the tour guide estimated he was about 8-10 feet long, based on the distance between his eyes and the end of his snout. He just watched us go by…wonder what he was thinking….


The swamp we floated through used to be a rice field. The rice was irrigated with the water from the adjacent Ashley River (named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and chief Lord Proprietor of the Carolina Colony) that turns brackish when the tide rises in the nearby Charleston Harbor. In order to know when to turn off the water so the rice didn’t get all the saltwater, a slave would stand at the levy and taste the water with a spoon. As soon as he tasted salt, the water was turned off.


An Anhinga drying its wings on a gator ramp.