10-22-09 Joe Wheeler State Park, AL

[Rick] We went from Florence AL Marina to Joe Wheeler State Park and Marina near Rogersville AL. The distance is only about 23 miles, but we had to pass through Wilson and Wheeler locks. You will recall that Wilson Lock has a lift of 95 feet and Wheeler is 45 feet. Many of our friends are in this area since we are to attend the AGLCA Rendezvous that begins on Sunday and goes through Wednesday. We have about 50 boats and 225 people registered for the event. We drove to this event in 2007.

The rendezvous is a series of sessions about parts of the upcoming loop areas that we will be visiting. Of particular interest are the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (aka Tenn-Tom), crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the west coast of Florida, the Florida Keys, and back up the east coast. This is all done by volunteers and sponsored by marinas and boating firms. Our $250 per person entry fee also helps. The fee includes the sessions, lunch and dinner each day and a grand party on Wednesday night. There is, of course, a ship’s store where you can find all sorts of charts, books, clothes, etc.

The Joe Wheeler Park is a state park, one of 5 state parks that happens to be built on some very expensive real estate. It includes a lodge with very large rooms, rental cabins; a campground, golf course, tennis courts, and a 500 slip marina, 300 of the slips are covered. It is a beautiful place to vacation and visit. It is named for a famous Confederate General, Joe Wheeler. After the “War of Northern Aggression”, he became a Major General in the US Army and later served in the Spanish-American War. He is a true hero in Alabama.

Since our days will be filled with sessions and meetings, there will be no blog until at least November 2, 2009. We will just be too busy and it is hard to communicate the information in the sessions. You have to be there…..

10-21-09 Florence AL – Indian Museum and Mound

[Rick] Today we rode our bikes to the Florence Indian Museum and Native Mound. You will recall that this area has a long and deep tradition with the Indians. The Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokee all had settlements here at one time or another. The area is filled with burial sites and archeological digs regarding the tribes. The first tribes here came over on the land bridge from Russia, through Canada, and into the various parts of North and South America. There is evidence of Indian activity as far back as 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age.
Upon arriving at the Museum, the mound is very overwhelming. The mound measures forty-three feet high with a base of 310 by 230 feet. It is huge. This is a ceremonial, not a burial, mound and at one time the chief may have had a lodge on the top. It was certainly used for medicine purposes as many artifacts were found on the top, including a mortar and pestle and various types of pottery. Now long gone, the mound was once surrounded by a wall, fifteen feet tall and 12 feet wide. This helped in times of river flooding for protection of the mound.
In addition to the tribes living here, this was a depot for rounding up and holding Indians to begin the Trail of Tears. Every year in September, a motorcycle ride retracing part of the Trail of Tears is held. The trail comes through Tuscumbia and a huge rally and celebration is held at Spring Park, which we visited a couple of days ago. We are told that as many as 30,000 motorcycles are in the ride and the parade through town takes about 4 hours.

I have included a picture of a letter from Chief Seattle to President Pierce regarding the US Government taking the Indian lands. It is quite poignant how this “savage” is so eloquent and in tune with nature.

The Museum is just a short walk to the Florence City Park, which overlooks the Tennessee River.
Top of the Mound.......

10-20-09 Coon Dog Cemetery

Many a time, solemn men in black coats and hip boots, carbide lamps on their heads, stood beside fresh dug holes in this thick wilderness to bury their faithful coon dogs. Almost 200 head-stones – or sheet metal with scratched inscriptions – memorialize best friends like Bean Blossom, Night Ranger, Patches, Preacher, and Straight Talk’n Tex. Whether it’s a cold nose, hot nose, loose mouth, squallin’, grand nite champion, or pressure tree dog, the epitaphs say it all: “He was a joy to hunt with…He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had…”.
Only blue-blood coon dogs lie in rest here. “We have stipulations on this thing,” says the caretaker of the Coon Dog Cemetery. “A dog can’t run no deer, possum – nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be a full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.” And, according to Key Underwood who started the whole thing in 1937 when he buried his buddy, Troop, you must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs if you think we could contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.

The description above of the Coon Dog Cemetery comes from a brochure about the sights and entertainment in Florence, AL and the surrounding area.

Betsy and I just had to visit the cemetery. It is located about 25 miles from the marina. Access is by highway, then an old backwood road, barely wide enough for two cars to pass. We are just going to let the pictures tell the story.

You will note the statue on the property showing two coon dogs treeing a coon. It is enclosed entirely in fencing, and razor wire on the top. This is due to vandalism on the original statue.

Some of the Tombstones:

Two resting places..(:-})

10-19-09 Tuscumbia, AL

[Rick] Today was a very easy day. We took the courtesy car to Tuscumbia, AL. You will recall that we have been to the area before, once about a year ago aboard the RiverBarge and then about two weeks ago as we went up the Tennessee River. Tuscumbia is the home of Helen Keller, WC Handy (the Father of the Blues) and contains the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in Alabama. This was also the first place to receive power from the TVA back in the mid-thirties.

But, today, let’s focus on the history of the area, a dark history indeed. This was one of the holding areas for the Indian tribes as they were forced to walk to Oklahoma on the now infamous “Trail of Tears”. Tuscumbia was kind to the Indians and helped them in any way possible. Spring Park contains several statues, plaques, etc to commemorate the event. Of particular interest is the statue of an Indian woman, stopping to grieve over the grave of a loved one. She carries a small baby, the symbol of hope and the future. Around her shoulders is a blanket given to her by a Tuscumbia resident. Her face reveals the tremendous stress on her and her people, yet also indicates the determination of her proud people. The Trail of Tears was a dark chapter in American history and Tuscumbia wants all Americans to never forget it.

The central theme of Spring Park is a manmade waterfall, 80 ft tall, 40 feet wide, and constructed from local stone. 3.3 million gallons of water pass over the fall each day. The city of Tuscumbia gets its drinking water from this fall.

Tomorrow, The National Coon Dog Cemetery. I cannot wait……

10-18-09 Florence AL. again

[Rick] After a hearty breakfast, including a $5.00 off coupon, with our friends from Falcor, Al and Gayle, and the harbor hosts, Jim and Sue Starke, we departed Bay Hill Marina for Florence AL. The sun had decided to appear and the temperature was warming up nicely. It was still brisk, however, since the overnight temp was in the low forties. When we left, Al climbed up on one of the barges that serves as a breakwater and waved goodbye to us. They are not going to the rendezvous, and leave next Friday to head for the Bahamas for the winter. So, there is a good chance that we will not see them again, especially since they reside in Canada, eh.

We had two locks to negotiate, both locking down. The first, Joe Wheeler Lock, was very quick and easy. We waited only about 5 minutes. The drop was 45 feet. So, the time to lock through was about 30 total minutes. We called the second lock, Wilson Lock, and were told that a tow was to arrive in 20 minutes, and it would take a total of 3 hours to get him through. We were 15 miles from the lock. We slowed down and just cruised very slowly to kill some time. We noted a small town with a marina on the RDB, Killen, and decided to go to the marina. It was up a creek about a mile. We docked, walked Beamer, ate some lunch, and walked around the marina. The marina closes from Labor Day until Memorial Day, so we had the place to ourselves. After a while, we restarted, rejoined the main channel and arrived at Wilson Lock. Just as we had been told, we got to lock through after a wait of 20 minutes, but at the exact time the lockmaster had told us earlier. Wilson Lock is a lift or drop of 93 feet. It took about 45 minutes to lock through, for a total of about an hour. Beamer helped with the locking chores.

We continued to Florence Harbor Marina in Florence AL. We had stayed here several weeks ago. We will stay here for 3-4 days before going to Wheeler for the rendezvous. Unfortunately, the onsite restaurant, where we ate just a few weeks ago, is now closed permanently. So, we and another looper couple used the courtesy car to go to an Italian Restaurant. It turns out the couple, Barbara and Marty Christ, looped last year with our friends Lorenzo and Delois Johnson of Shallotte. Lorenzo is the person that sold us his charts of the loop that we found so valuable. It is truly a small world. There are several loopers here, so it will be more challenging to use the courtesy car, but we will survive. The free wifi here is very strong, so, we will catch up on Survivor and other shows while here.

10-17-09 Bay Hill Marina and dinner w/friends

Betsy speaks – We spent the day at Bay Hill Marina near Athens, Alabama. Waking up this morning it was very cold outside, but nothing seems to stop the fishermen here. I looked out to see a bass boat right in the marina basin, with two guys bundled up on board fishing. Seeing these boats on the open water they seem like they are flying. Taking a closer look at this one right next to us I could see why they go so fast. This small boat has a 250 horse motor on the back! I asked the guy how fast it went and he said 81 MPH!

It was cold all day, so we just stayed on the boat and read and relaxed. This afternoon the marina was setting up for a wedding reception on one of the several barges that make up the perimeter of this marina. Since it is so cold, they had to put up plastic all the way around, as well as several huge heaters. Tonight as I write this the party is still going strong at 11:30 and we are docked right next to it. Here’s a picture of the barge, as they were putting up the decorations on the inside which you really can’t see very well.

Tonight we had a real treat. Many towns have “marina hosts” that are members of the AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Assoc). These hosts may be past or future loopers or just people that dream of doing it. They offer their cars, local knowledge, just anything you might need as you pass through their town. Rick and I may be “hosts” for loopers that come through our area once we arrive home. As soon as we arrived here yesterday we were introduced to Jim and Sue Starke who completed the loop several years ago. Originally from Ohio, they fell in love with this area as they looped through and eventually purchased a small patio home here. While looping they met our friends Gayle and Al on “Falcor” who are presently on their 3rd time around. So when we pulled in yesterday they were visiting with “Falcor” and immediately came over and introduced themselves to us and offered to help us in any way possible while we are here. We all got together on “Falcor” last night for docktails and Sue and Jim invited us along with Gayle and Al to come to their house for dinner tonight. It was the first time Rick and I have been in a real home since we left ours on May 18th. Sue and Jim fixed a wonderful dinner of fried fish.

Next week Sue and Jim plan to get on their boat and travel with Gayle and Al on down to Florida. They live on their boat about 8 months out of the year and spend about 4 months in the home they bought here. It was a fun evening and wonderful to have a home cooked meal after all these months!

Tomorrow morning we’re all getting together for breakfast here at the marina, and then Rick and I will head back to Florence for a few days.

10-16-09 Bay Hill Marina, Athens, AL

[Rick] We finally decided to leave Scottsboro, AL and the Goose Pond Colony Marina. We really enjoyed our 10 nights there but we thought it time to move on. The AGLCA rendezvous begins on Oct 25 at a state park about 100 miles from Scottsboro. Also, we wanted to return to Florence, AL and do some more things at that town. While there, we will go to the National Coon Dog Cemetery and take the guided tour.

We left Goose Pond at 0930 heading down river. We planned to go to Bay Hill Marina in Athens AL and spend two nights before going down to Florence Marina. Most of our travels on the Tennessee River have been on beautiful days, but today was less than ideal. It was cold and windy. We started out in a river so although the wind was in our face, it was not too bad. Shortly after locking down at the Guntersville Lock and Dam another looper that was a couple of hours ahead of us called and told us that in Decatur, where the river widens to the lake, the waves were 3-4 feet. We couldn’t imagine this area having waves that high, but we did consider our options as to where we could pull over if we had to. We pressed forward, knowing our boat probably handled this choppy water better than theirs. When we got to Decatur, the wind was up, but we never saw waves more than 1-2 feet...choppy, but not bad for our boat. We pulled over, had lunch, and made sure that all was secured in the boat just in case things got rougher, and proceeded the twenty miles to Bay Hill Marina.

The entrance to Bay Hill is between some barges, painted blue. The old barges made excellent breakwaters. Upon docking, we are in a covered slip, free Wi-Fi and the price for loopers is $.50 per foot. The showers are a hike, but at least they have showers. We visited with our friends on Falcor, Gayle and Al, for docktails.


Docked just down from us is a 105 foot mega yacht named Bullish that we hopscotched with all afternoon. So big, it blocks out what little sun there was today..


We will stay here until Sunday and go to Florence AL. It is expected to be 36 degrees tomorrow night. All is going very well, and we are dry and warm. Later…….

10-15-09 Goose Pond to back to Guntersville, AL

Betsy speaks…OK, we know we haven’t written in a few days, but there was not much to tell. We did make a few trips to Wal-Mart using the marina’s courtesy car. Then the car seemed to be on its last leg when it had a pancake flat tire one morning, and as soon as the marina got that fixed there developed an antifreeze leak so the engine was overheating.

We did stay at Goose Pond longer than any place so far…10 nights total. We were just laid back and relaxing at one of our favorite locations on this entire trip. Goose Pond Colony Marina near Scottsboro, Alabama was so relaxing, beautiful, friendly…there just aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. If I were ever going to leave North Carolina, this general area would be my new home!

We did finally get a flu shot yesterday at the local health department. We’ve put up with rain for several days, sometimes downpours, other times just drizzle. There was a break in the clouds today, so since there was no longer a courtesy car available we decided it was time to move on! So we drove the 22 miles back to Guntersville and are tied up at the free town dock.
On the way, we passed what looked like a restaurant being pushed by a barge.

We also took the time to pull into the docks at Lake Guntersville State Park. You will recall that we went to the lodge there a couple of weeks ago when we were here, but we had not yet stopped in at the marina there. We worked our way through the beginnings of a sailboat regatta (oops, we forgot to take pictures) and tied up at what appeared to be a day dock. We went to the nearby store to ask about availability of transient slips, as this place is not mentioned in any of the cruising guides. They do have transient slips with power and water, with bathrooms/showers nearby, for the rate of 75 cents per foot…very reasonable. But we were obligated to meet someone in town, so we didn’t stay there. We will surely stay there next time we are in this area.

We met looper friends Ann and Ralph on “Harmonie” at the town docks and went out to celebrate their anniversary with them. Now we’re back on the boat running the generator, as there is no power at this free dock. Tonight it is supposed to get into the high 30s, but our boat is tight and cozy so we’ll be warm enough. We can run the heat pump using the generator, or we have a small space heater that will take the chill off in the morning. Tomorrow we will head downstream again.

10/08 - 10/11-09 Scottsboro, AL

10-08-09 A side trip to Guntersville
[Rick] Since we’ve been here in Scottsboro for several days, we decided to take the boat out for a bit. It was a perfect day, so we drove about 20 miles back to Guntersville, walked the town some more, and had lunch. When we first got there we were the only boat at the free public dock right downtown. By the time we returned, several looper boats had arrived and we visited briefly with old friends before heading back to Scottsboro.

10-09-09 Scottsboro and the tornado
We have been very lazy. Two looper boats that we’ve met previously arrived here today (Falcor and Carolyn Ann), as well as one that we hadn’t met before, although we do remember passing them on our way upriver and waving (Noah Genda). So we spent the day chatting with our friends here, reading, and piddling on the boat. Late in the afternoon, a huge black cloud covered the sky. It was moving very fast and for a while, we thought we would be bypassed. Then, we heard the tornado warning siren from the town of Scottsboro. A voice from the heaven indicated that a tornado had been spotted about 8 miles away and for everyone to seek a safe place. We, and the others from the other boats, abandoned the boats and went to the hallway of the marina office. The marina was closed, so about 15 of us huddled in the hallway leading to the bathrooms. Then, the rain, the thunder, and lightning began and lasted for about 10 minutes. The power went out, but fortunately one of the boaters had brought a couple of flashlights with him. Then it cleared up and was actually quite nice afterward. A siren indicated that the warning was over. We returned to the boat and watched the radar as the front moved eastward.

One weird thing happened as we waited in the hallway during the worst of the storm. We saw a man walking on the dock. He came to the hallway and asked which way to the boat ramp. We told him the ramp was a good distance away, and to get his friend still in the boat and come inside. He went back to the boat, a 16 ft Jon boat, got in and left with his friend toward the boat ramp. These are the people you read about in the newspaper after a storm.

10-10-09 Saturday
We did nothing except laundry.

10-11-09 Sunday
You will recall that the Presbyterian minister, Rev. Roy Hall, whose wife runs the wonderful restaurant at the marina, invited us to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Scottsboro. He told Betsy to be sure to bring a harmonica with her if we came and she said she usually had one in her pocket. Since we were still in town on Sunday, we did attend. The church was modest, with about 200 in attendance. Rev. Hall gave a very good sermon entitled “Here’s what to expect”. Every time we attend a church, there is something special happening, usually communion. Today, at Cumberland, they were installing Deacons and Elders. Rev. Roy asked Betsy before church if she would play something as the postlude. At the appropriate time, she played “My Country Tis of Thee”. She received a very nice round of applause. Then, one of the members presented her with the flowers that had graced the front of the chapel.

Our Canadian friend, Gayle from Falcor, attended the service with us, and Betsy gave the flowers to her, since we do not have room for them on our small boat.

We were going to Wal-Mart for flu shots but someone else had the car reserved and we could not get there in time. Oh well, we’ll get them somewhere else.

We will probably be here for a couple more days. There is nothing on the schedule and we really like it here. Monday and Tuesday are supposed to be rainy, at best.

There will not be a blog until we have something to report. We are killing time until the rendezvous on Oct 25. Remember that we were going up the Cumberland to Nashville. We decided not to do that and that gained us a week. Then, we were going up the Tennessee to Knoxville, but again decided not to go past Chattanooga. That gained us another week. So, here we are, killing time for two weeks. Tough life!

10-06/07-09 Scottsboro, AL II Unclaimed Baggage, Inc

[Rick] I have combined the blogs for Oct 6 and Oct 7. I wasn’t going to write a blog for Tuesday until I remembered that we went to Unclaimed Baggage, Inc. The rest of the day, we just relaxed and rested.

Unclaimed Baggage was begun about 30 years ago. In the beginning, it was the place where all unclaimed baggage from the airlines would be sent when the owner could not be found. At that time, you would literally open suitcases, rummage through them, and buy what you wanted at a very good discounted price. After all, the basis cost to the store was zero. I am told that it was not uncommon to get $600 watches for $30.

Enter the children of the founder. They decided that they needed a different business model. So, now, the place is a converted strip shopping center. It is one big store, with everything out for you to browse. It is much like a Big Lots. However, they now sell closeouts, overstocks, etc from businesses. After all, it is hard to imagine 100 pogo sticks came from someone’s luggage. Also, the bargains are not a great as before. New hardcover books are $6.00 and at one time were $.50. DVD movies are about $3.00 each, non returnable.

They have a museum of some of the “better” items brought in. This includes a space camera that belonged to NASA, later returned. There is 1770 violin and bow, in the original case. A bound book of a French newspaper from 1870-1873 is on display.
All in all, the Unclaimed Baggage store is a good way to kill an hour while waiting for the rain to abate. They have a second store in Boaz, AL, about an hour away.

10-07-09 Scottsboro, AL

We lounged around the boat most of the day. The only thing of note that happened was that we went to the local restaurant for lunch. They are normally closed, but the manager told us to come on over as she had two groups eating there. She was to serve meatloaf and fresh vegetables. It turned out to be two groups from the Presbyterian Church. The locals, Primetime, were from the First Presbyterian of Scottsboro. The others, Joy Club, were from Birmingham, AL. Betsy went back to the boat and got her harmonica and returned to play a few hymn selections for them. They sang along and seemed to enjoy themselves. We promised the minister that if we were in town on Sunday, we would come to the Presbyterian Church. The minister is the husband of the restaurant manager and the chef is their son.

The rest of the day was just resting and relaxing…….and another trip to Wal-Mart!
Pictures of the Goose Pond Marina:

10-05-09 Scottsboro, AL Goose Pond Marina

[Rick] Today was a very dreary and miserable day. It rained early. Then, when the rain stopped, it misted the rest of the day. The entire day was overcast. So, there are no pictures today.
You will recall that we made the decision to go back downstream from Chattanooga rather than fight the current and mess with the lock that is under repair and go upstream toward Knoxville. So, we left Chattanooga to 0930 and headed for Scottsboro. We made great time going with the current.

We arrived in Scottsboro at 1430, after 5 hours of very easy travel. We passed through the Nickajack lock after waiting only 15 minutes for the opening.

The marina at Scottsboro, Goose Pond Colony Resort Marina, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The marina has free wifi, free cable, courtesy car and all of the other required amenities, including a nearby Wal-Mart. The cost is only $20 per night. We checked the gas price and found it to be $2.699. On the way, we passed a marina where the gas was $3.299. Glad we passed this one up.

Scottsboro is not a huge town, but it does have a unique distinction in the United States. It is the home of Unclaimed Baggage. That’s right. When luggage is lost at most of the airlines and cannot be returned to the owner, the luggage is sent to Scottsboro. We plan to visit the facility tomorrow, so come back tomorrow for a full report.

10-04-09 Chattanooga: Ruby Falls

Betsy speaks: Our plan was to leave sometime today and head upriver towards Knoxville. We have one lock to go through, and had really planned to go only about 20 miles today, to the town of Soddy Daisy. We were never positive we’d make it to Knoxville, about 150 from here, but hoped to make it eventually as far as the Tellico River and the Little Tennessee River. That would be about 100 miles farther upriver. But the plan was always flimsy, so the plan changed!

We called the lock, which is less than 10 miles away, and found out that there were five barges waiting to go through, so we probably wouldn’t be able to go through until very late this afternoon. We already knew that once we made it through this lock, we’d have a problem coming back as work is beginning tomorrow which will cause the lock to be closed Monday through Thursday until 5PM each day for the next several days, so our coming back would have be very dependent on timing the lock just right. So we decided to just stay in Chattanooga one more day, then head back downriver tomorrow morning rather than heading upriver against a very strong current.

My brother Steve, a great lover of waterfalls, had told me about an “underground” waterfall that he remembered visiting somewhere near here many years ago. So when I saw a brochure for Ruby Falls a few days ago I picked it up. This afternoon we called a cab and rode out to Ruby Falls and took the tour which was very enjoyable. Sure enough, it is a very high waterfall inside a mountain. After riding an elevator down 260 feet, you then walk 2/5 mile through a cave to the falls. Of course it is lit with ambient lighting and many interesting formations are pointed out.

Once you get there, the falls are magnificent…nothing like Niagara Falls, but beautiful nonetheless. They are very tall (145 feet), and are inside a huge chamber that you come to after ducking and holding your breath in to get through narrow passages to get there. You can walk behind them if you’re willing to get a little wet. Fortunately we went prepared with rain gear since it looked like it was going to rain anyway!

So that was about it for today. We arrived back at the boat late afternoon just as it started to rain, and now at 10:30PM it hasn’t let up. We expect rain all day tomorrow and the next day. Still, we hope to leave here tomorrow morning and head downriver about 80 miles to Scottsboro, Alabama. If its raining too hard we have several options for stopping sooner. We’ll be back in Central Time which we really like because we don’t have to stay up so late to watch Letterman!

Here’s one last picture of us at the marina in Chattanooga with several other loopers. Two of these have just started the loop in the last few days so we just met them here for the first time. Now that 24 foot Pookie II has finished her loop and we are so far ahead of 21 foot Quotidian, we’re by far the smallest boat in the bunch again. Yes, we're that tiny thing on the far right of the dock!