Jersey City, NJ for NYC; Elizabethtown, PA for America’s Largest RV Show; Staunton, VA; Pigeon Forge, TN, and Homeward Bound (Chapter 5 – Final)
September 10 thru 21, 2018
Liberty Harbor RV Park, Jersey City, NJ (3-Nights) http://www.libertyharborrv.com/: The drive from Mystic Connecticut to Jersey was approximately 140 miles, not a long drive; however, the last 1-hour was stressful due to heavy traffic and our uncertainty regarding some of the final last miles directions. Also, there were concerns that it may be difficult to park the 5th wheel in what appeared from their website to be tight-sites. Thankfully, (literally through Karen’s answered prayers in this situation) it was not difficult, Bill parked it like a champ. Liberty Harbor was a perfect camp spot to base from for our time in NYC. This campground has gravel campsites and is located next to Liberty Harbor with its many boats and surrounding new high-rise luxury condos. The location is in walking distance to both the Liberty Harbor Ferry and the subway station thus making for an easy commute to NYC.
Our first evening we walked to the Grove Street Station PATH (Port Authority subway) and took the subway to Times Square where we spent time walking around and seeing the sites lit-up at night. We visited the Empire State Building
(http://www.esbnyc.com/buy-tickets) and walked through the Visitor’s Center where we posed for a picture in front of a replica. The “Top Deck” (102nd floor) was closed due to the weather. We found our way to Little Italy and had dinner at Lombardi’s Pizzeria https://www.firstpizza.com/. Although, it was raining earlier while we set-up camp and continued to rain throughout the evening, it was really okay walking in the slight rain in such an amazing City.
Tuesday, September 11 (17th anniversary of the terrorist attack): It was coincidental that when our travel plans were being made for this road trip, the days we ended up being in NYC turned out to be the week of 9/11. The morning started with us watching all the local early morning news announcements of the various memorial events taking place in the city. The Memorial held at ground zero was not open to the public, appropriately it is only for family members/survivors. Most of the various Memorials begin early morning and pause at the times commemorating those 2001 events. For instance, in 2001 the American Airlines 767 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am. Between the pauses, the platform stage was where family members and friends read through all the names of the close to 2,753 people who lost their lives at the World Trade Center. It is important that we are reminded of the lives lost through this terrible tragedy, yet it was somewhat comforting to hear from these survivors about how they have become stronger. One of the things said by a survivor: “you have to experience sadness to know happiness.” Prayers were lifted this morning as we were reminded of that day in 2001 and Praises of thanks that New York City has rebuilt, is strong and is a great City.
Ellis Island: We walked to the Liberty Harbor Ferry, the first stop was Liberty State Park where we viewed “Empty Sky” the New Jersey’s Memorial that honors the 749 people that lived in or had ties to New Jersey who lost their lives at the World Trade Center 9/11. Liberty Park’s historic Central Railroad Terminal of New Jersey is where we purchased our ferry tickets to Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty.
Once we entered Ellis Island we were provided with a headset to hear the narration and follow along on an interesting self-guided tour throughout the museum. There was much to learn and hear about the immigration process that was conducted at this location for over 60-years. The building went through restoration and the rooms throughout the Museum resemble the original in the 1800-1900s. We spent a lot of time going through several rooms and are glad that we made this visit.
Statue of Liberty: It’s a ferry ride between Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty. Tuesday was a cloudy/foggy day and that made it difficult to get good pictures. Still, the views are magnificent! We again learned so many things about the Statue of Liberty that we did not know. Three of the amazing facts we learned: (1) Lady Liberty is made of copper and it is only as thick as 2-copper pennies stacked on one another (very thin), it was originally the color of copper but after 20-years turned to its current color patina green; (2) The base was actually a protection wall built for Fort Wood, part of New York’s harbor defense system of the war of 1812; (3) the Liberty statue itself is hollow with a supporting steel structure “bones” that were built to withhold strong winds and provide flexibility necessary to keep it from destruction. The internal “bones” was designed and built by the same architectural and structural engineer that built the Eiffel tower. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France, built by French sculpture Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (statue) and Gustave Eiffel (internals).
Another thing we learned about visiting the Statue of Liberty is that there are restrictions necessary to get a Crown ticket for access to climb up into the Statues crown. Crown level access requires a special ticket that has to be obtained 4-months in advance https://www.nps.gov/stli/planyourvisit/visit-the-crown.htm. We at first were a little disappointed we hadn’t made those arrangements, that is until we heard there were over 325 steps up a narrow winding stair-case to get to the Crown level (equivalent to 20-stories) with no elevator access. So instead we obtained tickets for the Pedestal level which also has limited access, and due to its popularity, so it requires reservations made in advance. Since Tickets may not be purchased on Liberty Island, we made them online the night before. Turned out that the Pedestal level was plenty high enough for us and we really enjoyed the excellent views.
St. Patrick Cathedral (Manhattan) and St. Paul’s Chapel: We visited St. Patrick’s on 5th Avenue and it is a beautiful, magnificent cathedral, much like those we have seen on our European visits and not often seen in the United States. Since 9/11 many now talk about that other famous NYC Catholic church, St. Paul’s Chapel. There were articles and news stories written about St. Paul’s after the 9/11 attack such as the Guideposts, “9/11 Miracle: The Little Chapel that Survived.” This chapel was built in 1766 and is the oldest church building in Manhattan. It is located less than 100 yards from the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers site. After surviving 9/11, it is believed the church was protected by a giant sycamore tree that was planted in St. Paul’s graveyard.
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
Rockefeller Center: Rockefeller Center is located close to St. Patrick and we passed it on our walk to our next destination. You hear about and see Rockefeller Center on TV often for events such as their annual lighting of the Christmas tree and the winter ice skating rink that is installed each year in the plaza. It was nice walking through this beautifully landscaped area that bustles with people from locals to tourists. The ice skating rink with the large Christmas tree is covered during this time of the year and a restaurant “The Summer Garden and Bar” with its pretty cascading waterfalls takes its place.
Grand Central Station is neat to visit and walk through during a visit to NYC!
After a full-day, we enjoyed dinner at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in Times Square (recommended to us by the Byrne’s, very good friends who moved to our neighborhood from New York).
The day ended with us viewing the 9/11 Tribute Light Memorial from the walkway built along the Hudson River on the New Jersey-side, not far from our RV Park. There are 88-spot lights that shine up to the sky from ground zero echoing the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers. They are lit beginning at dusk on 9/11 through dawn the next morning. It was moving to see this beautiful night-view of NYC with the Tribute Lights reaching up to the heavens.
This day had a lot of walking. Bill’s phone recorded that we each walked 23,927 steps, 11.97 miles and burned 1,081 calories!
Wednesday, 09/12, our last full-day in New York, we had our advanced purchased tickets to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum https://www.911memorial.org/. The memorials outside have the almost 3,000 names engraved on walls that surround the twin infinity waterfalls. Many of the names had a single white carnation pressed into their name. Our reservation was to begin at 10 am, we arrived by 9:30 am and were allowed to begin our tour early. The emotions we felt brought us back to the day 17-years ago when we all were getting the news reports of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. After entering the main museum building, it took us over 3-hours to go through the Museum to see the exhibits and view the films. There were moments of gratitude and thanksgiving memorialized and it is evident that this Museum succeeds in holding the detail information, artifacts and history for generations to come. We are blessed to have the opportunity to have visited.
Karen love’s theatre and musicals so she purchased advance tickets for us to see the Broadway Musical “Mean Girls” scheduled for Wednesday at 2 pm. The play was good and Bill admits to enjoying it too. After the musical we walked a few blocks over to Central Park and probably would have rented a bicycle to ride through the park if it weren’t for the drizzling rain. This was our 3rd day of carrying an umbrella with rain on and off again. Walking was actually fine, we just were not encouraged to ride a bike through the Park (maybe next time). Today, we walked 11,888 steps, so Bill feels justified in his being able to continue to eat daily scoops of ice cream since he’s burning the calories off in walking!
The week of September 10 is also NYC’s annual fashion week. Although we did not attend any Fashion events in the City, we did see many models walking the streets with professional photographers tagging along taking photos of them in fashionable attire which was kind-a cool.
What a great time we had in NYC.
KOA Elizabethtown, PA – America’s Largest RV Show in Hershey (3-Nights) https://koa.com/campgrounds/elizabethtown/: We arrived at our campground late afternoon and we decided it best to relax at our campsite the first night.
Friday, we took the free KOA shuttle to the RV Show in Hershey (13 miles away). We quickly learned that most, if not all, of the campers were here to visit the RV Show. On the front porch of the KOA office there was a dry-board where anyone who had purchased a camper could list their names and what model they purchased from the Show. The list grew each day and by the time we left Sunday there were about a half-dozen on the board. Sunday was the final day but we left early so not sure what the final board count ended up as.
We spent two full days walking this “largest” RV show in America! It was set-up like most RV shows we have attended with show sections grouped by dealer, then within dealer, by manufacturer/model types. There was somewhat a level of manufacturer organization. For instance if say Dealer #1 had both the Forest River brands and the Jayco brands, he would have two dealers sections. Dealer #1 would have a section located over with the other Forest River dealers and he also would have a section located over with the Jayco dealers. As we found out, those two sections could be several blocks away (it was a huge show!). This however, made it quite difficult navigating to see what we were interested in because we needed to visit every dealer that might carry the manufacturer/model we were wanting to see. Our 5th wheel RV is only 3-year’s old but we did see a few that we liked. One we actual spent time negotiating options and price on and were tempted to pursue was Forest River’s Cardinal 3350 but in the end we walked away happy with what we own.
It’s kind of like our going to see new homes just for fun and seeing all the new amenities and the newer, updated “modern” style. Then, we get back to our own home and are thankful for what we own.
The Elizabethtown KOA is a nice campground with wide campsites and lots of room between each site. They hosted a wine tasting one evening and provided light appetizers. We attended and while there, enjoyed visiting with Everett and Hanna from NY, a couple we met earlier at the RV Show – Shuttle pickup location.
Walnut Hills RV Park, Staunton, Virginia (2-Nights) https://www.walnuthillscampground.com/: Our drive from Hershey, PA on Sunday, 09/16 to Staunton, VA was through a constant rain pouring down from the effects of Tropical Storm Florence. Walnut Hills is such a pretty campground, lots of trees, streams of water running through it and a pond. It’s one that we certainly could enjoy if it weren’t for the rain. They had received rainfall for several days before we arrived and it continued to rain off and on most of the time we were there. This caused flooding in some areas of the park but thankfully we were glad to have been able to move our campsite from one that backed up to the pond to a pull-through on the higher ground part of the campground.
On Monday, we took a drive to Staunton’s (pronounced STAN-ton) downtown. Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center to pick up information on how to tour the area with the allocated short amount of time (and with light-rainfall). We learned that the Trolley picks up every 30 minutes at the Visitor Center. The Trolley is only .25 cents per person and it takes you all around the downtown area, the Wharf Historic District, and Gypsy Hill Park. You can hop off at any time, walk around and jump back on, paying just another .25 cents each time. Our Trolley driver asked if we were visiting and we said “yes,” so he provided good information at points of interest as if he were an official tour-guide. Although the Visitor’s Center staff said that the drivers are not paid for narration, some just like talking about their City. After the Trolley ride, we walked over to American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse Theatre. The Theatre is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater and performs Shakespeare contemporary works and other authored new plays. We enjoyed lunch at a small café on Beverly Street (Staunton’s Main Street) and walked around looking at many of the shops and old historic buildings.
Staunton is located just approximately 15 miles near the entrance to both Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway where you can choose from two of America’s greatest mountain roads for awesome views and scenic pull-overs. Although, we were warned that due to foggy weather they might be closed, we decided to attempt anyway. We drove up to the Rockfish Gap Visitor Center that overlooks Shenandoah Valley (town of Waynesboro) and is close to the entrance for the two parkways.
We were told that Skyline Drive was closed due to the heavy fog and low visibility so we just took a few pictures from the high-point at the Visitor Center. It was disappointing that we were this close to the Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and unable to make the drive. However, the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway is a 469 miles scenic highway and we drove parts of it previously when we visited Biltmore in Asheville, NC and then again a second time when we were on the Blue Ridge riding down the-Virginia Creeper Rails to Trails bicycle adventure.
Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, TN (2-Nights) https://pinemountainrvpark.com/: Pine Mountain RV Park is a clean park with concrete parking pads, full hookups and is convenient to shows/events in Pigeon Forge. Driving into Pigeon Forge, you get the feel of Branson, MO when you see the many similar shows and tourist attractions. We saw several go-cart rides, putt-putt courses, souvenir retail businesses and of course giant billboards for variety shows and musicals. However, Branson doesn’t have the beautiful Smoky Mountains which is the prettiest sight to see.
We purchased tickets to the Smoky Mountain Opry, 8 pm performance for the night we arrived, Tuesday, September 18 (https://smokymtnopry.com/). The music was live performances of a variety of genres (Country, Rock N Roll, Big Band, Gospel and Broadway) with an excellent ensemble of professional dancers. Included in the show is a talented couple who did both Aerial Fabric/Ring Acrobatics and also performed a quick-change routine. It was a really good show and highly recommend.
Our second day was a full-day of touring visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a beautiful day and driving through the winding, mountainous park was breath-taking. We stopped at several scenic pull-overs for pictures which of course never look as good as seeing the views in-person. At one of the scenic stops there was an elderly man standing by the rail singing his heart out with “How Great Thou Art.” It provided us a quiet time of worship and thankfulness as we looked at the magnificent beauty before our eyes. There are many trails to be hiked and although we did not hike at this National Park, it is something we thoroughly enjoy. As with many National Parks, this park does not allow dogs on their trails and we had decided to bring Gabby. Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the highest point along the Appalachian Trail. We drove to the Clingmans Dome visitor’s center at the base of the lookout tower on the dome. We did not do the ½ mile-hike up the steep path to the tower since visibility that day was cloudy but also we passed because there was a “no pets” sign posted leading to the path. Actually the view from the Visitor Center lookout plaza was quite good and really just a few hundred feet lower than the tower. Maybe if it hadn’t been such a steep climb and the visibility were better we would have taken turns hiking it.
After Clingman’s Dome we headed down the mountain for a stop at the “Cherokee Smokies” Oconaluftee Indian Village (http://cherokeesmokies.com/), still in the Smoky Mountains, but in Western North Carolina. We had read about the Cherokee Indian history for this area at the Visitor’s Information Center inside the Park also the camp hostess at our last campsite recommended. The Village has events you can attend, but we just walked around a few of their shops looking for souvenirs and ice cream. There were a few men dressed in their American Plains Indian Headdresses doing short dance performances and posing for photos for tips. Bill asked one of them if he would say hello to Parker and Blake in a video for the boys.
We left the Village, headed back over the mountain to our last stop in Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg downtown resembles Nashville’s downtown area with nice pedestrian walkways on either side of a narrow 2-lane main street filled with restaurants and shops on both sides. In contrast, Pigeon Forge’s main street is more like Branson’s multi-lane, wide roads and not encouraging as a touristy walkway. Gatlinburg is a quaint town to visit with its small village shopping areas tucked away, a sky lift, wine tasting venues, tourist activities, and all this is surrounded by its enchanting natural mountainous scenery. The news had reported the day before that Blake Shelton was in Gatlinburg, announcing a 2019 opening of another of his franchises, “Ole Red” (a restaurant and live music venue). If we visit this area again, we think we will camp either up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or at a campground in Gatlinburg and go to Blake’s Ole Red of course!
Pine Mountain RV Park in Pigeon Forge was our last advanced reservation and on Thursday, September 20, we left and were homeward bound.
Bill drove over 11-hours on Thursday and we made an on-the-road reservation at a KOA in Little Rock as an over-night rest stop. (https://koa.com/campgrounds/little-rock/) This is not a campground we recommend staying. There are many long-term campers (obvious by their sites), the highway noise, and the camp host who knew we were only there for one-night, put us in the back of the campground with the long-term campers instead of an easy in/easy out site closer to the entrance where there were obvious open sites.
We left the campground on Friday, September 21 by 7:00 am. The weather was showing flood warning alerts for Allen and the surrounding areas and we were anxious to try and beat the floods. After 6-hours of driving, we had the RV back into the storage site, unloaded and home before the heavy rains hit.
Chapter 5 closes our blogging of our experiences through this 46-days’ Northeastern USA Road Trip and 5,816 miles driven. This road trip completes our visits of 49 States and Bill placing all but Nevada, his last sticker on the USA sticker map of all the States we have spent at least one-night in our RV. We put an airplane sticker on Hawaii since we took the kids on a trip to Hawaii several years ago. And a cruise-ship sticker on Alaska since we have visited by cruising; however, God’s will, we’re planning a 2020 road trip to Alaska.
“Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; nor are there any works like Your works. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God.” —- Psalm 86:8-10