Kings Mountain National Military Park

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:45

Visitor Center Display

Less than an hour’s drive from Charlotte, N.C., King Mountain National Military Park tells the story of an early Revolutionary War battle, and the first that I visited. The South Carolina battle site occurred after American patriots were on the run after several losses in 1780. After hearing of these losses, a force of rugged Carolina and Virginia frontiersmen crossed the Appalachians looking for revenge. 

They continued east and met up with groups of patriot militia at both Quaker Meadows and Cowpens, as they headed for Kings Mountain. Here, British Major Patrick Ferguson and his army had taken up seemingly strategic positions at the top of the plateau. 

Arriving here on October 7 under cover of a rainstorm, the assembled patriot forces encircled the mountain and used the trees of the forested slopes to successfully protect themselves from a hail of musket fire as they advanced up the slopes. Soon the loyalists were surrounded and easy to spot against the treeless summit.

When Major Ferguson was mortally wounded in the saddle, his second in command ordered an immediate surrender, and the patriots had won a stunning victory. In just over an hour, British efforts to conquer the South had been dealt a significant blow, which became a major turning point in the war.              

What made this visit to Kings Mountain particularly special was fortuitously meeting a very friendly and interesting fellow traveler, Mike Dryden, an ecological specialist from Knoxville, Tennessee. Not only did we hit it off immediately, but I was soon fascinated to learn that one of Mike’s 18th-century (patriot) forebears had actually fought and lost his life in combat here. Mike’s goal in visiting the park was to see if he could find his relative’s name inscribed in one of the battle monuments on the site.

He seemed genuinely pleased when we did discover the name of 2nd Lieutenant Nathaniel Dryden on not one, but on two of the memorials. So Mike, if you get a chance to read this blog, it was really nice to be able to wander the battlefield at Kings Mountain with a family member of a true American patriot!

Trail leading to the U.S. Monument

Centennial Monument, dedicated in 1880

Name of 2nd Lieutenant Nathaniel Dryden inscribed on the Centennial Monument

Cowpens National Battlefields

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:42

Battle of Cowpens Monument

Cowpens Battlefield is named for the land used by Colonial settlers here to pasture their cattle. The park offers visitors a 1.25-mile Battlefield Trail walking tour, a 3-mile Loop Road for motorized vehicles, and a 2-mile Cowpens Nature Trail.  Also on site is the log Robert Scruggs House, which dates from the early 1800s.         

Major General Nathanael Greene set the Cowpens Battle in motion by splitting his army to send the exceptionally talented General Daniel Morgan to engage the British troops under the command of the hated Banastre Tarleton, renown for his butchery. Although outnumbered, Morgan was able to bolster his forces with a substantial number of local militiamen as well as backwoods veterans of Kings Mountain, whose skill with long rifles gave them a decided advantage.

On January 17, 1781, the assembled patriot troops met the enemy in a pitched battle on the fields of the Cow Pens.  After sharpshooters had halted a British advance and picked off two-third of their officers, a fierce and somewhat confused battle ensued which featured firing at point-blank range and a bayonet charge that left the British staggered. 

In less than an hour, the battle was over and Tarleton’s troops had suffered a crushing defeat, although Tarleton himself was able to escape. Along with Kings Mountain, this second major Southern victory for the patriots in less than four months surely helped pave the way for Cornwallis’ surrender of British forces at Yorktown later in the year.

Trails Through the Battlefield

Explaining the Battle Plan

Robert Scruggs House

Ninety Six National Historic Site

by Bob Hoelscher 22. November 2013 23:37

Battlefield Artifacts

Having spent last winter and early spring based in Greenville, South Carolina, I took advantage of the opportunity to re-visit all of the state’s National Park Service units, including the sites of three important Revolutionary War battles.

One of my favorite off-the-beaten path parks is Ninety Six National Historic Site. The beautiful site features a one-mile loop trail through pristine woods, past historic Colonial-era roadbeds, and along siege trenches that remain from the loyalist Star Fort. 

I also enjoyed the original Ninety Six town site, which reconstructs the 1781 Stockade Fort. The historic Logan Log House, however, is an authentic remnant of the 1700s.

Ninety Six provides an interesting example of siege warfare. The British had constructed a Star Fort and nearby stockade to heavily reinforce their position. When General Nathanael Greene arrived here with his army on May 28, 1781, it was quickly determined that a direct attack on the fort would be doomed to failure.

The only remaining strategy was to attempt to starve out their adversaries. With the assistance of the famed Polish military engineer, Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Continentals began building an extensive series of zigzag and parallel trenches to get in musket range of the fort. Forced into action by British troops coming to intervene, Greene had his men assault the fort on June 18.

Although the stockade was taken by the patriots, they were unsuccessful in breaching the Star Fort’s massive earthen walls. Consequently, Greene withdrew his troops from the area on July 20.  However, the aborted siege effort had at least served to weaken the rural stronghold enough the British retreated to a position closer to the coast.

Original Townsite of Ninety Six

Reconstruction of 1781 Stockade Fort

Bob tries out the stocks

Transportation history at the Sloan Museum

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:04

Antique Buick with AC Spark Plug plant sign in background

Recently I attended a program by the fine Flint Symphony Orchestra, which performs in a concert hall located in the Flint Cultural Center. Those planning a visit to the popular, Bavarian-themed community of Frankenmuth nearby would be well advised to also consider making a stop at this excellent museum.

The museum tells the story of Flint as a center for the production of vehicles and equipment to meet the nation’s transportation needs. Beginning with log-hauling gear and wagons, area factories were soon producing large quantities of horse-drawn carriages, which ultimately led to the city playing a major role, arguably second only to Detroit, in the development of America’s automobile industry. Not only was General Motors founded here, but Flint was home to a number of historic car makes, including the Whitney, its much-better-known successor, the Chevrolet, as well as Buick and such closely-related products as Fisher Bodies and AC Spark Plugs.

Permanent displays and colorful dioramas link the founding and growth of the city and the daily lives of its residents with the factories and products which they made, and cover such other developments as the organization of labor, sit-down strikes, floods, racial tensions, plus the conversion of plants to the production of wartime materiel. Also featured are a variety of temporary exhibits. “Space, a Journey to our Future,” is scheduled from January 25 to May 4, 2014, in collaboration with NASA. 

The Buick Automotive Gallery maintains a rotating display of the museum’s collection of historic vehicles, and a special Truck & Bus Exhibit will run from October 26 through March 30, 2014.

Explaining the historic auto assembly process

"Return of the Dinosaurs" temporary exhibit

Sit-down striker exhibit

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Public gardens in Halifax

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 20:01

Flowers in bloom, bandstand in background

If you are heading to Atlantic Canada, don’t even think about missing the Halifax Public Gardens, which in my humble opinion constitute one of the most beautiful small parks anywhere in the world. Open free of charge, these are among the best remaining Victorian Gardens in the Americas. 

The gardens are a comfortable walk from either downtown Halifax or the cruise ship port. They lie just past the popular district of shops along Spring Garden Road, across the street from the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The first gardens on the site were planted by the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society beginning in 1836, while additional and adjacent gardens were established by the City of Halifax in 1866-67. Both plots, totaling 16 acres, were unified as the city’s Public Gardens in 1874.

In 1984, they were designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian government. Locally, they’ve even been voted as the best place in the city to read a book, but as a photographer, I’m much more inclined to keep my camera busy whenever I visit. I most recently enjoyed the beautiful gardens on a Norwegian Gem Canada and New England cruise in September.

 Beautiful dahlias

Magnificent landscaping

Fountain statuary

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

Old Mission General Store

by Bob Hoelscher 18. October 2013 19:58

Antiques, pastries, old-time candies, etc.

On a recent trip to Michigan, I took an excellent scenic drive north of Traverse City past handsome wineries, cherry orchards, a lighthouse and palatial summer homes. For my money, the highlight of the entire trip was a stop at the Old Mission General Store, at 18250 Mission Road. 

Established as a trading post for the local tribe in 1839, the original building was moved from the beach to the present roadside location about 1870. Inside I found the most eclectic collection imaginable of antiques, memorabilia and products for sale, even a traditional pickle barrel. Picnic tables are available outside. I knew that this was the “real thing” when I spotted the 1905 ferry schedule posted on the wall!         

Since 1999, the General Store has been owned and operated by Jim Richards, formerly a professional actor, and his wife Marci, the store’s ninth owners. As he did for me and my friends Dave and Ginny Behn while we enjoyed a tasty meal on the front porch, Jim, a most erudite and entertaining fellow, will be happy to regale your group members with fascinating tales about the store’s history. He talked about Henry Ford’s recommendation of the facility as an ideal “combustion engine destination spot.” 

In addition to Ford, past customers have included John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and John Burroughs, as well as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. It’s a list that I was happy to be included in.

The pickle barrel

The "spirits" counter

An amazing array of unusual items for sale

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Three Especially Worthwhile Tour Inclusions

My "Thumbs Up" Nominees

by Bob Hoelscher 19. September 2013 20:36

Bear Stew, McCleary, WA Bear Festival

Last month I complained about there being so many cruise and travel industry awards being given these days that it is virtually impossible to determine who or what is really the “best.”  However, I also commented that there are certainly companies and places out there that are indeed worthy of accolades, so following are several of these which have come to my attention during my travels over the past couple of years.  Please be aware that this in no way intended to be anything resembling a “Top 10” list!   


GREENVILLE, SC – Extraordinarily attractive, intelligently-planned downtown area

LAS VEGAS McCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Exceptionally efficient and friendly TSA staff

SUBWAY – Amazingly consistent (and tasty) products at stores worldwide 

NORTH DAKOTA – Excellent interstate highway rest areas

CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK, SC – Fascinating natural environment in a national park few travelers have ever even heard of

GRAND PORTAGE NATIONAL MONUMENT, MN – Incredible living history presentations in an equally obscure national monument

VIKING CRUISES – Innovative new ocean-going cruise line

MICHIGAN - Countless well-maintained roadside parks throughout the state

WALGREENS – Outstanding, very effective customer service program

CLAUDE MOORE COLONIAL FARM, VA – Wonderful colonial fairs…spring, summer and fall

FLIGHT 93 NATIONAL MEMORIAL, PA – Beautiful landscaping design

McCLEARY, WA BEAR FESTIVAL – Unusual (and delicious) featured food item…bear stew!

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Travel Thoughts

Scenic Lighthouses Part Two

by Bob Hoelscher 19. September 2013 20:28

As promised last month, here is the second installment of particularly attractive lighthouses that I have encountered during the past few years.

Photos #1 and #2:  Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, MN – 1910 – 54 feet in height  

Cape Meares Light, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, OR – 1890 – 38 feet in height

South Manitou Island Lighthouse, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI – 1871-72 – 65 feet in height  

Nauset Light, Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham, MA – 1877 – 48 feet in height

Raspberry Island Lighthouse, Apostle Islands National Seashore, WI – 1863 – 43 feet in height

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Whidbey Island, WA – 1903 – 30 feet in height

Grand Island East Channel Light, Grand Island National Recreation Area, MI – 1868 - 45 feet in height


Grand Traverse Light, Leelanau State Park, MI – 1858 – 41 feet in height

Brant Point Light, Nantucket Harbor, MA – 1901 – 26 feet in height

 Rock of Ages Light, Isle Royale National Park, MI – 1908-10 – 117 feet in height

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Scenic Lighthouses

by Bob Hoelscher 13. August 2013 02:02

Yaquina Head Light

Visiting the nation’s many historic and picturesque lighthouses has become very popular among travelers these days, so I thought I might provide some photographic examples of a number of particularly attractive examples of such structures that I have encountered during the past few years.  Although a second installment will follow next month, by no means should my personal offerings be interpreted as anything approaching a “top 20” list of the finest lighthouses that the country has to offer.

Yaquina Head Light, Newport, OR – 1873 – 93 feet in height

Cape Lookout Light, Cape Lookout National Seashore, NC – 1859 – 163 feet in height

Whitefish Point Light, Whitefish Point (north of Paradise), MI – 1861 – 76 feet in height

Highland Lighthouse, Cape Cod National Seashore, MA – 1857 – 66 feet in height

Devils Island Lighthouse, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI – 1901 – 80 feet in height

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Mendocino Coast, CA – 1909 – 47 feet in height

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Mackinaw City, MI – 1892 - 50 feet in height

South Breakwater Outer Light, Duluth Harbor, MN – 1901 – 44 feet in height

Sandy Hook Light, Gateway National Recreation Area, NJ – 1764 – 103 feet in height

Pierhead Lighthouse, Petoskey, MI – 1924 – 44 feet in height

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A personal take on cruise and travel industry awards

by Bob Hoelscher 13. August 2013 02:01

I've come to the conclusion that most of the cruise and travel industry’s “best” rewards touted by various organizations have become pretty worthless. There are so many of these erstwhile plaudits floating around, frequently praising different operators for the same “bests,” that it is virtually impossible for the average traveler to figure out which companies really excel in one category or another.  

Why? First, all such awards are highly subjective, simply depending upon who is doing the voting, so those with different standards or objectives are sure to arrive at different conclusions than we would have. There are also distinct possibilities that ever-present but “under the radar” considerations of a political nature or of advertising revenues have paid a role in selecting ‘winners,’ or the ballot box has simply been "stuffed" by those standing to gain in one way or another from anointing their favorites as the ‘best.’ 

I still remember when TWA received a nationally-promoted award for "best service," when virtually everyone in my home city of St. Louis, where TWA was the primary air carrier, knew that their service was just this side of awful. My guess was that "stuffing" the ballot box was the last ditch effort of TWA's employees to keep their jobs.

This summer I am volunteering at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, a unit of our National Park Service that ABC’s “Good Morning America” apparently lauded as the most beautiful place in the country a couple of years ago. Yes, this is indeed a very beautiful park, and well worth a visit, but to call it the most beautiful is absolutely ludicrous.  

A couple of months back I received a press release from a river cruise operation that touted itself as “award-winning,” a company with which my personal experiences have been substantially less than satisfactory. When some organization actually insures that the voting for its awards have been conducted in a manner that is statistically significant, I might actually take some stock in the results, but I’m not holding my breath. 

Please be assured, however, that I not only believe that there are a lot of good, well-run companies to chose from in the marketplace, but also that some of them like Crystal Cruises and Tauck, to name just two worthy examples, surely do deserve the highest accolades. Nevertheless, there are just too many industry awards out there that are apparently based more on fluff than substance. So be sure and find un-biased reviews of a cruise company before believing everything you read.


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