USA Coast to Coast. The Ultimate Road Trip. Part 3
8th – 17th July 2014
Liam is really into American history, in particular the Civil War. So how could we possibly bypass Gettysburg, Pennsylvania without putting in a few days.
The battlefield which covers 6,000 acres of fields and hills surrounds the small town of Gettysburg and is recognised as a National Military Park.The grounds and cemeteries, which are pristine, come under the watchful eye of the National Park Service. There are many ways to see the grounds and learn the history of the battle. You can take a sightseeing bus, do a self guided audio tour, jump on a horse, cycle or Segway your way around with a ranger, or do as we did and hire a National Park guide who will drive you in your car through the grounds for 2 or 3 hours and impart every piece of info about the battle that your brain is capable of absorbing.
Our guide was an enthusiast name Roy who did an absolutely marvelous job. There wasn’t much about the battle site that Roy didn’t know, getting right down to the nitty gritty in a way that we could understand. He brought the whole battle alive.
Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. It was fought out between the Confederate Army of the southern states under the command of Gen. Robert E Lee and the Federal Union Army of the north led by Gen. George Meade. With the two armies meeting by chance on the June 30th 1863, the next three days became the bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War which began at Fort Sumter Charleston Sth Carolina in 1861.
To cut to the chase, the battle raged for three days with each side gaining and loosing precious ground. It culminated on July 3rd with 12,000 of Lee’s soldiers charging across open fields towards the opposition who, unbeknown to them, lay in wait just beyond a small rise. The southerner's attack failed and over 5,000 of Gen Lee’s men fell in just one hour. The Union forces had the edge over the Confederates and by dusk the battle of Gettysburg was over. By the time the two armies marched away some days later, they had left behind 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Most of the dead lay in shallow graves and some where they had fallen.
Distressed by the events of war, four months later The Gov. of Pennsylvania set aside 17 acres of land on the battlefield for the reinternment of the dead. That plot of land is known as the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The cemetery was dedicated on November 19th 1863 and amongst those present was Abraham Lincoln who was asked to say a few words. His speech was short and sweet, taking only two minutes, It began with the words ”Four score and seven years ago…” and wrote it’s way into history as the Gettysburg Address.
Our next major stop a few days later was at Niagara Falls. We chose to stay on the Canadian side of the falls as the views are far more spectacular and we weren’t disappointed. Our Days Inn hotel, only a couple of blocks from the falls, made for an easy stroll down the hill. The town itself was actually quite tacky. A mix of Las Vegas meets mother nature and it really didn’t gel. The gaudy fun parlors and loud music certainly didn’t entice us.
Not wanting to miss anything we signed up for the full pack Niagara experience. That included taking the tour boat The Horn Blower right up to Horseshoe Falls and getting very wet despite our colourful ponchos. Being up close and personal with the thunderous energy of the falls was awesome.
Next morning our adventure continued. First up was a Imax theatre ,except it wasn’t your regular movie, they gave us ponchos at the door! Yep more of the wet stuff. Then we took the “Walk behind the Falls”, tour which was yet another “get wet” opportunity. The poncho had quickly become our most treasured and unflattering piece of clothing.
The afternoon was a drought compared to the morning. No wet weather gear needed. We had a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk beside the boisterous rapids of the Niagara River, followed by a drive out to the cute town of Niagara – by - the Lake for a bite to eat. As the name suggests the town sits on the shores of a lake and that would be Lake Ontario. Filled with cafes, restaurants, upmarket shops, tourists and flowers this was the Hamptons of eastern Canada and you could smell the money. Garden beds were in full bloom as were the hanging baskets on every street lamp. It was a very pretty little place.
That evening back at the falls we joined the crowds as a full moon rose over the falls.The rushing waters were illuminated in bursts of colour and at 9pm a fireworks show lit the skies above. It was a fitting end to to a place of such natural beauty.
Niagara Facts : Niagara Falls comprises of Bridal Veil Falls (USA side) and Horseshoe Falls. Horseshoe Falls stretches 675 meters in width from Canada to the USA. 3,160 tons of water plummets over the Niagara Falls per second with 681,750 gallons tumbling down Horseshoe Falls per second.Due to erosion over the years, the rim of Horseshoe Falls has receded back 6 feet from it’s original position
Staying in Canada for the next couple of days we followed the shoreline of Lake Erie passing beautiful waterfront homes, then heading inland the landscape changed to corn and wheat fields and lots of ugly wind farms.
Crossing back into the USA just above Detroit Michigan we continued northwest stopping at the Bavarian town of Frankenmuth.The CBP officer at the border had recommend it and we took her advice. It was just like being back in Europe,except for the accents of course.There were Bavarian restaurants, cheese shops, ice cream parlors even a Bavarian band belting out their tunes in the town square.
As a bonus that night the town’s weekly summer series concert was playing in the park. It was Abba and was that a crowd puller or what. Well it wasn’t the original Abba band but they sure looked and sounded like them. Every man, woman and dog rocked up with their outdoor chairs and coolers.
People of all ages were dancing along to the songs, even young kids not old enough to know who Abba were, but they sure knew all the words. It was a fun night, and I so wished that we could have been there for the following week’s concert, the Bee Gees. If you happen to be passing by Frankenmuth in summer make sure you stop for the night. We can recommend staying at the Duruy Inn. It’s a lovely hotel and they put on a great breakfast spread and very substantial snacks and drinks in the evenings. You certainly don’t need dinner if you join in their happy hour that’s for sure.
Driving further north we spent two nights just outside Traverse City at the Shoe String Cabins. This was our first cabin experience and it made a nice change from staying in hotels. We felt we had a little house of our own and room to breathe.
From here we did a day trip up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the northwestern shore of Lake Michigan.The weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was cold and drizzly but it takes more than that to stop us hardy sailors from venturing outdoors. The Dunes are in a hilly area fringed with thick maple forests, lakes,sandy beaches and towering bluffs nearly 500ft high. Outward bound types love this area. In summer there are salmon to catch, camping and kayaking around the offshore Manitou islands and in winter the area becomes a snowy playground for skiers and hikers.
Legend has it that long ago the dunes were named after a mother bear and her two cubs attempted to swim across the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan after being driven into the waters by a raging forest fire. They swam and swam but the cubs tired and lagged behind. The mother bear reached the shore and climbed the highest bluff to watch and wait for her cubs but they never came.Today,“Sleeping Bear” is a solitary dune and marks the spot where the mother waited.The two offshore Manitou islands are her lost cubs.
From here we skirted the western shores of Lake Michigan, stopping at the towns of Petoskey, Elk Rapids and Harbor Town before crossing the Mackinaw Bridge which spans the waters between Lower Michigan and it’s Upper Peninsular. We’ve been clocking up the miles and have covered 5 &1/2 states and part of Canada so far.
More about our trip in the next posting coming soon