Monday, August 25, 2014

Well, At Least The Entire Summer Was not A Bust - 2 Short Trips

As I noted in the previous post, we did get two short trips in after the tornado and before giving the boat up to the repair facility for a couple of months.

Our first trip was about 100 miles up-river to Goose Pond Colony in Scottsboro, AL to join friends from our previous association with the Huntsville US Power Squadron group for the July 4th weekend.  For those unfamiliar with USPS (not to be confused with the US Postal Service), it is a national boating organization with a long history of recreational boating emphasis and lots of training courses to improve one's boating knowledge. I've personally taken the Seamanship, Engine Maintenance, Marine Electronics, Piloting, Advanced Piloting, and Navigation courses.  The squadron had a dinner planned for Friday at the local "Docks" restaurant, BBQ at the pavilion on Saturday afternoon, and marina fireworks that evening.

The Tennessee River is almost 800 miles long, originating at Knoxville, TN and ending close to Paducah, KY where it feeds into the Ohio River.  The scenery and "characteristics" of the river change frequently and this stretch is a very pretty section. The river in our home area is primarily residential with wide open areas of the river, some almost 3 miles across with no shallow water to be concerned about, great for boating and water sports. Leaving our home and heading upstream, you pass through a heavy industrial area around Decatur, AL. While the river is still very wide through this 20-mile stretch, the channel is narrow with lots of shoaling on both sides. There is no avoiding the railroad lift bridge for boats with much height at all, but we caught it at just the right time and with no delays.

One Decatur claim to fame is the Meow Mix facility.  Have you ever noticed that the name is in the shape of a cat?

Shortly thereafter you pass underneath I-65 and about 30 miles of "nothingness," primarily due to some designated wildlife areas, farmland, and Redstone Army Arsenal owning most of the riverbank.  Below, Rhonda at the helm approaching the interstate.

There are lots of rolling hills and rock cliffs along the way, just nice easy scenic cruising.

The city of Huntsville has only one marina on the river, "Ditto Landing," and it is several miles south of the downtown area. We have been in and out of here so many times we just didn't take many pictures, but we did get a shot of HMR at their new 60-foot transient slips.  They have some nice walking trails, nice facilities, and an RV park.  Even bought a T-shirt since lots of my many Loop shirts are beginning to look a little worn.

However, I did take time to take a picture of my entertainment for the evening - watching all of the folks loading and unloading their boats at the ramp. I noticed at least two couples that drove up by car and just parked to watch it also.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary had just dropped off one boat they had towed in.  There's always the guy who forgets to raise the engine and then drags the foot of the outboard across the concrete. One guy had obviously just completed some engine maintenance on his, so he backed in and just ran the engine about 30 minutes while at least 30 or 40 other boats were waiting to use one of the ramps.  I'm sure many marriages and relationships have ended at the boat ramp. You kind of had to be there, but one was particularly funny - the guy driving the truck was obviously new at it and there is an art to it no doubt.  He was backing up to load the boat and was still at least 200 feet away and just stopped like, "OK, what do I do now?"  His friend hollered from the boat and said, "Come on back just a little bit more."  Like I said, you had to be there to sense the humor and sarcasm.  Remember, it doesn't take much to entertain me, especially after a long day on the water.

Lots more rolling hills as you continue upriver eastbound.

The highlight of those hills is known as "Painted Rock."

And from a distance.  Have you noticed how nice the view is now with the glass windows instead of the old isinglass?

There is one lock to transition into the Guntersville Lake section of the river and we had no delays. Guntersville is a high-rent district with lots of fine homes and enclosed boat houses.  After about 20 miles of that, there's the entrance into Goose Pond Marina.  Goose Pond is a first-class marina with lots of amenities - bought another T-shirt!

And for some reason, we did not take any pictures of all of the festivities, I guess just busy having a good time reconnecting with the power squadron members and meeting some new folks as well.  Another Gold Looper couple was there, Bob and Liz Staggs, so we had fun comparing notes and swapping stories with them.

And here is my favorite shot of this trip.  I'm picturing in my mind their conversation the night before - something like, "Hey guys, what do you think we should wear tomorrow?"  Like I said previously, doesn't take much to entertain me. 

Anyhow, a good time was had by all and it was a welcome 5-day reprieve from the tornado recovery.

Before our second trip, I also managed to get in some time pursuing an idle problem on our starboard engine.  It just doesn't want to handle much load at all while at idle and will sometimes choke down, usually at a very inconvenient moment, you know, like docking!  So, I had City Diesel in Decatur rebuild the fuel injection pump and they challenged me to put it back on myself!  Always up for a challenge (and it would save about $300), I called my good boating, church, and dominoes friend, Bob Hopson, and invited him to assist with the challenge and offered a free breakfast before we would start.  He was glad to help, with or without the breakfast, and after about 5 hours in the engine room and a test run afterwards, it appeared to be a successful venture.  Thanks to City Diesel and Bob.

Our second trip was a short distance, 35 miles downstream to Florence, AL.  There are actually 4 towns in the metropolitan area - Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield. When you combine all 4 towns together, it becomes one of the largest metropolitan areas in Alabama behind Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.  They host a week and a half long music festival every year in honor of WC Handy, the first person to pen blues music to paper. So, we decided to take a few days and enjoy some of the festivities, good food, and entertainment.  You guessed it - bought another T-shirt.  We docked at the Florence Harbor Marina, and Bob (now my boating, church, dominoes, and diesel mechanic friend) and Barbara joined us in their RV.

We were a little early for most of the WC Handy music but Rhonda and I did catch a large jazz band, "River City Jazz," and I just happened up on a music seminar and jazz performance by Norris Jones, a prominent lead guitarist from the area.  I have decided to fulfill a long-time desire of mine to play the bass guitar, and I went shopping for a bass and accessories at Counce Music Store in Muscle Shoals. Norris was performing and conducting a seminar there.  Norris is obviously quite talented as are all the members of his band, most of which are family.  My music past is in percussion and keyboard and the bass guitar is just one of those bucket list kind of things.  There are some lulls in the condo repair process, and giving up the boat for 4 to 6 weeks was a serious formula for boredom - I don't handle boredom very well.  It will also be a nice winter project. So, check out my new Fender jazz bass and accessories.  So far, so good.  I decided my plan of attack would be to choose a few songs and use those to get the basics down and become comfortable with the general mechanics of it all first.  I'll tackle the more complex stuff this winter.

Back to the boat trip.  Wilson Lock and Dam is close by (third largest/tallest lock in the world at 93 feet). Also associated with this federal project was a plan to use the limestone nitrates for ammunition needs in WWI.  The war ended before the project was completed and the feds were not sure what to do with it. Henry Ford tried to buy it and lots of the surrounding area to use the cheap power from the dam to produce fertilizer from the nitrates and expand his automobile factory plans. The feds decided to keep it as a government project and later turned it over to what is now the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Ford took his money and plans and expanded what is now Detroit. (And for that Mr. Ford, Alabama is grateful.)

We did lots of sightseeing with Bob and Barbara, even though the rain tried to discourage us. Briefly, here are our stops. The University of North Alabama (UNA) has a beautiful campus and the special attraction is their 2 mascots, Leo and Una. We headed over early to try and catch them outside before it got too hot.

There is a "ceremonial" Indian mound that is listed as a tourist stop so we checked that out.  It is basically a 42-foot high mound with nothing at the top. There is also a museum across the street but the charge didn't seem to justify viewing nothing but a lot of arrowheads and let's just say the attendant on duty was "less than enthusiastic" about his job. Probably will not go back for a second "experience."  

Speaking of enthusiasm, we had 3 other stops that were very interesting and made more so because of the attendants and guides.  I did not get a picture but the marina and RV park has a new visitors center that is nicely done and provides much detail about the area.  

We were fortunate to have a retired history teacher on duty when we toured Pope Tavern.  He spent a couple of hours with us and went room by room with all of the details.  The top floor was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The most enthusiastic of all though was Tom Hendrix, author of "If The Legends Fade," the story of his great-great-grandmother, Te-lah-nay, taken from her home and Yuchi people in Alabama to the Indian Nations of Oklahoma.  The tribes of the area spoke of the "songs of the Woman in the (Tennessee) River" and Te-lah-nay, who also had special medicinal abilities, longed to return to her native land, eventually escaping from Oklahoma and walking back to Alabama on a 5-year journey. In addition to writing the book, Tom wanted to build a memorial to Te-lah-nay, so he built two stone walls in her honor. Folks, I'm not talking about small projects - he has personally handled every stone in the walls and has been constructing them for 30 years.  One wall, symbolizing the journey to Oklahoma, was short and straight.

The other one winds through the woods for about a half mile, ranges from 4 to 5 feet high and up to 10 feet deep on each side, and has special stops along the way, just as his great-great grandmother made.  Every stone has been laid by hand, somewhere around 3,000 tons of stone.  That's a lot of rocks! 

Tom is on his 23rd wheelbarrow and he noted that it keeps him in pretty good shape - he is 82 and hasn't been to a doctor in 60 years!

We drove by Helen Keller's Home on our way to Tuscumbia but did not stop.

Close by is a pleasant city park in Tuscumbia with rides for the kids, waterfalls, wood carvings, AND ICE CREAM!

The other claim-to-fame for the area is "Fame Music Studios" in Muscle Shoals.  Though small and out of the way of the main recording locations of the American music industry, FAME has produced a large number of hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the "Muscle Shoals sound." Started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, the studio is still actively recording, and the history is fascinating with recording artists ranging from Wilson Picket and Aretha Franklin to The Rolling Stones.

So, as you can see, the area has much to see and do, a great tourist town.  On the return trip home, the city was allowing tourists to view Wilson Lock (normally not available to the public since 9/11) so we had a little fun with the kids and broadcast on our loudspeaker to "smile for the camera."

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