Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wild Animal Safari - Pine Mountain Georgia

 Serengeti of the South - More
Wild Animal Safari is a 200 acre animal preserve located near Pine Mountain, Georgia. The Richardson Tribe has visited the park several times, which is a pretty powerful endorsement in itself. Maybe it's because we love animals so much.

The park has two attractions:

The Serengeti Adventure is most publicized part. This is an hour-long drive-through safari that brings you face-to-face with dozens of very unique animals (see pictures). You can drive your own car (not recommended), ride in a tour bus, or rent your own zebra safari van. We prefer to rent the van because we have control of our pace and when and where we stop. The vans are nasty, but you can always shower later. If you decide to drive your own vehicle, be aware that some of the animals have large horns and are very clumsy. Additionally, you will certainly
get some mammal slobber on your car's interior at some point during the tour. Food can (and should) be purchased in the visitor center when checking in. Feeding the animals is a major part of the attraction.

The second attraction is called the Walk-About. This part of the park is more like a typical zoo, loaded with incredible specimens. You will certainly be impressed. The animals all seem to be very well cared for, fat, and happy. You'll get a little closer to the animals than most zoos allow. The park features ligers, a cross between a lion and tiger. They are the largest cats, and trust me, they are huge.

There are many appealing factors to Wild Animal Safari, but perhaps its location is the biggest plus. Wild Animal Safari is located near Pine Mountain, Georgia, a very quaint little southern town. Just a few miles up the road is Callaway Gardens, a popular southern family resort. Franklin D Roosevelt State Park and Roosevelt's "Little White House" are also popular destinations. We have camped at the state park and really love it. However, without full hookups in the campground, extended stays are difficult. We have also camped at Pine Mountain RV, a very nice PB&J endorsed RV park just minutes from all the local attractions.

For more details and lots of pictures, click here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chieftains Museum - Rome, Georgia

The Home of a Cherokee Leader
The Chieftains Museum is located in the former estate home of Major Ridge, also known as Kah-nung-da-tla-geh (1771-1839), a rebellious Cherokee leader born in the north Georgia mountains. At the rather plush upscale home's core is a very old log cabin, renovated by its wealthy owner in the early 1800's. At the time of the forced exodus of the Cherokee from North Georgia, the Ridge manor was of higher quality than most, if not all others in the area, including those of the white residents. His estate included a ferry, a store, hundreds of fruit trees, rich river bottom farm land, and sadly, well over 30 slaves of African and Creek descent.

 The home itself is a fascinating tour, but the stories associated to the home's previous owners are much more interesting. I won't attempt to explain the history of the Ridge family in this short article. It's simply too complicated. However, to spice it up a little, I'll say this: Major Ridge was a Cherokee warrior, hunter, business man, politician, and assassin. He and his son John were directly involved in the signing of the treaty of New Echota, which surrendered the remainder of the Cherokee's land to Georgia. Both paid the ultimate price for doing so. The official Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee tell the story best.

The Chieftains Museum is located adjacent Ridge Ferry Park on the banks of the Oostanaula River. Ridge Ferry Park is one of our favorite bike-riding and festival destinations. Ridge Ferry Park hosts a variety of events including an annual Cherokee powwow and one of our favorite art festivals, the Chiaha Harvest Fair.
The history of the Southeastern US is fascinating to me. I wish there were a movie about the Creek and Cherokee that told the whole story! The odd personalities and politics of the time, and the near-paradigm that took place. History certainly could have emerged quite differently had time favored the Cherokee. Discovery of gold in their territory sealed their fate.

If you would like a good post-Creek history of the region, the Chieftains museum is a must see destination. You should also consider visiting New Echota, the former capitol of the Cherokee Nation located in nearby Calhoun. For history about the natives that lived here prior to the Cherokee, take the short drive to see the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville.

Few homes in the area were finer than Major Ridge's

The Chieftains' halls are lined with exhibits ranging from the days of Desoto through the Civil War.

Ceremonial masks and hundreds of other historical items are displayed at the Chieftains Museum.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Did You Do That?

Traveling with Seven
Sometimes, as we are rolling down the road, people will stare and point. Why? Maybe it's because we look a little like the Beverly Hillbillies moving across the country with all our worldly possessions strapped to the truck. The Richardson Tribe consists of two parents and four children. Additionally, Rebecca's mother (aka Mother Goose), also lives and travels with us. So, altogether, we are seven, and that presents some issues when it comes to travel. And yes, we might look a little odd, but we're prepared.

Homer - Our First RV
When we first started RV camping, the kids were very small. We started with a tiny "Class C" motorhome we named Homer. Homer had one chair, a dinette, a cab over bunk, and a small bed. Initially, the small camper was ok. We spent most of the time outside, and retired to the camper when it was bedtime. As the children grew, the tiny space became too cramped for comfortable travel and sleeping. We pondered the need to upgrade. We loved Homer, but we needed more beds, more seating, and more living space.

Upgrading - A Tough Decision
Deciding what would replace our beloved Homer was a very difficult task. We considered all the possibilities, including trailers and 5th wheel units. No doubt, either of these options were attractive from the living space versus cost standpoint, but there were issues. For example, a trailer requires a tow vehicle large enough to pull it, so a truck or large SUV is required. Additionally, we need seating for seven, and that really limits the options to a large expensive SUV such as a Suburban.. A 5th wheel unit requires a pickup truck, but our seating requirements eliminated that option immediately. Safety and comfort while traveling are most important.

Other factors influenced our choice of RV such as the convenience of a restroom and kitchen while traveling. I estimate that by not stopping to use the restroom, we save a considerable amount of time and money. Every time we use a restroom at a gas station, we feel obliged to buy a snack. With seven hungry people, that can add up.

So, after all considerations were made, we began shopping for a new motorhome. We had seen a Winnebago Access 31J at a Stone Mountain RV show in 2008, and it seemed perfect. Unfortunately, the price was well over our planned budget. I searched every resource I knew. RV Trader, Ebay, Craigslist, and various other online and print media. We needed something that would easily sleep 7 or more people comfortably, and was capable of pulling a tow vehicle. It was a frustrating search. Then one day, I stumbled across an ad for the exact model we'd wished for. A dealer had gone out of business, and Winnebago had repossessed an Access 31J with bunks in the slide. It was perfect, and the price was incredible. I drove to Colerain RV in Cincinnati, Ohio immediately to trade our beloved Homer in for a brand-new Homer II. We were sad to see our first Homer go, but we were ready for a good night's sleep.

Meet Homer II - Winnebago Access 31J
Homer II is a "class c" motorhome with two slide-outs on a Ford F3500 chassis with a V10 powerplant. There is a queen size bed over the cab, a queen size bed in the master, two twin bunks in a slide, a sofa that folds into a bed, and a dinette that folds into a bed. Technically, it will sleep 10, so we are quite comfortable with 7. The furnishings are more plush than our old RV, but still not overly luxurious. It's a very functional layout with warm colors and a cozy feel. We have two flat-screen TV's and  DVD player that can be viewed on both screens.

The main living area is in a slide out, and it has a sofa, dinette, and a relatively compact kitchen. It suits our needs, but we could always use more pantry space and a larger fridge. The cab-over bunk is a very spacious. Our oldest son has that bed to himself usually. Sometimes, our youngest boy will join him when "Mother Goose" is occupying his bunk. The sofa and dinette can both be converted to beds, but we never fold the table down. There are two bunks in the hallway between the main living area and the master, and across the hall from the sizeable restroom. That entire back right half of the camper, including the bunks, slides out for added floor space and access to storage. The master bedroom features a queen bed, lots of closet space, and another flat screen TV. Some living space and storage is sacrificed by having the bunks, but adequate sleeping space is a necessity.

The size and weight of the Winnebago Access pushes the 3500 chassis to its limits. It is easy to drive, however, and everything works well. Homer II averages about 10mpg on the highway when not towing a vehicle. When we pull our Jeep, it averages about 7mpg. Yes, it hurts when fuel prices are high, but it's still cheaper than flying. Remember, we're carrying seven people and a lot of supplies and toys. I also want to mention that the V10 power plant is very reliable and does a great job pulling.

Our Toad - A Jeep Named "Willie B"
If you are not familiar with the term "toad," that's what motorhome owners call the vehicle they pull behind them. Our "toad" is a 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited X. The Jeep Wrangler is the only four-door convertible available, and I like convertibles. I have always wanted a Jeep, and when the four door wrangler came out, I was excited. Unfortunately, I soon learned the Wrangler accommodates but five passengers. Fortunately, I found, a company that manufactures third-row seats for Jeeps and other SUVs. It wasn't a cheap addition, but was well worth the investment. I made the mistake of ordering the seat with lap belts only. Rebecca wouldn't hear of it, so I quickly added four point off-road safety harnesses. The safety harnesses may be overkill, but still cheaper than the shoulder strap option from

The Toys - What About The Toys
When we take our bikes on adventures, I can fit all six on the back of Willie B using a combination of a bike rack and flat rack, both attached to the receiver hitch with a dual adapter. We also travel with two Canoes occasionally. This presented two problems. First, how to carry two 15' canoes, and second, how to load them by myself. I usually have help, but I can't rely on that. I solved the problem of carrying the canoes by removing the handles from one and nesting them together. Then I installed  Warrior Products Safari Watercraft Rack which supports the canoes at the front an rear of the cab.. To make loading easier, I ordered a Cabela's Canoe Loader. It makes loading much easier, and provides additional support at the rear of the vehicle. With regards to the Warrior Products watercraft rack, it's really not very strong and it took some major modifications to install. Unless they have since made some design changes, I cannot endorse it. The Cabela's Canoe Loader, however, performs exactly as advertised.

Pulling the Toad - On The Road
We have tried a couple of methods for pulling the Jeep. I considered flat-towing Willie B, but I wasn't interested in adding a brake apparatus to the Jeep. I initially used a tow dolly, and that worked fine, but limited the places we could go. It's virtually impossible to back a vehicle on a tow dolly, and more than once, that disability cost me valuable time and unnecessary work. We now use a trailer to haul our toad. It can easily be backed, and it provides some additional storage while we're on the road. The only negative of the trailer is finding a place to store it when we have reached our destination. Sometimes, a long pull-through will accommodate the entire 50' rig, but I prefer back-in sites. Typically, the host campground will provide a parking spot for us.

So, there you have it. The Richardson Tribe may look like the Beverly Hillbillies traveling down the road, but we're comfortable and prepared. Wherever we go, we have what we need. Everyone has place to ride, sit, and sleep. We are pleased with the Winnebago and Jeep, and plan to keep them both for some time to come.