First Time at Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry has been on my wish list of places to visit since I was a kid in school.  Although it lies at the junction of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia its not really easy to get to, so I was glad that our campsite was relatively close.  It was overcast when we set out, but I was excited to be able to do some exploring.  I took a vacation day, so we went on a Friday and even though we got there very early it was surprisingly crowded.  It was also somewhat confusing because the Visitors Center and shuttle buses are pretty far from the town itself.  It costs $20 to enter for the day or is free with the America the Beautiful pass so we paid the $80 to renew our annual membership.  We always get our money’s worth!

The visitors center was closed but the shuttle buses were running, and if you parked in the lot you could take them down.  Unfortunately we took Jack with us because I read how dog friendly it was, but they aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses.  We could have parked at the top and walked the mile and a half down to the town but instead we decided to take the rangers advice and see if there were any spots in the train lot.  His directions and the map was pretty confusing but ultimately we found it using GPS and got a killer parking spot on the corner. 


Driving into town


There was a fee box at the train station so I assume they monitor. Technically you might be able to find a place to park for free nearby.


Aerial view of the train station parking lot.  Not very big.


The train station is a historic building and we saw a couple of trains that day.


Harpers Ferry was a major stop on the road to Ohio from Maryland.  B&O railroad (like in Monopoly) stands for Baltimore & Ohio railroad.


Learning about the railroad started what turned into an interesting day.  When I think of Harpers Ferry I think about John Brown (more on that later), but it was also an important historical site in the civil war, part of the Appalachian Trail,  and Lewis and Clark tested boats here. They did a nice job of dealing with the various historical contexts as we wandered the various sites although it definitely adjusted my thinking about why Harpers Ferry is significant.  


Although Harpers Ferry is a National Park there is also a town where people live.


Don’t worry, he’s not off leash, just Photoshop!



The general store had a nice section for the hikers

The main historical sites were actually the old armory.  Guns were made in Harpers Ferry and it changed hands eight times during the civil war.  Most of those buildings were burned down but they did a nice job of showing where they existed. 

The field where most of the armory was




Lewis and Clark tested their boat at this site





The map shows all the orange buildings that are gone and the couple of yellow buildings that remain



The black areas were where the older buildings were originally


They really did a nice job of talking about multiple aspects. This sign talked about how poor the working conditions were and how the then president told them to get back to work.


Some of the machines used to make guns.

(It cannot be stressed enough what a big deal this was. The Federal armories at Harpers Ferry were among the very first machine operated industries in the United States. The use of time and labor saving machines to make locks, stocks, and barrels was a game changer. Prior to this it took a gun specialist to repair any gun, because EVERY  part was made by hand and parts were not interchangeable because every part on every gun was unique to THAT gun. After the advent of machines, parts were interchangeable and ANY gun could be repaired by almost anyone. In addition, the rifling machine also significantly improved the guns. A spiral groove was carved into the interior of the barrel, giving the musket ball a spin, allowing it travel much more accurately over much greater distance. – Lee)








The lone monument to John Brown was up on a hill in the original site



The fire house has been moved, but is still standing.



The fort had another plaque for John Brown on it


The story of John Brown is a complicated one.  He was an abolitionist who raided Harpers Ferry in 1859 with the intention of arming enslaved people.  The raid failed with most men killed or captured by the US marines and Brown was tried and executed.  During that time period he was considered a domestic terrorist by many and a hero by some.  Now of course he is on the right side of history and although we may not approve of his methods few could take issue with his motives.  He certainly earned his place in history as this even was one of the most pivotal that sparked the Civil War. 



This memorial by the Daughters of the Confederacy really struck a sour note with me. That being said it is part of history.


One positive thing that did happen was Storer College was founded in the town.  It had the goal of educating all people regardless of sex or color and there was a wonderful exhibit inside.  Frederick Douglas was one of its trustees and the college helped many people leave a life of poverty.  





After touring the museum we walked over to see the water and discovered a piece of the Appalachian Trail.  The bridge was really cool and allowed closer views of the train tunnel and we really enjoyed walking on that piece of history. Now we can say we walked the Appalachian Trail we just don’t have to say how much of it 🙂



Loved the locks






After we walked on the trail we went over to the historic part of town.  These buildings have been turned into mini-museums and you could peek in and see how things used to look.  The shuttle stop was also over in that area and they had a tent for the park service to hand out information. 


Park Service Visitors tent







I loved how this rock was right in town. The city is built on levels.



My favorite part of the town though was the beautiful catholic church at the top of the hill.


The stairs were super cool but steep and a bit slippery.




The stained glass was gorgeous



The inside was closed to tourists for COVID but I peeked inside and got a quick pic



View of the town from the church.  That alone was worth the walk.


Lee is always looking for the thing around the corner and saw some more stairs.  I was a bit winded from the last set, but off we went and I was glad we did.  First we saw the ruins of another church.  It was used as a hospital and command center and the Civil War cannon fire destroyed it.  The Catholic Church was spared this fate by flying the Union Jack flag…their way of staying neutral. 












The views from the top were gorgeous but there was more to see.  Up more stairs and around the corner was Jefferson Rock.  Thomas Jefferson toured the town and stated this view was one of the most beautiful he had ever seen.  I agree, although my pictures do not do the view justice. 


More Stairs


And a path


Jefferson Rock



The view to the left


And the right


After we visited the rock we ate at the Rabbit Hole on their patio on the way down.  It was OK, but my favorite thing was the old fashioned candy store.  They had candy from all different ages and we treated ourselves to a few items including potato candy which neither of us had ever had. 







I will say the potato candy was so sweet that we tried one piece and then threw the rest away.  Glad I tried it though. 


All in all it was a great day.  I would definitely recommend coming during the week if you can, and also bringing bug spray.  The gnats were pretty aggressive near the water and I heard its worse in the spring.  Next up Washington D.C. and another new experience for us. 


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Trying a New Way to Travel – Part II

This posts strictly deals with the our new way of traveling and picks up where Trying a New Way to Travel leaves off.  We have learned quite a bit over the last several weeks and I want to share all of that with you as it happens.  Our next stop after the last campground was a State Fairgrounds in Lewisburg, but before we could leave we needed to get our tires fixed.  I made numerous calls to try and find someone who could replace our G tires on our RV and thankfully I found Corridor H Tires.  They were terrific.  Not only did they perform the work expertly, they also replaced the truck brake pads for a very reasonable price.  The waiting room was also super puppy friendly, and Jack and I hung out there while it was being done. 








Ready to roll

It took us longer than we thought to reach the State Fairground and there was extra confusion when we arrived because the site number that we had booked wasn’t clearly marked.  Lee had to call the office to find out what was going on and we were told we could take any spots The outer edge had 50 amp but the sewer hookups were so overgrown and we initially couldn’t see them.  Finally we found a spot and settled in. 

For $45 dollars a day I wasn’t that impressed, but Jack loved it.  There was a HUGE field in the back we could let him run around off leash and I will say it was close to everything we wanted to do and the cell coverage was great.  It was fine for a few nights, but I wouldn’t actually recommend it, but once again there weren’t many options.   All the state parks were booked for the weekends, which continues to be a common theme this fall. 


View from my window


Big field for Jack


While we were staying at the State Fair Grounds we tried to book our next stay and we realized there was nowhere close that had cell coverage.  After numerous phone calls we found a place about 30 miles from where we had just left, which caused another Sunday travel day and lots of extra miles.  Lessons learned from this was to book farther in advance as we could have avoided all of this extra travel. Here is a Google map representation of what we did.  


Oh one thing. We couldn’t actually got up 219 because the road was not big rig friendly. It had 10 % grades and all other sorts of nasty things for a fifth wheel.


This route kept us on major roads and took most of a Sunday.  Well at least we are seeing lots of the state 🙂

Once we arrived at Elkins, we again realized the campground would not work for us.  It was across a narrow bridge and railroad tracks and I lost cell as soon as we started to go down it.  Thankfully we were able to back up and we headed back up the road to a place we had passed on the way.  Smokey Bottom Campground wasn’t listed on any of the sites, but it was terrific. The owner was very nice and only charged us $32 a night.  There was lots of area to walk Jack and we had really nice neighbors Don and Dottie and Jack was able to play with their dogs.






Behind us


View from my side window.


This was by far my favorite place we stayed in during our time in West Virginia with the single exception of an escape by Jack.  I got too comfortable letting him off leash and one day he ran up a steep hill behind our place to railroad tracks.  I had to climb the hill (Don was kind enough to go with me) and finally I reached him at the top.  Going down was even more brutal and I was very unhappy with Jack for a couple of days.

Our next place to stay was in Maryland, but once again we had a nasty surprise.  Lee had called twice to verify our reservation, but when we were one hour out we learned the owner had given our spot away. Thankfully again it was a Sunday, but there was nowhere close to stay and ultimately we had to go back to West Virginia and stay at Falling Waters Campsite.  Don’t get me wrong I was super grateful to find a place for $40 a night with weekend availability, but I really wanted to be in Maryland.  Plus trying to find a campground last minute (no lie I found the place about 3 miles before we had to exit the freeway) is super stressful. 

We spent precious little time in Maryland before going back to West Virginia.  We did NOT enjoy our visit.


The campground has a fantastic RV parts store


The spaces are tight though.


View outside my window.


Actually this whole “winging it” has been way too stressful for us.  We have had to change campgrounds three times for various reasons and the cost has been on the high side.  Not planning costs something in the east and after this last adventure we decided to lock our calendar in.  We are now booked through the beginning of January and although this gives us less flexibility than we would like it does give us more peace of mind.  

I am sure some of you are thinking “I travel like this all the time and don’t have issue” and that may be true.  But with the absolute need for strong cell coverage and desire to visit as many places as possible we need more rigor around our schedule. In a nutshell, our lives just don’t lend themselves to not planning ahead!

Next up we are headed down to a campsite Lee found in Maryland where we get to spend two whole weeks and do a good amount of sightseeing around Washington DC! Lots more to come. 


Jack is becoming a veteran traveler. He is too cool for school.



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Blackwater Falls, Seneca Rocks & Spruce Knob

We have been super lucky on weekend weather, but this Saturday it was overcast.  Thankfully the rain held off for most of the day, but it was kind of a bummer that I couldn’t really capture all the gorgeous foliage.  We love the West, but nothing beats an east coast fall, and West Virginia mountain foliage was absolutely gorgeous.

Our first stop was Blackwater Falls and It was a lovely waterfall.  There is a nice wooden walkway that wanders through the woods and the views were amazing.  It was a little crowded for my taste (a downfall of visiting places on weekends), but super glad we went.

Beautiful walk way


It curved around huge rocks


The magic of Photoshop allowed us to get this pic and take Lee out of it. He was standing to the left holding a treat.



First platform


I loved loved this picture


Lots of folks we weaved our way through


If you look at the top middle of the rocks you see a guy who walked out to the edge. This will give you some scale.




Next we drove down into the Dolly Sods Wilderness.  There is an amazing viewpoint up a gravel road, but it was too rough for me that day.  Plus with the overcast skies I didn’t think it was worth it, so we just took some pictures from the bottom.


The road to get to Dolly Sods was paved



Gorgeous 360 views from a bridge.



Next we headed to Spruce Knob (the highest point in West Virginia) and along the way we stopped for lunch and saw Seneca Rocks.  These rocks are super popular with climbers and kind of interesting, but for those of us who have been out west just so-so.  The area was packed though and they were doing a good business.  One benefit of traveling on Saturdays is places were open.  Our neighbors in the RV park said the restaurants were closed when they went during the week.


Seneca Rocks



Had a so-so sandwich at the deli, but it did the trick.

Finally we made it to Spruce Knob and we drove to the top.  There is a half mile walk with an overlook tower, plus a nice point you can walk out to.  Definitely wear your hiking boots because the terrain to get to the point is really rough.














Got some awesome Jack pictures


The valley was beautiful sorry I couldn’t capture it with the fog


This was what we had to walk down to get to the point.






Of course we would never let Jack off leash, Lee just likes to remove the leash using Photoshop because it makes for better pictures.


Lee’s pic


It was a lovely day despite the weather and we got back right when the rain started.  It rained for the next three days so I am grateful we got some sightseeing in at all.  Next up more information about our traveling as we head to Maryland.


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First Time at New River Gorge

After we visited The Greenbrier we went back and picked up Jack and headed to the New River Gorge.  My Dad had said it was a must visit while we were in the area and since he rarely makes those kind of suggestions I was determined to go.  It was a 1-1/2 hour drive to get there, but since it was all scenic highway and the leaves are starting to turn it was fun.  Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered the Visitors Center was closed, but they did have rangers outside answering questions and handing out copies of maps.  Our park service is amazing. 




The first thing we did was walk on a paved path to an overlook.  The views from there were just OK so we decided to walk the 136 steps down to better views.  I loved the sign at the entrance to the stairs.  




Views before the stairs


Cracked me up. “Please remember that while going down is an option, coming back up is not.”


Jack didn’t mind the stairs



Look at all that love


The lower landing was a bit crowded for my taste, but the views were much better. And we got a couple cool selfies.






After huffing and puffing up the stairs we decided to take the scenic drive down to the river. This route is largely one lane paved road, but Lee had fun driving it and the instructions as provided by the rangers were perfect.  There were several pullouts for hiking trails along the route and we stopped at one halfway down to take a couple of pictures. 



The drive down and roaming around took over an hour even though it was only 8 miles so make sure you have the time if you decided to do it.  For me this was the best part though so I wouldn’t skip it unless you had to. 


We crossed this bridge at the bottom, parked,  and then walked back to take pictures.


Lee’s cool pic of the bridge.



Absolutely beautiful day. I have been so lucky that Saturdays have been such nice weather.


After checking out the bridge we walked down the the river.  We were lucky because a train went by and we saw some whitewater rafters.  Really fun day and Jack had a nice time.  Even got some video which is at the end. 


Families were exploring the area, but lots of room for everyone to social distance.


We explored the rocky area and Lee taught Jack to come along with him. At first Jack was tentative, but by the end he was doing better than me. The footing was rough, so definitely wear your hiking shoes.





You can see the train above the river in the picture


Happy Jack



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First Time at The Greenbrier

One of the main things Lee wanted to do when he visited West Virginia was take a tour of The Greenbrier.  Surprisingly, I had never heard of it and I say surprisingly because my Dad has gone several times and other people I know as well.  It has a golf course that is on the PGA Tour and is a VERY nice resort.  None of that was why Lee was interested though.  It turns out that for many years Greenbrier was a secret radiation fallout shelter for the US government and he wanted to tour those facilities.  At $39 per adult the tickets were not cheap but I was interested enough to go along and I was glad I did.

We arrived about an hour early on a foggy morning which gave us plenty of time to take pictures of the hotel.


I took this picture after we left when the fog had burned off.



The front gates. You have to stay across the street if you are just taking the tour.


The security kiosk took our temperatures and then called a shuttle bus to run us up.


Right when we walked in the door I loved the chandelier.


And all of the different rooms were gorgeous.






There was seating outside with lit fire pits


We learned later that the grassy area is turned into an ice skating rink in the winter.


One of my favorite rooms was the ballroom. Absolutely gorgeous


The chandeliers were amazing. Two of them were even from the movie Gone with the Wind which gave me chills.




Beautiful flowers throughout the facility.


Large dining room.



Call me crazy but the way I judge how fancy a place is by its bathrooms.  So as soon as I could I went into one and it did not disappoint!





The towels in the bathroom were heavy and monogrammed.


They also had this fancy mailbox.


We kept wandering and there were so many rooms and little seating areas.  We didn’t even get pictures of them all.




I think Lee counted 8 pianos.







Truly this place kind of reminded me of a Las Vegas casino with all kinds of services available on property.  It has a casino, movie theater, shops,and multiple restaurants.


Classic cars in the lobby.


The movie theater.


Casino. You have to be staying there to enter. Wonder how well that plays with the locals.


Amazing toy store.




All of that was really neat but we were there for the tour.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures but at the end we did get a few post cards that I took pictures of. We learned later there is a huge data center in part of the bunker and for security reasons they won’t allow pictures to be taken.  When I learned this I realized I may not have heard of Greenbrier, but I had heard of the data center.  Side note, the data center make the owner (the governor of Virginia) more money than the resort itself.  Smart!

I didn’t mind the pictures as much as my inability to take notes during the tour.  Normally I jot things down, but I am relying on my 54 year old memory so if I get anything wrong I apologize in advance. Here’s my attempt to tell you the story of how it all came to be.

During the Cold War President Eisenhower understood the need for a fallout shelter that the legislative branch of the government could evacuate to in case of a nuclear attack.  If that seems odd, keep in mind that at the time nuclear bombs had to be delivered by planes, and the hills and valleys of West Virginia would make it difficult for a direct hit strike and the terrain and winds would help clear the fallout.

Also President Eisenhower loved the resort and was friends with the original owners.  The idea that was proposed under amazing secrecy was that a new “West Virginiaa” wing would be built, and underneath the wing the bunker would be constructed.  There were rumors, of course, but the contractors were threatened with treason if they spoke about anything.  It was a different time, and it worked.


The President met the Ambassadors for Mexico and Canada at The Greenbrier but this was actually a cover to finalize the deal with the owners.


A drawing of the building.


The official letter introducing the architect.  Only these four members of congress were notified, one of which was Lyndon Johnson.  The building was paid for with funds that were supposed to go to another purpose.

At this point I am going to let Lee take over.  He found some pictures online taken by a nonprofit prior to the ban going into affect so I will let him try and recreate the tour.  I absolutely recommend going though.  Our tour guide was excellent and although the group at 20 people was a little large I felt it was well worth the $39 per person. So here’s Lee.

Initially known as “Project X” and then “Caspar” and finally “Project Greek Isle”, the Greenbrier bunker was part of the US Government’s Cold War era continuity plan which included ships (now decomissioned) and aircraft; Air Force One, Nightwatch and Looking Glass. (As an interesting side note, Looking Glass was so called because of it’s ability to “mirror” the Strategic Air Command’s underground command and control at Offutt AFB outside of Omaha. Beginning in 1961, for 37 years, one of eleven Air Force  Boeing EC-35 (modified C-135 Stratolifter) Looking Glass aircraft was airborne 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In 1998 the US Navy took over Looking Glass. On a more personal note, I got to take a peek through a hole in a wall while recently visiting the Strategic Air Command museum outside Omaha this past July, and saw one of these undergoing restoration. I hope to one day be able to see it when it’s finished and on display.)

Greek Isle was only for the legislative branch of the government. Other branches and parts of the continuity plan were covered by other facilities, such as Raven Rock (Defense Dept.), Mount Weather, and Cheyenne Mountain.

A Look Glass EC-35, which is a modified C-135 Stratolifter, capable of flying over 3500 miles before needing refueling, which can be done in-flight.


Inside a Looking Glass aircraft during exercises in 1979.


Construction of The Greenbrier facility began in 1957 and took about four years, finishing up within days of the Cuban missile crisis. One of the methods they used to conceal what they were doing was cut-and-cover, where material removed from the hill to create the bunker was then moved to another location at the property and used to expand the gold course and as fill material to extend the local airfield runway. The bunker is not designed to withstand a direct hit, but with walls of two foot thick reinforced concrete a missile hit as close as thirty miles away would not damage it.


The construction.




One of my favorite parts about this entire thing is that it was designed to be partially hidden in plain sight. The largest main room, which if needed by Congress would be set up as a massive  office full of cubicles, was used at all other times as a convention/exhibit hall. Hundreds of thousands of people over decades passed through the main entrance, never knowing that the wall next to the opening concealed a 20 ton blast door.  The door was so perfectly balanced on its hinges, that it requires only 50 pounds of force to open and close. A single person can easily do it.

You can see the door hidden away in the nook and the folding wall that kept it hidden for decades.




Right inside that door is the massive 17,000 sq. ft. Exhibit Hall. For decades this was where trade shows and conventions were held, and it was actually part of the fallout shelter. In this picture you can see an early trade show.


Now it’s still an event space, but it’s been updated. You can see that they have covered the load bearing concrete columns with drywall covers, and installed outlets and other technology inside those covers.

Beyond the “public” space, was the secret stuff. It’s not terribly exciting, really, it was just a fallout shelter, so it contained all the things that would be needed to house people for six months if the bunker was sealed up.

In addition to the door pictured above, there are three other 20″ thick blast doors, two of which large enough for vehicles to pass through, all weighing twenty tons or more. In addition to the “hidden in plain sight” door inside the hotel, another of the doors was hidden behind a large door with “Danger High Voltage” signage warning people away.

The concrete tunnel entrance is disguised with green paint and a fence, as well as a “standard” outer door.   t

Once the doors were closed and sealed there was 72 hours worth of air inside the bunker, but fresh air could be vented in from the outside and filtered using stacks hidden around the property and protected by more “high voltage” warning signs.


In the event of an attack, Congressmen would have been taken to a decontamination room where they would have stripped, showered, and put on uncontaminated clothes.

Decontamination facility

They would have been shown to one of 18 dorm rooms, each designed to house 60 people in individual bunks.  For thirty years, every bunk was assigned to a specific person, even though almost none of them ever saw them. Each of them would also have had part of a locker and a single lockable private drawer under their bunk.  Interesting note there were so few women in congress at the time that the co-ed nature of the bunkhouses wasn’t an issue. – Trace



There were also day room or “living room” spaces scattered throughout.



There was also a kitchen and 400 seat cafeteria, which had fake windows with fake scenic views. That kitchen is now used as a culinary training center. Among other supplies, the bunker was provided with enough food for 1,000 people to last 60 days. How this was done was pretty brilliant. The hotel just always had this food on hand, and used it in their restaurants,  replacing as needed. Government employees also had to constantly update their plans based on who the current members of Congress were.




Of course, once that resort food was gone, there was nothing but rations for a looong time.

Rations stock the long entrance to the bunker.

There are also two auditoriums, one for the House, and one for the Senate.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the bunker is the vast television, radio, and communications facilities. In the event of an attack, congressmen would have been expected to give speeches broadcast to whatever was left of the American population. The TV conference room even includes a backdrop of the Capital Building, giving the illusion of normalcy. Sadly nothing of that is left but the giant murals.


There’s a nice little museum area that shows some of the equipment and facilities that were part of the original installation.




The facility could also provide medical and dental care for the residents.




Of course, a facility like this requires infrastructure. Six generators and associated equipment, water purification systems, 75,000 gallons of water storage.



Including three 14,000 diesel tanks.


And to get rid of their garbage a incinerator.  It would also double as a crematorium if someone died.

And of course, the best part of all this for me is that while the facility was never used once in thirty years, it had to always be ready for use. Constant maintenance, updating of equipment and technology,  and preparedness drills required an onsite staff.  They needed to be there, but they needed their true purposed to be a secret.

In order to solve this problem, Forsythe Associates was created.  It was a dummy corporation that consisted of top secret government employees who pretended to be part of a contract company the Greenbrier had hired to provide AV support for the hotel’s 1000 televisions, and other technology. I’m sure they also provided AV support for the trade shows and conventions, as their office was just off the exhibit hall, along with a concealed entrance that gave them access to the rest of the bunker through a closet in their office.

Even after the technology changed and missiles delivered nuclear bombs, the facility was maintained with significant expense to the tax payer.  Finally in 1992 a Washington Post story revealed the secret, and it was immediately decommissioned and shut down.  Now some of the area is being used as a data center and the rest is open for tours.  It truly was very interesting and although the cost was on the higher side I do highly recommend it.


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Lost World Caverns

Written by Lee.  You may remember that I am a little claustrophobic so caverns are really not my thing.  If you are worried I am not getting to do much sight seeing we are making the most of Saturdays and Lee is picking stuff to do that I wouldn’t want to do anyway.  Win-Win!! – Trace

If you should happen to find yourself in this area, Lost World Caverns is a great stop for a quick hour of fun. It’s only 2.5 miles from the Lewisburg Interstate exit, very inexpensive ($15), and well maintained.  Just an overall good cavern tour experience. The best part is, it’s self guided, so you can take as long as you want, or run through as fast as you can. Lee really doesn’t like guided tours because he likes to take his time with taking pictures.  On guided tours he is always last in line and invariably he gets scolded for not keeping up. – Trace.  The guy who sold me my ticket said most people spend 45 minutes to an hour, but I was in there for four hours taking long exposures with a tripod. It’s pretty rare that places like this allow a tripod, so it’s a great opportunity to learn the manual settings on a camera.

Clearly marked entrance, there’s no missing the turn off!




Plenty of parking, but I wouldn’t bring a big rig, the road here is narrow and twisty.

After walking through a HUGE gift shop and museum area, you head down the stairs! Make sure you have everything you need. I forgot my tripod plate and had to come ALL the way back up. He got his steps in that day – Trace



Dress accordingly, the temperature at this depth is always 52°, and it’s damp on the walkway. Another reason I am not fond of caves.  They are damp cold, my least favorite – Trace


Lee just started with the pictures, but I wanted to mention that he took all of these using a tripod and long exposure.  It was super dark in the cavern and taking pictures is hard in the dark.  Pretty happy about how they turned out. – Trace









I thought this one was super cool. – Trace










This was was really creepy. Reminded me of pods from the alien movies. – Trace






























































It was too dark to get pictures of the bones and the ladder, but I thought it was pretty interesting so I included the plaque!

And here’s a little video with some creepy music!


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

September 2020 Budget and Data

Whew, this was an expensive month!  We spent $9,057.  Much of this was around truck and RV repairs, and you can see that detail below.  Plus Lee has added lots of other cool data, so even if you don’t care about the budget you might want to scroll down and look at that stuff. 


Campground Fees – Now that we are traveling, we are finding campgrounds based more on location and cost.  We do try to watch costs, but that has been somewhat out of our control.  This month was $772 and Lee has provided more detail below.

Clothing – We spent $145 this month mainly on collector T-shirts and sweatshirts.  We like to get our casual upper wear from places we visit and there were lots of opportunities this month with our travels.

Dining Out – Wow we went crazy in this category spending almost $800 on dining out food.  A chunk of this is because our generator isn’t working and we like to have a hot lunch when we travel, but it was also just eating out on exploring days.

Groceries – It was disappointing that our groceries were so high since we ate out so much, but rural areas are much more expensive for groceries as well.

Home Repair – We finally found a place to replace our “G” trailer tires which makes this the fourth set of tires, if you include the originals, since we picked up the rig in April of 2014. We had cheap E tires, then good G tires which wore out prematurely due to an axle problem, then we replaced with cheap G tires about a year and a half ago, and had lots of trouble with those, and are back to Goodyear G tires.  $2200 was a decent price though, and the work was done expertly and quickly. Lee has more on this below.

Tolls – Because we are in the east now tolls are a thing and we finally purchased an EZ Pass.  Even with the discounts tolls add up but since we are committed to staying on easier roads that is the price we pay.

Truck Fuel – $691 actually wasn’t that bad for all the miles we put on this month.  We did a decent job of trying to find cheap gas but when we couldn’t it was around $2.46…ouch!  Staying on major roads added extra miles and our inability to find a campsite in one area caused significant backtracking. Still we are learning how to travel the new way and I am OK with this as a starting point. More details on fuel below.

Truck Maintenance – We had to get a coolant change, oil change, two new front tires, and new brake pads.  Since a Ford dealer quoted us $1500 to do the brakes (we got it done at the tire place for $200) I am OK with the total being $1200.

If you take the truck and home repairs out our month was $5518 which is much more reasonable.  I am just happy we were able to do those repairs without losing too much travel time.

Additional monthly data from Lee…

But first….

I did some research after reading this post and I wanted to provide a little context on the tires. They’re pretty expensive, and sometimes it seems like we are ALWAYS buying tires. Here’s what I found on our tire purchases.

The first tires we bought were two new front Michelin tires in June 2015, when the truck was about a year and a half old, and had only 16.5k miles. The reason was that the alignment on the truck was terrible, and as soon as we started towing the rig around it just destroyed the tread wear pattern.

Next in November 2015 we bought four Goodyear G614’s for the fifth wheel to replace the horrible tires that came with the rig. At that point we only had 10k miles on the trailer, but we had had two tires go bad on us.

April 2016 we got four rear Michelin tires for the truck. The originals were 28 months old and had around 41k on them. That’s not too bad considering what came with the truck was junk.

January 2017 we got front truck tires again, this time we got around 19 months and 44k miles out of them before they need replaced.

April 2019 we replaced the Goodyear G614s with four horrible garbage tires on the rig, because the Goodyears were completely ruined from having axle issues before the Mor Ryde system was installed. Trailer mileage when we got those tires was 44,259, and we had bought the G614s at 10,000, so we had the G614s for 41 months and 34k miles, which is not really too bad.

September 2019 we got 4 rear Michelins for the truck. The set we replaced lasted for 41 months, 75k miles. We definitely got our money’s worth out of those!

And finally, in September 2020 we got 2 front Michelins for the truck, after 44 months and 74k miles.

At the same time we got rid of the junk tires on the fifth wheel and got new Goodyear G614s. The “bad” tires (which had one flat) we had for 17 months and only 9k miles. Absolutely ridiculous.  Key takeaway buy Goodyear tires! – Trace

So I project that we will need four new rear tires for the truck around December of 2022 and/or 186k miles, although it might be sooner if we travel more than we have been.

And I project that we’ll need trailer tires and new front tires for the truck in December of 2023, and/or 205k miles, and again, it might be sooner if we travel more than we have been.

And now here’s the data you’ve been waiting for!

In the month of September, we used a total of 304 GB of data on our AT&T unlimited plan, across all of our devices. (Total for the year is 39.3 terrabytes)

We took 2,431 pictures, bringing our total for the year to 7,854.

We had a mixture of places we stayed. We had 4 nights of “moochdocking” where we stayed at Tracy’s father’s farm. The other 26 nights were paid, with a mixture of public (State Park) campgrounds and private RV parks.
The least expensive place was Riverside Campground, at $20 per night for 50 amp and water and sewer.
The most expensive place was West Virginia State Fairgrounds, at $47.70 per night for 50 amp and water and sewer.
The total cost for our “rent” was $772.13, which averaged out to $29.69 per night. We were just over our monthly budget for this item.

We put a total of 1,581 miles on the trailer, over a total of 8 travel days. We are now traveling much shorter days than we used to, which is a LOT more pleasant. Our shortest travel day was only 35.7 miles, and our longest was 375 miles. We averaged 197 miles over 8 days of travel. Our total travel miles year to date is 4,328.

We put a total (travel and non-travel) of 2,833 miles on the truck over 82 hours of engine time, with a year to date of 8,550 miles on the truck.

Year to date we’ve traveled 8,550 miles, 4328 of which was pulling the trailer, with year to date engine hours of 325 hrs, 47 mins, 32 secs.

We burned a total of 263 gallons of diesel, and averaged 11 mpg for all of our travel, with a year to date total of 985 gallons at 11.6 avg mpg.

We used the TSD Logistics card 7 times this month, and we have some great data from that! In the table below, you can see the date and location we used the card to purchase fuel, as well as how many gallons we bought and the “street” price, which is what we would have paid without the card. The “actual” price is what we paid using the card after the discount fee and per use fee was charged. That total is also used to calculate the “actual per gallon” price we paid, the savings and the % saved. As you can see, sometimes the savings is fantastic, 21.45% at a TA in Hebron, OH, outside of Columbus. And sometimes there’s no discount at all and we actually paid a tiny bit more than the street price because of the 65¢ per use fee.

Overall for the month we used the card for 179 of our 263 gallons of diesel, and we saved a whopping $62!

If you haven’t already read about the TSD Logistics card, you can read our post about it here.

DATE Location Gallons Actual PG Street Actual Savings % Saved
9/1/2020 Albert Lea 19.69 2.00 46.06 39.3 6.76 14.68
9/2/2020 Brooklyn 24.15 1.93 55.54 46.62 8.92 16.06
9/3/2020 Bloomington 26.99 2.34 69.08 63.03 6.05 8.76
9/3/2020 ?????????????? 26.32 2.23 67.36 58.65 8.71 12.93
9/17/2020 Hebron, OH 29.59 2.04 76.92 60.42 16.5 21.45
9/23/2020 Somerset Travel Center 26.83 2.73 72.95 73.23 -0.28 -0.38
9/26/2020 TA Wheeling 26.13 1.94 66.87 50.8 16.07 24.03

And here’s our travel map for September….

And our year to date travel map,

Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Written by Lee. This is a very long post, but this subject is extremely important to Lee.   – Trace

We’ve already established that Gothic architecture grabs my eye. Plus, history just fascinates me. I am riveted and transfixed by it. I enjoy being in places where history has taken place and I love the feel of the vibrations of it resonating in me. Since I was a kid, I have been interested in the concept of asylums, partially due to pop culture like The Bell Jar and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and partially due to our utter failure as a society to ever appropriately deal with the most pervasive medical problem in the history of our country. In the United States, almost half of adults, 46.4%, will experience mental illness during their lifetime. In any given year, 5% of those over 18  experience mental illness. That’s nearly 45 million people. In 1988 I personally got a taste of how bad our society is at dealing with this when I spent a few months in a psychiatric facility courtesy of the United States government while the Air Force tried to figure out what to do about my particular inability to conform. It turned out to be less of a problem than they thought it would be once we parted ways, but for a little while I was convinced I might never get to leave.


So when I saw that we would be within a reasonable traveling distance to visit a decommissioned asylum, I really wanted to go.


About 100 miles northeast of Charleston, WV, in the town of Weston, is the former Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Originally known as the Weston State Hospital, it was a “Kirkbride” psychiatric hospital that was operated from 1864 until 1994 by the government of West Virginia. A classic state institution of the time.

The “Kirkbride System” of facility design was based on Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride’s theories regarding the healing of the mentally ill, in which environment and exposure to natural light and air circulation were crucial. The hospitals built according to the Kirkbride Plan would adopt various architectural styles, but had in common the “bat wing” or shallow “V” style floor plan, housing numerous wings that sprawl outward from the center.

The idea was a to maximize the privacy and comfort of the patients. Kirkbride firmly believed that the building design had as much to do with curing patients as other forms of treatment. The design also called for long rambling hallways and very tall ceilings, 12 feet whenever possible.  The standard number of wings was eight, with rooms for 250 patients. This was the design used for the Weston Hospital.

Kirkbride’s design also called for facilities to be as self sufficient as possible, and to be on sprawling grounds. The Trans Allegheny was no exception, and boasted it’s own water plant with pump house and filtration facility, wastewater treatment facility, dairy barn, cannery, extensive gardens, livestock pens including hog fattening building, greenhouse and horse barns, using a total of 666 acres.

Garage and Cannery, circa 1919


Greenhouse, 1919


Water plant, 1920


Pump House, 1922


Filtration Building, 1920


Hog Pens-1920

Horse Barn-1920

Dairy Barn-1930


Summer House-1920



Dining Room-1924


One of the patient wards, with a day-room partially shown on the right, circa 1912


Nursing Staff-1916



Designed in Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews, Trans Allegheny was constructed from 1858–1881, but starting accepting patients in 1864. The hospital was designed and built to hold 250 patients, one per patient room. Over time it became more and more crowded. At first they added a person to each room. Then another, then another, until every room had four patients in a room designed for one. Then many of the larger rooms originally designed for recreation were repurposed to dormitories. By the middle of the twentieth century, the state of psychiatry was such that people were being institutionalized at an alarming rate.

Designed to hold 250 patients in comfortable and peaceful solitude, it had 717 patients by 1880; 1,661 in 1938; over 1,800 in 1949; at its peak, 2,600 in the 1950s, sleeping on mattresses in hallways and quadrupled up in the patient rooms,  sleeping in shifts.





I found this picture particularly poignant – Trace


Superintendent’s Office

A 1938 report by a survey committee organized by a group of North American medical organizations, found that the hospital housed “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts and non-educable mental defectives” among its population. A series of reports by The Charleston Gazette in 1949 found poor sanitation and insufficient furniture, lighting, and heating in much of the complex.

Trans Allegheny was forcibly closed in 1994 due to changes in patient treatment. The state notified them that they would be closing the facility in 1980 and they began to close down wards over time. Once an area was closed it was essentially locked up and abandoned and left to rot. Finally in 1994 the last patient was removed and the building was padlocked and left to the elements. The hospital was bought at auction for $1.5m by WV businessman Joe Jordan in 2007, and he has spent over a million dollars restoring portions of the building to how it would have looked in the early 1900’s.   Below are some photos of the building as it was when it was first seen by Joe Jordan in 2007. I find this a little odd.  If I had that kind of money lying around I wouldn’t use it to buy a former insane asylum, but that’s just me – Trace





The hospital’s main building is one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States, and the second largest hand-cut sandstone building in the world, with the only bigger one being the Moscow Kremlin. It took 23 years to build, and when completed it was 1295 wide, just 25′ shy of a quarter mile. It has 3.5 miles of hallways, and 9 acres of walkable floor space. There are 901 rooms, 250 are for patients, and 980 windows. As someone who loves architecture I was very tempted to go see it, but I also believe that buildings soak up (for lack of a better word) the emotions that are expended in them.  This building must be full of agony and pain. – Trace













The main building of the asylum, the “Kirkbride”, holds several rooms that serve as the museum. There are paintings, poems, and drawings made by patients in the art therapy programs, a room dedicated to the different medical treatments and restraints used in the past, and artifacts such as a a straitjacket and hydrotherapy tub. The tour guides dress in clothes that resemble 19th century nurse outfits; blue dress, white apron, white cap, and white shoes. The shorter historical tour allows visitors to see the first floor of the Kirkbride, while the longer historical tour allows visitors to see all four floors, apartments of the staff, the morgue, and the operating room. Aside from the historical tours, there are also two paranormal tours. Both start as the sun sets, the shorter tour lasting around two to three hours, the longer tour being overnight with the option of having a private tour.


The ground floor of the main Kirkbride building is taken up with offices for the company that operates the tours, and a gift shop, and around 20 very well done museum rooms, some of which feature patient artwork.



The tour starts right off in one of the first wards, which has been restored to what it would have been like in 1900 or so.



A typical example of what a patient room would have been like. Every room had a window, and was large enough for one person to sleep in comfortably.




In the center of each ward was a day room, sort of a communal living room space.





This room was made up to show how larger rooms built for other purposes were eventually turned into patient rooms. Beds were added until they couldn’t fit any more in.


One of the dining rooms





One of the larger rooms that was converted to a dormitory.


Beautiful walnut staircase s throughout the building. This is the stairs to the second floor of the Kirkbride building.

The upper floors of the main building were used for offices for the Superintendent, the chief physician, psychiatrist, the residence of the Superintendent and the lead nurses quarters. The following pictures are of the offices and the residence of the Superintendent. Pretty stark contrast to the living situation of the patients. – Trace





















The following pictures are of the top floor, where the head nurses quarters were.





There was also an amazing ballroom that was used as a shuffleboard court, a theater, and a basketball court.


Moving out of the main building we went to the old medical building, which has been so badly damaged that only a few rooms on the ground floor are available to see.

The medical building includes the morgue and “cooling room” where bodies were kept before burial.




For some reason, haircuts were done at the medical center. Well that must have been terrifying.  You wouldn’t know if you were getting a “treatment” of some kind or a haircut. – Trace



There is no shortage of history about how badly this particular area of medicine was handled throughout history. This location is particularly bad, however, as Weston State Hospital found itself to be the home for the West Virginia Lobotomy Project in the early 1950s. This was an effort by the state of West Virginia and Walter Freeman to use lobotomy to reduce the number of patients in asylums because there was severe overcrowding. Freeman’s story is an amazing one all by itself, and worthy of some reading. But the beginning of the end of his career came when he performed a lobotomy on Rosemary Kennedy, at the request of her father Joseph, after which she regressed to the mental state of a two year old. She was immediately placed in an institution where she was not visited by her mother for twenty years, and never saw her father again. Her existence was hidden from the public until after JFK was elected, and then she was described as “retarded”. The failed lobotomy was not public knowledge until 1987.


“Hydrotherapy” was also used extensively, where patients would be submerged in high walled bathtubs full of 55° water. Hundreds and hundreds of people died as a result of this “treatment”.

And of course there’s electroshock therapy.




In 1949 the state built a maximum security ward for the criminally insane. My interior pictures didn’t come out for that location, so here are a few I found online, credit to photographer Walter Arnold.






Alongside the maximum security building was the greenhouse, which is creepy and beautiful.







The tour continued with some more interiors of wards not yet restored, including an isolation area, and fourth floor attics where employees lived.





Apparently it’s pretty common for visitors to have a personal connection to the facility, such a family member who was here, or worked here, or they might have been a patient or worked here themselves. And it’s equally common for them to leave things behind, as one might do at a grave site.


Employees have a strict “hands off” policy for these tokens, and leave them there indefinitely. Eventually, according to our tour guide, a ghost hunter will move them to another location, or some other tourist will take them. Nothing stays forever.




That’s a long way down.


A secure “back stairwell” to allow employees to get around more quickly than following the long hallways from ward to ward.


One of the isolation rooms for the more dangerous patients.


All of the interior doorknobs were like to prevent patients from using them to harm themselves.

Patients were encouraged to use art to express themselves, and used pie plates to do so. Only two original paper plates remain hanging over transoms.



In addition to the things left behind by visitors, ghost hunters also leave things behind, but employees always move those items to one room and routinely cull the collection so it doesn’t get out of hand.


I was fascinated by the fourth floor attic area which was basically the same as patient wards, except these rooms were for the employees to live in. It was VERY similar to the servant’s quarters area in the TV show Downton Abbey. I’d love to see some pictures from that era of what these areas looked like when they were lived in.





And finally, the tour concluded with a look at a “VIP” area that overlooked the ballroom.








Four story staircase back down to the main entrance.


There’s a piece of “art” that has been circulating around the internet for ages that originated here. It’s a list someone compiled from records of patients, of all the reasons people were admitted to the facility between the years of 1864-1889. Obviously some of the stuff on that list is ridiculous, but LOTS of those things were still used as reasons for commitment to institutions as late as the 1970’s. I took a picture of it, but it’s so long that the type is too small to read, so I typed it up instead because I think it’s important to see. Not because of the silly ones, although certainly at the time they weren’t silly, but because of how many of them could still be pointed to today, with a little rephrasing.

OCTOBER 22, 1864 to DECEMBER 12, 1889

Bad company
Bad habits & political excitement
Bad whiskey
Bite of a rattle snake
Bloody flux
Brain fever
Business nerves
Carbonic acid gas
Cerebral softening
Congetion of brain
Death of sons in the war
Decoyed into the army
Deranged masturbation
Desertion by husband
Disappointed affection
Disappointed love
Dissipation of nerves
Dissolute habits
Dog bite
Domestic affliction
Domestic trouble
Doubt about mother’s ancestors
Effusion on the brain
Epileptic fits
Excessive sexual abuse
Excitement as officer
Explosion of shell nearby
Exposure & hereditary
Exposure & quackery
Exposure in army
Fall from horse
False confinement
Feebleness of intellect
Female disease
Fever & loss of law suit
Fever & nerved
Fighting fire
Fits & desertion of husband
Gathering in the head
Gunshot wound
Hard study
Hereditary predisposition
Ill treatment by husband
Imaginary female trouble
Immoral life
Jealousy & religion
Kick of horse
Kicked in the head by a horse
Liver and social disease
Loss of arm
Marriage of son
Masturbation & syphillis
Masturbation for 30 years
Medicine to prevent conception
Menstrual deranged
Mental excitement
Milk fever
Moral sanity
Novel reading
Opium habit
Over action on the mind
Over heat
Over study of religion
Over taxing mental powers.
Parents were cousins
Pecuniary losses: worms
Periodical fits
Political excitement
Religious enthusiasm
Religious excitement
Rumor of husband’s murder or desertion
Salvation army
Seduction & disappointment
Self abuse
Severe labor
Sexual abuse and stimulants
Sexual derangement
Shooting of daughter
Snuff eating for two years
Softening of the brain
Spinal irritation
Suppressed masturbation
Suppression of menses
Tobacco & masturbation: hysteria
The war
Time of life
Uterine derangement
Venerial excesses
Vicious vices in early life
Women trouble
Young lady & fear

It’s worth saying here that most of us have experienced one or more of these in our lifetimes.  Imagine living in a world where a person of power in your life could stick you in an asylum for an indeterminate amount of time for one of these activities.  Women in particular we at risk from abusive husbands, because they had the power to commit their wives. While lots of people know that, what few people know is that for a very long time, if a woman was committed by a man, the only way she could leave is if that same man came and got her. If he died, she was there for the rest of her life. In this way lots of unruly daughters were institutionalized for life by prominent fathers. – Trace

At one point towards the end of the two hour tour, I wandered off by myself for a while because the endless stories of misery and suffering were getting to me. I ended up in a small room with a window that had a broken pane so I could get some fresh air. Someone had left a little music box on the window sill, and I took a few minutes to just breathe and listen to the world outside, and the song from the music box. This video sums up the experience. – Trace

According to the VA, 20 Veterans commit suicide EACH DAY.
In the general population, 132 EACH DAY.






Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Moundsville Mound

Another post by Lee, because Trace has a job and stuff.

Just across the street from the West Virginia State Penitentiary is the Grave Creek Mound. There were actually many of these mounds in the area, hence the name, Moundsville. The Grave Creek Mound is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States, at 62′ high and 240′ in diameter. The Adena (pre-Columbian native Americans) built it, moving over 60,000 tons of dirt, and it was created around 250-150 BC. The first recorded excavation was in 1838 and their tunnel revealed two log tombs with graves and burial offerings. This is the largest of these mounds remaining, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

On the site is the Delf Norona Museum, displaying artifacts and interpretations of the Adena Culture. 






































The museum also has great exhibits of the Marble King company, and Marx Toys, which had factories in the area.


Love this marble mural!


A side perspective of the marble mural