While we were in New York visiting Sonia, Doug, and Liam, our youngest son Gregory mentioned that for my birthday he would like to get me a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield. I had wanted to go there forever, and in truth was planning to go after New York anyway, so this all worked out perfectly.
The move from Beaver Center Family Campground in Java Center New York to Artillery Ridge RV Campground in Gettysburg was about 300 miles, but as I hinted in an earlier post, what the trip lacked in the distance traveled, it made up for in mistakes, faux pas, and frustration.
In that one day, we came across a low bridge (12′ 1″), and I had to unhook everything, turn around, and rehook. Then, just a few minutes later, we made a wrong turn and I had to do it again. We finally got on the road about two hours later than expected, having backtracked to very nearly the point from which we started to find a place to put everything back together again.
When we got to Pennsylvania, I found out that highways can turn into regular roads, almost without warning. We discovered this when a stop light came out of absolutely nowhere! I still do not know how I missed seeing it sooner, but we were barreling down the road at highway speed when all of a sudden there it was. I slammed on the brakes as two cars started into the intersection in front of us. I saw they were stopping quicker than we were and so continued on through the intersection myself rather than trying to stop and have Gretchen, our toad, come through the back bedroom wall, or fishtail out to one side. I got a well-deserved chorus of honks as I went by the other drivers, but thankfully that was all.
LESSON: I say all that to say this, when you are driving through Pennsylvania, watch out for traffic lights on the highway!
Because we got such a late start, we got into Gettysburg after dark. Google, not knowing how tall we are, routed us on the final stretch down Granite Schoolhouse Road. This is more a really long driveway than a road. It is about a lane and a half wide and lined with stone walls and mature trees on both sides. These trees hang over the roadway, and the lowest branches are probably 11 to 12 feet high. As we drove the last mile in the pitch black darkness, Mireille and I both cringed as we listened to tree branches pinging off the antenna, the air conditioners, the satellite dome, and down the sides of Charlie.
LESSON: I will never try to arrive after dark again, I will set up in a parking lot somewhere before I do that again. I also think we are ready to buy a truckers GPS.
We got to the park, and they had our check-in packet waiting for us. We followed the map, but as I said, it was dark. It was so dark, I think it was a no moon night but cannot be sure. At any rate, after driving around a little bit I could not figure out where I was. A young man was by the fire next to his trailer, so I asked him where I was on the map. He got his dad over, and between them, they helped me get situated. I was not far from where we were supposed to be, and we soon found our spot and got in, put the jacks down, got level enough, and put out the slides. I knew I would have to sort things out in the morning but we were so tired we were both good with what we were able to accomplish before turning in for the night.
Artillery Ridge is a busy RV park, with the added touch of having places for people to keep their horses as well. The gravel sites can be relatively tight and vary from reasonably level to so unlevel as to practically require a degree in civil engineering to have any hope of getting level. Our site, 433, was, fortunately, one of the more level ones. One spot two places down from ours, site 431, is not for the faint of heart! It is a sloping site with a very pronounced, narrow crown to it. We saw one guy who somehow got a pyramid of leveling blocks under each of his front wheels to keep them in contact with the ground, which was at least eight inches below! The step down from his rig once he was level was a doozy! I do not carry enough levelling blocks to have done that, and if I did, I would not have the guts to try anyway.
We did enjoy our time in the park though. We had fun next door neighbors, Steve and Lou. The folks in the office could not be more helpful. We had our mail delivered to the park while we were in Gettysburg and they called us every time to let us know it had come. When we were checking in the lady saw my Passport America and GoodSams cards and worked out both discounts without my saying anything, so I saved a good bit of money for the two weeks we were there!
Gettysburg as a destination is one we both would highly recommend. Clearly, there is history there, and as much as you can stand no matter how great your appetite. But there is so much more! The town is a lot of fun, many of the houses and other buildings you see were there at the time of the battle, and some are pockmarked with bullet holes from the fighting as the two sides fought through the town the first day of the battle.
There are some delightful places to eat and drink. While we were there, we tried Garry Owen Irish Pub, Gettysburg Eddie’s, The Mason Dixon Distillery, and Appalachian Brewing Company. I would recommend each of them, and there were other places we did not get to but wish we had.
As to the battlefield itself, there are many ways to go about seeing it. As I said, Gregory had bought us a bus tour, and we really enjoyed it. Our guide, Doug Rebmann, was very knowledgeable and kept the narration going the entire time. He was able to answer my questions about the artillery and how it all worked, had little anecdotes to share at every point of the battlefield. He really knew his stuff. Taking the bus tour is an excellent way to get a lay of the land and see where everything is situated. Once we knew where things were, we went back in the car so I could see things such as Devils Den and the Peach Orchard more closely.
No matter what you do, one thing you must not miss when you go is the Visitors Center. Inside are a museum, a movie, and the cyclorama. The film is called “A New Birth of Freedom” and is narrated by Morgan Freeman. It gives a good overview of the war, the situation at the time of Gettysburg, the fighting, and the aftermath up to the Gettysburg Address. I am only being mildly hyperbolic when I say I could listen to Morgan Freeman read the phone book. This film was well worth the price.
Once the film ends, you move as a group upstairs to the Cyclorama. This is indeed a wonder. Painted over one hundred and thirty years ago, the Cyclorama is a 377′ x 42′ painting set in a diorama that forms a cylinder around the viewer for a 360 degree view that puts you smack dab in the middle of the Union lines at the climax of Picket’s Charge. It is just amazing. It is likened to IMAX for the nineteenth century, and that is a good description. If you do not see this, you will have missed something extraordinary. I have watched the movie “Gettysburg” at least ten times. I have watched Ken Burns “Civil War” series at least as many times. Seeing the battlefield was something I have looked forward to for many years. The Cyclorama was an unexpected treat that put the bow on the whole experience. I loved it!
Our time in Gettysburg went by quickly, but we had a great time. We saw cool stuff, we met fun people, we ate great food, and we drank some good beer. I had my birthday, Mireille made me a cake, I got a hand and a half axe for chopping firewood…it was great!
Two weeks of history are under our belt, next stop, Washington DC!