Winding It Up

Seems like we’ve been on the road forever, but it’s really only been about seven weeks. In some ways, I’m ready to be back home, yet the minute we pull into the driveway, I’ll wish we were on the road. Guess that’s why I can’t see myself being a full-time RVer anytime in the near future.

So, our last big stop is Ohiopyle State Park, in Ohiopyle, PA. Fun to say, but even more fun as a gorgeous park, with a wonderful campground.20151023_174914 Our main reason for selecting this park was its proximity to Fallingwater, the house generally acknowledged to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterwork. So, the first thing we did upon arrival was schedule a tour.20151022_131032Wow – what a fantastically beautiful location for a house. It sure didn’t hurt that we were there on a sparkling fall day, and the surrounding maples were in full color glory. 20151022_144054One of the things that makes this house so unique is the placement of the house on the site – instead of building across the stream so that you could see the falls from the house, Wright actually built the house directly over the falls. I’m sure a good argument can be made for either view, but there’s no doubt that Wright probably chose the less common placement. No photos are allowed inside the house on the tour, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

BUT, I do have to say that it would be a tough spot (for me) to live. I kept looking around, wondering where I’d want to curl up with a book to enjoy the magnificent view. There isn’t one stick of comfy furniture in the entire house. (and the house includes all the original furniture, some of which was designed by FLW, as well.) Our tour didn’t include the kitchen, so I’m left to wonder what that may actually look like. Go, if you get the chance. After completing Fallingwater, Wright was besieged with over 400 more projects, only about half of which he managed to complete before his death.

We used the rest of our time at Ohiopyle to hike and explore. This little town is an adventurer’s paradise – the center being the Youghegheny River, which roars through town. Looks like a great spot to white water raft.20151022_15332620151022_12574620151022_125543There’s a larger set of falls nearby, Cucumber Falls, but try as I might, I could NOT get a decent photo. The lighting gods were conspiring against me that day. In addition, the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle trail runs through here – a tiny sliver of this 300+ mile trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. 20151023_143306 You can probably get a great hotdog at this little spot, but we didn’t sample one.20151022_153915

We drove forever the next day to get as far as Findley State Park, in Wellington, OH for a quick overnight. Another beautiful park, with very few inhabitants. We shared a loop with just one other camper, and hardly saw them at all – perhaps the downpour had something to do with that. But, here was the view from out the back of the Fireball.20151024_172431Pay no attention to the little blurry spot in the middle of the photo, I must have jiggled a bit when shooting this panorama. Jezzy liked it here, too.20151024_170227

Our last stop was Brighton Recreation Area in Michigan, selected because we needed to camp near Ann Arbor, as we had tickets to hear one of our favorite authors, David Sedaris. The show was fantastic – held in the Michigan Theater, a classic refurbished movie theater in downtown AA. We laughed all the way through – Sedaris is bold and has a self-deprecating manner that doubles his comic presentation.

Perhaps the star of this visit though were the three Sandhill Cranes who hung out with us for two days. From early morning to evening, they wandered through the campground, squawking and picking up various tidbits. It was huge entertainment to watch them.20151026_08093120151026_081049Obviously, as it gets later in the year, traffic in the campgrounds thins out. That’s fine with us!20151025_17455820151026_125830Last one to leave, turn out the lights.20151027_092601


1200 boats, 1500 rowers.  Four days of racing in Grand Rapids on the Grand River.  That’s what happened here this past weekend in the USRowing Masters National Championships.  What a sight!20140816_114922Having been gone for the past week, the fact that this interesting event was being held in our city over the weekend escaped our notice.  What a screwup it would have been to have missed this fabulous scene. 20140817_135947 Colorful, sleek racing shells with one, two, four, or eight rowers.  Superfit men and women of all ages from all over the US and Canada, all with shoulders indicating serious dedication to training.  Approximately 140 clubs were represented.20140817_14265220140817_13472520140817_142911Interesting fact:  The Detroit Rowing Club is the oldest rowing club in the US, having been established 175 years ago!  Go, Motown!

I won’t try to explain this racing to you, since nearly all my knowledge comes from the book The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.  If you have a speck of interest in this topic at all, this is a fascinating book.  I’m a big fan of the genre of epic struggles, and this was right up my alley.

We caught a glimpse of the action on Saturday, as we passed by the area on our bikes.  John and I rode back on Sunday morning to hang out and catch a bit more of the racing.  It appears that a USRowing Master is anyone over the age of 27.  We watched one race where the participants were 75-80 and 80+.  Amazing.  Some of the tropies looked as though they had been changing hands for years.20140817_14325120140817_143225There were classifications by number of rowers, age, and weight.  There are teams with coxswains (either fore or aft), and teams without.  Altogether, there were dozens of races – qualifications and final heats being started every four minutes over a couple of days!  It as a super-impressive organizational feat.

The Beer City Regatta seemed to be a huge success.  Good weather, facilities, and great beer contributed to the big smiles we saw.  Here are a few more random shots – sure wished I had a big camera with a long lens!20140817_125949This wooden shell was the only one of its type that we saw, and it was a beauty!  It got admiring glances and caresses from all.20140817_125534Check out the kid reading the Harry Potter book – oblivious to all the commotion going on around him at the table where paddles were being ordered.20140817_125911Saw this object abandoned in a bush as we were leaving the Park.20140817_143400And, guess who else is in town this month?  Story Corps!20140817_122947

Space and Green Space

20140426_121713Zooming along the expressway approaching Huntsville (AL), we suddenly see a very odd sight – a rocketship pointing up into the sky.  How could we not know that there’s a NASA Visitor Center here?  Pulling in to investigate, we see a space shuttle, and the Space Camp logo. 20140426_11582720140426_12032020140426_121418 It’s already mid-afternoon, and we know that this will be a full day’s stop.  We’ll have to make this happen next year.  It looks like a fabulous spot to visit.

For the first time, we snuck into Georgia (the very NW corner) to a state park called Cloudland Canyon. Here’s my interpretation of the name….

Georgia = The South = Hot
Cloud = Water = Humid

Get it? We steamed ourselves for two days in a beautiful setting, after pitching down a steep state road, then climbing back out the other side to the State Park near the top. Arriving on Saturday afternoon, the campground was packed. Our reservation guaranteed us a campsite, but not any particular one, so we had to choose from the three that were available (out of about 100 sites). We lucked out, and got a great campsite – one without neighbors right on top of us, and a bit of extra space on each side, and our own sculpture park.20140426_180508 Whew! We hiked with Jezzy on the West Rim Trail, which gave us great views of the canyon and a few waterfalls.20140427_10472020140427_10495220140427_11255920140427_114602 Wish we would have had an extra day or two to spend here, so that we could explore some of the other trails. Although this park is old, and the facilities are a bit dated, it was clean and beautiful. We would come back here again in a minute.

Monday morning, we head out. First, we decided that we had to detour to see the Chickamauga/Chattanooga Military Park. 20140428_101014

This battlefield was the site of a Confederate victory at Chickamauga, and later, a decisive defeat at Chattanooga. Of the many areas to explore, we decided to tour Missionary Hill, where an unexpected charge by Union forces overwhelmed and drove back Confederate forces, setting the stage for the victory at Chattenooga, and the ultimate defeat of the Confederate Army soon thereafter. It’s a curious drive – up a narrow, winding road past mansions, many with plaques and/or cannons in their yards. At the top is a luxury condo building, and a park with more commemorative monuments of the battle and its combatants. Very different than Shiloh, as that was a small area confined totally to the National Battlefield Park.

The rest of the drive down US 64 toward Smoky Mountain National Park is spectacular. Can’t think of a prettier stretch of highway to wander. We stopped along the Ocoee River for lunch,20140428_115729 then stopped again farther down to admire the site of the 1996 Olympic Whitewater course.20140428_12392720140428_123947 It’s gorgeous. There are several small TVA dam projects, and we stopped at every one to enjoy the scenery.20140428_12292920140428_122751 Lots of cars with kayaks, and people with wetsuits walking along the road. What a great drive.

Onward to Smoky Mountain National Park, NC. We wanted to spend a few days at Smokemont Campground, hoping that the thousands of rhododendrons in this area would be in bloom.20140429_13165120140429_13145020140429_131609 Unfortunately, we are a few weeks early – damn! I had convinced myself that this would be the time these would all be blossomed out (and there are thousands of them in the mountainside, and along the river). We were here one time before in October, so I guess this is strike two in my quest to see them all in bloom.
It’s very quiet here, and we’ve got the same campsite we scored two years ago in our first visit here. After big thunderstorms the first night, it finally clears around noon, and we wander trails along the Ocanoluftee River.

I really wanted John to haul this big boulder home for me.  Answer = NO!20140429_131527Everything here is that crazy combination of green shades, peculiar to spring. It’s that fuzzy, hazy color that makes me happy inside.20140429_132509We saw lots of butterflies on the Trail.  Question for all you readers with butterfly knowledge….why are they are clustered in the horse dung in the Trail?  That’s where there were all hanging out.

We’re so close to the end of our trip that we’re already talking of it in the past tense. In about 10 days, we’ll be home – mowing the lawn, planting the garden, trying to erase a few months of neglect from our home.  Hard to believe, so guess I’ll just ignore it for the next few days.

Diamond John Strikes Out

Byebye, Airstream dream.  See ya, Easy Living.  Diamond mining was a bust.  Zero.  Zilch.  After falling for the dream of diamonds for the picking, we spent about two hours trying to mine, sift, dig, or shuffle up a diamond.  Any size, any color.  Our conclusion?  Diamond mining is hard!  We were hot, unfocused, and kind of sniping at each other for our crappy technique.  As miners, we suck!

So, here’s the deal at Crater of Diamonds SP in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.  You pay $8/person to get into the 40 acre diamond area.  Whatever you find, you keep.  Need tools?  Rent ’em!20140421_120514  There are live demos on how to find diamonds, and an on-demand video to watch.  After watching the demo, we decided that we would go for the double-screen water dip method.  We brought with us a small bucket and a garden scoop (you don’t want to know why we had this with us in the Fireball), and also rented a miner’s shovel.

Here’s how it goes….

1.  Our two screens fit on top of each other.  The top one has a larger mesh, so the finer grit, stones (diamonds) fall into the bottom box.  Of course, you have to carefully examine the top box to make sure you’re not discarding The Big One (providing you didn’t just stumble across it while walking to your chosen dig site).  Swish the boxes around in the sluice tank (or the waist-high troughs in the other areas) until you have only rocks in the top box. 20140421_11490020140421_114911Examine them for the obvious enormous diamond.  Discard.20140421_115609

2.   Using a Rock/Bounce/Turn technique, wash the lower screen of gravel in the sluice tank to wash away the excess clay, grit, dirt.20140421_11493420140421_114956 This technique (supposedly) also sends the heavier diamonds and minerals to the bottom of the screen, so when you flip it over to empty the screen, the good stuff is on top for you to simply scoop up.20140421_115158

3.  We never got any good stuff.  Just gravel. Scraping the gravel into the screens or buckets was difficult with the tools we had.  The ground was packed hard.  The folly of the undertaking quickly became apparent, although the guy who found a 6 carat diamond just laying on the ground two weeks ago was working nearby.  Here, in John’s distinctive left hand is a visualization of what we hoped to find.20140422_113913  We opted for shade, diet Cokes, and wandering about to see how others were approaching the task.

Liked this guy’s technique a lot.20140421_122237People employed various techniques to sift thru the gravely stuff for diamonds.20140421_12395620140421_124135

Perhaps this little girl had the best idea of all.20140421_130058

John’s best find was in the Visitor’s Center store (each to his own).20140422_113743Oh well.  It was fun, but I have to say that we really just flaked out on the deal.  As we rode our bikes home to the campground 20140420_163409(what a terrific place to camp!), we could hear distant thunder, and we caught a few raindrops.  Got Jezzy bundled into her Thundershirt, grabbed quick showers, and sat out the next six hours of pretty intense storms.

Tuesday, we cycled into Murfreesboro (pop 1764), and wandered around. 20140422_13372320140422_13011120140422_12394820140422_123602 It’s pretty s-l-o-w here.  There are a few ‘antique’ stores, a cemetery, hardware store, and Barry’s Hawg Town Cafe (unremarkable food by any standard, except for the interesting sticker vending machine)20140422_133408

We loved having a chance to slow down a bit and enjoy the perfect spring camping weather. After drying out in the Southwest for three months, the warm humid day and 80 degree temps were welcome.  The crazy green colors of spring are everywhere here, a real feast for the eye.  Two (of three) nights were perfectly still, so we enjoyed campfires until we were in danger of nodding off and falling into them.

Score?  Diamond mining – 0.  Camping – 10.  Life in general – 8 (at least).



Peace and Quiet and Birds

Pelicans in Oklahoma?  Sure….and the Easter Bunny is going to load the Fireball up with Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs this weekend. Right.

But, here we are, camped on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Great Salt Plains State Park (OK), and we have white pelicans floating alongside our campsite.  20140416_152231And, there’s an enormous lake which has about 1/2 the salinity of the ocean just a few hundred yards away.  This is not the Oklahoma we expected to see.20140416_15360520140416_155117Our own private dam….20140416_155240and a beautiful campsite (see us on the left about 1/2 way down on the left?) complete with water and electric for $18/night.20140416_152924I really can’t believe I’m in Oklahoma (until someone wants to talk politics).  It’s beautiful and peaceful.20140417_121501 20140417_143043We’re right alongside the edge of the Salt Plains National Wildlife Preserve, so I cycled over there to take in the sights and see the Visitor Center.20140417_141225This is on a major north/south migratory path for many bird species, but there was a lot of room at the inn today, as there weren’t many birds in sight.  I rode along the gravel roads and hiked the Nature Trail and saw a few egrets, Great Blue Herons, many other wading birds that I couldn’t identify, mallards galore, one bluebird, a pair of cardinals, and a bunch of cormorants.  Lots of other small birds which I couldn’t see well enough to identify.

Persistant knocking on the door of the Visitor Center persuaded the Ranger inside to open up and let me see the exhibits inside.  He answered all my lame questions, and offered up the following tidbit.  On a single day, there were 130,000 Sandhill Cranes and 120,000 Canadian Geese here last fall.  Can you imagine seeing that through these birder blinds?20140417_13315420140417_133122Such a sight (and such a ruckus) is beyond my comprehension.

It’s a quiet place, and we were happy to be here.  John rode off in search of digging selenite crystals, which take on a unique formation in this area.20140417_134140 However, the digging area was both farther away than he was willing to cycle (about 40 miles round trip – tough on his CX bike) and it required more/better tools than we had.  Next year.

Windy, cool, cloudy, and a bit of rain for the day, but we are happy to be out in the boonies. I’d love to be here during fall migration when there are hundreds of thousands of pelicans (the Ranger told me that the ones by our campsite have probably decided not to make their return trip to Oregon, and will stay for the season), plus Whooping Cranes (up to about 300 from near extinction of a population of 18), and dozens of other species.

Things are on the upswing, after disappointment in Dodge City.  We’re on our way tomorrow to the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge in OK for a few days, so (hopefully) more of the same peacefulness will stretch into the weekend.