Saving the Best For Last

And, all of the sudden, we were back in our own driveway. Can’t believe six weeks slipped away already.

But, it appears that we might have saved the best for last, as our Southeast Tour finished with a bang. The last week (plus the Hatteras days) was probably our favorite of the entire trip. Here’s why…

So….onward we go to Portsmouth, Virginia where we camped at the home of our T@DA friends Gail and Sid. Perhaps the Campsh@ck has never had a more lovely site to rest her wheels.20171028_1718081398289939.jpg On the way there, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills, NC. 20171028_123114324045352.jpgAlthough the Visitor Center is undergoing restoration, a fantastic Ranger brought the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk experience to life. Markers chart the distance of the first four flights on December 17, 1903. Flight one was 120 feet. The fourth flight was over 800 feet. That’s a pretty impressive improvement for a single day. One the edge of the area is a series of full-sized bronze statues of Wilbur, Orville, the plane, the photographer, and a few other spectators of that historic day. It’s an inspirational place to visit.

OK, back to our visit to Portsmouth. The nearby town of Newport News is the home of The Mariner’s Museum, which is where we decided to spend a cool, rainy afternoon. 20171029_130658894841538.jpgDesignated by Congress as the National Maritime Museum, there are exhibits to capture the imagination of anyone – young or old, landlubbers or sailors. If you’re of a ‘certain age’ like me, you learned about the battle of the Union’s Monitor and the Confederate States’ Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia) in the Civil War. (I swear that I learned the Monitor had won this battle. Not true, says the Museum – they battled to a draw.) The Mariner’s Museum is the home of the USS Monitor – pieces that have been raised from the spot where it sank off the Hatteras Coast have been restored onsite, and are displayed here. The history of these two ships, the story of their construction, and the battle are brought to life here in a variety of media, artifacts, and exhibits.20171029_143132984290267.jpg 20171029_140318419007988.jpgImagine these two ironclad ships pounding each other with cannons from a distance of a mere 100 yards. The unique revolving turret of the Monitor provided a difficult target for the Merrimack to hit, and the lighter artillery of the Monitor was unable to land disabling blows to the Merrimack.

Anyway….the Monitor sank while being towed on December 31, 1862. It took until 1973 for the wreck to be located, and it has been partially salvaged. That’s what’s in this Museum, and it’s incredible. (The rest is a protected underwater sanctuary where it went down). The anchor, ship’s wheel, the entire revolving turret with its two cannons, a lantern, and other artifacts are here.20171029_1318141907314660.jpg20171029_150637166493276.jpg20171029_1455351612396724.jpg20171030_09203843795966.jpgAbove is a full-scale model of the turret (complete with the guns inside) exactly as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. Restoration is being done onsite at the Museum, and some pieces and parts are still submerged in a series of baths in order to stabilize the metal. Here’s a shot of the cannon in the above photo in its tank where it’s being rehabbed.20171029_151520787025923.jpg It’s thrilling and chilling to see all of this. The photos don’t do it justice. There’s also a full-size model of the Monitor outside, which I visited briefly in the pouring rain (everyone else stayed inside).

But, there’s more. The Museum also is home to the hull of the Oracle Team USA wing-sail catamaran, which won the America’s Cup in 2013 by defeating New Zealand in an unprecedented seven races after being one race from elimination. It is HUGE! It’s hanging from the ceiling, and the the size is just jaw-dropping.20171029_1546231371569811.jpgFilms from these races are thrilling. 20171029_1547491912918346.jpgYou can test your own power output on a winch (a professional World Cup participant can generate 500+ watts of power.) I managed about 90 for a very short period of time.

There are dozens of amazing models of nearly every kind of ship. Some are gigantic. All are precise and handmade.20171029_154314680577239.jpgIf you get a chance, go to The Mariner’s Museum. Plan to spend a whole day, then go back the next day to see everything you missed. It’s fantastic.

Somehow, Gail and Sid fell for our plea to join us at Shenandoah National Park for a few days of camping. 20171101_1059431509727254.jpgThey quickly packed up, and we all headed out to this amazing National Park in NW Virginia, along the Skyline Parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, as well as many other trails. 20171031_1216431243448137.jpg20171031_1456211242352886.jpg20171031_1456561230823211.jpgWe watched a fantastic demonstration/concert of a hammered dulcimer.

The day after Gail and Sid headed home, we wandered a short section of the Appalachian Trail. What spectacular views! 20171101_1329001086048871.jpg20171101_134518305485962.jpgWe braved howling winds and the only really cold temps we had in our six weeks of camping to hike to a stunning waterfall. I can’t wait to go back – we hope to be able to camp at all of the Shenandoah campgrounds next year (four?) It looks like an intriguing place to explore.

One more spot – I’ll try to be brief. Hocking Hills State Park had been on our radar for a few years – fantastic photos have been posted by folks in our camping group. Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it the #1 spot to camp in Ohio. It was a dreary late afternoon when we rolled into the campground, expecting to have our choice of dozens of sites since it was mid-week/early November. Not so fast….apparently Ohioans love this park. It was booked full for the weekend, but we did find a promising site among the 20 or so non-reservable sites. 20171102_172201866132385.jpg20171103_10294839296417.jpgOur first impressions were not too positive. Hard rain the day before had left standing water everywhere. The entire campground is in need a several hundred trucks of fill to level out the low spots. The paved pads at each campsite were a few inches higher than the surrounding ground (at least on one side), leaving a mess of slick mud. Attemps had been made to cover up some of the low spots with bales of hay – we gathered up some excess hay from surrounding sites to try to keep us above the mess, with mixed results.

But what the campground lacks in charm, the surrounding area makes up for a hundredfold. We wandered around Old Man’s Cave, a spectacular limestone overhang which was inhabited in the 1800s by (of course) an old man and his two dogs.

Trickling water, waterfalls, weeping hemlocks and splashes of fall color made for spectacular viewing as we hiked about eight miles along the river from the campground to Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls and around.20171103_1138161124243528.jpg20171103_1142282183531.jpg20171103_1142451265623605.jpg20171103_1201331507912173.jpg20171103_1204561752362669.jpg20171103_1216451342265296.jpg20171103_1229591570857113.jpg20171103_1308501422250300.jpg Wow. The scale of these limestone caves is so impressive – for once, I was happy there were other people in the photos to get a size perspective. We were just sorry that we hadn’t been there a week or so earlier, because the best fall color seemed to have already passed. Sorry if I bombed you with photos, but I couldn’t decide which to post.

Not surprisingly, it rained all the way home, and the sun hasn’t peeked out in two days since. The lawn’s a mess, and garden and perennials all need work. So, why can I only think of planning our next escape?

 

 

 

Going Coastal

Usually, at the end of a six-week trip, I’m ready to head home. This time? Not so much. Traveling to so many brand new places has been a wonderful adventure. We’ve already made notations for places to visit next time. It’s been an extraordinary exploration.

At the end of the last post, we were about to get bounced out of our one-night stand at Santee State Park. Hope nobody lost any sleep worrying about us – we simply got a much better site the next morning, proving (to us, anyway) that sometimes it’s better to fly by the seat of your pants. There weren’t any ‘big’ things to do at Santee – it was a busy, chaotic park. The main attraction were a couple of sink holes locates a few miles from our campsite, so we jumped on our bikes to check them out.20171023_134924767348998.jpgMy first sink holes! I was excited. Perhaps there were visions of the famous Florida sinkholes with houses cascading into the depths. I was not prepared for the underwhelming sight of a ten foot  depression with a bunch of weeds and scruffy shrubs growing out of the bottom – with a fence around it, of course, to keep us all from harm. Needless to say, disappointment reigned. I couldn’t even get a decent photo.

Onward to Carolina Beach State Park, where we had a rustic campsite reserved for two nights. Score! This gorgeous park is perched alongside the Intercoastal Waterway on Snow’s Cut. Our site was within 100 yards of the waterway, lined by a three-mile trail.20171022_1430381275632085.jpg 20171023_1713261059568019.jpgCamping perfection. Have to admit that we got really lucky in reserving this site – there were plenty that were not so roomy, nor so scenic.

Carolina Beach is located just on the edge of Wilmington NC. Just down the road is Fort Fisher, one of the last coastal forts to fall in the Civil War. All that’s left of the Fort are some grassy embankments. 20171023_1346221468247690.jpg20171023_134723331651457.jpgThere are no buildings still standing, and the Visitor Center was closed the day we were there, so much of this remains a mystery. But, it’s a spectacularly beautiful site – home to five battles with Union forces. The first was a disaster, and the last resulted in the fall of the last big Confederate seaport.

The surrounding area is magnificent. Cypress trees lean shoreward from years of offshore winds.20171023_133958-11243828454.jpg A bike/walk path, void of any visitors with the exception of John and me was perfect for us to enjoy the wild and beautiful shoreline.20171023_121946-11738925648.jpg We stopped in to the delightful Good Hops Brewery – a wonderfully dog-friendly pub, where the owner’s pup came out to greet us. I’m sure there was much more in this area to explore, but we were content to hang out and enjoy our coastal camp.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was a spot on our radar for many years. Although the Michigan coast is magnificent, it’s just different than the ocean. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but we sure don’t have long lines of surf fishers in the Great Lakes. 20171026_1303512085939482.jpgThese guys (yes, they are almost exclusively men) drive out on to the beach in their trucks equipped with front mounted racks for fishing rods and coolers. The atmosphere is casual – it’s all about the fishing, not the actual catching of fish. Most seemed to be fishing for Black Drum, but most catches seemed to be tossed back into the sea – too big, too small, whatever….we saw fishermen lined up on every beach.

Reservations here (Frisco campground) are not site specific – we were allowed to choose our own space upon arrival. The wind was shrieking when we pulled in, and big rain was predicted, so we opted for a site in this magnificent campground that offered a bit of shelter. 20171027_1111291969407008.jpgThe dunes and stunted cypress provide plenty of little coves and hidey places for camping. Protected from the wind, but with a view of the ocean (if we peek around the corner), we grabbed a great spot, and hunkered down. Wow – it howled! We are about 500 yards from the ocean, and hearing it roar every day is wonderful. But, on sunny days, it’s been great for John to harvest from his solar farm (which we needed in a big way, after days of rustic camping).20171027_1110271001074699.jpgToday, our last day, it was not windy. The silence this morning was deafening. This big, yet vacant campground has one big drawback for us, however. The seemingly innocent, grassy areas everywhere are actually carpeted with sand burrs. Even in the middle of the road, the burrs attack and stick. Walking Jezzy is an ordeal (mainly for her) because every few hundred yards we have to stop and pull burrs out from between her toes. Check out this photo of my shoe after taking the trash down the road (about 100 yards).20171027_1122421154430523.jpg Camping here is challenging, but oh so beautiful.IMG_0959One of the main scenic attractions here is the magnificent 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a towering 198.5 feet high (second highest in the world). I was unprepared for how majestic this would be – it is absolutely astounding.

IMG_0966We’re lighthouse veterans and nothing compares to this. How horrible was it to find out that it was closed to climbing as of October 14? Devastating. We could only lust from the outside. The crazy story of the lighthouse makes it even more appealing. In 1999, it was moved over 1/2 miles from its original site to the current location. 20171027_111844291983141.jpgWhat an engineering feat! Take a look at this photo from a beach poster.20171026_1322471980651941.jpg The lighthouse originally stood between the sign, and the water’s edge, not more than a few hundred yards from where I stood. If you look closely, you can see the changing shoreline, and how it endangered the lighthouse. All this great history made its closure even tougher to swallow – it is staffed with National Park Service volunteers, and their season runs from April to Columbus Day. Had we known that, we would have planned differently. Sigh. Move on.

We cycled south the next day, intending to hop the (free) ferry to Ocracoke Island for a bit of exploration. The sea was pretty flat, so I was kinda willing to attempt the ferry ride – I’m a notorious weak-stomached sailor. But, but the time we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, toured the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum, there didn’t seem to be enough time left to take the one hour trip over, cycle around a bit, and then ferry back. Plus, I have to admit, I was leery of a possible rocky boat ride. So, we passed…

For me, the highlight of the Museum was the portion dedicated to the USS Monitor, the ironclad which sank off the Hatteras coast on New Year’s Eve 1862. A few artifacts, and video of the raising of some of the pieces of the Monitor are thrilling to see. Sorry, no photos allowed.

We spent much of our time wandering the beach, enjoying magnificent views. Every day brought different sights – cloudy skies are much different than sunny ones.20171025_1330521434042014.jpg20171025_1328102080419288.jpg20171027_125853101484049.jpgTomorrow, we’re heading to camp in the driveway of T@DA pals Gail and Sid in Portsmouth, VA. They stayed with us for a few days a year ago, and we’re anxious to explore their hometown with them. It will be our first driveway camp, and we’re looking to the comforts of friends and a home for a few days.

Home in a week – hard to believe we’re winding this fantastic trip down already.

Rolling Again!

Fwaaap! Thwack! BANG! This must be how you say ‘Welcome to Ohio’ at Kiser State Park. As we rolled into the campground to begin a six week trip around the coastal southeast, all we could hear were the bangbang sounds of black walnuts crunching beneath our tires. Already, Jezzy was not a happy camper. On a sultry day with late afternoon temps in the mid-90s, we had a choice of a campsite with electric service and no shade, or a shady site with no electric (meaning we couldn’t run our a/c). We debated, and chose the shade, so we could at least sit outside. Oh man, it was HOT! We were lucky to have one of the few sites shaded by towering maples, instead of black walnut trees.20170924_161705 We could hear the walnuts bouncing off cars and RVs all over the campground. We escaped that, and were fortunate that the temps dropped into the comfortable 60s for the night. We’re back on the road! It’s been a long summer, spent mostly in our own back yard

Our plan for this trip is to wander south toward Atlanta (Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum!), then over to Savannah. From there, we’ll hug the coast as we wander north, getting as far as Norfolk before turning west and heading home. Since we made our plans, Hurricane Irma slammed into the coast, closing Huntington Island State Park (SC) until the end of the year. We’re hoping Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Phillipe, etc. leave us (and everyone else) alone.

After just one night at Kiser, we headed to the Wayne National Forest and the Iron Ridge Campground. What a gorgeous campground. Large campsites, thoughtfully laid out with flush toilets and showers. wp-image-247140785The downside? How would you feel about being invaded by about 5000 stinkbugs? It was disgusting! They got inside, outside, on everything we owned. An endless invasion. We’d roll up our shades, and five would drop out onto the bed. They collected inside our ceiling fan, clattering around when we turned the fan on for circulation. Eventually, we couldn’t stand being outside anymore, and simply holed up for the evening. Fortunately, they must be late sleepers, as we didn’t have any issues as we quickly pulled up stakes and hustled out of town after just one night. Good luck with this, Ohio. We’ve got some in Michigan, but this was beyond my worst nightmares.

So, we’re not exactly off to a rip-roaring start.

What else has happened since my last post in May? Not much, really. We spent most of the summer trying to rehab our lawn, which suffered from neglect all spring due to our late homecoming. Perhaps a better plan is needed if we want to be gone for so long every winter. We did add two new bikes to our backyard sculpture park (or bicycle garden), including this little polka-dot King of the Mountain bike which makes me smile every time I see it. 20170917_185453Thanks to my cousins Mary and Laurie for the supercute plaque. Gardening this year was a huge flop – yeah, the kale grew, but bugs got most of my herbs, and my four tomato plants produced a grand total of six cherry tomatoes.  Needless to say, I’ve gone in like Sherman into Georgia and hacked everything down. Need to rethink my gardening options for 2018

I bought a new bike! Yay!! But, then I hardly rode it. Boo. Except for a four-day camping trip with a friends from our bike club Rapid Wheelmen. They tried to kill me, making me ride up the scenic drive at Sleep Bear National Lakeshore. Worth every pedal stroke.20170721_121541-1August was our best month, headlined by the 5th Annual Night Shift (the epic 100 mile nighttime gravel road ride for which John and I provide crew services). New route this year found us camping for the first time at Yankee Springs State Park. Omg, what a nightmare. Just don’t go there. Never have we been cheek to jowl with so many campers, each site with an RV, a tent or two, two cars, bikes, wagons, kids, and flashing lights, TVs, and whatnot.20170813_082634 But, the ride was a hoot! Our T@DA pals Jen and Chuck came up from North Carolina to participate, and spent two days camped in our driveway while we explored Grand Rapids.20170809_173714 A little BBQ, a brewery or two, and a stroll around Meijer Gardens made this week the highlight of our summer. Here’s Chuck doing his best Life Imitates Art impression. 20170809_143825John has been an amateur astronomer for years, and has seen two total eclipses. We made plans to see his third in Kentucky with John’s brother and friends. Wow!! I have no photos – why bother? Every person with decent equipment and knowledge posted incredible photos of this stunning event. We spent our time in a small boat in the middle of Lake Barkley, near Hopkinsville, watching the shadows creep across the sun, until we could finally remove our paper glasses and just stare, open-mouthed at the amazing total eclipse. The surrounding air turned a dusky twilight color – like being surrounded by sunset at noon. It was eerie and amazing.20170821_132429I can’t wait until 2024 to see it again.

But, the funniest thing happened as we motored our way back to the dock in the small speedboat (fishing boat?) we were in. As we meandered back toward shore, an Asian Carp suddenly leaped out of the water and hit John right in the back of his head! It then slapped his shoulder, and dropped behind him, nearly landing in brother Don’s lap. Needless to say, pandemonium ensued. There was a mad scramble to grab this two-foot long fish and fling it overboard. I was standing in the front of the boat trying to get a photo, and laughing so hard I nearly fell overboard myself. If you live in Michigan, you probably are aware of the Asian Carp menace. If not, click on the link above and see what we’re talking about. There is genuine concern that they will decimate the salmon population in the Great Lakes if they get established here. Although I don’t have any action photos, and what I did take are cockeyed and crazy, I do have a photo of the fish imprint on John’s shirt. 20170821_140114Our only other adventure this summer was riding the Big Bear Butt Bicycle Tour. We once again camped in our favorite Michigan Campground at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. We cycled on a perfect day for about 65 miles in northern Michigan on pristine roads through woods and small towns. A piece of the ride went along the Lake Michigan shoreline near Arcadia. My Michigan pride wells up here – will happily match our shoreline against the best scenic views anywhere.20170827_122821So, that’s my summer. We’re happy to be on the road again, and will post up as time and access permits. In the meantime, we’re dusting off our hiking boots for a six-mile jaunt tomorrow into the beautiful Jefferson National Forest.

10,550 Miles Later….

Home! We’ve been home for a week and a half now, and it seems like forever already. Life has been a flurry of catching up with family and friends, and trying to whip our neglected homestead into some kind of reasonable shape. (Note to self….make some real plans for the spring yard work to get done next year!) The grass in our back yard was nearly two feet tall in places – in ten days, I’ve mowed four times already. BUT, the herb garden is planted, and I’m already dreaming of the sweet tomatoes that we’ll be harvesting later.

Before I relate stories from our last week of camping, I have to share a remarkable photo from our last stop at the Ocoee River, and the National Whitewater Center there. Here’s a photo of the whitewater section when the upstream dam is open, and the water is pouring over the rocks. A friendly raft guide told me that section is a “solid Class IV whitewater”. 20170513_112715On Sunday, the dam is closed again. This is what that same section of the river looks like.20170515_093922-3 Amazing, isn’t it? We could hardly believe our eyes.

Our last week on the road in eastern Tennessee delivered some of the most beastly camping weather we have ever encountered. Temperatures soared into the mid 90s every day. Zero wind or breeze, and humidity around 80+ percent. While we were camped in Cades Cove Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we were lucky to have a mostly shaded site. T@DA friends Gail and Sid from Virginia were camped nearby, so we had someone to share complaints with. It was truly miserable. John and I decided to do a ten-mile hike one day, intending to get an early morning start to beat the heat. Ha! We didn’t get going until 10:45am, so we hiked through the worst of the heat all day. When we neared the end, we had a cool stream to cross, and the first thing we did was soak our hats in the cool water and slip them back on our heads. We did the same thing at the next two crossings, and it saved us. Truly miserable conditions for a hike. I didn’t even take any photos!

The Cades Cove area of GSMNP has a twelve mile scenic loop, with old homesteads, churches, and other historic and scenic sights. Best of all, it’s closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10am. So, of course we hauled out bikes out and did a fast spin Wednesday morning. What a pleasure to roll through the blue-green road, with no cars to dodge. The big disappointment for us was that once again, we saw no bears. We’ve been to GSMNP five times now and spent a total of at least 15 days there, and have yet to see a bear. Along the route, I stopped to take just one photo. 20170516_152137-1 (My intention was to add a link to an earlier post with photos from Cades Cove, but I couldn’t find it. My tags in earlier blogs were not very complete – I understand that now.) We were in a hurry to move on to our next spot – the long-awaited Blue Ridge Rally. Camping with about 60 of our best T@B and T@DA friends.

As you probably know, private campgrounds are not our favorite spots to stay, but Big Meadow in Townsend, TN is pretty nice. Sadly, they have a problem with some type of blight which is killing off their large shade trees. Bad news when its 95 degrees out. We had a nice view, but we baked in the heat!20170518_064754In a moment of foolishness, we had decided (weeks ago) to enter a bicycle ride called the Tour de Blount (we were in Blount County). Riders could select one of four distances – 78, 54, 42, or 25 miles. John and I decided that 42 rolling miles would be plenty for us, since we were on our mountain bikes, instead of lighter, faster road bikes. In fact, we were the only people on mountain bikes that I saw. What beautiful countryside for a bike ride! I sacrificed any thought of speed, and stopped frequently for photo ops.20170520_07185020170521_21322620170521_213144 20170519_11511520170520_080853It was still super-hot that day, and although we hit the road at 7:30am, the temperature climbed quickly. As long as we kept rolling, it was fine, but stopping was torture. Post-ride, we enjoyed beer and BBQ with the 350 other riders. I had the misfortune to miss a turn, so I tacked on about 5 ‘bonus’ miles to the 42 I had planned. Note to self:  Pay Attention!!

For four days we swapped camping stories with like-minded folks, shared meals, beers, coffee, and laughs. Some of our best camping tips have come from these groups, and getting together to hang out for a few days is always a blast.

But, we were SO ready to hit the road and get home. On Sunday May 21, we rolled out and pointed the Campsh@ck (our new name for the Fireball) directly north. Four hundred and twenty miles or so later, we rolled into Grand Lake St Marys State Park in Ohio for the night. 20170521_195933This gorgeous campground was pretty quiet on a May Sunday night, but it’s easy to imagine it being jam-packed all summer long.

Monday morning, we hit the road early and gave a little cheer when we hit the Michigan border. It wouldn’t be a complete trip without stopping at Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall MI for a pint and a sandwich before rolling into our driveway around 3pm.

148 days away from home. It feels good to be back.

Petrified

To a Midwesterner, the big skies and huge vistas of the Southwest have always captured my imagination. What must it have been like to be traveling across the land for months, and stumble across the Grand Canyon (for me, one of the most incredible of all the huge monuments out here)? But, last week, we rolled into the Petrified Forest, and it opened up a huge new world of wonder. This really stretches my imagination.

First, we had to deal with a few logistical items. There’s no camping in this National Park. There are two gift shops on the southern end which offer free camping (dirt parking lot on a highway), but we were happy to have a spot.wp-1492387376719.jpg There really isn’t anything else within 20 miles. So, here was our home for two nights. We opted to have an electric site for $10, so that we would be able to run our air conditioning for Jezzy, while we were gone for a whole day. Bathrooms are available from 11am-6pm. No water is available (“Don’t drink the water. It will make you sick.”) For two days, that wasn’t a hardship, although it would be tough if you weren’t prepared for it.

Since we only had a few hours to explore the first day, we decided to bicycle in, and check out the Visitor Center at the southern end of the Park. It sits in the middle of an astonishing forest of petrified wood. wp-1492387239774.jpgHere’s Petrified Wood 101: Two hundred million years ago, Arizona was at about the same latitude at Costa Rica – about 10 degrees north of the equator. It was loaded with conifer forests. Trees fell, sank into the mud, and were covered with mineral deposits, turning the wood into stone of the most incredible colors. wp-1492387254731.jpgThe color of the stone depends on the mineral in which the tree was buried. It really is indescribable – so different than the petrified wood we saw last year in North Dakota, which was essentially gray, with a woodlike appearance. I couldn’t resist, and purchased about a 50lb boulder at the gift shop. You can see it in my back yard if you stop by.

These mammoth rocks have knots and swirls like live trees. Many have fallen over, and have remained essentially whole and unbroken. The circled rock is a great example of that – the deposits above it have eroded away. Eventually, the deposits below will blow or wash away, and it will fall. You can see the floor below is littered with petrified boulders.wp-1492387568828.jpg Others are segmented, some by natural forces, but others cut by opportunists searching for valuable crystals before the forests were protected. Whether whole or broken, they challenged my imagination.

“Would you walk across this log on a horse for $.25?” 20170413_091138That was the question a Park worker asked John as we viewed the Agate Bridge, a complete petrified tree that had fallen, been buried, and millions of years later, re-emerged from its mineral mountain. Apparently, in the early tourist days, a local gent did just that – collected quarters from tourists, and rode his horse across this narrow bridge above an abyss. The rock has since been reinforced with concrete beneath, but the thought of riding or walking across is harrowing. It’s admittedly difficult to see in this photo.

We drove the length of the Park Drive, from the Petrified Forest on the south to the Painted Desert National Park Visitor Center at the north, which is a totally different change of pace.wp-1492387273437.jpgwp-1492387592159.jpgwp-1492387552889.jpgwp-1492387512441.jpgwp-1492387415831.jpg We pulled in at every turnout, and hiked every little hike. It’s mind boggling.

John has always been interested in astronomy, which led us to our next stop at Datil Wells Campground, just outside the town of Datil, NM. This immaculate BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground cost us just $2.50/night with our Sr. Pass.wp-1492466772645.jpg Our campsite was enormous! There aren’t enough kind words to say about these camp hosts, their friendliness, and their dedication to making this a spectacular spot to camp. We hiked with Jezzy one day, and enjoyed spectacular overlooks from our 8000′ vantage point.wp-1492467053818.jpg

20170415_122546But, our real quest was the Very Large Array, a farm of 27 huge radio telescopes which scan the skies 24/7 for faint natural radio waves from distant galaxies, black holes, and baby stars.wp-1492467244891.jpg wp-1492467305594.jpgThese 82′ dishes can be arranged are mounted on a series of railroad tracks, which enables them to be moved into four different configurations – from 1/2 mile to 13 miles from end to end. Every six hours, the dishes repoint in unison to a new position. Every four months, the entire array is repositoned, using a giant forklift-type of device which lifts, then rolls each telescope to a new position on the grid.wp-1492467321715.jpg It’s amazing. At one point, John thought he was receiving signals from outer space, but it turned out just to be that damned New Mexico wind roaring through the vents in his bike helmet.

A big part of this adventure though, was our bike ride to get there. Google Maps is both our friend and foe. When it’s spot on, there’s no better tool. But, woe be to the cyclist who gets ‘googled’ with faulty directions. In our case, Google suggested that we cycle Highway 60 for a short distance, then turn right on County Road 152. After another short distance we would arrive at “Old Highway 60”, which would take us right to the VLA. What could be more simple?

What we didn’t know was that Old Highway 60 probably hasn’t seen any car traffic since I was a baby. It consists of an occasional splotch of pavement surrounded by huge clumps of weeds. You can just barely see John in the center of the photo.20170416_105802For a while, it was fun riding.20170416_110601 A pack of Pronghorn Antelopes (fastest animal in North America) ran alongside us, as if issuing a challenge. It didn’t take them long to decide we weren’t worthy of a race. We let ourselves through two wire gates, into increasingly barren partures. At one point, three gigantic horses seemed to take exception to John’s advance (I, of course, stayed back in my role as official photographer). The lead horse was very aggressively advancing toward John, leaping and pawing the ground, when he wisely decided to turn around. wp-1492467155251.jpgAfter that, we had to drag ourselves and our bikes under a barbed-wire fence to get to a gravel road, where we eventually got back to the ‘real’ Highway 60. From there, we still had about 8 miles to get to the VLA.

But, what’s life without a little adventure?

We’re now at Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, NM. Tomorrow we venture into Roswell to explore the International UFO Museum, and perhaps to meet a few extraterrestrials. Rest assured, we won’t be cycling in.