Sun, Wind, Rain – Repeat

Lately, each time I decide to start a new post, I’m amazed to see how much time has elapsed since the last one. Has it really been two weeks? This is our sixth campground since my last post, so I’ll just hit the high spots.

You are probably sick of hearing me rag about the Texas spring winds, but they were truly incredible and uncomfortable. When your camping plans include cooking and eating outside everyday, the last thing you want are howling 30mph winds.20180412_130530-1799708842.jpg They plagued us at our stops at Lofers Bend West and Ratcliff Lake. Both were pleasant spots to camp – Lofers Bend (on the water), and Ratcliff Lake (more of a woodsy, rustic spot). Nothing really remarkable about either of them, but both nice enough for a return trip for a quick overnight. I did have a horrifying encounter with this gigantic spider in the shower at Ratcliff Lake, but I think a few years of therapy will help me get past this. That’s a quarter placed in the vicinity for size perspective. That thing was a monster!20180414_1101071864957766.jpgNearly every year since we’ve been on the road, Galveston Island State Park has been a place where we’ve tried to land for several days. Although the Beachside campground is nothing more than a parking lot with decent-sized lots, firepits, and picnic tables, it IS right on the Gulf of Mexico. Listening to the roaring surf every night, having miles of beach to wander every day, in addition to all the historical sites of the area is a treat. (It was slightly less of a treat because of the extremely high winds when we were there, but…)20180415_1627591612159452.jpgFrom the campground, we can cycle on the beach, then down the Seawall all the way to the historic end of town – about 15 miles one way. It’s a great ride. Although you can’t tell from this photo, the seawall is about 6-8 feet above the sandy beach.20180416_1201491253756854.jpgThis year, we tried to do a couple of new things – we cycled all the way to the south (or west?) end of Galveston Island down the beach. The sand on the island is perfect for cycling. Just find the sweet spot between the not-too-wet, and the not-too-dry sand and crank away. It’s doable, but still much harder than trail or road riding.20180418_1043002011903451.jpgBy the time we made it 15 miles down the beach, we were whipped! But, we would not have been able to do this (with our mountain bikes) on the sand at San Clemente in CA, or along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s all about sand texture, baby.

On the way back, we mostly took the road, which was a comparative breeze! (pun intended) Along the way, we stopped to chat with an old hippie guy who had a bunch of kites up in the air. His biggest was 19 feet long! At one point, he had nine kites up at once.20180417_170808823855851.jpg20180418_1327161389457496.jpgFunny thing – the shark kite on the far right took a dive just as were were leaving – it punched over the string of the kite to its left, which then got tangled up in the string of the gigantic blue octopus kite. Both crashed onto the roof of a closed-up beach house. Lesson: Sharks are dangerous. Hope the owner was able to retrieve them. We didn’t hang around to find out.

The other new thing we did was to explore the Ocean Star Museum. This is an 1970s era Gulf of Mexico drilling rig/platform which has been turned into a museum. It was fascinating. Did you know that the oil company that President George HW Bush was an owner of the company that developed one of the first offshore drilling platforms? This particular rig was put into service in 1969, and decommissioned in 1984 – a reliatively short life, due to rapidly changing technology. Much of the original equipment is still there to see, as well as lots of photos and artifacts of life on the rig. Can you imagine having 28 people evacuate into this emergency “bell” lifeboat? It had food, water, and automatic sprayers on the outside to spray seawater on it to keep the occupants cool until rescue. It’s hard to tell size from the photo, but I can guarantee you that 28 people would be nose to nose inside. 20180419_1334521414555063.jpgA diving suit from the same era was also featured. Again, I was horrified at the thought of being encased inside.

The Ocean Star was designed to drill up to 5 miles deep, and to accommodate 100 workers. There were scale models of many types of platforms, and an area devoted to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

What was most fascinating to me was how these platforms are installed. They are erected onshore then towed into place on huge barges, which then tip the platforms off into the sea where they are fastened down by underwater robots and secured by cables stretching miles out from the platform in every direction. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see one on the move?20180419_1409251212290084.jpgFrom our campsite at Galveston Island, we could see several working platforms in the Gulf – there are hundreds of them out there. At night especially, the lights twinkle in the distance. Three other mothballed platforms, either undergoing repairs or waiting for a new assignment waited in the harbor. These smaller exploration platforms are called ‘jackups’, because they can be jacked up on a base, then moved when their task is finished. The larger production platforms are permanent until decommissioned after approximately 30 years.20180421_133503675878780.jpg It was an interesting afternoon. There’s much to be learned here – a bargain for the $10 entry fee.20180419_1402071281299882.jpgOf course, we had to wander around Galveston for a few hours. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, many homeowners turned their downed trees into sculptures, primarily by three chainsaw sculptors. How about this one with a Wizard of Oz theme?20180419_1528511278978464.jpgLots of interesting things to do and see in Galveston. We’ll be back again.

Our next camp was a fisherman’s dream at S. Toledo Bend State Park, just across the border into Louisiana. If you’re into bass fishing, Toledo Bend is sacred ground. Ours was one of the few campsites that didn’t have a bigass bass boat parked alongside.20180420_1816101022983571.jpgWe had a great site there, and enjoyed all the commotion of a busy weekend. Kids and bikes everywhere – 50 Cubscouts, a gigantic thunderstorm, and a free concert by a group of mountain dulcimer enthusiasts. 20180421_155536650940952.jpgWhile I have to admit that each song sounded pretty much the same (even the ones they sang), their warmth and dedication was infectious. This guy tapped on the board (secured by his butt), and it forced the little wooden dolls to dance. 20180421_1559351717086712.jpg

I did a bit of wandering on my bike, as I wanted to see the dam that formed Toledo Bend. I managed to get down a sandy road on the back side of the dam. There were folks fishing everywhere, although there didn’t seem to be too many fish being caught. Sometimes it’s more about the fishing than the fish, I guess. I did see one guy down at the shore who was bowfishing. Ugh – I gave him a pretty wide berth.20180421_1226111968847915.jpg20180421_12332946344939.jpgThere was just one gate open in the dam releasing water to the back. Probably 100 white pelicans were hanging around there, watching the water rush down the backside of the dam, waiting for a fish to fly past. Pity the poor fish who thought he had finally made it to freedom from the pursuit of 100s of fishermen to be nabbed by a pelican on the final burst to freedom.20180421_13070898435999.jpgWe spent a single night alongside the Natchez Trace in Mississippi as we plow eastward. Perhaps on a different day this would be a pleasant stop, but we were terrorized by thousands of mosquitos, each easily the size of a Buick. We could hardly cover up enough to run down to the bathroom. omg – it was awful at Rocky Springs Campground

But tonight is our reward. A lucky pick of a campground at Deerlick Creek Recreation Area (Corps of Engineers) in Tuscaloosa has rewarded us with probably the most beautiful campsite we have ever had.20180423_1620001136378522.jpgOur own deck, water/electric, and a great view of Deerlick Creek. Every now and the a barge rumbles past, pushing some unknown commodity down toward the Gulf. All this for only $13/night with our Senior Pass. Although we’ve only been here for a few hours, we’re already sad that we can only stay two nights. If any readers of this blog are Spartan fans, you’ll be happy to know that we thumbed our noses as we passed Nick Sabin’s Crimson Tide cathedral on the way in. We may have to cycle over there to explore a bit tomorrow.

Wild Animals and Wilderness

Wow! What a week. If you don’t want to plow through all the yadayadayada, just skip around and take a look at some of the photos…we’ve had some interesting times. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record – for us – of our adventures. In a few years, when we’re in The Home, drooling on ourselves, we’ll be able to re-live these times. These are some of the things I hope we’ll remember.

We decided to leave Valley of Fires a day ahead of our plan, and shorten the lengthy drive to our next scheduled stop. Oasis State Park (NM) seemed like a good choice for an intermediate stop. Well, maybe….we drove through miles of flat territory, studded with cattle feedlots. Oasis SP is an odd spot – a small campground stuck out in a huge flatland. There is absolutely nothing nearby. I’m not sure why anybody would actually plan to camp here. It’s barren. 20180410_171905944341651.jpg20180403_1832351700276330.jpgThe wind was roaring – we sat outside for a few minutes, and congratulated ourselves with having a shorter drive for the next day, then dove inside to seek shelter from the wind and cold. It wasn’t pleasant.

Several years ago, we stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park (TX), and my most best memory of it was the prairie dog village.20180404_171509487528699.jpg With my cellphone camera, it’s impossible to get a decent photo of this experience – prairie dogs and their environment are nearly the same color, and I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. But this video gives you a great idea of  what the experience is. Enjoy. It’s crazy. When I walked past the village with Jezzy, the activity and chatter between prairie dog ‘condos’ increases. Jezzy is entranced. Prairie dog is the new squirrel.

But, this trip to Caprock was all about the bison. Their stately presence is something we’ve enjoyed at Custer State Park and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but this was contact on a whole new level. (This guy is nuts for turning his back as he did.)C9C05651-69C9-45BB-B219-E9CDB2C50C69 They wander everywhere – disrupting traffic and foot-flow whever they pass. Our campground was a prime target. I awoke one night at 4am to a strange noise directly outside the window that I couldn’t identify. When I opened the shade, all I could see was the huge body of a bison, standing three feet from my reach – right at the edge of the trailer hitch! Apparently, the Campsh@ck was perched on some tender shoots he wanted to have. Although he never bumped the camper, it took a long time to get back to sleep that night. In the morning, we discovered a delightful ‘hostess gift’ which he left for us. 20180410_1734141033266775.jpgOur new neighbor the next day had a similar experience. She rolled in with her small camper to the sight of the bison hanging out in her campsite. 20180410_1742562001968800.jpgHe was nearly as big as her camper.IMG_20180407_173257.jpg There was a bit of cat-and-mouse as she tried to wait him out before leaving on her bicycle. Nerve-wracking, to be sure.

It’s impossible to explore the Canyons without a bison encounter. 20180410_173218708221960.jpgWe hiked the 6.5 mile Rim Canyon loop, and met up with a few surly-looking beasts. For sure, we gave them a wide berth, and moved on. But, I believe it was this same group who caught up with us as soon as we entered the enclosed campground for people camping with horses. Although it looks like I’m right next to them, we were (thankfully) separated by a thin strand of barbed wire.

 

Bison may look stupid and docile, but they are quick and agile. From the protection of our truck, we viewed one lone bison racing across the prairie – apparently waking up from a nap to find the herd had left him behind. Believe me, he was hauling ass! It was amazing to see. I was even attacked by a bison statue. Nobody was injured.20180406_1151231800038015.jpgOn one particularly cold morning, we left in the truck to explore nearby Turkey TX. Upon returning, we met our neighbors who told us that we had a big bull bison using our electric post as his scratching post. He inadvertently turned on our water spigot (we had turned it off and disconnected the hose due to 20 degree temps the night before). Water was spraying everywhere! They waited for him to wander off, then turned off the water.

We hiked another day from the far end of the Canyon into a completely different landscape. A3B3AAB4-4125-4BDD-9B94-A65E55098D0F5C7F3612-5944-4650-BDD1-12D26625CF14 20180410_1743511652084639.jpgAlthough we were plagued by fierce winds and plunging temps, I’d go back there in a minute. It’s so beautiful.20180406_1043551261039530.jpg20180406_1043121373068015.jpg20180405_1239331453774573.jpgWe were sad to leave Caprock, but hopeful to find some warmer temps. The dry 30mph winds and below freezing temps at night were wearing us down. We couldn’t have a fire, it was too windy to keep our awning up to sit outside, and we were a bit tired of the close contact of being stuck inside a small space (small campers are even smaller after a few days of inclement weather)

One more curiosity about this area – on the road into the Park, there’s a fence stretching about 3/4 mile on which folks have decorated boots and hung them on the fenceposts. Here are a few of my favorites.

We didn’t have high expectations for our next stop – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. But, what an interesting spot! More bison, Oklahoma Longhorns, coyotes, turkeys, geese, a primo lakeside campsite for $10, and more.20180410_1803002120749914.jpg20180409_195102713387479.jpgOne big downside.20180410_1747531235530549.jpg This is the third time we have encountered a water-warning in a western State or Federal campground on this trip, and it’s worrisome. Twice, the warning was for high nitrates, but the e-coli warning to avoid all contact and boil water was scary. There were several pit toilets around the campgroud which had been de-commissioned, and I’m pretty sure that was related to the e-coli contamination. Creepy. Once our clean water is gone, what’s next? We had five gallons of drinking water with us (way more than enough), and we used water from our tank for dish washing. But, I did take showers there – yuck!

The Visitor Center in the NWR is amazing – videos and displays about rejuvenation of the prairie, saving the bison, and restoration of the prairie. Between 1830 and 1860, the American bison herd was reduced from 50 million head to a few hundred. For me, those numbers are incomprehensible. Old photos show settlers sitting in stacks of bison hides or amidst piled of bison-head skeletons. President McKinley signed the Wichita Mountains NWR into existence, and thus began the long, slow process of saving the bison from extinction. Hooray for that effort. Longhorn cattle are also prominent in the NWR landscape.20180408_1403421539330140.jpg20180409_12474982827992.jpgIn the middle of this National Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is a curious area called Holy City. 20180410_175538681212606.jpgAlthough I can’t speak to the religious aspect of this site, it certainly was a fantastic photo op.20180410_175659957570438.jpg20180409_140056961592622.jpg20180409_140604206578278.jpg20180409_140644805783642.jpg Since is was just a week after Easter, I can only imagine what it must have been like the previous week. Holy City was built in 1926, and is the site of the longest running annual Passion Play in the US.

One other event affected our visit to the NWR. While we were there, there was a full-scale controlled burn of the prairie inside the NWR being conducted by the Forest Service. We planned to cycle to the Visitor Center, then on down to a trail around Scott Mountain. Once we passed the VC, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke. Soon, signs appeared about the burn.20180410_175436416705792.jpg In this area, the Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive tree, which (left uncontrolled) would totally dominate the landscape. Burning is a method used to eliminate the cedar, since they perish, the native oaks survive, and the prairie grasses re-establish themselves within a matter of days. It’s easy to see the effectiveness of this tactic. Areas which have been burned are easily distinguished from those that have not, based on the scrub, and the trees. The area to the right of the sign in the above had been previously burned.The smoke from the burn was horrible though, and we were prohibited from cycling through the area we planned. 20180410_175354836702364.jpg Here’s what it looks like – I would love to go back in a month or two and take a photo from the same corner to see the difference.20180409_1422391573388771.jpg20180409_142127435293032.jpgThe hazy smoke affected all my photos from the day, although we enjoyed our ride and the sights.

We loved the historic stone buildings there. The photo below shows John near an early gas station. 20180410_1752381222561205.jpgThere are several dams in the area, and we found a terrific spot for lunch. 20180409_143549378829547.jpgThe Wichita Mountains NWR turned out to be a terrific spot to explore, and we were sad to leave. There’s much to see here, and we will definitely be back.

Heading toward an old favorite site – Galveston Island State Park. On the way there, we’re staying at two new (to us) campgrounds. Stay tuned….20180409_1523241213192847.jpg

 

Days of Good Decisions

For folks who travel thousands of miles every year in a pickup with a camper in tow, we really aren’t good at spending hours at a time on the road. By the time we hit Palo Duro State Park, near Amarillo, we were more than ready to stretch out for a few days. This is our third time in this park, and it’s obviously the charm – we finally scored a campsite in the Mesquite campground at the southern end of this massive canyon. 20171216_1634481615310199.jpgOther than the ‘rustic’ (translate: horrible) state of the bathrooms, this is a fantastic campground. Bonus? Of the roughly 25 sites, not more than five or six were occupied. The silence at night was complete – a few yipping coyotes and roaring wind were the only sounds.

Pleasant daytime temps (in the low 60s) prompted us to hike on Day 2. We decided that a stroll to the Canyon rim was in order. It’s laughable that we really didn’t see that we were in no shape for a hike of this length (about ten miles). But, it was so worth the aching legs. The Can20171221_101541225290091.jpgThat’s a lot of footsteps for our first hike in months. But, it was Mission Accomplished, as the goal was to stretch our legs for the day.

Day 3 was a maintenance chore day for John, and a bike day for me. I explored a few of the CCC-era stone cabins that can be rented there. They are exquisitely sited, and would make an excellent weekend retreat for non-campers.20171218_1137002114958094.jpg

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I really wanted to cycle to the top of the Canyon (the entrance station), a steady upward grade for about six miles, followed by a mile or so of 10% grade.  I don’t mind telling you that it kicked my ass! (but I did ride the entire way). I arrived at the Visitor’s Center gasping for breath, but one old geezer did compliment me on my achievement of cycling up the grade. They had passed me about halfway up the Canyon road in their RV.

 

My reward at the top was a visit to the Texas longhorns that are housed at the Park. Although these perhaps are not the largest, most impressive longhorns in the Texas herd, they are still quite astonishing to see.20171221_1018191056158901.jpgAfter three nights, we were ready to hit the road again, in our quest to get to Las Vegas for Christmas. But, before leaving the area, I wanted to make a stop at Cadillac Ranch, where about ten 60’s era Cadillacs are buried nose-first into the Texas prairie. At some point in the lifespan of this iconic attraction, it was determined that it was futile to prevent vandals from spray-painting the cars. Today, it’s allowed – even encouraged. I was anxious to leave a sign of peace and hope to the world from the Crankshaws (quit your sniggering). We purchased a can of sparkly gold spray paint, and headed out to try our hand at tagging. Who knew it was so hard? Spray painting in 20mph winds isn’t easy, and (apparently) I have no artistic ability.20171219_094931440678259.jpg My first try at painting a gold Christmas tree was a flop. So, I decided just to paint a sweet gold heart. FLOP! 20171219_0949041969897322.jpgOh well, we had fun, and I made one young woman very happy when I handed her my nearly full can of gold paint to go with the blue she already had.

Hours later, we arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park (NM) for a one-night stay. Man, it was cold up there! A gradual climb to 7300′ went largely unnoticed until we got to the top, and it was bitingly crisp. Being on the eastern end of the time zone, and near the winter solstice, it was nearly dark by 4:30! We sat outside in the dusk and bitterly cold dry wind before admitting defeat and retreating inside for the evening. 20171219_1706131831860055.jpgThis time, we were the only campers in the entire State Park. The decent bathrooms and warm showers we had hoped for didn’t materialize – the bathrooms were all locked, except for one pit toilet all the way across the campground. Oh well.

Our plan for the next day was to overnight in Flagstaff, a distance of only 225 miles, then travel on to Boulder Beach (near Vegas) for a few nights before showing up at my sister’s house. But, the weather forecast for Flagstaff was brutal – 50mph winds, blowing snow, and temps dipping down to 10 degrees. That is NOT good camping weather. We can camp below freezing temps without having to winterize our water system, but that combination of wind and weather wouldn’t allow that. Plus, our big fear was that I-40 would be shut down for weather reasons, and we could be stranded in Flagstaff. So, we decided to make a run for a lower elevation. We got off to an early start, and passed through Flagstaff around noon. Boulder Beach was another 225 miles, but the weather was still awful there – warmer, but 30+mph winds. So, we called my sister, gave her a bit of warning that we’d be landing on her doorstep that afternoon, and powered through the miles to Vegas. Headwinds reduced our fuel efficiency to a ridiculous number (less than 8), and we were numbed by the strain of all those hard miles.

But, there’s a happy ending. The rest of the family arrives on the 23rd and 24th, and we’ll all be together for only the second time ever. We’re happy with our decision not to camp – the first night here, we had wind gusts of 60mph. The dust from the desert was awful – visibility was severely impaired, and it was just generally miserable to be outside.

Hope your holidays are bright and warm.

 

 

And…We’re Off!

It’s always a good thing when a long trip gets off to a good start. Although it’s kind of a mixed bag for us so far (five days), we’ve had magnificent weather, which makes up for plenty of other shortcomings. And, for this post, we won’t talk about those at all.

Leaving home in a snowstorm is never a good thing, but for us, it’s better than sticking around because we pulled out of the driveway, put on the windshield wipers, and never looked back. Less than a hundred miles out of town, the roads were dry, and all the snow was gone after another 100 miles after that.

We spent our first two nights at the Evansville Spa (our name for John’s brother’s posh home). Our time there was marred only by the fact that they were both sick with hacking coughs/colds. Is it better to get sick before the holidays, and get it over with, or wait until January? The Evansville duo apparently went the pre-Christmas route. Modern pharmacology is hopefully speeding them toward recovery.

Our first camping night was at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. When we stayed there in the spring, it was jam-packed, so the nearly-empty campground was a pleasure for a quick stop. Our sunny day turned into a brisk night (temps in the low 30s). Deluxe sleeping weather for our deluxe new flannel sheets. Two days later, we found that Jezzy also loves these new sheets. She had very neatly unmade the bed so that she could sprawl in warm comfort on the warm sheets. Are all dogs such princesses, or just ours?

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Since our goal is Christmas in Vegas with my entire immediate family (all ten of us), were doing a bunch of one-night stops. So, the next night finds us at Arlie Moore Campground, near Texarkana AR. What a gorgeous campground! Our large site was near the water, and we enjoyed a another quiet, cold night.

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For sure, we’ll be back to this spot – $9 with our America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

After a long day on the road through beautiful Arkansas and Oklahoma State highways, we arrived at Buckhorn Campground, at Lake of the Arbuckles in OK. It’s part of the Chickasaw Recreation Area. Tonight, our rate for  this spectacular spot for just $12. (Every now and then, it pays to be old!)

20171215_171938442154091.jpg20171215_171758740144347.jpgAnd the bonus? For the first time, I saw a (live) armadillo! In the past five years, there have been plenty of unfortunate armadillos along the roadside, but this beauty is alive and well. I named her Arnette.20171215_172119882436188.jpgI especially like this photo of her with her natural camoflage, standing next to a corrugated pipe. Looks very organic, doesn’t it? 20171215_193732995633263.jpgAlthough you can’t really see it in these photos, armadillos have very cute little cone-shaped ears. She was much bigger than I would have imagined.

We’re taking a little highway hiatus for the next three days after we get to our next destination. Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo is a spot we have enjoyed in the past, and were hoping to (finally) snag a site in the Juniper CG there for the next three night to hike and bike, and just generally get out of the truck for a few days. In past years, we’ve never been able to get a site in this area. Hopefully the camping gods will see fit to help us out this time. The other campgrounds are fine, but we really want a site in this smaller campground, nestled back in the rocks. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Hope you all have something to look forward to over the holidays, whether it’s time with family and friends, or maybe an extra day or two away from work.

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?