"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Flume Gorge: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Now we're in Lincoln, NH for three weeks. This stop is different from all others, as we are not in the RV! The RV is parked in our friends' yard back in Massachusetts while we are staying in a condo provided by Pratt Institute, for whom I am teaching a course. (Pratt however is in Brooklyn - this is just a summer intensive program.) Also, Kona isn't with us either. She's in Vermont with some other friends, who have 7 or 8 other retrievers. So she's in doggie summer camp. To top it all off, Rick is  traveling to visit a couple of other friends in Maine. So despite being planted here for three weeks, we also seem to be spread all over the place. 

After getting settled into the condo in Lincoln, Rick and I took a short trip north on Route 3 to Franconia Notch State Park.  The park is a long narrow strip of land along I-93/State 3 with inroads and trails west and east into the surrounding hills and mountains. The point furthest south, and closest for us, is the Flume Gorge.

Upon entering the parking area, there are signs directing you to the Visitors' Center, through which you proceed to the Flume. There is a $15 admission fee to enter the Flume Gorge area, which includes a short bus ride to and from the base of the Gorge Trail, if you so desire. This is a state park, so there was no discount with our Senior Pass. The trail you bypass by taking the bus ride is not a hard one, but we were happy to take the bus back to the Boulder Cabin where the bus stops after we hiked the Gorge.

Of course New England is famous for its covered bridges, and there is a classic one here in the park, over the Flume Brook that forms the Flume Gorge.

At the base of the Gorge is Table Rock where the river widens across a flattened shelf of granite. You'll see these kinds of formations throughout New Hampshire, and many are open to exploring, wading and sliding, like Franconia Falls on the other side of Lincoln. Visitors are not encouraged to walk on Table Rock however, for safety reasons.

As you walk up the river, the Gorge begins to narrow and the moss covered granite walls begin to rise. The light just barely dappled the walls and roots of this tree.

Visitors walk through the Gorge on a wooden boardwalk mounted to the walls. At times the water is rushing right under your feet.

The Gorge was created by the erosion of a basalt dike, which was formed by molten lava being forced through large cracks in the granite. Below is a picture of a remnant of the black rock of the dike running parallel to the Gorge. The lighter colored area in the lower right is the clear water running over lighter colored granite.

The Gorge is almost always cool and misty, even when its hot and sunny outside. 
It was a perfect place for the muggy day we were having.

The walls are lush with mosses, ferns and other vegetation. Readers from the Pacific Northwest would feel right at home here. We could just see this lighted patch of mosses and ferns way up at the top of the rock walls. 

At the top end of the Gorge is Avalanche Falls, entering at a 90 degree angle.

Just beyond the falls is Bear Cave.

We took the Rim Path back to the base, and this time we passed on exploring the Ridge Path to Liberty Gorge, Sentinel Pool and the Wolf Den. On the way back I caught sight of this little clump of bunchberries hiding behind a tree. We also saw these in the northwestern US.

There is much more to see of the Flume Gorge area and the rest of Franconia State Park, but we had to hurry back to the condo to meet up with our friend Laura, who will be teaching with me for the next couple of weeks. More about the adventures that I'm sure Laura and I will have in our next posts.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Steamtown: Scranton, PA

Trains, trains, trains. If you like 'em, this is a great place.  I think trains are OK, mostly for potential photographic images they offer that are so different from the subjects we usually see - landscapes and such. So that's what you'll see in this post. 

Yesterday we visited Steamtown National Historic Site in the heart of Scranton, PA. It was creatively built around one of the few railroad roundhouses remaining in the US. The architecture also offered some interesting photo material. 

A selection of engines are displayed around the turntable at the center of the roundhouse. The old brick roundhouse itself has been supplemented by a reflective glass and red metal structure you see in these three photos. This steam engine was painted and polished to such a shine that you could see the museum buildings in it.

The turntable consists of a bridge that rotates on a single circular track around the edge of a large circle, allowing the engines to be brought into the house and aimed into different slots or bays to be worked on, and other engines moved out to get reattached to a train. This picture is looking over the bridge that rotates inside the turntable.

This is the single track around the edge of the turntable, that the bridge rides on. It was an ingenious system.

In addition to the turntable, there are displays inside the buildings about history and steam technology. (This would be a great place for a steampunk party.)  There are lots of opportunities to get up close to the locomotives and their various parts.

This is the back of a water/coal car.

The inside of the garages is very dark and moody, lighted just enough to allow you to see and still maintain a kind of Victorian ambiance.

A trench under the trains so they can be worked on from underneath. Just like Jiffy Lube!

Looking over the tops of the pufferbellies all in a row. (Who remembers the pufferbelly song?)

Back outside again, visitors are welcome to carefully walk around a train yard to get close to a collection of engines and cars from various eras. This was one of my favorites, with its patina of old paint and rust - like Thomas the Tank Engine neglected in a time warp.

It has lots of colorful features.

Rusted railroad spikes and other metal objects just laying around the train yard. 

In addition to the roundhouse, the museum and the train yard, the park is connected by an overhead metal walkway that provides an ariel view of the whole place, and also leads over to the Steamtown Mall. Interesting juxtaposition that benefits the park and retail Scranton. 

This was one of the few sunny days we've had in awhile. The rains around here have flooded some areas, and all the river levels are very high. The place we were going to stop next was flooded out so our reservations there were cancelled. Instead we'll stay here in Sidney NY at the Tall Pines Campground for another day.  We're right on the Unadilla River here, and we've been watching it rise, hoping for the best.  

Next, on to our friends' home in Monterey, Massachusetts where we will park our rig for more than three weeks, and store it for the first time in two years!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

We crossed the Mason-Dixon line, so we are officially no longer in the south. There are only subtle changes of course, but in the town of Gettysburg, the difference between north and south was played out in a very big way during the Civil War. In fact, it gets "played out" even now on a regular basis by Civil War reenactments in the town and battlefields surrounding it.  This is a very big year for Gettysburg: the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Our visit to Gettysburg began by getting settled at the Gettysburg Campground, a very nice RV and tent park just outside of town. It was a longish drive for us and I wasn't up for cooking once we arrived, so we got some dinner right on the square, at the Pub and Restaurant. 

Rick's old friend Wally, from his high school days, lives here in town and actually used to own an earlier iteration of this restaurant. We were fortunate enough to locate him and spend some nice time with him and his wife, Fran. Wally cooked us a wonderful homemade gourmet meal that was so much better than anything we've had in a restaurant in a long time. 

Gettysburg is a remarkably preserved town, even though it is not all incorporated into the National Military Park, like the actual battlefields are.  Many homes, farms, and much of the downtown area date back to the Civil War era, or shortly after. Evidently, tourism to the battlefields has been a going concern since almost immediately after the battle!  

We visited the Park on our second day in town, starting with the huge visitors' center and museum. It was early in the day but the parking lot was almost full, and there were already lines to get into the film. There are a lot of Civil War enthusiasts, for whom visits to Gettysburg is almost a pilgrimage.

The museum has many multi-media displays about the period leading up to the war, the war itself, the battles at Gettysburg in particular, and their aftermath. Obviously, it is primarily focused on the military angle, but also has some interesting displays about slavery and the political conflicts around it. There is an excellent film, followed by a viewing of the immense cyclorama, a 360 degree painting by Paul Phillippoteaux (1882) of the battle, accompanied by a recorded account of one of the decisive battles, complete with battle sounds (a little overwhelming). One of our favorite parts of the museum was the emphasis on Lincoln and this display of his Gettysburg Address. It's mounted on a window, so that you're looking out at the battlefield through his words as you listen to the Address read aloud.

After supper, when we knew the battlefields would be less crowded, we took a self-guided car tour with an audio CD and booklet that we bought at the bookstore. It related many details about the battles, and stories about the troops and their leaders as it guided us around the battlefields. Now here I have to confess that I only listened with half an ear while popping in and out of the car to take pictures. The military story does not hold a lot of interest for me, and I'm afraid I don't recall much of it, but I got the idea. I'm sorry that I can't identify the particulars of most of the things in the pictures I'm going to share here. 

There are a lot of cannons all around the battlefields, placed where they would have been in actual battles. Since 1999 the Park has been reclaiming the battlefield by removing non historical buildings and cutting down a lot of the trees that have grown on the land since the war. This has drastically changed the landscape, and has improved the views of the various battle locations.

Another change in the landscape now is the placement of monuments marking locations in the battles and commemorating regiments that served and states that participated in the battle. Below is one of the more unique ones. It is topped by a small cannon ball and a bird's nest. Behind it you can see one of the observation towers that gives viewers a better look of some strategic points in the battle.

Many of the monuments are very dynamic statues representing soldiers in battle.  

We were fortunate to end our day on Little Round Top (an important location in the battle) at sunset, giving us some quiet time to digest the information and ponder what it was all about.


The Park is a remarkable place, in the breadth and effectiveness of its mission. Even though we are not big fans of war history, its impossible not to be impressed by the immensity and significance of this war, to be moved by the sacrifices of the people who fought in it, and to wonder what our country would be like now if it had never happened, or if the outcome had been different.  

We will continue our journey northward for the next two weeks, and I'll be taking a little break from the blog to do some work to prepare for the course I'm teaching this summer. (Can't put it off any longer.) See you in New England.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Inching Our Way North Through Virginia

It seems like we've been heading north for a long time, traveling just an inch or two on the map every time we move.  This leisurely pace has, however, allowed us to explore some pretty neat places here in the south. Our last two stops have been in the beautiful state of Virginia.

The picture above is from Fort Chiswell RV-Park, near Wytheville, VA. It's a great place for an overnight or several, and has beautiful grounds in the midst of rolling hills and farm country. It's an easy place to get to from I-81, which we are basically following north.  It's also very close to the New River Trail State Park, where we took a bike ride.

This relatively new Virginia State Park was built around a multi-use rail-to-trail that follows the New River. (The New River incidentally is the third oldest river in the world, geologically speaking.) The park has lots of new and well-cared for facilities, including a stable with horses for hire and a complete equestrian center, as well as various historical structures associated with the railroad and local agriculture.

The shady trail was perfect for a very hot, muggy, late afternoon, and it traveled close enough to the river to enjoy the sound of the wide shallow rapids.  It was a cool, flat ride. Easy peasy.

At one point the trail passes under the Shot Tower.  As the park's webpage says:

"Overlooking the New River, Shot Tower was built more than 150 years ago to make ammunition for the firearms of the early settlers. Lead from the nearby Austinville Mines was Shot Tower at the parkmelted in a kettle atop the 75-foot tower and poured through a sieve, falling through the tower and an additional 75-foot shaft beneath the tower into a kettle of water."  The lead needed to drop all that way to form perfectly round balls. How ingenious.

After just one night at Ft. Chiswell we moved on to Misty Mountain Camp Resort, another very nice campground with more facilities that we need really, including large group camping areas, playgrounds, pavilions, even a stage. It would actually be perfect for an RV rally.

The draw for us was its proximity to Charlottesville, a small city we've visited before and really like. Here's a picture of the lovely downtown pedestrian mall where I took a little early Saturday stroll after visiting the nearby farmer's market. Nice market - lots of good produce as well as other kinds of trendy organic food stuffs. I even had my first taste of kombucha. (I'm not a fan yet.)

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, is in Charlottesville, but we didn't visit it this time. We did take a stroll around the University of Virginia, another place strongly influenced by Thomas Jefferson.  These are the famous serpentine walls, designed by Jefferson.  Rick loves this place and Jefferson's philosophy.

"Jefferson believed that architecture was the heart of the American cause. In his mind, a building was not merely a walled structure, but a metaphor for American ideology, and the process of construction was equal to the task of building a nation. The architecture of any American building should express the American desire to break cultural--as well as political--ties to Europe. American architecture, Jefferson believed, would embody the fulfillment of the civic life of Americans, and he sought to establish the standards of a national architecture, both aesthetically and politically"(from "The Architectural Politics of Thomas Jefferson", The American Studies Group, U of V).

Jefferson designed the original university buildings and campus, as an "ideal community." The buildings are like a giant-sized Monticello. Above is the rotunda, the heart of the university, and the statue of Jefferson.

Misty Mountain Camp Resort is about halfway between Charlottesville and the Shenandoah National Park, accessed via the Skyline Drive.  We spent a nice morning taking the drive from its southernmost point to Big Meadows, then returned via the narrow backroads on the eastern side of the mountains. (You know, there's no way to stop and take pictures in this part of the country. Why don't they do shoulders on the roads down here?) 

So I guess this is goodbye to the south; our next post will be from north of the Mason-Dixon line. Being northerners, we didn't have a lot of experience in the south, and we've both admitted we were packing our own set of prejudices about it. Now, after spending our winter traveling through nine of the southern states, we've been very positively impressed with it's natural beauty, rich culture, great food, and of course, it's hospitality. Who knows, we may some day become southerners! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Our Second Year Anniversary

Yesterday we celebrated two years of full time travel and living in our home on wheels. Our first year's journey basically took us from Chicago, IL to the US west coast from its southern to its northern limits.

Our second year took us up into the west coast of Canada and then all the way back to the Gulf and southern east coast of the US.  We've overnighted at 51 parks in 16 states or provinces, in two countries. We've visited ten national parks and countless national forests, preserves, monuments, recreational areas and state parks; taken twelve boat rides; and kayaked in numerous rivers or lakes, and taken too many hikes to keep track of.

This was the year for both of us to learn more about cameras and photography, and I got more tuned in to butterflies. When we thought back on the year, we came up with a handful of highlights that we thought we'd share as kind of a year's review in pictures.

The Pacific Northwest - Mountains, water, eagles, forests, and more water...


Butchart Gardens, BC - By day and by night

Jet Boating and Floating in Hell's Canyon


Near Kodachrome Basin State Park

Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef NP

Arches NP

Canyonlands NP

Canyonlands NP

Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, Chama, NM

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

Carlsbad Caverns

Texas BBQ

Kreuz' BBQ, Lockhart, TX

Cooper's BBQ, Llano, TX

The Gulf Coast

Kona Surfing

and Florida Wildlife Allstars

Looking back at the year, I'm moved by the immensity, depth and variety of this land and the living things in it.  The opportunities are great, the possibilities infinite and the adventure goes on and on.