Monday, October 29, 2007

Virginia Caverns

On Friday, 10/26, we drive from Washington, PA, to Luray, VA. Lots of nice fall colors in SW PA and the north sides of WV and MD. Cloudy, rainy, foggy day, though, so the beauty doesn't shine through. We vow that some time we'll spend a couple of weeks or more in this part of the country this time of year. Doesn't get the pub of New England, but lots of color and scenic, historic villages aplenty.

Same goes for the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge region in VA. Stonewall Jackson country. We're a little early for full fall color here, but rolling green hills, colonial farm houses, and the start of fall color are quite nice. We're here to go underground, though. Meeting son Mike, with Karen and Jason, for some weekend cavern touring. They meet us at the campground near Luray; all five of us are staying in TuziTwo. The kids had some excitement on the way up: the car in front of them hit a deer, then an oncoming car hit the deer again. Deer parts went flying over and around their car. Fortunately, no car crashes or other problems. We've seen a lot of roadkill deer on this trip.

Saturday morning we headed for nearby Luray Caverns (all but Susie who is not fond of the underground environment -- she'll have a half-day of R&R). Here's a scene:

Lots of interesting formations to see throughout our one-hour tour. One of the most interesting man-made features was the cavern organ. In one large room a clever musician had constructed fixtures holding rubber hammers to a keyboard so that the hammers would strike a stalactite when the key was played. I think the guide said there were 37 carefully calibrated stalactites and we watched as a hymn was played. In a different cave, Jason got to strike a horizontal projection and play a musical note.
All three caverns we visited have ancillary attractions -- something else to keep you in the gift shop vicinity. At Luray it's a hedge maze. We have a lot of fun in it. Goal is to find four treasure chests, at each of which you stamp your ticket with a stamp that has a part of a phrase. The phrase, put together, is the maze's theme of the week. That gives you more to do than "just" finding your way from entrance to exit. We all enjoyed the maze. it was as much fun as the cave.

Next day, Sunday, we did Skyline Caverns and Shenandoah Caverns. One of the Skyline features is an area where crystals have grown. As we understood the science, there was a closed chamber in which subsidence of the floor left a partial vacuum, conditions that facilitate crystal growth. The technical term is anthodites and this one of the few places in the world they are found.

Skyline Caverns had fewer large formations and large rooms than the other caves we saw, but its passageways were more interesting, gave you more of the feeling of walking through cracks in the earth's subsurface. Kind of like those slot canyons aboveground in Utah. It was also more natural, there was more walking on actual cave floor rather than constructed walkways.

The sideshow here was a hall of mirrors. Feel your way along, hands extended, so you don't run into a mirror. Sometimes you see your own reflection; others you see your fellow explorers and have to figure real or reflection? We had fun there, too, but thought the effect would have been greater with more people in there, not just us four.

Shenandoah Caverns are the most developed -- it's Virginia's only cave with an elevator and tons of gravel have been hauled in to form walkways that put you at a better viewing level than nature provided. Shenandoah also gets the award for best use of lighting -- oohs and aahs as lights are suddenly switched on revealing all sorts of formations and colors. One notable formation, "once featured by National Geographic," is a pair of bacon slices, seen here. For scale, they're about four feet in length.

The caverns we toured had enough differences that all were interesting, but there were some similarities: all occasionally are the sites for weddings (especially Luray, with its musical stalactites), all the tour guides can find formations that (sort of) resemble alligators, camels, elephants, and cartoon characters. One recorded message was a little strange: Man has defiled God's planet with buildings of steel and glass, but down here underground is still God's realm just as He designed it. Then they turned out the lights on us!?

We finished up our weekend with a short drive on Skyline Drive. Very cold and windy up there so we didn't tarry long. Drove back to Luray for dinner.

Monday the kids headed home. We had a great time -- proved we could all stay in TuziTwo, so we'll do it again some time, some where.

We stuck around for a day of laundry, travel prep, and blogging. Very slow, weak wi-fi connection at this campground, so I may not get this posted until our next stop.

Late in the day Susie and I took a very nice drive, exploring some of the farm roads around here. "I just love these kinds of roads," said Susie -- for both of us.

Cheers. We're off to Savannah, GA, for the weekend.

Rob and Susie

Monday, October 22, 2007

Midwest Crossing

We decided to leave Aberdeen on Monday (10/22), headed for Luray, VA, Friday evening. This will make for a less rushed trip than our original plan of leaving Aberdeen on Tuesday.

On Monday we covered 275 fairly easy miles -- all divided four-lane highways -- but didn't get out of SD; we spent the night in North Sioux City, just across the state line from Sioux City, IA. Our KOA guidebook said this RV park closed October 15, but we called and found they were still open for self-contained units. That is, the park's restrooms and showers were shut down for the winter, but the RV park was open for those who didn't need those facilities. The facility we needed most was cable or over-the-air major networks, in order to watch Dancing with the Stars, and that they had. Nice owner even had his son pick up a half-gallon of milk for us in town so we wouldn't have to unhook the PT.

Tuesday was Iowa. It was all interstates, all the time. I'm destroying my reputation as a backroads traveler. We took I-80 across the state, nodding in solemn appreciation of, but not stopping at, sites recognizing John Wayne, Bob Feller, Herbert Hoover, the Amana Colonies, and Madison County bridges. Next trip. Iowa has rest areas about every 30 miles and they have free wireless internet access. We used that service once.

The day's travel was 430 miles. Stopped for the night, just before dark, about 60 miles into Illinois at Knoxville, west of Peoria. We're taking I-74 which angles SE connecting I-80 to I-70.

Wednesday got us across Illinois and Indiana -- 440 miles. (Trivia: I was born in IL, Susie was born in IN. Home again!)
I'm always struck by Illinois's flatness -- I think it's fascinating and awe-inspiring. Miles and miles of farms -- stately houses, sturdy barns, years and years of family traditions. You read that corporate farms are taking over, but it looks like there are still a lot of family farms, continuing the important work that they've been doing since ground was first broken. Here are a couple of pictures:

At a rest stop in Illinois there was a photography exhibit by a local photographer, Larry Kanfer. Had some nice farm and barn pictures. Couple of days later I looked up his website and found these two among many fine pictures. The first one really conveys the feeling I was talking about.

Got off the interstate for a brief stretch in eastern Illinois, looking for a post office and a mom&pop cafe in a string of small towns. Nice towns, but none of those facilities were on the highway. I'm losing my touch. Back to I-74.

A little later in Indiana we found a country cafe. That is, a cafe out in the country, but too sleek to be a real country cafe. E.g., no HS sports pictures on the wall. Beef figured prominently in the restaurant's name and billboards advertized dinner rolls. You chose from about six meats and several sides, plus salad bar. Took care of the day's eating -- leftovers for 'supper.' Too big to be mom&pop, but it probably started that way.

Incidentally, for future reference, our book on Roadfood described a restaurant that I had planned on for dinner, before lunch wiped out the desire and before I realized the place wasn't open on Wednesday. It's Welliver's, in Hagerstown, IN, which is four miles north of exit 137 on I-70. Says the description: It's a buffet "with some six dozen different items from which to build a salad and more than 150 buffet choices ranging from great onion soup to an array of breads ...., to chilled steamed shrimp, pan-fried chicken, .... . The dessert selection is overwhelming: handsome Hoosier pies of every height, color, and substance, plus a very fine hand-dipped ice cream bar." Plan ahead. Just open Th-Sun for dinner.

Indiana is more wooded than Illinois and the fall colors are showing nicely. Sorry, no pix. Sky cloudy and cold north wind blowing.

Wednesday night we were in New Paris, Ohio, just past the Indiana state line. Got in just before dark and well in time for the first World Series game. I'm really glad we allowed five days for this trek to Luray, VA, rather than four. The days are getting short enough that we would have had to drive before sun-up or after sundown.

Thursday is a shorter day -- 260 miles to Washington, PA, where we will get together with Jay and Joyce Rush -- Joyce is Susie's sister-in-law.

More nice farmland in Ohio, becoming more forested in the eastern half of the state. As you approach West VA the rolling hills turn into ridges and hollers. Susie took some pictures as we rolled along. Here's one:

In eastern Ohio I spotted a patriotically painted barn -- statue of liberty and waving flag -- and a website where you could go and contract to have your barn decorated with art: The artist is Scott Hagan. Here are some examples:

J&J are full-time Habitat for Humanity volunteers, spending much of the year traveling in their fifth-wheel RV. Falls they hang around their farm near Washington and go to Penn State football games. They took us to dinner at the Old Red Barn (approximate name) -- which got me on a barn kick back at the computer. If I've overdone the barn thing, it's their fault. Here's an old Ohio barn from the web:

That's enough for now.
Rob and Susie

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Hinkle Farm

Jeff got re-assigned by ShopKo last spring. He lived in the Aberdeen Holiday Inn while Valerie stayed in Sioux Falls at her job and to sell the house. The state corrections department (something like that), for which Valerie works, created a job for her in Aberdeen. Meanwhile, they looked for a house. Houses for sale were hard to find due in part to a housing shortage caused by major flooding in Aberdeen last spring. They did, however, find this acreage near Bath, SD, and fell for it. We'd heard a lot about the negatives -- house has only one bathroom, essentially only one bedroom, and there are snakes everywhere! -- so we weren't sure what to expect. It turned out to be really neat.

The previous owners raised miniature horses, so there is a nice barn with miniature stalls, similarly down-sized outdoor stables and pens, plus a large multi-bay garage for parking and working on your farm vehicles. Lots of pasture land and a (miniature) river runs through it. The house has nice spacious rooms, what there are of them. When Jeff and Valerie lived in Bloomfield, they had corrals and farm animals, so they're looking forward to getting some livestock here, but probably after they experience their first winter on a SD farm.

At any rate, here are some farm pictures:

As you can see, we snuggled TuziTwo up next to the garage. I was worried about drawing too much current for the circuit, but there was no problem.

This weekend marked the beginning of pheasant season for non-residents of SD; residents got a head start last weekend. This county is the state's and maybe the nation's hotbed for pheasant. The hotels and restaurants are full. The airport is lined with private jets, and we've heard gunshots on adjacent property. Jeff thought the hunters there might have scared some pheasants on to his property, so he took his shotgun out for a while. Nothing to shoot at, though.

I've come down with a cold and sore throat and so spent most of Sunday sleeping and TV-watching. We plan to leave tomorrow, take five days to get to Luray, VA -- the next stop on our trek to Florida.


Rob and Susie

Nebraska-South Dakota

Forgot to finish our itinerary. From Aberdeen, SD, our next objective is Luray, VA, where we are going to meet Mike, Karen, and Jason Easterling next Friday for a weekend of cave exploration and other activities in the area. Then, we'll work our way to Florida by a route not yet planned. Ditto for trip home.

Meanwhile, this Friday, from Ogallala, NE, we drive east on I-80 to North Platte, then head straight north on US83 through the scenic Nebraska Sandhills area. One website said this stretch of road competes with US50 in Nevada for the loneliest road in the US. This is almost all grassland -- crops don't do well in sand -- and magnificent to see: fall grass colors of brown and gold, some green, and blue skies for a background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, motor home-friendly pull-offs for pictures. In 130 miles from North Platte to Valentine, there was one scenic overlook, but you could only see the road leading to it, no way to tell if there was room to turn around at the end or not, so I skipped it. Also saw one picnic area, but low-hanging tree limbs kept us out of there. We both tried a couple of shots from a moving motor home (Susie seizing the camera from me for some reason), but they didn't turn out well, so here are a couple from the internet.

This scenic little river through the Sandhills is inaptly named the Dismal River.

The route north into SD takes us through the Rosebud Indian Reservation. From there we jog east and north to Chamberlain, on the banks of the Missouri River, here dammed up to form Lake Francis Case. Our campground is on the east bank. Here are some evening and morning pictures. The old highway bridge, still used but bypassed by the I-90 bridge, caught my attention, particularly after we drove across it en route to the campground.

Next day, Saturday, we have a pleasant 160-mile morning drive across the hills and plains of SD to Aberdeen. We meet Jeff and Valerie at Jeff's ShopKo store, have lunch, do some shopkoing, (here come some happy ShopKo shoppers now!) and follow Valerie out to their 18-acre spread near Bath, which is six miles east of Aberdeen.

Stay tuned for the farm report.


Susie and Rob

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fall 2007: Florida by way of Aberdeen, SD

Tuzigoot Two is on the road again. Way back last winter we signed up to attend an Allegro Rally in Florida, November 5-10, in Seffner, near Tampa (TuziTwo is an Allegro Bus.) As the year went on we kept those plans and gradually formed an itinerary.

Jeff and Valerie Hinkle, who moved to Aberdeen, SD, last summer, bought a small farm and we wanted to see it and them. Susie saw her other three kids in September while I was in China, so Jeff was due a visit. Furthermore, we had been storing some of Jeff and Valerie's inherited belongings from the home of her parents in Las Cruces, so we could deliver them -- the belongings.

Jeff Easterling's birthday is Oct. 17, so we settled on that departure date -- drive to Denver and celebrate his birthday with Valerie and Malia.

This schedule also meshed with a visit from Ken and Elsie Ray, friends from Abilene, who came for the second weekend of Albuquerque's balloon fiesta, Oct. 12 - 14. Which is reason enough to insert a couple of balloon pictures. Here's the scene as the balloons suddenly arise, like sleeping giants. Of course, if you had this flame applied to you, you'd rise, too!

We had a bonus that weekend when the (decidedly non-punk) rock band, Luma, featuring two of my nephews, Marcus and Stephen Collins, and two friends, came from OK to do a Friday night concert in Albuquerque. (The nephews are on the right in the picture on their website.) We put them up in TuziTwo in the driveway for the night. Was a very short night for them because we got three of them up at 4:45am to go to the balloons.

Full disclosure: My camera malfunctioned just after the above shot, so this is from a previous year, but this really is what it looked like when they all got up.

Besides balloons, we and the Rays took in some of NM's scenic sights, including the top of Sandia Crest.

At any rate, after a busy weekend, we spent Monday and Tuesday loading up and left early Wednesday. I'd parked Tuzi a little differently in the driveway than I usually do, in order to provide more parking space for our guests, and I had a really tough time getting out. Only damage was to my sense of assurance, though.

It was a tough driving day -- very strong cross-winds from the west -- but we got to our campground at Chatfield State Park, near Denver, in time to take the birthday boy and family to dinner. Malia's been sick lately, but she's recovering and continues to develop very spectacularly. Jeff is preparing a video of Malia's adoption and it's amazing to compare Malia now with 10 months ago. You can page down to our China reports if you'd like.

Wind blew all night and was forecast to get stronger. We had breakfast with Malia and Jeff then headed northeast. Windy all the way. Decided we'd had enough when we got to Ogallala, NE, just over the Colorado line, and stopped for the night. Much better weather forecasted for Friday.
Rob and Susie