Friday, September 30, 2011

Minute Man Education

Today we put on some miles, but not before making a good stop at Minute Man National Historic Park. You know, it's a funny thing learning U.S. geography at the same time as you're learning its history. Growing up in the west, I really had no firm grasp of eastern states geography, let alone the historical development of the states as it aligned with historical events. For SOME reason, a clear disconnect, I thought (as a child) that the battle of Lexington was held in Kentucky! After passing my written tests (Shock!) and moving on, I never gave it another thought...until today.

So there were were walking the Bay Road down which the battle of Lexington/Concord took place. We stood on Old North Bridge, walked the road, stood where Paul Revere was captured, learned he didn't ride alone but was joined by none other than John Hancock and Dr. Samuel Dawes (fresh off a night of courting). It's a beautiful, serene setting now, and both difficult to understand and sad to understand that so many men died along this stretch. The battle fields are, to me, very sad places. From a strategic standpoint, I'm sure many would find it interesting. And the girls and I talked about the exhaustion and fear the soldiers on both sides must have felt as they traveled and fought and died on this road.

I'm thankful for the National Parks Junior Ranger Program which slows us down to really take a look at places we may otherwise skirt a bit. Honestly, given the history I don't think I would have spent as much time here were it not for the junior ranger program. I'm glad we made the stop, talked to the "tavern owner" ranger, listened to the ranger talk at the bridge and walked the road. It would really be a shame to skip all that.

We also stopped at the Wayside, where several authors lived at some points in their lives, not the least of whom was Louisa May Alcott. That was particularly appropriate since we recently finished listing (ala to "Little Women." We also stopped by Orchard House just down the road (walking distance) where Alcott lived while writing "Little Women."

When we returned to our trailer, we found a little huddle around it. It's really not that unusual to find folks walking and talking around the trailer. The map by the back door is a great spark for starting conversation. We often walk up to find people talking with each other about their own adventures, pointing to points on the map as they show each other their travels. The trailer itself is an attraction. Lots of questions about its size, its vintage, its travels. While sometime it would be nice to have a cushy, comfortable rig like we often see on the road, I'm glad to have something affordable to tow, very maneuverable and a great conversation starter. We've met loads of nice people thanks to "CJ," our 1972 Compact Jr.

We wandered into Mass. cranberry territory just in time for sunset over a bog where the berries have been floated and readied for collection. We've seen cranberry bogs in Washington, but nothing like the gigantic bogs here in Mass! The deforestation is apparent, as is the complete change of the lay of the land. Check out the photos (far background) to see just how those gently rolling forest hills are turned into bog plains.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bean Town, USA

 Well, food poisoning has a way of putting a heavy damper on any trip. Was sick as a dog and then some last night. Good thing the girls are big enough to forage for their own dinner and that the campground had an actual flush toilet and hot running water. Feeling not so great today, too, but at least the system’s entirely purged. DON’T get the steamed clams at Sprague’s in Wiscansett!

Started our day at the Salem Witch Museum for a look at that terrible part in our nation’s history. The girls and I had talked about it before we got into town, and E read a bit about it. The history was well and fairly, I think, told. The presentation that followed in the museum talked about periods in history where fear ruled the day.

Boston certainly got the short shrift today with me not feeling entirely up to par, the rain drizzling all day and our plan of attack not very well planned at all. We DID take the commuter train in to town, which was a life saver given these roads, traffic and drivers. Kids under 12 ride free, too, so it was a good deal at $10 round trip for the 30-minute (each way) ride right into TD Gardens.

We made our way onto the Freedom Trail where we toured Faneuil (sp?) Hall; stopped by Oyster House (but certainly didn’t stop in…ugh!); ate lunch of Boston Beans, N/E Clam Chowder and Nachos (go figure); checked out Old State House; then hopped on a harbor tour and bus tour of the city for a good look before dark. Had the last bus tour, so the driver went off the route to show us some more of his favorite spots before turning us all loose.

The streets of Boston were clearly laid out to emulate London streets (or at least the English model). Very convoluted, and tough to navigate, even on foot. SO glad we took light rail.

Tonight, back at Winter Island, a great find for urban camping. Sure, it’s next to a power plant which, I’m sure, at some time wasn’t nearly as clean as it seems to be now. The site is on a spit (formerly an island I’m sure) that has been home to Fort Pickering (now abandoned but a fun place to explore), a sandy beach, a rocky beach, a playground, picnic areas and marina. Hot showers. Friendly people. And relatively inexpensive given its proximity to city.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fort Knox Find

So our goal today was to put on some miles and begin our trek south. The turn south felt a bit like a turn for home, though we've got weeks to go. We miss our family and friends, our home and our pets. I think we're all sort of ready to turn west and floor it, but there are friends to see on our way home, and we know a rest in a good campground might help us out. Seeing Daddy in Florida will also help us out A LOT! So looking forward to seeing him!

While heading out of Maine, we came across Fort Knox. Really. Not planned. But a nice stop for a runaround and a bit more history. Plus there's a beautiful "new" bridge near Penobscot that was worth the stop.

I wanted to leave Maine on a high note, so as we cruised through the little town of Wiscansett, we pulled off the road there along the river at a dockside lobster house for a final taste of fresh Maine lobster. The girls aren’t really into it (strange – they love crab), so they made themselves some sandwiches of their choice from the ice chest while I ordered the steamers and lobster lunch. It was a beautiful day to sit out in the sunshine and enjoy the view of the river while we enjoyed lunch.

We continued our drive south along the turnpike (toll booths, yes) through dense forest before crossing New Hampshire (more forest, more tollbooths) and arriving in Massachusetts.

Talk about a CONFUSING place to drive. If you’ve ever been to an old English city (the old section of York comes to mind), you’ll know what I’m talking about. These cities weren’t built on convenient grids. Rather, it looks as though wandering sheep established the paths which would become streets and roads. The freeway/thruway/turnpike? Simple. Anywhere else? Entirely confusing, from signage to street layout. After following the mazelike pattern through Salem, we found our way to Winter Island Park for the night.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Acadia National Park - wonderful!

WELL! I sure do wish we had at least a week to explore this park in full. There are more than 120 miles of hiking trails, none of which could be as grueling as the Sierra can offer, but still beautiful certainly. And largely interlinked with a park shuttle bus system. There are old carriage roads turned trails (bike trails, too), plus waterways, ponds and, of course, the Atlantic shore. It's very quiet here, even along the shore. I'm sure when a nor'easter comes in you get some booming waves, but sunrise this morning on the rocky shore was serene. The tide was headed out, the sun was rising over the Atlantic, a beautiful start to a wonderful day.

The girls and I rose early (they didn't sunrise with me, but rose shortly afterward) to hit low tide at Bar Harbor, so named because at low tide a large sandbar is exposed. That bar provides access to the first of the Porcupine Islands. We (V) played with dozens of sea snails on the bar, we checked out rocks and shells, and we walked across to the island and explored. We found a ruin that reminded me of Knapp's Castle back in Santa Barbara County. Must have been a spectacular place to live in its hayday.

We drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Seaboard, then hiked around the rounded peaks for awhile before heading down to explore Bar Harbor at high tide.

This park is definitely worth a lengthy visit. Many thanks to the cycling traveler who directed us to Blackwoods Campground.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunrise over the Atlantic, Acadia National Park, Maine

I woke up early this morning and took the short walk to the shoreline to watch sunrise over the Atlantic while the girls slept soundly in the warmth of the trailer. Funny thing – sunrise on the Atlantic looks remarkably like sunrise on the Pacific. ;) Still, it was a very peaceful way to start the day. The coast here is so peaceful as the late-summer tide ebbs that I could hear a boat for MILES after it left the harbor. I lost sight of it before I stopped hearing it.

We headed in to Bar Harbor early this morning to catch low tide so we could walk across the namesake sandbar and explore the island before heading back into town. The bar is a fun stop, especially for kids, and the island was lovely, but the town is a major tourist town, complete with cruise ships landing daily in late summer and into fall. The town is pretty crowded, but we found a nice internet cafĂ© here to catch up on our postings (it’s Sunday, September 18, 2011 as I write this) before we head out to find some lobster for lunch, then hit Cadillac Mountain for a walk, the meadows to look for carnivorous plants, and back to camp for a campfire meal.

Thanks for following our travels. For those of you who have written notes (on the blog or by e-mail), a special thanks. It’s been nice to hear from family and friends as we explore.

From here, we head south. We’ll pick up the internet again when possible.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ocean in View! Sebago to the Atlantic Ocean

Today our goal was to get to Acadia National Park. The big stop for the day was at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, the last remaining such village with living followers of the faith in residence. We took a tour, but I must say it was less than spectacular. There were a few room that held Shaker furniture, but with the followers aging, and the sect largely following modern traditions (yes, they can drive if they so choose, and the only remaining brother is big on texting, we’re told), it’s a little like walking into the home of, say, a Catholic and expecting to see anything unusual.

Still, it’s a beautiful setting and in its heyday, must have been a wonderful community with a work ethic. Their business efforts evolved with the needs of the tourist economy from the fine goods to chocolates and candies of all descriptions. Sadly, those days are gone, too. Just candy making supplies to view. The gift shop carries the herbs the village still produces, as well as fine goods created by Shaker friends.

We made our lunch at the trailer, then carried on east, finally rolling onto Mt. Desert Island in time for sunset and camp in time for walking tacos by the fire.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sailing Sebago Lake

Woke today to a beautiful spot! I knew when I picked it that we were backed up so the door would open to the lake, but I had really no idea how nice this lake was going to be. First of all, it was a beautiful, clear, blue-sky morning, bright after the rain. It was cold in the shade of the trees, but I took my breakfast down to the beach where the sun and sand were already relatively warm. Even the lake water wasn’t too cold for early morning play.

While the girls ate breakfast, I met our camp neighbor who was there with his Hobie Catamaran. Turned out he was a swim coach from South Carolina, now coaching in Massachusetts. He’d been sailing his entire life, owns several boats, buys old boats to restore and sell.

We are all road weary, but had planned to carry on today to Acadia National Park, but when our neighbor, who seemed friendly and experienced enough, invited us out sailing, I took it as a sign that we should have a day of rest and enjoy the spot fully. It was a great, relaxing, fun day. The girls didn’t much care for the sail – they got wet and it was too fast for them although he held the speed down – but it will certainly be a memorable stop here in Maine.

The rest of the day, the girls played on the beach, sculpted sand, we fed a trio of ducks, watched other local birds and made peach cobbler as a treat for us and a thank you for our host sailor.

With an early start on the fire, we had the kind of marshmallow-roasting coals you can only get if you start the fire hours before roasting time. Late in the evening, but shortly before bedtime, one campsite sang at the top of their lungs the first line from “God Bless America.” Across camp, another fire crew wailed the second line. The two camps went back and forth, and other campfire gangs chimed in until most of the camp was singing or laughing. If this is what “obnoxious camping” in Maine looks like, sign me up.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Farewell, Vermont. Hello, Maine (and New Hampshire in passing)

This morning we woke to rain, a long, steady drizzle that would have soaked our laundry had I remembered to hang it out to dry last night. Sometimes these little oversights are just what we need to keep ourselves sane. So, yeah, our laundry was still sitting in the chug-chug soapy tub. We still had one pair of clean undies each, so we were good to carry on.

From Smuggler’s Notch, a nice, quiet campground in the woods, we continued up the mountain beyond Stowe and through the notch. The road narrows and winds and becomes incredibly steep for general vehicle use. If there was a warning sign, I missed it. So did the semi that blocked the road as he tried to back down after getting stuck somewhere ahead. A state trooper blocked the road below, informing us of the semi’s issue, then let us through when the big truck was off the road. We cruised right by the big rig, only to find ourselves with our own minor issue at what was likely the same turn where he found himself considering a new route. The issue involved a tight right-hand turn that was cambered and too steep for any vehicle towing anything at slow speed. We got hung up there, backed down (fortunately, there was no traffic there), then took the wide side of the turn which was flatter and passable.

Otherwise, the road was beautiful and the scenery wonderful. The boulders at the top of the notch were spectacular, though largely shrouded in the mist-like rain. I walked around for a few minutes to check them out, but the girls wanted to stay dry, and were enjoying listening to the last few chapters of “Little Women” ala Librivox.

We cruised down the north side of the pass then headed east on Highway 15 into Johnson, Vt. where we stopped for laundry and to pick up some maple goodies at the Butternut Farm outlet store. Mmmm! Then we pressed on east.

In a small town in the mountains of New Hampshire, V spotted a merry-go-round at a park near the police station. She was SO very excited that we doubled back so we could all get in a few spins and use some pent-up energy. V has asked on several occasions if we can move out of California so we can play on merry-go-rounds again, so this was a special find.

I had hoped to stop in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but a bridge out at Glen in the heart of the range had traffic diverted north. We carried on through the unrelenting gray drizzle into Sebago Lake State Park, Maine well after dark and called it a night.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shelburne Museum - More than we'd anticipated

So, we planned to stop at this museum to visit the current exhibit of fashion (1690-current day). I hadn't done much research on it, beyond location and hours, so I was surprised to find this museum is much more than a single building holding a few treasures. In fact, it's several historic structures, duplications and some newer structures placed on 45 acres. Most of the structures house exhibits, either of historical items relating to the structure, or current art exhibits. The circus barn was fantastic, and the entire ship Ticonderoga is housed on the site. We really enjoyed our visit which stretched easily from the 2 hours we'd planned to 5 hours which we fully enjoyed. And we didn't see it all. We did, however, get lots of tips from the weaver, so we'll be ready to put E's table loom into service when we get home.

One of the major highlights of this museum, I must say, is the cafe. Around about lunchtime, we were near the cafe, and I almost didn't check it out because we've seen so many with the same menu - cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, fish sticks...and none very remarkable. So glad we stopped in here. THIS is how museum cafes should be run! I had a LOVELY strawberry, blueberry and spinach salad with vinaigrette dressing, Camembert cheese wedges on maple crackers, a glass of pinot grigio and a cup of Italian sausage chowder that was DELISH! The girls chose the flatbread (E w/ four cheeses, V with Vermont pepperoni). OH, and the menu features Vermont-produced products. If nothing else, Vermont is certainly a leader in supporting local businesses.

Before we left home, I'd promised E a manicure as a reward for turning around her nail biting habit. As a lifelong nailbiter who has tried many times to curb the habit, I can appreciate more than many people how hard that was for her. But we didn't get to the manicure in the rush of August. Today, as we passed through Burlington, VT, there was a nail place "BEST NAILS" shouting from our side of the highway. It was easily accessible...and certainly meant to be. The girls were thrilled with the treat.

Then on to Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury, VT. We enjoyed a nice tour (only $3 for adults, children 12 and under free! WHAT?!) with lively, positive guides who clearly love their jobs. OH, and the tour included ample samples...mmm... Then of course we sat on the patio and enjoyed a larger treat which we purchased. The girls went with straight ice cream (if there's anything simple about Ben & Jerry's), but I spotted a unique local treat - vanilla ice cream drizzled with warm, real maple syrup and topped with crushed walnuts. Mmmm...Who knew!? A new favorite treat for me.

Finally, found camp at Smuggler's Notch State Park before the rain set in.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mitchell Ponds, but no moose

We enjoyed a lovely 4-mile hike to Mitchell Ponds where we snacked and watched for moose, but the only wildlife we saw were a few birds, two freshwater clams, some crawdads and a lot of frogs/toads. V caught several of the toads along the road, and we found some neat old beaver holes where the moose typically hang out, but we were too late (or early?) to see the moose. Bummer.

Still, a lovely hike on a beautiful Adirondack Day.

Then we headed across Lake Champlain via the ferry from Essex, NY (BEAUTIFUL) to Charlotte, VT (lovely). There was a stiff breeze coming up the lake, but it was warm so we were comfortable on deck during the 30-minute crossing. The fresh air did us all good, too.

Found camp at Mt. Philo, Vermont's first state park. The park is a hill that juts up from the valley floor. It was a particularly interesting place to be when the lightning storm blew through in the wee hours of the morning. Camp was, thankfully, not on the summit. (Good planning on someone's part.) Still, the lightning was bright and thunder fantastically booming. The girls slept through it. Good sleepers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Bit of Women's History, Then Home in the Hills - Adirondack Style

Today's travel was pretty short with stops along the Erie Canal to check out a lock, a visit to Woman's Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, NY, and finally camp in the Adirondack. We would love to have seen a boat go through the lock, but we might have waited all day and STILL not seen a boat go through, so we visited Cari Stanton's house/grounds, then went on to the museum before heading east.

I don't think the girls really get, at this age, the significance of the events that took place in Seneca Falls - nearly 300 women getting together to stand up for not only their right to vote, but their rights to make healthy decisions for themselves and their children. But the girls dutifully completed the Junior Ranger tasks, which slowed them down and gave them the opportunity to think about what they were seeing, and for us to talk about women's history specifically.

Further east, we found ourselves in the Adirondack Forest, but were surprised to see so much of it was closed and posted private property. I finally stopped at a visitors information center. GOOD FORTUNE! The guy behind the counter was knowledgeable, and truly a fan of the Adirondack. He pointed us down the Moose Plain road, where we found quiet, comfortable camp and a great fire "ring." Each site had its own outhouse (old style and apparently renewed each season), and a hearth-style fire place. We had dinner beside a fantastic hot fire, then quiet sleep under the trees. Bliss.

Monday, September 19, 2011

National Museum of Play - meh...

Today we swung into Rochester, NY to visit the National Museum of Play. I'd heard about it on NPR some time ago, and it's been on my radar ever since. Interesting stop, lots to see, but the girls and I were a little disappointed because so much of the stuff was either behind glass or otherwise unavailable. There was a GIANT Etch-a-Sketch that drew E's and my attention, but when arrived at the wall where it was mounted, we found it was really only a TV screen framed with an Etch-a-Sketch frame. The TV played vintage toy commercials. Not very exciting. The rest of the museum was largely the most gigantic children's museum we've ever seen. There was also an interesting display on electronic game history, but most of the games available for play required tokens. Really? This wasn't an inexpensive museum to visit, so I was surprised to find they charge for game access and carousel rides on top of admission. Oh well.

It was a fun stop once the girls got into play. E's definitely outgrown must of what children's museums have to offer. But she found the stage and some other bigger girls to play with. That made her day. V still enjoys the grocery store play, and lots of other pretend play. Helped that it was her size. (E was too tall for much of it.)

We stopped for the night at Cayuga Lake State Park on the northern end of one of the several Finger Lakes in upstate New York. SO lovely here! We all waded in the lake (nice and warm), but didn't swim because it's not allowed when guard is off duty. So, we found our way to the playground where the kids played past dark with several local kids - Mennonites, I think. Then peaceful fire and pleasant camp.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gennesse Country Village & Museum - WOW!

I'm glad we arrived too late, yesterday afternoon, to really enjoy this village. It gave us an evening to unwind, a leisurely pancake breakfast here in camp, then an entire day enjoying this fantastic setting.

Gennessee Country Village & Museum is a planned village of historic homes moved to this site for this purpose. Most were built in the mid to late 19th Century. Unlike other spots we've seen that have made similar attempts, this one is incredibly well planned. At this point, I think it probably has everything a developed city of the time might have had, and the knowledgeable docents and hands-on activities make it. Top it all off with a baseball diamond where a pair of games (following 1865 rules, of course) are played each weekend day and you've got yourself a little something for everyone.

Midday, we met a little girl named Emma whose mother is a docent here. Emma dresses the part, and has her own favorite spots in the village which she was more than happy to share with us. She was particularly happy to show around little girls who were the same ages as she (8) and her own sister (11). My girls clearly enjoyed the change in tour guides, too.

We wrapped up the evening with campfire steak dinner like Grandpa Randy makes, then a walk across the road to take in the go cart racing on the round, clay track before we turned in for the night.

On to Rochester, Finger Lakes and Adirondacks before continuing yet further east.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Niagara Falls, Baby!

The girls and I are on the same page now. On longer-mileage days, we're rising early so we can get in some miles, have a nice long midday break, then get to camp. Today was our first day at this effort, and it worked beautifully.

I popped up at sunrise at Lake Erie State Park, rounded up the trailer and prepped breakfast. Then the girls crept out of bed and into the van where they went back to sleep for awhile while I enjoyed a drive along the Lake Erie shore. (REALLY!? That's a LAKE!?) It offered oceanic views without the smell or current. Birds, water, fish, boats, marinas, but boat ramps instead of boat cranes/lifts. They arose at their leisure and enjoyed breakfast while I continued the 90 minute morning drive to Niagara Falls.

Did you know there is no waterfall called Niagara Falls? That's the name of the city in New York just east of the triplex of waterfalls which are named, from east to west, American Falls, Bridalveil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Bridalveil is nearly adjacent to American (a rock outcropping divides them) and a sizable island separates these two from Horseshoe Falls. The amount of water rushing over the edges is impressive. What's really scary, though, is that the water not far above the falls actually looks inviting. I wonder how many people have inadvertently (truly innocently) washed downstream and into the gorge. For the first time since crossing the Rockies, we saw clean, clear water today.

Today's driving lesson: 60 New York miles take a LOT longer to cover than 60 California miles. But we made it to LeRoy, NY in time to pick up a general delivery package forwarded from Utah (THANKS, Aunt Kathy!), grocery shop, try local pizza and hit camp WELL before dark.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Farewell, West Virginia. Hello, Pennsylvania.

Our evening and day through West Virginia were certainly too short. I knew West Virginia had "hill country." I didn't realize pretty much the entire state IS hill country! The interstate from Kentucky through WV skims the tops of the mountains, leaving out the winding, dipping, diving roads that are typical here. The girls and I opted to carry on well after dark so we could get to a lake that appeared, on the map, to be very close to the freeway. What's 14 miles, right? Well, 14 miles in W. Virginia is about 45 minutes of driving on windy, narrow roads. Beautiful, but time consuming. Still, worth the drive.

We woke at Sutton Lake, a well-maintained US Corps of Engineers campground maintained by local volunteers who adore the place. I met a couple of these volunteers early in the morning when I got up to get rolling, take some photos and explore the shore by our campsite before waking the girls. Nice people, relaxed place, muddy water lake, but I hear they have great fishing.

Today's goal was to get into New York state, so our Pennsylvania visit was limited to a (long) lunchtime stop at Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA. This structure, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in the late 1930s, was spectacular and a wonderful marriage of nature and architecture. I'd move there in a heartbeat. But I love water, and nature, and teh idea of being surrounded on three sides by glass that offers views of verdant forest thrills me.

On we cruised to New York where we found camp shortly after sunset at Lake Erie State Park.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kentucky Horse Park: What a Beauty!

I had planned for us to camp at a state park lake midway between Louisville and Lexington, but as we left Churchill Downs last night, we met a mother-daughter duo who were doing the horse tour as well, but in reverse of our route. The mother said they'd enjoyed really nice camping at the Kentucky Horse Park, so off we went. The girls had the choice to make, and agreed they'd rather just wrap up the drive yesterday and wake up this morning at our destination. Deal.

The extra 30 miles was entirely worth the drive. Kentucky Horse Park provides beautiful camping facilities. Even the primitive camping which we enjoyed offered groomed Kentucky Bluegrass (of course) under plentiful walnut trees, among others. The remains of the latest hurricane are swinging over Kentucky today with gray clouds and light but constant showers. We took shelter under the trees and called it a night.

Kentucky Horse Park is to Kentucky and the horse world what, say, Forest Park was to the 1904 World's Fair, or what Central Park is to NYC. It's an expansive facility for hosting the world's finest horses in competition while also attracting horse fanatics and others interested in viewing various breeds, events, the International Museum of the Horse and champion racehorses retired here.

We opened the park, and closed it. Now we're headed east again. Honestly, to do this trip justice, I think we'd need an entire year. But we're greatful for this opportunity as we enjoy West Virginia (WOW!) and continue north toward the Colonies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Churchill Downs or Dang'd Time Zone Change

Well, we didn't exactly dilly dally today, but we didn't rush to leave St. Louis either. Nor did I note the time change as we crossed the bridge into Kentucky. So, after fiddlin' around for half an hour trying to find Churchill Downs (seriously, folks, you need some signage), we arrived not 75 minutes before closing, but 15 minutes prior to closing of the Kentucky Derby Museum. BOO! We managed a brief run through before heading east to Kentucky Horse Park. (An easy find, by the way, with wonderful signage and beautiful camping facilities, but that's tomorrow's post.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

City Museum - You have GOT to be KIDDING me!

V writes: Today we went to the greatest children’s museum EVER! It’s in Saint Louis, but I would gladly leap into the car to come! There also is a really neat water park / sculpture garden that you HAVE to stop at! You could stay here for MONTHS! I hope EVERYONE comes!

I write: I’m entirely with V on this one. Today we visited the most spectacular children’s “museum” I’ve ever seen – City Museum in downtown St. Louis, MO. There is a museum element (third floor – lots of architectural pieces from the Midwest, glass doorknobs, metal doorknobs, cornices, neon, etc.), but the greatest part is the play element including a rooftop playground, outside playground and two stories of indoor playgrounds as well as room for crafts, good eats, room to sit and rest between climbs and slides and structures large enough even adults can play along.

In fact, City Museum is not billed as a children’s museum at all. It was built in an old shoe factory, with recycled parts used throughout. There are more slides than we could find on this first trip, nooks and crannies to explore, and not a whole heckuva lot of organization which is PERFECT for the true adventurous spirit. Somehow it all comes together with themed areas that are noticeable to those who look beyond the play structures.

Some of my favorite things about the museum were the mosaics which decorate it throughout. Someone has done a LOT of work to create this magical space which was entirely worth the 2,000+ miles we covered to get here. There are mosaics in tile and in glass, on the floor, walls, ceilings and columns.

It took a bit of talking, but I managed to talk V into trying the Monster Slide, a three-story drop she really enjoyed. There are lots of other smaller slides, but the ultimate slide here is the 10-story Slide. One of the old shoe shoots along which shoes once spiraled to the ground floor for packing and shipping has been transformed to a spiral slide for riders of all ages. It takes about 30 seconds to go from top to bottom, and the unusual ride is extraordinarily fun.

Neither words nor photos can really convey the feeling of the place. Try these pictures. And if you’re ever in St. Louis, be sure to set aside a WHOLE day for this playground.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Forest Park, a fantastic urban escape

I forgot about the time change when I told the girls they could sleep in today. When I finally disrupted them at 10:30 a.m., it was only 8:30 a.m. in their minds. I don’t think they’ve really had a chance to adjust to this time zone. Still, they managed to crawl out of bed, eat breakfast and we were out of camp shortly before 11:30. But we didn’t have big plans for the day, no special events, just a relaxed day exploring Forest Park, so all was well.

We took the Metrolink to the Forest Park stop, then entered one of the most spectacular urban parks I’ve ever visited. The park is home to playgrounds, of course, tennis courts, museums, lakes, and historic structures that remain from the 1904 World’s Fair, not the least intriguing of which is Jewel Box. The lily pond out front offered beautiful, full flowers and leaves large enough we thought an infant or cat could easily cuddle there.

The park hosted more than a few weddings today, and we spotted bridal parties taking their photos at any of SO many picturesque spots throughout the park. There was a Labor Day Weekend Festival replete with vendors and loud (and sadly pretty bad) music, and various reenactors were on hand representing the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery to Civil War Soldiers and Women.

We found our way to our goal, Turtle Play Park, in plenty of time for a couple of hours of play – largely tag with local kids – before taking the hike back through the park via St. Louis Zoo.

The zoo is free, but still I felt like a criminal when I walked straight into the gates without so much as checking in. The greeter at the gate merely asked, “Do you know where you’re heading?” Of course we didn’t, but we didn’t care, either. We just wanted to meander through on our way back to the car. The girls said they’d outgrown zoos, but once we were inside the gates, we were all easily distracted by both the flora and fauna. It’s certainly a beautiful garden, and the animals are beautiful and intriguing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

St. Louis Rocks Again

Last time we were here, St. Louis was merely a turnaround point. I had done NO research on the city, so was surprised to discover it had so much to offer. (You can read about that visit here.) The girls asked to return to the city, and we all agreed we’d need more than a day here. And so it shall be.

After so many miles on the road, and so many days this month waking at dawn (or earlier) it was really nice to sleep in. I think we would have managed to lounge later, but it never really cooled in the wee hours, and the sun quickly warmed the trailer. Still, by the time we were finished shuffling things in the van and trailer to make them ready for daily camp use, ate breakfast and cleaned up, it was 10:40 a.m. A leisurely start to the day to be sure.

We took the Metrolink across the Mississippi River to our first stop – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, aka Gateway Arch, aka St. Louis Arch. The girls have talked about their trip up the arch ever since our last visit, so up we went. We also took in the large-screen movies about the Corps of Discovery’s trek west (1804-6) which was a great refresher on Lewis & Clark.

When we were here in 2008, the Mississippi River was at flood levels in St. Louis, so the riverboats weren’t running. This year, all’s quiet, so hit the river we did. We boarded “Tom Sawyer” for an hour-long jaunt up and down the river. The pilot and a national parks ranger took turns at the microphone and offered a historic view of the city. It was nice to hear the history and to get a different view, plus the boat ride was relaxing, but the girls and I agreed it would be fantastic to have a real paddle boat running on the river. While the boat we took had a paddle wheel that slowly rotated as the water forced it out of the way, propellers or jets were doing the heavy lifting.

Just as we were getting off the boat, a lightning storm blew over St. Louis. I wish we could have recorded, somehow, the brief storm as the lightning bolts streaked the sky above and around the Arch. I tried to grab some photos, But unlike the storm in Nebraska, these bolts were further apart and much more difficult to predict. We were thankful, though, that the related wind and brief showers cooled the city remarkably.

We headed through the Old Courthouse where we talked about Dred Scott. (“So. Mom? How could he lose? If the Declaration of Independence says ‘all men are created equal,’ then were they saying that he wasn’t a man or that he wasn’t equal? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”) I see some further reading and research in our very near future.

Then we hit the cascades in Kiener Plaza. During our last visit, I was playing too well the part of an adult and opted to stay dry (OK, except my feet). This time I was all in. Though the temperature had dropped considerably thanks to the summer storm cell, it was still plenty hot and certainly humid. The rushing water felt fantastic, and the girls particularly enjoyed their splash about. Here we also met a couple of American Idol golden ticket holders (they’re headed to Hollywood soon, so very exciting for them – congratulations!) doing their about-the-town shoots.

Then it was on to Citygarden, a sculpture park in downtown St. Louis. What a fantastic find! The sculptures represent an array of styles and work in a beautiful park setting with thousands of various trees and plants which attract, even in this urban setting, a remarkable number of beneficial insects and birds. The girls and I enjoyed the sculptures before turning finally to the key attraction this park offers families – more play water! A wide plaza features dozens of holes from which choreographed water squirts the day (and night) away. There’s also a small pool of water featuring a bronze sculpted boat with passenger, and plenty of live children. A second, larger fountain is treated as a wading pool (complete with lifeguards) by young and old alike. While we’d planned to carry on to other sights today, this one held our attention until just before sunset when we hit the Metrolink for a quick jaunt back to the park.

Note to eastbound St. Louis Metrolink riders: Riding the train east from St. Louis with hundreds of Cardinals fans feels vastly more secure than riding on an off night. While hitting Metrolink after a game might seem counter intuitive, it’s remarkably enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

We enjoyed walking tacos at camp with a lovely view of sunset through The Arch. The breeze comes up now and again, which blows away the mosquitoes. Thank HEAVENS, because these little suckers are chewing on my backside THROUGH the camp chair!

Journals and to bed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Epic Travel Day

After a too-short visit, the girls and I piled back into the car and headed east. Our friends gave us another fun route out of their place along the dirt county roads (my dad would call these 60-mile-an-hour roads for their quality) that made for an entertaining start (for the driver) to this very long day on the road.

The girls started the day with our morning routine – a quick run to the bathroom before hitting the hay again in the backseat. I had some dried fruit and sunflower seeds while I jetted east, the trailer bouncing joyfully along behind us.

We had another picnic breakfast this morning at a nondescript gas stop in a small Nebraska town, and picnic lunch the same before we hit our first obstacle on this trip: due to flooding of the Missouri River, the bridges connecting Nebraska to Missouri (and some of the Kansas-Missouri bridges) were closed. We’d played hill-tag with a semi from North Carolina for hours before we discovered the first closure sign. He seemed to be heading our way, so as we veered south on the Nebraska side, we followed him past closure after closure. I wondered who would pull off first – us for gas or him to avoid the minivan stalking him. In the end, he whipped off the highway not far from Wathena, Kansas, where we finally found gas, dinner and an open bridge.

Huckleberry Finn joined us for the journey across Missouri, thanks to Librivox and special thanks to this great reader. His adventures sucked the iPod dry, so we opted to boot up the computer and enjoy a double feature, “Cars” (road trip movie FOR SURE) and “Pete’s Dragon,” a classic and pure entertainment.

We made it to our camping slot (glorified parking lot) just across the river from St. Louis shortly before midnight – ALL ready for bed and a few days off the road. It’s hot (we’re sweating, there’s no breeze and there’s humidity like I’ve never experienced anywhere other than a tropical island), and the mosquitoes are out. We’re hoping for rain tomorrow.

SPOT has been tracking our travels, and it’s been fun hearing from family and friends who are following this insane trek. Thank you for your calls and e-mails and warm wishes. Please keep us in your thoughts as we explore the nation’s byways and highways and head into the hurricane ravaged northeast. I suspect we’ll see some historic damage there and I wonder if there’s any way we can help there as we continue this journey.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heading East

Our visit to Brigham was far too short. We typically visit friends and relatives throughout the state when we hit town, but with fewer than 36 hours in town we just didn’t have time.

We split this morning at 6 a.m., and the girls did their sleeping routine while I finished listening to the last of my The Moth podcasts and caught up on my This American Life Podcasts. (Great! Now what will I listen to during grown-up iPod time this trip?)

It was another day of getting miles under our belt. Our goal this trip is the East Coast, so we opted not to dilly dally through our Western travels. The plan seems to be working. We picnic breakfasted in Rock Springs, Wyoming, then had a picnic lunch in Optimist Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Our Librivox entertainment of the day was “Understood Betsy,” which we all greatly enjoyed.

We were headed for Buffalo Bill Historic Park near North Platte, NE for the night, but the exit at Kimball, NE called me. I pulled off to give some friends nearby a call – maybe they could meet us in Sidney for dinner, I thought. But there was no onramp to get back on the interstate there anyway, so it became readily apparent that we were just meant to drop in on this rural family. It’s not often people just SWING BY their house, particularly out-of-towners. Their place is quite far off the beaten path, but the girls agreed they’d rather stop short today to visit, and then pay the price tomorrow with a longer drive then.

We were rewarded with nice company and a fantastic lightning storm; among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. E learned what it was like to have an intense wind come up while she was attempting to escape into the house. The screen door ripped out of her hands twice while she was trying to get back inside. “Now I know what they mean when I read in books that the door wouldn’t close!”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Well-Earned Day of Rest - Brigham City, UT

After a day of hard driving, it was time to just enjoy the family and the scenery. I love Utah, in no small part because of the family I have there. They’re welcoming and relaxed and their doors are always open to us, even when we plan to stay for such a short while en route to such a monster trip.

After some errand running (books mailed – thanks for the orders; groceries for the week ahead; sheets for the trailer), we kicked back at the house and visited and I worked a bit more on my sewing project. (Colonial dress, scarf and hat for E. Pilgrim dress, apron and hat for V.)

Some of my cousins recently returned from their cabin on an island in Alaska. They brought back with them crab and fish and other seafood fare which they shared tonight for a family seafood feast. It was a beautiful late-summer Utah evening, comfortably warm, for a backyard barbecue.

Road Trip 2011 - Heading Out

WHEW! Finding a WiFi connection on the go hasn't been as easy as I've expected. Sorry for the delay in posting. we are! :) All posts will have pix on the actual blog site, so if you want the pix, click through this e-mail to the actual site.

Aug. 30
We pulled out of the driveway this morning at 4:30 a.m. The girls headed from bed to the backseat with a pile of pillows and blankets to make their morning jaunt comfy. E, who always swears she can’t sleep in a moving vehicle, fell back asleep as quickly as V, and the pair slept clear to Arvin, just over two hours east of our house.

For the record, we did NOT find another kitty in Arvin. (See Arvin McDonald for reference.)

It wasn’t a super exciting day. We covered territory we’ve covered time and again and we did it with few stops and no sight seeing. We made it to Vegas in time for a relatively quick lunch stop, then hit the road again.

The most remarkable thing about today was how well the girls did. They brought plenty of reading material and crafts. Books on tape are also going to be a saving grace on this long trip. Today we enjoyed hours of listening to “Dog of Flanders,” courtesy Librivox which provides free recordings of a vast array of titles that are in the public domain (ie. classics). Toward evening when the view out the window was obscured by darkness, I pulled out the laptop and a video. Yes! A video – “The Long Long Trailer.” A perfect road trip movie.

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