Back Along A Golden Road

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July 17-18, 2019-

It had been three years, since I was last in Colorado. In the words of a waitress at one of my favoured spots, Del’s Diner, in Fort Garland, “That’s just too long!”  Del’s had been a bit of a dive, but had remodeled and was doing just fine.  The food was every bit as good as I remember.

U.S. 160 is one of those roads that make me feel at home, regardless of where I am, along its passage.  The same thing is true of Old 66; Highway 1, along the Pacific Coast; U. S. 30, through the Midwest,; and MOST of U.S. 1.

So, I took the road, from Ulysses, Kansas to its western terminus, in Tuba City, AZ.  A side hop was necessary, for me to take in Sand Creek National Monument.  From La Junta, though, I zipped down to Trinidad, then back up I-25 to Walsenburg, from which I could re-visit my favourite part of 160:  Colorado’s southern tier.  Thus came dinner at Del’s and a long search for a place to stay that wouldn’t mean my budget would need a budget.  Colorado seems to be even more popular than usual, this summer.  That does my heart good.

The Spanish Peaks are a fine greeter, just east of Walsenburg.

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The San Juan Mountains, between Del Norte and Pagosa Springs, are a reminder that snow regards the Rocky Mountain State as its summer home. (I’ve been in Colorado, at some point, each month of the year, and seen it snow, each and every month.)

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I stopped briefly in South Park, just west of the formidable Wolf Creek Pass, and found a Cal King was the only bed available.  Since I’m not part of a package deal, up and over the Pass I went.  Going through the pricey resorts of Pagosa Springs and Durango, the night drive came to an end at Mesa Verde Motel, Mancos.  There, I was generously offered a room at discount.  It is a “dog room”, the owners being pet lovers, but there was no sign of dog hair anywhere in the room.  Mesa Verde’s owners are just gentle, laid back people, and I  recommend the place for anyone finding themselves tired and on the west side of heaven.

The home stretch began with a stop at Mc Elmo Creek Flume, an irrigation channel, built in 1921.

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Seeking to stretch my legs a bit, before lunch, I walked around the City Park, in downtown Cortez.  A laid-back Ute gent, seeking to impress some ladies in his company, started to mock me, while I was walking up the hill. When that had no effect, he asked if i were a veteran. “Yes, I am, and you? ” “You know it, Bro….. Devil Dogs!”  He had the tattoo of a Marine, and though I recall the name being used specifically for those in the Corps, who fought at Belleau Wood, during World War I, I gave him a pass on that.  Everyone deserves a semblance of dignity and respect.

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Lunch time was here.  I sadly noted that my go-to place, Jack and Janelle’s, had gone belly up.  A walk downtown showed that there was someplace fairly new:  The Farm Bistro.  I gave it a shot, and am glad of it.  Alex and crew are spot-on, with great cuisine and set a spunky, welcoming ambiance.  Each party selects a plastic animal for its table, as a cue to the server.

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My visit to Cortez came to a close, and shortly, thereafter, I was back in Arizona.  Along the drive down the Navajo Nation, I noted that two once grocery-deprived communities, Red Mesa and Dennehotso, now have local markets.  One place that has nothing is Baby Rocks, yet this little village, east of Kayenta, could easily be the next big outdoors thing.

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This little wonderland is close enough to tourist-mecca Monument Valley, that a Dineh entrepreneur could easily remove the “Best Kept Secret” label from Baby Rocks.

Going onward, for four more hours, I brought this phase of Summer, 2019, to a peaceful conclusion.  Carson City, and my  Nevada extended family, await next week, after a few days of meetings here at Home Base.  My eyes and heart are always open, to what counts most in life:  Love of humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father of Waters and His Diligent Children

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July 14-15, 2019, Wapello, IA-

Almost as essential as a visit to the Baha’i House of Worship, when crossing the country, is some time spent in the vicinity of the Mississippi River.  Its residents, whether north or south, have a temperament, a work ethic, and a resilience, all their own.

My meeting with a steadfast and inspiring friend lasted about forty-five minutes. Afterward, I prayed in the House of Worship for a half hour further, then made my way out of Chicagoland, stopping for lunch and to do laundry, in Bolingbrook, on the Metropolitan area’s southern edge. A horrific accident, coupled with ongoing roadwork,  had left I-59 backed up, on the northbound side, for at least four miles.  I would have felt fine, had we southbounders shared part of our road with our hapless fellow-travelers.  The heat, this afternoon, was back, with a vengeance, after two days of fairly mild temperatures.

On we went, though, and my necessaries were done, after two hours.  Bolingbrook is a cosmopolitan little place, the type in which I am quite comfortable.  The genial, but imposing, laundromat manager kept order by circulating among the families, stopping to comfort a boy of about ten or eleven, who was crying after having somehow disappointed his mother.  She wasn’t acting angry nor was she scolding him. It was just that love which a child has for a parent, in which feeling like the parent has been let down, is the worst feeling in the world.  Mr. D. seemed to know this, and had the boy calmed down, by quietly getting to ht heart of the matter.

I stopped, briefly, in Peoria, to say prayers for the memory and soul’s progress of a native of that town, who had been a friend of ours in Dinetah, for several years.  Nancy went back to Peoria for her final year or so, before passing on, earlier this year.  The Clock Tower was about the only part of the River District  that wasn’t blocked by construction, so it serves as a stand-in for the historic downtown area.

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From Peoria, it was on to the Mississippi, in its northern segment.  Crossing into Iowa, I found my first Riverside encounter in Bettendorf, the northwest quarter of the Quad Cities. (The other three being Moline and Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA.)

The playground at Leach Park looks like it would engage a variety of child age groups.

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Having had a childhood fascination with conical roofs, I would have gravitated towards that building, had it been in my local playground, way back when.

The Mississippi, though, remains the main draw.

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This lodge-type structure is on Rock Island Arsenal, an island on the Illinois side, just west of the city of Rock Island.  From the looks of things, it seems to have a role in flood control.

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I was getting tired, as I passed through Davenport and Muscatine.  When little Wapello appeared, I was grateful to see Roy-El Motel, just off the highway.  As  tourist traffic is light in these parts, the owners were glad to see me, too.  This is a view of downtown Wapello.  The town is named for a mild-mannered chief of the Meskwaki people, who led them to this area and enjoyed harmonious relations with the white settlers of the  river front. I had a light breakfast at Chief Brew, where local farmers and retired folks gather, “three days a week, so we don’t get tired of one another.”  The men were surprised to see someone from Arizona.  I explained that I enjoy stopping along the River, to which one man said- “Bet you’d change your mind, after seeing one flood stage.”

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There was no such deluge, this Monday morning, though.

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The Father of Waters was enjoying his siesta.  I headed on west, with the destination being Kansas City.

NEXT:  Wilbert Harrison had it right.

 

 

The Joy In Wrigleyville

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July 12, 2019, Chicago-

Being a lifelong Red Sox fan, I nonetheless, being a holistic thinker and inclusive by nature, I also have had a place in my heart for the Chicago Cubs.  I was as happy when they won the World Series, as I was when my Home Team earned their title.

So, when Wrigley Hostel came up, as a place to spend a night in Chicago, I was ecstatic.  As it happened, when Hostelworld bumped my reservation date back to June 12, I didn’t notice.  I got here in mid-afternoon and was lucky that there was a spot available for tonight.  From now  on, I know I need to double check any reservations I make, using an online consortium.

At any rate, Wrigley Hostel, essentially one block east of the stadium, is a large and homey place, with plenty of room for about 60 people.  My spot is in the room right next to the front desk, very close to the kitchen. The group of hostelers is relaxed, inclusive and fun-loving, as should be the case.  The staff, save for one out-of-sorts desk clerk, is caring and friendly.

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The kids went off to events like Taste of Chicago.  I got my own Taste, at Shake Shack, south of here and equally close to Wrigley Field.  There was a goodly crowd on Clark Avenue, as the game had let out, a few minutes earlier.

I feel fortunate to have two good shots of Wrigley.

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After the very filling Chi-burger and mango shake, I took a stroll down to the edge of Lake Michigan.  It’s always a soothing sight, especially from the serenity of Lincoln Park.

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This expanse of greenery is a solace to many- from the water’s edge to Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, and, yes, to Lincoln Park Zoo.  I spent about twenty minutes here, contemplating Chicago’s majestic side.

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Along Addison Avenue, going back to the hostel, are several architectural gems.

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I can’t look at a water tower in this city, without thinking of the Fire of 1871.

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Conical roofs are appealing, both on apartment blocks and on churches.

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I am just glad for one thing:  I don’t have to drive in Wrigleyville as a daily routine.  I think that would be way above my pay grade.  It’ll be enough to navigate out of here, tomorrow morning.

Bastion of Honour

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July 9, 2019, West Point, NY-

My father, before his passing, expressed a desire to visit the United States Military Academy, at this wide spot on the west bank of the Hudson, 57 miles north of New York City.  I don’t know if he ever made it there, but in case he hadn’t, I was determined to visit on both his behalf and as part of marking my own 50th anniversary of having joined the U.S. Army.

Unlike either of the still extant posts at which I served,West Point does allow visitors.  The security check involves both a written document and a personal interview, lasting 3-5 minutes.  Once those are accomplished, a visitor is given clearance to go to the Cemetery, to Trophy Point and,  parking space available, to the fortress-like dormitories.

I set aside 3 hours, this afternoon, after being cleared by security, to look over the areas mentioned above.  West Point, despite a handful of peccadilloes, over the years, remains largely a bastion of honour.

The Museum is the first place one sees, upon entering the Visitor Center parking lot. I save that great edifice for another time, preferring to get out and take in the out of doors sections of the Academy.

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From the edge of the parking lot, one may take in a serene view of the Hudson.

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On to the Visitor’s Center, with its display which depicts the quarters of a cadet, and of the cadet’s four years.

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The quarters are spartan.

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Once cleared by the dour and seemingly exhausted security officer, I drove to the Cemetery parking lot and took in a variety of mausoleums and tombs, reflecting our nation’s military heritage.  Soldiers from George Armstrong Custer to William Westmoreland are laid to rest in these grounds.

Here is a montage of the statuary and resting places of West Point National Cemetery.

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The Old Cadet Chapel, seen below, was brought here to the Cemetery Gate, from its prior location near the dormitories.

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From here, I walked to Gees Point, from which one may take in more serene views of the majestic Hudson River.

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This Helipad is primarily for the use of dignitaries, coming and going.

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This small house invokes the gentler side of the Academy.  It serves as an officer’s residence.

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This is one of two paths, from the Main Road to Eisenhower Hall, that are “Use at own risk”. I took the risk.

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Below is a view of  the Catholic Chapel.

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The Gothic dormitories could only be photographed from a distance, this evening, due to a dearth of parking.

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The legendary football/soccer stadium stands next to the dorms.

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Finally, the statue of Tadeusz Kosciusko stands watch, gazing towards the Hudson.

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So ended my first visit to my former superiors’ alma mater.

 

 

The Bay State’s Sparkling Southwest

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July 3, 2019, Great Barrington-

In all the years I lived in the Bay State, even when I was in attendance at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, there were areas to which I never quite made it for a visit.  One is the region of the Berkshire Hills that lies south of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

This morning, as I drove from Poughkeepsie, through Connecticut’s Taconic Hills and into the state of my birth, the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the southern Berkshires, entering at Sheffield and stopping for lunch at Egremont Market/Mom’s Cafe.

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I enjoyed half of my sandwich at a picnic table, outside by Hubbard Brook, which is hidden by a lush forest.  The New England and Mid-Atlantic states have a fabulous forest cover, surprising to some-given the density of population between Boston and Richmond, or Charlotte, for that matter.  I never once, growing up in the Boston area, felt at a loss, when I needed a forest break.

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As I was finishing my meal, a man who was through-hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, that he had previously missed, sat briefly at the next table. As we conversed, he mentioned needing a ride to the Post Office in Great Barrington, the largest town in the southern Berkshires, so as to pick up his mail from General Delivery. Samuel seemed a pleasant sort, hailing from Houston, so I agreed to take him up to GB.

His tips could be useful, should I ever follow the long-distance hiking option, one of three post-retirement routes I’m considering.  Certainly, a series of General Delivery boxes eliminates a major impediment to such travel.

After dropping Samuel off near the Post Office, I took a few minutes to pick up a replacement for an implement that had broken, earlier this journey, and took a few photos of Great Barrington’s downtown.

Here is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.  Up the street, in the background, is First Congregational Church.

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First Congregational is better seen below.

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There is much that would lend itself to a longer stay in the southern Berkshires, but for now, I must head to the town of my childhood and youth.  Besides, it’s hot and my passenger side window is not working right.

NEXT:  Reflections on A Holiday Weekend, “Back Home”

 

Delmarva: A Shared Gem-Part 1

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July 1, 2019, Onley, VA-

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The fitful man stood with his fists clenched and his body rigid, as I glanced over his son’s shoulder, for a split-second, whilst the boy was reading from a placard about flounder.  It occurred to me, momentarily, that a flounder was my my first caught fish, all those years ago, in Lynn Harbor.  I kept walking and found my own space, without any reaction to the father, who didn’t bother me further.

Such is Cape Charles, a magnet for tourists such as the above-mentioned, and a serene place for year-round residents. I came here, over the long bridge/tunnel from Hampton Roads, on the Virginia mainland.  This southern segment of the Delmarva region, more commonly called the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, is a mix of long peninsula and a myriad of islands.  Tangier, on the western (Chesapeake Bay) side, and Chincoteague/Assateague, on the eastern (Atlantic) side are the best known islands.

Cape Charles, at the tip of the peninsula, is the first place visitors see, once off the bridge.  It is, thankfully, not as commercialized as I had thought it would be, and great care has been taken to safeguard the “land’s end” area. This, and Hampton Roads, are the only places in Virginia where one can witness both sunrise and sunset, over open water.

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The dunes are largely protected from foot traffic.  There is but one trail, along the periphery of the dunes and one trail over the mounds.

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Bird nesting is encouraged, with the placement of platform buoys around the Bay.  Both piping plovers and gulls nest in the area.  Plovers, though, are ground nesters, and are endangered, so protective caging is placed around the nests, while the young are maturing.  Below, is a gull nest.

 

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Marsh grasses help filter runoff from creeks which empty into the Bay.

 

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This resort hotel is one of three in Cape Charles.

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Cape Charles’ downtown did bustle, especially around the ice cream shops, on this sultry Sunday evening.

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I found a comfortable, quiet little motel in the commercial center of Onley, in the middle of  Virginia’s portion of Delmarva.  A bit north of Onley is Accomack, one of the oldest settlements on the Eastern Shore.  Here is a view of the historic Court House.

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I topped off the eastern Virginia excursion, with a visit to Assateague Island, part of Chincoteague National Seashore.  Chincoteague, in the language of the Delawarean (Lenape)  First Nations people who lived on the adjacent mainland, means “large stream” or “inlet”.  Assateague, in the same language, means “a river beyond” or “a running stream between”.  The two words were also used by Europeans to refer to two closely-related groups of Delawarean peoples.  The descendants of these nations are today living  in the area of Snow Hill, Maryland and in southern Delaware.

Two areas of interest on Assateague are the Lighthouse, which can accommodate groups of ten people at a time, and the Chincoteague Pony viewing stations.

Here are a few scenes of, and from, Assateague Light House.  It is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, two members of which greet visitors, at the entrance and on the top viewing area.

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Chincoteague ponies (feral horses) are well-known, around the world, in particular for their annual channel swims. This year’s is to take place on July 24.

Although it is now a human-coordinated event, the ponies probably swam without human encouragement, when the need arose for going between grazing areas on different parts of the island.  Humans may have contributed to the feral horses’ swimming behaviour, by erecting a fence between the Maryland and Virginia sections of Assateague.

 

Here are two scenes of the horses at the viewing point, early this afternoon.

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What appears to be a lone pony is actually a member of a group whose other members were on the move, when this was taken.

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Finally, no visit to a resort in summer is complete without a visit to an ice cream parlour.  So, I stopped for a bit at Mister Whippy!

http://www.misterwhippy.com/

NEXT:  The First State’s Capital

 

 

The World In Harbour Town

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June 27-28, 2019, Hilton Head Island-

I made it to Hilton Head Island, if only for a night and the better part of  a day.  Today was a very full day on the road, with a lunch stop at New Moon Cafe, in far-off Aiken.  I will go somewhat out of my way to visit New Moon, because it’s all about the ambiance. Today did not disappoint.

After a lengthy ramble through the Low Country, I spent an hour or so in Beaufort-first looking for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Center, only to find it had moved and was closed by the time I got to the new location.  The town’s renewed prosperity is reflected in its Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, named for the former mayor, whose passion was revitalizing the dockside area of this port city.  Time was, when “America First” advocates would point to Beaufort as a place where people fighting poverty and famine should “turn, first”, during the Africa Famine Relief campaigns of the late 1960’s.  That is not the case today.  Beaufort is coming back.

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The sense of idyll is also found on Hilton Head Island, which I first visited with Penny and Aram, in 2007. On that particular day, torrential rain visited us, in the early morning. I opened the motel door, to find water at the level of the door stoop.  Fortunately, no alligators were present-as was the case earlier this year, with some other family members.  The property where we stayed in 2007 is now owned by Red Roof Inn.  The manager told me that drainage is still an issue for the property.  Tonight, though, the skies were clear and the ground dry.

I went over to Hilton Head Diner, where we had had pancakes for breakfast in ’07.  This time, I enjoyed dinner-a gourmet burger with waffle fries.  I sat at the counter, kibbitzing with one of the waitresses, Kim, and enjoying the tales of an island native named Mark.  His grandfather had built the causeway bridge that connects HH with the mainland.  After dinner, when I headed to my car, a local woman asked for help, in jump-starting her car. I found her battery had loose, rather poor connectivity. As Mark was a truck driver, I went back to the Diner and asked him for help.  He was able to rig a connection to her battery and we got her back on the road, in short order.

I found it necessary to pay admission to one of the staples of a Hilton Head visit:  Harbour Town, as the access is controlled by Sea Pines Resort- a golfer’s paradise.  I am not a golfer, but I like lighthouses and seaport areas and the day pass was reasonable, so in I went.  A light lunch at this relaxing patio bakery-cafe ensued.  The place was once the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

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Hanging moss abounds in the Low Country.

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Here is Hilton Head Lighthouse, now a gift shop, operated by Sea Pines, which charges admission for those wanting to climb to the top.  The woman on the left and her sons in front were willing to be included in the photo, for scale.

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After walking around the area for several minutes, I came upon the same family looking at this unique boat.  Mystique is constructed almost entirely of teak and mahogany.

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Hilton Head, like other parts of the Low Country, was once the domain of Gullah Geechee culture, which used a blend of several West African languages and English, and preserved much of the traditional culture of enslaved Africans in the area.  Scant traces of the culture remain on Hilton Head, save Mitchelville, on the northwest corner of the island.  There was not much going on in Mitchelville, as I headed towards Penn Center, the first school for freed slave children, after the Civil War.  That unique institution is still offering the children of the Sea Islands a solid and complete education, blending practical skills with state-of-the-art technology and consideration of today’s issues.

As for Mitchelville, I do not take photos of people, especially in impoverished areas, without their consent.  Penn Center, on St. Helena Island, was much more amenable to a photographic record.  It is the subject of the next post.

 

No Choo Choo In This Gig

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June 24, 2019, Chattanooga-

I stopped here, “en route” from Crossville to Knoxville, as I have driven on through this fascinating city, several times, on the way to this or that appointment- when going from Atlanta to Nashville or Knoxville.  My idea was to visit at least one of Chattanooga’s Big Three:  Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain Summit and Rock City. Ruby Falls got the nod, as it sits off by itself, whereas the other two are  closer together.  Of course, I could have walked the steps up to the Summit, after the two hours or so spent underground, but the heat was lingering-so, another time. Ruby Falls and Rock City are equally pricey-each is $21.95 for an adult; a package runs $43.50.  There is also the “obligatory” photograph, taken before one is allowed into the cave.  In the end, one can choose to purchase the photo ($40 per person/group) or, as I did, say “No thank you”.

The cave is privately-owned, thus the entrance fee.  It is, though, well worth the time and money, to see the deepest underground waterfall in North America.  ( I think VietNam has one that is actually deepest on the planet.)  Several tour options are available- I took the Classic Waterfall Tour, with a group of about twenty people.  Down we went, 26 floors, via elevator.

Here is some of what we saw, in Leo Lambert’s boyhood playground-which he later named for his wife, Ruby, after exploring professionally with a team of spelunkers.

Leo had to crawl, for seven hours, through places like this, to reach an area where he could actually stand.

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Crystal deposits added a magical sense to his meanderings. (The blue lighting, of course, was added by the family, later.)

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It looks like this stalactite is actually holding up the cave, but it just kept on going downward, until it met the ledge.

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Here is where Mr. Lambert was first able to stand up, after seven hours of crawling.  I don’t know as my circulation would allow for that.

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Below is one of the few formations which people are allowed to touch, and even sit.

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The Leaning Tower actually does resemble the landmark in Pisa, though it’s not subject to shifting ground.

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This looks like it came out of a pasta maker.

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Imagine tobacco, drying in the sun.

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This looks like a frozen waterfall, but it’s more mineral deposit.

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The Falls!

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It was for this, that the Lamberts opened the caverns to the public, in 1929- a year when Americans needed all the comfort they could get.  So this afternoon, 24 of us stood, 1,120 feet underground, and marveled at what nature has put together.  It’s not Niagara, but it’s subterranean.

This is one place that Chattanooga Choo Choo isn’t going.  Once off the mountain, though, I took an hour to check out downtown and get some fine ramen, with bubble tea on the side.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBack up to Knoxville it was, afterwards. I had seen a news report about a gas station robbery, on the east side, a day or so ago.  I ended up at a motel just down the street from that gas station.  No worries, though-people just did their own thing and left me alone, for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Life goes on.

NEXT:  The Little Town That Almost Became Home Base

 

 

Lighthouse, Shimmering In The Heat

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June 18, 2019, Amarillo-

I made it a point to stop here today, for two reasons.  One was my old Xanga buddy, Wes, and his ties to the Amarillo that was.  The other was Lighthouse Trail, in Palo Duro State Park.  I always meet the most delightful people, through both Wes and Palo Duro.  Today was no exception.

Texas Tidbits (Wes’ old Xanga moniker) suggested a meet-up at Smokey Joe’s, which I recall as a most delightful spot.  The cutest, and toughest, little lady was our server last time.  Her co-worker, J, was our gracious and ever-attentive hostess, on this fine afternoon.  We sat around for about an hour, while I savoured a Tex-Mex burger, and solved at least some of the issues that plague mankind.

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Now, I could sit in the presence of Wes and the ladies, for hours on end, but my hiking legs would not forgive me for such self-indulgence.  So, I bid pardner adieu and set off for Palo Duro.

Upon arrival, the lovely and friendly ranger pointed out that many folks had been their before me, snapping up all the campsites. No worries here, though.  The main point of my visit was that Light House in the desert, shimmering as it was, in the heat.  I brought enough water to fuel a truckload of cattle, and set off on the six-mile round trip.

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Capitol Peak and an unnamed “human” figure loom in the near distance, before the trail to Light House Rock veers to the right.

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Other magnificent formations grace the way to Light House.

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The first close-up view of the Light House formation, came as I reached the crest of the only real ascent of the hike.

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Here they are, one at a time.

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This shows the actual distance between the two rocks.

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As the first rumblings of a storm were heard, I took this last close-up.

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Whilst I was doing this, another man was contenting himself with climbing a path to the top of the rock on the left.  He spent several minutes there, fortunately getting down, as the skies darkened and racing up the path, to avoid the rain.

As I was walking back, I met a young couple with a dog, and pointed out to them that the storm was getting much closer.  They deiced to head back and stayed with me to the parking area.  E and M are a delightful pair, reminding me of my son and daughter-in-law.  We noted the lushness of the surrounding area, as a sign of the copious rain that the Panhandle has enjoyed this Spring.

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We got back to our cars, just as the rain was intensifying.  No sooner was everyone safely inside the vehicles, than hail started falling-furiously.   Yet, once we got to the park entrance:  Voila!  The sunshine returned.  With no camping site, I drove back to Amarillo, and have a room at Camelot Inn and Suites.

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Yes, another good day was had in the desert!

NEXT:  When Armies Wear Each Other Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day for Setting Example

4

June 16, 2019, Grants, NM-

I told myself that this summer, I would not zip through the astonishing red rocks and juniper of northern AZ and New Mexico, so today, I set a limit of the 62.4 miles that lie between Gallup and this old mining town, which is struggling to redefine itself.

I began Father’s Day, last night actually, with a roughly forty-minute conversation with my son and daughter-in-law, reassuring me that all is well with them, and vice versa.  This morning, a light breakfast of yogurt, from the grocery store across from Lariat Lodge, seemed quite sufficient.  Afterward, the first order of business was a visit to the lobby and garden of El Rancho Hotel, Gallup’s premier historical property and a favourite of many of Old Hollywood’s great figures- from James Stewart to Claude Akins.  Several photos line the wall of the second floor of the lobby.  Here is an introduction to El Rancho:

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGallup has made itself a haven for Dineh, Zuni, Acoma and Apache artists looking to sell their crafts.  Armando Ortega and his family were among the first to offer marketing services to First Nations artists in the area.  The Ortegas have sponsored this alcove display, in the center of the first floor lobby.

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Even the outdoor benches are adorned with intricate design.

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From here, it was time to head towards the rocks, specifically El Malpais National Monument, just south of Grants. In 1985, Penny and I took two sons of a then-recently departed friend to this area, camping overnight at the privately-owned Bandera Volcano (extinct), as a respite for his widow.  In the years since, the road has been a shortcut, when I have driven between Phoenix and Albuquerque.

Today, it was my Father’s Day present to myself, to explore the eastern portion of the Monument, some forty miles past the volcano.  The sandstone formations near Zuni-Acoma Trail are as majestic as any in the southwest. Whilst taking in these marvels, I fixed and ate a sandwich. This would prove to be of dire consequence.

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After visiting the Ranger Station, I doubled back to Sandstone Bluffs Overlook.

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Although the storm clouds looked threatening, the rain held off until I was back in Grants.

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The series of holes, that are visible in the center of this frame, were actually bored by molten lava, during the last eruption of McCartys Crater, some 3000 years ago.  They are known, collectively, as Chain of Craters.

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Of more ancient vintage is Mt. Taylor, seen to the north.  It is one of the Four Sacred Peaks which are revered by several First Nations in the area. Mt. Taylor has been inactive for millions of years.

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Lichen have absorbed into the sandstone, over the centuries, giving some parts of Sandstone Bluffs the appearance of having been painted.

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Whilst sandstone is not slippery, its delicate nature means it can be broken easily, especially close its seams.  All walking on rock surfaces requires close attention to what lies underfoot.

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While heading towards La Ventana Natural Arch, I spotted this remnant of an early rancher’s attempt at settlement.

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La Ventana is a continuation of Cebolita Mesa’s exquisite base, which we saw earlier, near Zuni-Acoma Trailhead.  This is older sandstone than that at the Bluffs.  There were several other people here, including a grandfather, his son and three grandchildren.  Grandpa was teasing the two younger kids about jumping off the rock on which they had climbed.  Of course, he and Dad each helped the kids get off, but it was amusing to watch the little ones’ initial reaction of “AWWW, GRANDPA!!”

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This balancing rock evokes a visitor from another world.

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Here are two views of La Ventana, itself.

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A close look at this wall of Cebollita Mesa seems to show two faces. I am curious as to what you, the reader, sees here.

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The area west of Cebollita Mesa is covered with lava beds.  These range from just north of I-40 to the Lava Falls Area, thirty-six miles southward.  They extend, east to west, for about twenty-five miles.

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Once back in Grants, I was starting to feel a drag on my system.  Nonetheless, being Father’s Day, I was determined to get one good meal.  There being no locally-owned cafe open,near the Sands Motel (another Route 66 establishment registered as a National Historic Site), I chose the reliability of Denny’s.  The salmon and vegetables were very nicely done, as was the cup of soup.  I hydrated plentifully, as well.

Back in the motel room, I will only say that I dealt with my ailment as I had always taught my son to do- in  mature and responsible manner. I felt much better afterwards and Father’s Day was only mildly interrupted.  I had maintained my example, though, even if no one was around to notice.  That is what the day really signifies.

NEXT:  A Return to the Duke City