Sunday, May 29, 2016

So. We went on a road trip and... (Part 6)

...visited Luray Caverns. The final installment on our recent trip down to Florida and back.

I know that many of you who have stopped at Luray Caverns probably think that is something of a tourist destination (think: trap). Well, Terry and I can be tourists when we want to be and the caverns are an interesting place. We had both been here before--a long, long time ago--like fifty-five years ago--on separate vacations with our respective families--when we were little tykes not yet tweeners

This time we were the first people in the parking lot when the gateway to the caverns opened. In fact, we didn't even realize the place had opened and just thought we would wander up to the door. We paid our money and then had to wait around for some more folks to show up before our guide took us down below. The tour covers about a mile and a quarter and takes one and a half hours.

Our guide led just eight of us below ground--steps, no elevators in this place. The caverns are a smaller version of Carlsbad. Stalactites and stalagmites abound. Sheets of material hang down from the ceiling where cracks have allowed solutions of water and iron oxide, or calcium carbonate, or the occasional sulfate to ooze and.or drip in to the open cave, evaporate and deposit their solid component. Water still flows through the formation so there's still deposits being made and growth occurring.

I tried a couple of ways of taking pictures: first was to use the flash--as to be expected underground; then I tried taking them without the flash as per the guides suggestions that it would produce more realistic color. (I now think she was wrong and that I should have left the flash on the whole time.) The first four pictures were with, the rest are without.

White formations are limestone (calcium carbonate) and the orange ones are iron oxide.
Stalactites hang from the ceiling. Some are sheets, some are conical

Sometimes stalactites (down) meet stalagmites (up) meet to form columns and the watery solutions flow over the surface.
Column formation.
 Speaking of water, there's a small, perfectly still pool that reflects the ceiling perfectly.

Reflection pool where up is down and down is up.
 Another of the reflection pool and the reflected stalactites. There are NO stalagmites in the photo.

So clear and pure, it seems fathoms deep. But it's mere inches of water.

 The combination of colors lead to some interesting patterns:

Bacon anyone?

And eggs, of course.
 This one was particularly interesting. It looks like a dish towel in the photo, but in real life you couls see the warm and weave of the cloth as light shines through it.

Dish towel.
 For a guy who had shed his cane just a few days earlier, this was something of a strenuous walk on undulating trails. Worse was the last, long flight of steps--which we had gone down--to exit the caves. The only thing making it bearable was the long line of young children coming streaming in as we exited. (They looked to be fourth or fifth graders to my practiced eye.)

Anyway, even though the caves are a pretty steady 55-60 degrees, by the end of the walk, I was ready for some:
"ice cream" stalagmite.
Luray was our final stop. Instead of going back to the Skyline Drive, we headed west to pick up I-81 and headed home.

One stop for some Chick-fil-a and gasoline and we were home just a little over two weeks and 3,250 miles after we left.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

So. We went on a road trip and... (Part 5)

...drove home via most of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive (Shanandoah National Park).

When we left Roxboro, NC we drove southwest toward Ashville with the intention of going to the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway is a 469 mile drive from Cherokee, NC to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, VA. We learned there were two road closures with resulting detours in the southern end of the Parkway so we opted to join the road at mile post 331--the location of the Museum of North Carolina Minerals. (Guess we'll just have to go back to hit the southernmost portions along with the unforeseen detour we had to make for another closure north of where we got on.)

The museum was nice, but the real purpose of driving these highways is to take in the views.

View from The Knob

The things you learn.

Historic cabins abound.
 There was a Park ranger at this particular site who was trying to teach herself how to spin yarn. We talked with her for a while, toured around the little farmstead and it's spring house and other outbuildings.
Root cellar below shed used for storing foodstuffs. Why can't my stone walls look this neat?

Other side of the cabin. love the use of the crooked tree as a corner column for the porch.
 We hopped off the Parkway shortly after entering Virginia and drove back into North Carolina to find a motel in Mt. Airy. Had a great steak dinner at a place that knew how to cook beef right. They also believed that "small" is a foreign word not to be uttered at any cost.

The next morning we got back on the Parkway (in Virginia) and headed north. Soon we came across one of the most photographed sites on the Parkway: Mabry Mill at mile post 176. This mill was operated by E.B. Mabry from 1910 to 1935. Water was gathered from two small streams and directed by way of sluices to the wheel. Much of the year he ground coarse corn but in the spring, with snow melt increasing flow, he could saw wood. In addition to the mill building, there were several others that would house interpretive activities during the summer: cabin, blacksmiths, wood shop, etc.

Mabry Mill
Shortly after leaving the historic mill, we came to the modern day equivalent: a lodge/inn/restaurant. Being 11:30 Am we stopped for lunch and had a fine meal while overlooking the small lake.

All along the Parkway not only were the trees nearly in full leaf (although that changed as we got further north. And flowers were abundant, too. While too early for the majority of the azaleas and rhododendrons to be in flower, there were a few. Lots of wild flowers were also visible along the side of the road.

Flame Azalea
 We soon reached the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and continued on to the Skyline Drive in Shanandoah National Park. This is a much shorter highway park (105 miles versus 469 miles for the Blue Ridge) and it runs along a much narrower ridge, but the views are as spectacular and, because the ridge is narrower, the views often open up on both sides of the road at the same time.

The flowers continued including this tree with purple flowers. I can't get a name to it, having discarded suggestions of honey locust and wisteria. (The former has white flowers and the latter is a vine. Still think it might be some form of locust, however.)

 And the views included some burnt over areas form forest fires that spread along the ridge in April.

View toward the Shanandoah Valley with some burn areas visible.

Close-up of a burned out area.

View to the east with some burn area in the foreground.

As we neared the northern end of the Skyline Drive we decided to make one more stop: Luray Caverns. We got off the SD and pulled into Luray for the night planning on visiting the caverns first thing in the morning. That will have to wait for our next installment.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

So. We went on a road trip and... (Part 4)

...we stopped in Savannah, GA. I had never been to downtown Savannah but Terry had. (Another sewing gig.) I had been to the Savannah airport back in 2001 to pick up Jessica as she flew in to attend Rick's "graduation" from Parris Island two weeks after 9/11. I thought the airport was quaint.

Well so is the city. Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and was a vital port during the Revolution and Civil War. It escaped destruction in the latter when the city fathers negotiated with General Sherman and--well--basically surrendered the city to the Union troops in December of 1864.

The city was laid out by General James Oglethorpe back in 1733 in what is basically a grid pattern with many small public parks or squares. Originally I believe there were some 25 of these squares, today there are 22 remaining in the Savannah Victorian Historic District, one of the largest Historic Landmark Districts in the country.

We hopped an Old Town Trolley Co. tour bus at the visitors' center in the warehouse district and took a tour of the historic part of the city.

Oglethorpe Square

Madison Square
 Those squares with statues of Confederate Soldiers and/or Generals (and there area a few) all have those men facing north. Think about it and you'll understand why.

Monterey Square

In honor of the USMC. I did mention that Parris Island was nearby, right?

A lovely place to sit and think. Anyone have a box of chocolates? (Yeah, Forrest Gump was filmed here...just not in this particular square.)  

Should you decide that a slower pace is required to really enjoy all the beautiful squares in the old city, there's always the carriage ride.

Griffin statue over at the Old Cotton Exchange on the harbor.

And here's a view of the building itself.

We enjoyed our brief visit to the city of Savannah and , like St. Augustine, FL, we'll be back again. Next time I hope to be doing some walking in those places as there's so much to see.

What? I didn't mention the cane I was using for the first week and a half? Seems I jarred something in my back a week before we left home and was considerably hobbled. But a steady administration of Naproxen Sodium and a couple of relaxing hours in Janet's swimming pool and hot tub were eventually doing their job. After this stop, the cane stayed in the truck.

After our tour, we parked ourselves for the night in a motel near Hilton Head and set out the next morning to Charleston.

We stopped at the visitors' center outside of town to get our bearings and were told of a parking garage down town near the old district. We also asked about a particular restaurant we had once visited but couldn't remember the name of over by the U.S.S. Yorktown and were told, "Yes, the Fish House is still there."

Well, the garage was too small for the Tundra and with out a handicapped sticker there was no place to we drove down to the battery, waved at Fort Sumter across the bay, and zig-zagged our way through the cramped little streets of the area ("Don't Even Think About Parking Here!" was a common sign.) Then we hopped on the bridge and went over to the U.S.S. Yorktown to find the place for lunch. (We had visited the U.S.S. Yorktown many years ago with Terry's cousins and didn't feel the need to go again.)

Well, we found the Fish House but it wasn't the place we remembered. More of a yacht club meets country club style building right on the wharf with the Yorktown and we knew this was not the place we remembered. So sitting in the parking lot we added up our recollections (red roof, oyster shell parking lot, two stories, near water) and did a Google Maps search to come up with RB's on Shem's Creek just a short hop, skip and a jump down the road.

Yep! That's the place!
We entered, went upstairs and had a lovely lunch as we overlooked the creek and watched the fishermen come in for lunch and the kayakers paddle back and forth.

After lunch we decided that if Charleston was going to be so unwelcoming we'd drive up the coast to see what all the fuss was about Myrtle Beach.

As a couple from New Jersey familiar with Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Cape May, etc. we both agreed about Myrtle Beach: Fahgit about it!

Nothing but huge condos/hotels along the main drag with the beach beyond. While there are numerous (small) parking areas with beach access, there didn't seem to be any such thing as a board walk or amusement area. The closest was right on the main drag with cars driving through the center. Not our cuppa tea at all.

So we kept on driving on up to Roxboro, North Carolina to visit with Janet's daughter, Micki and her family.

We didn't visit long as Micki's daughter, Sarah, was graduating Saturday and she and Caleb (her younger brother were making confirmation on Sunday. As it was, Caleb out taking driver's ed so we never did get to see him and Travis, Micki's husband got home from work while we were there. Even so, we had a nice, if brief, reunion.

(And no, I didn't get any pictures of Charleston--I was driving, or Myrtle Beach--driving again, or of Micki and her family--I'm an idiot, okay? I never take enough pictures of people when we go visiting. Don't know why, but I'm hesitant to ask people to pose or even to snap candids of them. And I always regret it later.)

After a night in the motel in Roxboro, we drove southwest toward Ashville, NC so we could hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the North Carolina Visitors Center in Spruce Pines, NC. (We were going to start at the southernmost terminus but reports of construction and road closures near Craggy Gardens and again further south caused us to change our minds. Again.)

We would spend the next two days slowly making our way north along first the Blue Ridge Parkway and then the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. That will be our fifth and final report or our southern wanderings. Later.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

So. We went on a road trip and... (Part 3c)

...went to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This state park is accessible by a short, guided boat ride from the primary parking area to the visitors' entry where you pay your entry fee.
Peaceful boat ride to the main part of the park.
The park is famous for being one of the prime homes for manatees. During the winter, dozens of manatees congregate in the adjacent Homosassa River. There are some permanent residents in the main spring pool, however and you can easily view them on you own or wait around for one of the several "shows" they have. (Really just feeding times with a narrator.)

One of the three manatees who call the spring enclosure home.
 There's an underwater viewing area as well. It's lined with glass (that needs replacing) and offers underwater views of the manatees and huge schools of fish.

Lots of fish, like these snook and mullet, find the conditions around the spring just perfect.

You can get a great fish-eye view of the schools from the bubble--sort of a reverse aquarium; you're in the tank while the fish swim free.

After getting a gander at the "tame" manatees, we strolled over to the river and got a lucky glimpse of a wild one. Like many of these huge beasts, this one had a couple of wounds on its back from boat propellers. Perhaps that is why it wasn't heading north to Georgia or the Carolinas with its relatives.

Feral manatee in the Homosassa River.

Previous to becoming a state park and focusing on local/regional wildlife, Homosassa was an exotic animal park. All the previous tenants were sold off or donated to various zoos--except one. No one wanted a rather aging hippo so he has remained and is now fifty some years old. They celebrate is "birth" day every year and he's got quite a following.
The lone hold over from the "exotic animal park" days.
The rest of the entourage consists of critters you might find outside the park--and many of the birds come and go as they please. They've black bears, Florida cougar, bobcats, red and gray foxes, river otters, and red wolves. (As were were walking past the wolf enclosure, an ambulance drove up to the entrance with its siren wailing. The wolves all responded in kind and every one of them howled! Splended!)
Seven of these beasts, ranging in size from around 8 to 10 feet long inhabit their special pool.
They've a reptile house with all manor of snakes also. Many lovely specimens and many poisonous ones, too. Terry stayed well away from the glass.

The animals were neat to view, but the birds! Goodness! Did they have birds. Some were free to come and go as they pleased, others were enclosed in a huge aviary (think of it as a walk-in bird cage) and still more were unable to leave due to injury. (The latter group was primarily birds of prey--hawks and eagles--and owls.)
Flamingos doing flamingo things. (No, they aren't plastic.) (Free ranging.)

White pelican. (Free ranging)

Brown Pelican. (Free ranging.)

Snowy Egret. (Capitve.)

Black-crowned Night Heron. (Capitve.)

Common Gallinule. (Capitve.)

Osprey and American Bittern. (Capitve.)
Roseate Spoonbill. House building? (Capitve.)

Black Vulture. (Free ranging.)

Immature Anhinga living dangerously in the gator pool. (Free ranging.)

Eventually we had to leave which meant taking the boat back to the parking area.
Boat ride back to the parking area. Nice way to end the visit.
All in all it was a pleasant outing. As was our visit with my long lost cousins.

Time to head north (where they were having rainy/snowy weather!?). On to Savanah, GA.

See Part 4 for our tour of the city.

Monday, May 23, 2016

So. We went on a road trip and... (Part 3b)

...went to Weeki Wachee Springs to see the mermaid show. You enter the park through a visitors' center. On the other side, there are pathways to an animal exhibit, a short boat ride and the Mermaid Theatre. We took the boat ride first.

Upon returning, we grabbed seats at the theatre to catch the show.

The show the performed was based on Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid. You know the story:

The pretty little mermaid...

...saves a drowning sailor...
 ...and wishes for a pair of legs so she can join the handsome sailor on land.

She makes a deal with the Sea Witch.
 The hag steals her voice but the mermaid (in this case) throws the Sea Witch into a deep abyss, regains her voice and...
... the young lovers live happily ever after.