Sunday, October 25, 2015

October - Part two

October 25, 2015

Greetings from Virginia! We have now passed the 4-month mark on this grand adventure and are thinking about how and when it will all end (likely in about 10 days). We will spend a little time at Shenandoah National Park before taking our time to drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, something we haven't done in more than 30 years. You can't really do the Parkway in a hurry and we have enough time to do it at a leisurely pace.

Since our last blog posting from Brian's mother's house in Johnstown,
Brian and his mom on the bench dedicated to his dad

we resumed our explorations with a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park. We saw the museum exhibits, the recently restored Cyclorama painting, and saw an excellent film in the museum before driving around the battlefield. A stop at the Soldiers National Cemetery and the Lincoln Address Memorial on a beautiful fall day was a highlight of the visit. The Eternal Light Peace Memorial in the northern part of the park was the last stop before finding a campsite for the evening.
 Gettysburg NMP

Next stop was Reston, Virginia to visit a long-time friend, Peter Miller and his wife, Denise. We spend a pleasant evening reliving the past and telling stories of more recent events. The next day was cold and blustery so we spent the day at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's center near Dulles Airport where the “big ones” are kept: space shuttle Discovery, large airliners and jets, a Concorde, and even the balloon gondola made famous by Felix Baumgartner. We viewed a great IMAX 3-D film about space outside our solar system.

 Brian standing next to Discovery

There are so many historic Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia and we chose to visit Monocacy National Battlefield where the “battle that saved Washington, DC” was fought. Excellent exhibits at this little-visited park near Frederick, MD. We didn't travel very far that day because we were headed for a series of 50 geocaches known as the Maryland Star. We hiked a total of 10 miles over the next 2 days to find them all and were fortunate to find a county park campground just a few miles away.

Next, we crossed Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis and spent a little time on the Delmarva Peninsula and camped in Delaware (a first for us). We were in no particular hurry and had planned another night camping at a state park at the southern end of the peninsula only to find the campground closed when we arrived just after sunset. With limited options in that part of the state, we decided to head off over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that evening instead of the next morning and ended up in Newport News, VA for the night. It would have been better to cross the Bay during daylight hours so we could see the views, but it was not meant to be.

We continued on to Richmond and made a stop to visit with another long-time friend, Sarah Hill, who graciously took us on a driving tour of Richmond. We wanted to see the statue of Lincoln named “To Bind Up the Nation's Wounds” that commemorated his visit to Richmond in April 1865 at the Richmond National Battlefield Park and Sarah knew right where to take us. 

Sarah and Brian

 We continued on just past Richmond to Ashland to spend the weekend with some of Brian's Luther cousins David, Stewart, and Janice. 
Brian and Janice
Kris, Brian, David Luther, Janice Luther

 We left their house on Sunday morning with plans to drive in to Richmond to attend mass at the cathedral. We stopped for ice and gas and to put air in a tire on the truck. The valve stem broke off when Brian tried to add air and that put the end to traveling for the day. After getting the spare put on, we ended back at David's house for another day and will be getting the tire fixed before heading off into the Blue Ridge Mountains. We are ever so grateful that we were just down the road and have wonderful family to stay with instead of being far from help.

Brian here :
Now for my view of things – as usual, Kris pretty much summarized things very well.
BUT – she forgot to mention that we had hoped to go back to see Sarah and Keith Hill today. I knew Keith when I lived in New Orleans while in Elementary school. He moved to Huntsville, AL, and I moved to Houston. After we graduated High School, he moved with his parents to Houston, and met Sarah, who graduated with me. He wasn't in town on Friday, so we didn't get to see him.
It has been great visiting with family and friends this past week, and the time with my mother in Johnstown was a special treat. I hadn't seen my cousin Janice in a long time, so getting to spend time with her was also something that I'll remember since we were really close when we were younger.
I guess all good things have to come to an end, and it looks like this adventure will soon be over. There is no way to describe the experience, or how much I appreciate that we could do it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October - Part One

Kris here.

One of the major objectives of this trip has been accomplished: to witness the fall colors of New England. Local residents predict that the foliage will not be as colorful as it usually is, but we are enjoying it all the same. We are now back in Johnstown visiting Brian's mother and the trees outside her window are now dropping their leaves. We love seeing the splashes of color on the mountains here in western Pennsylvania.

 near Smugglers' Notch, Vermont

Since our last installment, we spent some time in the Green Mountains National Forest in western Vermont, specifically the Moosalamoo Recreation Area (I love that word "Moosalamoo" – it just rolls off the tongue,) We happened across the Robert Frost Trail on our way to Texas Falls after camping in a nearly deserted campground. Mr. Frost lived and worked nearby and it was quite peaceful to walk in the woods, stopping to read his poems that were on posts along the trail. It was very easy to see how the surroundings and seasons influenced his work. The leaves were beginning to change colors a bit and a nip in the air added to the enjoyable experience.

 Robert Frost Trail, Vermont

 a carpet of fall leaves on the Robert Frost Trail

Texas Falls, Green Mountains National Forest

A visit to Texas Falls was obligatory and then we headed south to Proctor, Vermont to the Vermont Marble Museum. Another learning experience for us and we saw how marble was used to build churches and a bridge in the town; even the front of the fire station was made of marble. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and columns for the U.S, Supreme Court were fabricated here.

 Vermont Marble Museum
Marble Church in Proctor, Vermont

Next on the itinerary was Hyde Park, NY to see the FDR Home and Presidential Library and Eleanor Roosevelt's retreat Val-Kill. We spent more time at the Library than we had planned on and really wanted time at the ER National Historic Site. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see FDR's Top Cottage before it closed for the day. We left the Hudson River Valley without visiting West Point because we toured that interesting site with our children years ago.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt sculpture

On to Massachusetts! As we were approaching Springfield, I searched for upcoming geocaches and saw one called "The Cat in the Hat and Friends" at the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden. Of course, that interested us. After visiting, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, we walked three blocks down the street to the sculpture garden behind the City Library. What a great place and a prime example of how geocaching leads us to places we would never know about on our own. The bronze sculptures ranged from a large Horton the Elephant to the small Lorax and a tower of turtles with Yertle on top.

 Behind City Library in Springfield, Massachusetts

 Kris, Theodore Geisel, and The Cat in the Hat

 Brian with The Grinch and Max

 Horton the Elephant

 Yertle and the turtles

The Lorax

After leaving Springfield (where Theodore Geisel,aka Dr. Seuss, was born) we drove north a bit and exited the interstate for a geocache in Amherst where we saw a sign for the Eric Carle Museum of  Picture Book Art. Okay, let's go! Bummer – the museum was closed because it was Monday. Well, now we have a reason to return to Amherst someday.

By this time, we were waking up to temperatures in the mid 30s and knowing that the Massachusetts state parks were going to close in a few days (in fact, some were already closed for the season), we began to seriously think about moving southward. We abandoned a tentative plan to pay a return visit to Boston and spent a few days in Rhode Island and Connecticut instead. We passed through Hartford and stopped to hike to the top of Talcott Mountain (as recommended by a friend who grew up in nearby Simsbury). Quite a view from the observation deck of Heublein Tower at the top!
 view from Talcott Mtn. near Simsbury, Conn.

Heublein Tower on Talcott Mtn.

Next, we found ourselves crossing the Hudson River again to get to New Jersey for visits to Thomas Edison National Historical Park and Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. We enjoyed both sites and camped in two NJ state parks before heading to Philadelphia to visit a childhood friend of Brian's (who happens to be a third cousin – they share great great grandparents). It was a relief to leave the crazy NJ drivers behind! Since we found ourselves back in Brian's home state of Pennsylvania, we made a 5 hour drive from Phila. to Johnstown to visit his mother for a few days. To be truthful, a few days off the road was needed and the truck was due for another oil change. This stop also gave us a chance to make a Skype visit with the kids and grandkids. (BTW, grandchild #3 is due in March... yippee!) We have been gone from home for 113 days now and have covered 15,000 plus miles.

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, NJ

 Edison Memorial Tower - recently refurbished and awaiting rededication
(nothing of the Menlo Park laboratory exists any longer)

with the sun directly behind the giant pyrex glass bulb

My part now (Brian).

As usual, Kris covered the major parts. About the only things she didn't say was that we visited the state museum where Edison had his first lab [and became known as the Wizard of Menlo Park] and learned a lot more about him than we did at West Orange, where his second lab was. The tour guide was a gentleman that grew up in the area, and he gave a VERY good talk about Mr. Edison's most productive years.

The other thing she left out was that the timing worked out very well for the second visit with my Mother. It has been two years since my father passed away. It has been on my mind that we might end up here around this time, and we ended up here just in time. I hadn't mentioned the possibility, because if I had, I think she would have heard the "be here" part, but not the "might" part.

As we talk about the return trip, it looks like we will still be seeing interesting things. Our 'last leg' will most likely be as long as most vacations for other folks. We continue to count our blessings, and frequently say out loud how lucky we are to be able to be on this grand adventure.

Miscellaneous (seen while geocaching):

 unnamed church in New Jersey
 peaceful morning in Massachusetts

 "Herbie and King" in Vermont

Along a road in Vermont

Thursday, October 1, 2015

September comes to an end

September Comes to an End

Can it be? Can it really be September 30? The calendar says so and we are seeing the leaves change here in Vermont, though they are not at their peak yet and pictures don't show what we see with our eyes.  We reached “100 Day” on Sept. 28 – 100 days since leaving Houston on this grand expedition. Camping in the wet is not too bad; camping in the cold is okay; but camping in the cold and wet is not much fun so we are sitting in a three-sided shelter at Smugglers Notch State Park tonight with a smoky campfire.

White Mountains, NH

Smugglers Notch, VT

We couldn't leave Maine without the obligatory stop in Freeport at the LL Bean Store. We browsed, but did not buy anything. A few miles down the highway brought us to the DeLorme Headquarters and the opportunity to see their 41 foot revolving globe named Eartha. Very cool, indeed!

 View of Eartha through the DeLorme atrium windows

Kris and Eartha

Looking down on Eartha from the third floor

We didn't get to spend enough time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire back in July, so we spent a few days exploring the area around Crawford Notch and the eastern slopes. Like other tourists, we took on the challenge of the Mount Washington Auto Road. We paid the toll and drove the 8 miles at 12% grade (without any guardrails) in first gear up to the highest summit in New England. We had a very clear afternoon to see the 360-degree panoramic view. Our timing was perfect as we were the last visitors to leave the summit and didn't have to deal with any cars coming up the road.

 We were lucky to have a clear day and a balmy 46 degrees

The cog train heading back down from the summit

We meet some tourists from Israel and they took our picture.

Back down from the summit looking back to where we had been 30 minutes earlier.

We experienced our first cold nights of camping (36 degrees) in the White Mtns. and hiked to some great waterfalls. We visited Saint Gaudens National Historic Site and saw the sculptor/artist's home and studio. Next on the itinerary: a return visit to Vermont via the Cornish-Windsor covered bridge over the Connecticut River. We spent an enjoyable evening in a state park in a campsite right along the river.

Looking at NH across the Connecticut River from our campsite in Vermont

We encountered our first instance of arriving at a state park only to find it was already closed for the season. We found a private campground near Barre, VT right down the road from the Rock of Ages granite quarries. The next morning, we went on a guided tour of the quarries even though it was raining all day. We made a stop at one of the cider mills near Stowe to sample the cider and cider doughnuts (we each ate only one, honest).

 Very deep granite quarry - rainy day

 Rock of Ages factory floor

 Brian tries out the granite bowling lane

We have seen many covered bridges and waterfalls in the past few weeks. Here are a few:

Albany Covered Bridge, White Mountains Nat. Forest, NH - we crossed this bridge to get to our campground.

Ripley Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, NH

 Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch SP

Brewster River Gorge, near Smugglers Notch, VT

Since our last report, we have reached a few geocaching milestones: 1,000 finds since leaving home, found 47 out of 50 in the Maine State Star series, and made a valiant attempt at the New Hampshire State Star (6 miles of hiking in 5 hours netted us 20 of the 51 in the series). The weather was not looking favorable to do another day of hiking, so we decided to leave it unfinished.

Brian, here.  Kris pretty much summed it up.  We are still having a fantastic experience, and are now at the stage where we have to start thinking about what route to take to get home.  Thanksgiving isn't that far away!