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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

One thing that irritates me bigly is when I discover I have a knowledge gap about something — when I find I’m uninformed on a subject commonly known to others. It shows that I’m not as educated and erudite as I like to think. I hate that.

Recently, while on a road trip, I got schooled about something new — new to me — and I’ve been pouting ever since.

It happened earlier this month on a trip to Land Between the Lakes, a national recreation area in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky.

(Before the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were dammed to create Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the place was called Land Between the Rivers. But that isn’t the thing I got schooled about.)

Among the amenities and attractions at LBL is the Woodlands Nature Station, a small zoo that houses a variety of orphaned or injured animals. In residence there are hawks, owls, deer, groundhogs, a bald eagle, a coyote, and other critters that no longer can survive in the wild.

I found it interesting that, during the day, the raptors are not caged, but instead are restrained by tethers. Each bird has a perch and is free to move in a radius of about five feet. Every day, just before closing time, the birds are transferred to their night-time shelters in the “Parade of Raptors.” A clever bit of marketing there.

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So I bought a ticket and spent half an hour wandering around the place. The woodsy setting was attractive and pleasant, and the animals seemed unstressed, which was nice.

Before long, in a clearing between the wild turkey pen and the possum enclosure, I arrived at a large turtle pond. Submerged in the pond were three large alligator snapping turtles and a dozen smaller turtles of various types.

(The jaw power of an alligator snapper is impressive. An adult can bite through a broom handle.)

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My timing was pretty good. Two employees were just arriving with a bucket of lunch for the turtles.

What do the turtles at Woodlands Nature Station eat? On the menu that day was dead mice.

It seems natural enough to feed dead mice to the raptors, the coyote, and other critters, but to the turtles? I would expect turtles to be fed fish, insects, worms, or maybe commercial turtle food. Mice? Intriguing.

With some difficulty, the male employee, a portly gentleman, assumed a sitting position beside the pond near a group of the smaller turtles. He reached into the bucket and withdrew a dead mouse. Holding it by the tail (Of course. How else would you pick up a dead mouse?), he dangled it in the water in front of one of the turtles.

Here ya go, Lulu,” he cooed. “I got a nice mouse for ya.”

Remaining underwater, Lulu propelled herself forward, grabbed the mouse, and quickly retreated from the group; the other turtles had taken notice.

Better feed Alice next so she don’t steal from the others,” the female employee said.

The man dangled a mouse in front of Alice. Alice snatched it and promptly swam away.

By then, the other turtles had assembled in a rough semi-circle, waiting to be fed. One by one, the man presented them with lunch. Then it was time to feed the alligator snappers.

Hey, y’all — wake up!” the man called out. He struggled to his feet and moved the mouse bucket closer to where the three snappers were snoozing. They noted his presence and came to attention.

As the man doled out mice to the snappers, some of the smaller turtles arrived, hoping to score again. The man tried to maintain order and keep the turtles apart. From a nearby bench, the female employee offered advice and occasionally admonished a turtle for getting too close to the business end of a snapper.

Up to that point, I had been quietly observing. I finally spoke up.

The turtles really like those mice,” I said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Oh, yeah, they love ’em,” the man replied.

Where in the world do you get dead mice?” I asked. “What’s the source?”

We buy ’em wholesale.”

Wholesale? Mice?”

Oh, yeah. For places like us, with animals to feed, it’s crucial. We couldn’t operate otherwise. We place the orders automatically. The merchandise comes frozen.”

Of course.”

Anyway, that’s the new thing I learned on my road trip: there is an entire world out there, previously unbeknownst to me, in which large national companies — nay, large worldwide companies — raise mice, rats, chicks, quail, and even little bunny rabbits to execute, freeze, and sell as a food source.

Why wasn’t I aware of this? Because the logistics of animal food supply never appeared on my radar screen. I’ve never had a bird, turtle, or snake as a pet, never had to consider the food issue.

When I got home a few days later, I Googled the dead mouse business and got further informed. In the trade, the product is called feeder mice.

And, as a business, it makes sense. Selling feeder mice is just a case of meeting an industry need. A matter of demand and supply. It’s all there — production, R&D, purchasing, marketing, finance, distribution.

Systems have to be in place to euthanize the little things and sort them by category — size, weight, color, and so on. The merchandise must be properly preserved, packaged, shipped, and delivered. And certified as healthy and disease-free.

What, you ask, is the cost of a dead mouse? There are variables aplenty — size, weight, nutritional content, quantity ordered.

As I write this, RodentPro.com has a special sale on extra-small “pinky” mice, sold in bags of 100. Normally 35 cents each, they are now available for the amazing low price of 24 cents each!

If pinkies are too small for your needs, RodentPro sells small adult “weanling” mice for 65 cents each (bags of 50) and large adult mice (choice of brown, white, or hairless) for 75 cents (bags of 25).

If the sale ends before you have a chance to act, don’t worry. The other big names in the business (Mice Direct, American Rodent Supply, The Big Cheese Rodent Factory, etc.) are sure to have special offers that interest you.

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Like I said, it’s mortifying to discover something that is new to me, but common knowledge to others.

On the other hand, looking at the bright side, at least I’ve narrowed my knowledge gap a bit.

 

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New Territory

Nothing clears away the mental cobwebs like a road trip. Especially a road trip to new territory.

Which is why, earlier this month, having a block of time when no obligations kept me home, I set out in my RV to see the Texas coast.

Somehow, at my advanced age, I’d never been there. I made no reservations. Had no plans to visit Austin or San Antonio. I was more interested in seeing the countryside and the small towns.

February, I admit, is a terrible time to go to the beach. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip out of simple curiosity, and I was stoked.

My plan was to drive down to Port Arthur, head south along the Bolivar Peninsula, cross to Galveston Island, and the rest would take care of itself. As is my custom, I would camp in state parks along the way.

Before the trip, I had a feeling I knew what I would find down there. And, pretty much, I was right. My observations:

First, much of coastal Texas is, no surprise, tourist-oriented. It being February, the attractions and shops were a bit sleepy, but no doubt they’ll be ready for the onslaught of vacationers when the season arrives.

Second, large parts of the beachfront are private and residential. I passed long stretches of homes, second homes, time-shares, summer rentals, hotels, motels, and resorts that go on for miles, unbroken except for occasional empty lots for sale.

Now and then, if you look carefully, a sign will identify a small public access point to the beach. You know — the beach you sometimes glimpse, over there beyond the private property.

Third, the terrain is flat and featureless, covered by a modest layer of low-growing vegetation. Bays and inlets are rare. So are sand dunes. No wonder hurricanes surge many miles inland instead of glancing off the coast.

Fourth, I was unsurprised to find that so much of the coast is heavily industrialized. You regularly encounter not only oil wells, refineries, and petroleum processing facilities, but also giant chemical plants and manufacturing operations.

I passed numerous industrial plants the size of shopping malls, with thousands of cars in the parking lots, a sprawling sea of gleaming, steaming pipes, and generic names that reveal nothing about the nature of the business.

Names like Texas Heavy Industries. MHI International. Direct Energy. Varco. Schlumberger — all quite mysterious to a passing tourist. The one thing they seem to have in common: belching smokestacks.

In sum, coastal Texas is what I expected. I was neither pleased nor disappointed. It is what it is.

My curiosity satisfied, I enjoyed a leisurely drive south to just short of Corpus Christi.

Along the way, I sampled the local cuisine as often as possible.

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Delicious char-broiled oysters.

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A superb shrimp po-boy.

And I had experiences not available back home in North Georgia. I shot this video on the ferry to Galveston Island.

To get from Georgia to Texas, I followed the Interstate highways, always a stressful and unpleasant experience. Once I arrived, I switched to ordinary federal and state roads. They were, almost without exception, well-maintained and lightly-traveled.

In fact, I was so impressed with the non-Interstate routes that I followed them, exclusively, on the return trip to Georgia.

Specifically, from South Texas, I drove north on U.S. 77 to Waco, then followed U.S. 79 to Shreveport. There, I picked up U.S. 80, which parallels I-20, and followed it across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and into Georgia. In Macon, I turned north on U.S. 129 back to Jefferson.

Those four routes are divided four-lane highways with minimal traffic. In Texas, the speed limit is 75. In the other states, it most often is 65.

Rarely did the roads bypass the towns. Which was fine with me.

The trip home was an easy and pleasant ride, and I remember it primarily for two reasons.

The first reason: the afternoon I spent at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, located midway between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. The Center is a museum, part of the Park Service’s “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” It chronicles events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If you recollect your history, blacks were demonstrating in Alabama in the early 1960s to protest the use of literacy tests to block them from registering to vote. At the time, the voter rolls in Selma were 99 percent white. That was not unusual around the South in those days.

In March 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, police attacked and beat a group of marchers. The episode quickly prompted a massive organized march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, led by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

When Gov. George Wallace refused to offer protection to the marchers, President Lyndon Johnson nationalized 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard and assigned them to escort the demonstrators.

The direct result of all that was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

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The film and exhibits at the museum are excellent. Moving and effective. Much more powerful than I expected. They reminded me of a time when the courts and our political leaders — most of them, anyway — were on the right side of important moral issues.

I miss those days, when I was optimistic about the future. When the government made me proud. It pains me that our progress toward fairness and social justice has slowed since those times.

Progress has slowed because, for decades, the terrified conservative masses — you know, the ones clinging to their guns or religion — have been steadily descending into paranoia, inflamed by the right-wing media, enabled by Republican politicians, and now, for crying out loud, abetted by Putin. No wonder we have a vulgar, incompetent clown as President.

But, hey — I digress.

The second memorable moment of my return trip to Georgia happened earlier that same morning in Selma. When I stopped for a red light near the center of town, I looked to my left and saw a man dancing.

Why the man was dancing, or to what music he danced (note the earbuds), I have no idea. I don’t know if it was a spontaneous, one-time thing or if he did this often.

Was he celebrating? Was he high? Are mental issues involved?

Whatever the answers, I was compelled to capture the moment on video.

From my standpoint, the music on my radio (Blue Monday, New Order, 1983) was a nice complement to the performance.

Road trips are, indeed, the perfect way to clear the mental cobwebs. Especially road trips to new territory.

 

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One of the many intriguing places at Grand Canyon is the remote area at the west end of the North Rim known as Toroweap or Tuweep. This quiet, lonely place averages eight visitors per day. That’s 3,000 people per year out of Grand Canyon’s total of five million annual visitors.

Most people use the terms Toroweap and Tuweep (Tu-veep) interchangeably, but there’s a technical difference.

Toroweap refers to various named landforms — Toroweap Valley, Toroweap Point, Toroweap Lake, and Toroweap Overlook (the latter being a spot at the rim where the Colorado River is 3,000 feet below you, straight down). In Paiute, Toroweap means “dry valley” or “barren valley.”

Tuweep is the general spot on the map — a scattered settlement, if you can call it that, consisting of a small ranger station, the ranger’s residence, a few outbuildings, a Park Service airstrip, a primitive campground, and half a dozen trails of various lengths and degrees of difficulty. Tuweep is a Paiute word for “the earth.”

I’ve been to Toroweap twice. My first trip, in April 2000, was a four-day camping and hiking trip with the Grand Canyon Field Institute. Experienced guides made all the arrangements, provided transportation, and watched out for us. The trip was deceptively easy.

My second visit was an ill-fated solo hike in September 2001, cut short in dramatic fashion when I got food poisoning. The experience was sobering and scary.

I think of Toroweap/Tuweep as having four defining features.

The first is its remote location, at the end of a treacherous washboard road, 60 miles from the nearest pavement, 75 miles from the nearest town. The odds are high that your vehicle will have a flat tire, maybe two, somewhere along the way.

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Inching along the road to Tuweep.

The second feature is the lack of services. There is no water, food, gas, lodging, phone service, or internet connection. You bring everything you need, and you solve your own problems. Yes, the ranger station is connected to park headquarters by radio, but the ranger station is six miles from the campground and the overlook.

Feature three is the scenery. The views of Toroweap Valley, the inner canyon, the river, and the ancient lava flows are truly spectacular. They will give you goosebumps.

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Looking east/upstream from Toroweap Overlook.

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The downstream view from Toroweap Overlook showing Lava Falls, the baddest rapid on the river. Covering the right bank: its namesake lava flow.

The fourth defining feature is historical: the story of John Hauert Riffey, who served as the sole park ranger at Tuweep from 1942 until 1980. A career of 38 years at one of the loneliest, most isolated places on the map.

Tuweep is stark desert country. The area is both bleak and beautiful, a mix of sagebrush, yucca, cacti, piñon pine, and rock. The weather, summer and winter, often is extreme.

Toroweap Lake is normally dry. Water collects there, and in scattered pockets among the rocks, only briefly after a storm.

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The Tuweep campground.

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The Tuweep Ranger Station.

John H. Riffey from Durango, Colorado, held degrees in forestry and range management when, in 1942, he accepted a ranger position at Grand Canyon National Monument. When he and his wife Laura arrived at Tuweep, they used firewood to heat the ranger’s residence, cooked on a gas stove, and collected rainwater and snowmelt in cisterns. They had no electricity and no refrigerator. Their nearest neighbor was a rancher who lived 20 miles north.

Under circumstances that might drive others mad, John and Laura were comfortable and content at Tuweep.

Riffey’s job was to take care of anything that needed attention. He repaired whatever broke, maintained the campground, greeted visitors, pulled vehicles from the mud, put out wildfires, and collected trash.

His equipment included a road grader to repair the local roads after storms. He kept records about the local flora and fauna. He submitted the reports demanded by the park bureaucracy.

Laura took an interest in the area’s birds, native and migratory. She had no training in such things, but for years, she kept detailed records of her observations. Her notes are considered scientifically important and are preserved in the park’s archives.

In 1943, John was drafted into the Army, and he served for 17 months as a medical technician on a hospital ship. After the war ended, John and Laura returned at Tuweep.

The years passed, and John did his job well. He received regular commendations and awards, while simultaneously turning down promotions that would require him to relocate.

By the late 1950s, John had become known around the Park Service for his dedication, hard work, and unusually long service at the same location. Normally, rangers take new assignments every few years.

At one point, the park superintendent ordered Riffey to accept a transfer, on the grounds that rotating to new assignments was what park rangers did. Riffey refused.

The superintendent gave Riffey a choice: leave Tuweep or face dismissal. When Riffey chose dismissal, the superintendent backed down. Riffey was quietly cheered by rangers throughout the Park Service. His status as a living legend was strengthened.

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Ranger John H. Riffey.

Laura, who had several health issues, died in 1962. John stayed on the job. He said he had no problem living alone, although he enjoyed greeting visitors. “You like people if you are not overrun with them,” he explained.

He told a reporter, “My only contribution to society is trying to keep this place just like it is.”

Riffey may have been content with his solitude, but he didn’t remain a bachelor for long. In the spring of 1964, a graduate student from the University of Utah, Meribeth Mitchell, came to Tuweep to study the vegetation. She was 40, John was 53.

After her trip, they corresponded often. She returned to Tuweep in the fall, after which the correspondence continued. They were married in 1965.

Meribeth Riffey kept her job teaching biology at Western Washington University, north of Seattle, but she spent spring and summer at Tuweep. John scheduled his vacations in winter and spent them with Meribeth.

Sometime in the late 1960s, John took flying lessons and purchased a second-hand Piper Cub. He named the aircraft Pogo. A wooden enclosure to block the strong winds served as a hangar. Riffey nailed a sign to the enclosure that read

TUWEEP INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
SOUTH CONCOURSE
GATE 2

With Pogo, John was able to patrol thousands of acres around Tuweep and make quick hops to civilization for mail and groceries. He was known to fly through Grand Canyon below the rim. Meribeth was a regular passenger.

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Ranger Riffey standing next to Pogo.

In July 1980, as John and a friend were hauling water to Tuweep from a nearby spring, John’s vision blurred, and he became weak. It was the beginning of a heart attack. The friend took the wheel and tried to reach the hospital in St. George, but John died on the way. He would have turned 69 in August.

With Meribeth’s permission, the park superintendent lobbied his superiors to suspend the rules and allow John to be buried at Tuweep. The request was granted. A spot with a sweeping view of the valley was chosen along the road between the ranger station and Toroweap Overlook.

This is inscribed on his monument:

John H. Riffey
‘The Last Old Time Ranger’

The man who could spend a lifetime on the rim and not waste a minute
National Park Ranger, Tuweep from 1942 to 1980
Good Samaritan, gentle friend, teller of tall tales

Meribeth died in 1993 and is buried beside him.

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When I ventured out to Toroweap in 2000 and 2001, I knew nothing about John, Laura, and Meribeth Riffey. If the instructors at Grand Canyon Field Institute mentioned them, it didn’t register.

That’s a shame. I have vivid memories of Toroweap and wonderful images in my mind’s eye, but knowing this part of the human history adds to my appreciation of the place.

It also makes me regret that I missed a chance to visit the graves and pay my respects.

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Clever Girl

More on my road trip earlier this month to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine…

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My final night in New England was in Bennington, Vermont, in the southwest corner of the state. The next morning, I sucked it up and headed south on a succession of interstate highways, down through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.

At the end of the day, I stopped in Winchester, Virginia, near the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park. I would have an early start on the Skyline Drive.

The next morning was clear and nicely brisk. No one was on duty at the Shenandoah entrance station. A sign read “Pay when you leave the Park.”

I had the road to myself. I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows, and headed out.

Two minutes later, a young adult black bear emerged from the greenery on the right side of the road about 20 yards ahead. I stopped immediately and grabbed my camera from the passenger seat.

The bear — which turned out to be a female, as you’ll understand directly — glanced at me, then ambled across the road.

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When she reached the grassy strip on left shoulder, she stopped and looked toward me again.

I eased forward, camera at the ready, until I reached her. At that point, my car was paused in the right lane. The bear was 10 feet away on the left side of the road.

Although she showed no aggression, I was apprehensive. Could I romp on the gas and get away if she rushed me? I decided I could.

The bear stood stoically on the grass, looking at me. I took a burst of photos that I knew would be keepers.

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Why she remained there instead of continuing on her way was puzzling. She seemed in no hurry to leave.

But I had my photos, and I figured it was best not to prolong the encounter. I tossed my camera onto the passenger seat and slowly drove on.

Mere seconds later, I watched in my rear-view mirror as a bear cub emerged from the woods and scampered across the road to join mom.

Clever girl. She had been waiting for me to leave, so it would be safe for the youngster to cross the road.

No cars were in sight in ether direction. In fact, I hadn’t seen another car since I entered the park. Undoubtedly, driving backward on the Skyline Drive is illegal, but I put the car in reverse anyway, and I began inching back toward the mama bear and her cub. The two of them sat quietly on the grass at the edge of the road, watching my approach.

This time, for reasons I still don’t understand, I grabbed my cell phone instead of my Nikon. I raised the phone and took three photos.

Two were hopeless blurs. This was the third.

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Thinking back on the episode, it’s obvious why I could never be a professional photographer. Having taken several shots, I became concerned that I was hassling the poor bears, and I felt compelled to go away and leave them alone.

A real photographer would have continued shooting with both cameras, firing off hundreds of shots using a variety of angles and settings.

But, no, I drove away, leaving the bears posing perfectly for God-know-how-many-more awesome photos that I do not have.

What a jerk move.

A few miles south, I arrived at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. It was 9:00 AM, and two female employees were just opening for the day.

I went inside, looked at a map, browsed around the gift shop, and purchased a Shenandoah refrigerator magnet featuring a bear cub.

Betty, I saw a mother bear and two cubs on the way here yesterday,” one employee said. “About a mile south.”

Oh, the cubs are so CUTE!” the other woman gushed. Apparently, everyone loves Shenandoah’s black bears.

When I told them I had bear photos taken 10 minutes earlier, they were thrilled. They fawned* at length over the mother-and-cub photo on my phone.

The bears, the ladies told me, are very mellow. They keep to themselves, but they’re acclimated to cars and people. The mother bears have learned how to deal with cars, and their cubs know to stay hidden until the mom gives the okay to come forward.

Bears, as you may know, are smart creatures, probably on a level with dogs and pigs. Some studies say they have longer memories and are more devoted and attentive as parents.

Judging from her size, the mother bear I encountered was young. The cub probably was her first.

But she already understands people and the park roads, and she knows how to care for her baby. That knowledge will stay with her every season she has cubs.

Clever, indeed.

* Fawned. That’s a pun.

 

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Wicked Week

I just got back from a road trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Most of it was new territory for me, so I went slow, took my time. I had a wicked good week.

The only downside to the trip was getting there from Georgia, which meant two long days of miserable Interstate driving. But, once I arrived, rural New England was peaceful, pleasant, clean, and green.

The residents probably would take offense at this, but I saw little difference between the three states. Basically, the terrain, the weather, the architecture, and the accents were all the same.

Everything there has a decided Yankee vibe. An interesting change from back home.

In New England, I noted, Dunkin’ Donuts is like McDonald’s in the rest of the country.

Firewood is for sale everywhere.

And I had the feeling that the locals were enjoying the pleasant summer weather only guardedly and temporarily. They were poised, I sensed, to switch back to winter mode at any time. After stocking up on firewood, of course.

 

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Typical green scene in Vermont. Or maybe New Hampshire.

Having no special agenda, I drove a number of off-the-beaten-path routes (as recommended by my copy of National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways) and ended up in some interesting places.

In Burlington, Vermont, for example, frivolity reigned.

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Burlington, I discovered, is a major haven for hipsters, hippies, and other free spirits. Back in the 80s, Bernie Sanders was Burlington’s mayor.

The highest peak in the region, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, is the “home of the world’s worst weather.” The summit is accessible via a harrowing eight-mile auto road, which was extra scary the day I drove it due to dense fog. I took these photos at the top in a chilly rain.

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One of the most magnificent places in the area is Acadia National Park, which takes up most of an island on the coast of Maine. It combines lush greenery with the rocky and majestic Atlantic coast.

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Probably not so serene and idyllic in January during a nor’easter.

Weather wise, this is the most pleasant time of year in New England, so Acadia was maxed out with tourists. Even finding a place to stop and get photos was a challenge. In another month, the crowds of leaf-peepers will triple the traffic.

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The tourist mecca of Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia. It’s a quaint harbor town and home to a sizable lobster fleet. Maine lobsters, they say, are more abundant today than ever before.

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Which brings me to another reason I made the trip: to enjoy an authentic New England lobster roll.

I succeeded. Three times.

FYI, lobster rolls come in two varieties: Connecticut style (served warm with melted butter) and Maine style (served chilled with mayo and a splash of lemon). Most locals prefer the Maine variety, and, in fact, I never came across a place that served them warm.

The first two times I had them, they were delicious, but somehow, a bit lacking. They were stingy on the meat, and the buns were lined with shredded lettuce, which diluted the taste.

Moreover, I had them in restaurant settings, which was all wrong. Too civilized. And the food was prepared out of sight and brought to my table like some ordinary meal.

I wanted genuine. I wanted rustic. I wanted the thing cooked where I could see it. I wanted it served outdoors, on a paper plate, as I assume all self-respecting Maineiacs prefer it.

And, fortunately, I stumbled upon a place that, in my mind, served lobster rolls in the proper manner.

It happened as I drove back to the mainland from Acadia. Up ahead was a small trailer in a gravel parking lot. A large, hand-lettered plywood sign out front read LOBSTERS.

The trailer was surrounded by tables and chairs under awnings, and a dozen people were queued up in a line that disappeared into the trailer. I pulled into the parking lot.

Behind the trailer, teams of people were carrying baskets of lobsters from several pickup trucks to a table behind a row of steaming pots.

Under a canopy, two men handled the cooking. Under another canopy, teams of pickers deftly collected the meat.

After a few minutes in line, I was inside the trailer. A stern, matronly woman with forearms like Popeye took my order: lobster roll, chips, a pickle, and a beer of my choice from the display case. The bill was $14. She took my money and sent me outside to find a table.

While I waited, I wandered around and observed the proceedings.

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Then, dinner was served.

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And wicked good it was. Ample meat, lightly seasoned, nicely chilled, no extraneous filling, and sublime taste.

My beverage, by the way, was from Sea Dog, a brewery in Bangor. I chose Wild Blueberry in honor of the small, sweet New England variety of blueberries currently in season.

I savored the meal slowly and deemed the trip a success.

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Finally, what road trip would be complete without souvenir t-shirts?

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For the return to Georgia, I decided to follow the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina. This would take longer, but it would spare me a lot of Interstate driving.

I was rewarded with an early-morning bear encounter on the Skyline Drive. That story in my next post.

 

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$7.10

Maybe a math major could help me understand this transaction.

Back in January, because my RV had been sitting idle for too long, I decided to take a road trip. Nothing elaborate, just a loop into the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains for a few days. It turned out to be a leisurely, interesting, and pleasant trip.

Usually, I stay at state park campgrounds, which are reliably clean, quiet, and inexpensive. But sometimes you have no choice. The first night, due to the timing, I was obliged to stay at a private RV park in North Carolina. A place called Whispering Pines or something like that.

Whispering Pines was a bad decision. After checking in, I discovered that the bathhouse had been “winterized” and closed for the season. In other words, the pipes had been drained to prevent freezing, and the place was padlocked. It would reopen in the spring.

Sorry, Mr. Camper. Use the shower in your RV.

Which would be fine, except that my RV, like virtually every other RV this side of Tampa, also has been winterized for the season. My shower is closed until spring, too.

I was not a happy camper.

Fortunately, by the second night, I was back in Northeast Georgia, and with great relief, I checked into the campground at Tallulah Gorge State Park. The facilities there, thank you very much, remain operational all year long.

At this point, the aforementioned transaction comes in.

The campground host was a patient, almost serene woman trying to deal with an infant, a toddler, and me at the same time. She said campsites with full hookups were $32 per night, with discounts to senior citizens and veterans.

“Are you a senior or a veteran?”

“Both.”

“Okay, that will be $24 for the night. Also, we’re having a special right now: you can stay a second night for half price. That’s $24 for tonight and $12 for tomorrow night.”

“You’re kidding.”

She wasn’t kidding.

“That’s basically a free night,” I said. “How can I turn that down?”

The only problem was minor. The office was closed, and the nice lady had no cash with her.

I gave her $25, and we agreed I could settle up when the office opened the next morning.

Later that evening, when I retired to the RV and watched the news, I learned that heavy rain was moving toward us from the north. It would arrive by mid-morning and hang around for the next 48 hours.

Bummer. Up to that point, the weather had been sunny and mild. In an instant, the idea of being on the road lost its appeal. It was time to head home. After a luxurious morning shower in the bathhouse, of course.

The next day, up early and ready to depart, I saw no reason to wait for the park office to open. I owed $24 for one night and had paid $25. Close enough.

A few hours later, just as the storm caught up with me, I was home.

Three weeks later, a hand-addressed envelope arrived from Tallulah Gorge State Park. Inside was this:

refund

In case you can’t tell, enclosed was $7.10.

First and foremost, refunding the money — taking the trouble to refund it — was a generous, high-minded thing to do. It speaks well of the person responsible and of the park itself.

But, as I understood the situation, I overpaid THEM. Where the idea of $7.10 in my favor came from, I haven’t a clue.

I even sat down with pencil and paper, trying to use dead reckoning to figure it out. This is as far as I got:

– $32
– $24
– $12

– $25

– $7.10

Baffling.

Math was never my thing.

 

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Trip 25

Part 4

Wednesday morning after a hearty Canteen breakfast, I set out east on the Clear Creek Trail. It was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and initially was used by mules coming up from Phantom Ranch, but now is for hikers only.

Halfway up to the Tonto Platform is Phantom Overlook.

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The CCC’s stone bench and other nifty trail work.

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Phantom Ranch from Phantom Overlook.

Half a mile later, at this bend in the trail, you get the first view of the Colorado River looking upstream.

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The trail continues the long climb up to the Tonto Platform. The Park Service claims to perform regular maintenance up there, but it appears to be minimal.

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After a few more bends of the trail, you get this awesome downstream view. Ordinarily, I avoid the word awesome, but in this case, it fits.

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The Black Bridge (lower left) is where the mules cross the river.

The golden cottonwoods at the bend in the river mark the mouth of Bright Angel Creek. Phantom Ranch is along Bright Angel Creek half a mile upstream.

For scale, consider this:

– The Tonto Platform on the south (left) side of the river — the prominent ledge halfway up — is half a vertical mile above the Colorado.

– The South Rim, the highest point in the distance, is a full vertical mile above the river.

A closer view:

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Look close, and you can see the Silver Bridge, where most hikers cross the river. It’s in the shadow just before the Colorado disappears around the last bend.

Three miles from Phantom Ranch, you arrive at what I consider one of the grandest sights in Grand Canyon: the view looking up at Zoroaster Temple.

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I know these things are subjective, but I think Zoro is a phenomenal landform. It’s beautiful and majestic, with amazing symmetry.

And it becomes even more impressive when you are standing close, the arms looming on both sides.

Magical.

Many people observe that being at Grand Canyon is like a religious experience. I certainly see it that way.

As it happens, so does Bob Dylan. These are the closing lines from Dylan’s “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” from 1963:

You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You’ll find God in the church of your choice
You’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it’s only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You’ll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

————

Early Thursday morning, the mule riders left Phantom Ranch and returned to the South Rim via the South Kaibab Trail. Starting out, we still had pleasant, shirt-sleeves weather.

But about halfway to the rim, that abruptly changed. Dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped. The coats, gloves, and earmuffs came out. It was the beginning of a storm that would leave Northern Arizona and most of New Mexico in the deep freeze for the next week.

The South Kaibab is an exposed, ridgeline trail, and, especially near the rim, the wind can be brutal. For the last mile of the ride, we sat hunched in our saddles, shivering in an icy, 40-mph wind.

I could feel Twinkie leaning, leaning, leaning against it. I did my best not to interfere.

————

So far, I have no specific plans for another trip to Grand Canyon, but the odds are pretty good I’ll go again.

Yes, I do believe I’ll go again.

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