Road Trip 2018: Stop 4

2018.07.02.005
Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 4: Paducah, Kentucky, June 30th – July 3rd

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 5

On Day 13 I left Nashville & made a quick drive into western Kentucky so that I could spend Day 14 exploring in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  Unfortunately by the time I got there I’d been on the road for two weeks in weather roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun so although it’s a huge park with lots of trails & stuff I was running out of energy for outdoor activities & didn’t stay long.  I’d like to go back though, maybe in the fall when it’s cooler & the leaves are turning.  The name is pretty literal – it’s a big weird peninsula trapped between two forks of a dammed river, so there’s lots of water for boating, kayaking, swimming, etc.  There’s also a wildlife lab zoo thing, drive-through bison safari, living history farm, a really nice museum at the visitor’s center, & some ruins of iron smelting furnaces.

On Day 15 I went wandering around in Paducah, where I found a tugboat with the same name as my dad, an art gallery, & a tree on the sidewalk where the roots somehow grew into a square (the square root, lol).  Then a short hop over the Ohio river to Metropolis, Illinois to take a picture with the Superman statue in the middle of town & walk across the street to the Super Museum, which is basically a warehouse jammed floor to ceiling with some guy’s Superman obsession.  If you’re around in early June they have a Superman Celebration every year!

Next Week: all of the Abraham Lincoln in Springfield!

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Road Trip 2018: Stop 3

2018.06.27.004
Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Nashville, Tennessee, June 26nd – June 30th

Stop 1 | Stop 2Stop 4 | Stop 5

On Day 9 I headed out from Chattanooga & drove 150 miles or so northwest to Nashville, with a stop about halfway through at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester.  The park is home to a Native American ceremonial enclosure which was long abandoned by the time Europeans arrived & mistook it for a fort.  I didn’t really see much of the earthworks because I got so hung up on the beautiful waterfalls!  Enclosure Trail is a 1.4-mile loop leading from the visitor’s center along the Duck & Little Duck rivers, as well as to some other trails.  Near Big Falls the trail passes through the ruins of the Stone Fort Paper Company mill, the last of several factories that were built here to take advantage of power supplied by the river.  I only had a couple of hours to spend there but there’s a lot to see & I would love to get back there to hike some more.

Day 10 was just wandering around seeing what the place had to offer.  Downtown Nashville was OK except for having to get after some guy in the middle of a gift shop to get him to stop dancing all up in my personal space.  I think he was part of a scavenger hunt or something, he was in a group all wearing the same t-shirts & headbands, & I kept seeing people all over town wearing the same t-shirts with different colored headbands.  What was the challenge – get a stranger to dance with you?  If it was get a stranger to yell at you they definitely got to check that one off the list.  Anyway I walked down Broadway to the river & it was mostly just bars & kitschy shops so I didn’t hang around long.  I went over to the Parthenon at Centennial Park.  It’s a full-scale replica built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, complete with 42-foot statue of Athena.  The building also houses an art museum & plaster casts of the original Parthenon Marbles (sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles but that’s a whole rant I won’t get into today).  I ended my day at Belle Meade Plantation, which started off as a single cabin on 250 acres purchased by John Harding in 1807.  The property was right on the Natchez Trace, the main trading route between Tennessee & Mississippi.  The farm eventually became a successful thoroughbred breeding & racing operation that allowed Harding to build a large brick house.  John’s son William expanded the house & property before being one of just a few Confederate prisoners sent to the fort where I used to work on Mackinac Island!  The mansion & grounds were very cool & in the middle of a fancy-pants part of town so when I was done with my tour I basically just drove around staring at rich people’s houses.

On Day 11 it rained.  It rained alllll day.  So I headed down the road from my campground to do some indoor exploring.  Gaylord Opryland is a resort & convention center but it’s also basically a jungle inside a building.  There’s 3 sections of garden, complete with waterfalls & a river, all protected from the elements by giant glass domes.  It’s amazing & beautiful & free as long as you park at the shopping mall next door & walk over because parking on site costs a bajillion dollars ($27 – seriously) unless you want to eat at one of the expensive restaurants or stay in the expensive rooms.

On Day 12 I did what I do at least once on every single trip I ever take & went to the zoo.  The Nashville Zoo isn’t huge but has plenty to see, including an aviary with a sloth & a whole pen of guinea pigs that are pretty darn cute.  Plus of course lots of large African animals, monkeys, reptiles, & big cats (I didn’t take many pictures there.  I have no idea why.).  In one corner is the Grassmere Historic Home, which offers tours & a chance to pet heritage breeds of farm animals.

Next Week: nature & Superman in Paducah, Kentucky!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 2

2018.06.24.021Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 22nd – June 26th

Stop 1 | Stop 3Stop 4 | Stop 5

ALL THE BATTLEFIELDS.

Seriously I visited so many things related to the Civil War in the second leg of my trip.  On day 5, on the way from Forsyth to Chattanooga, I finally stopped at Sweetwater Creek State Park, another Atlanta site that I’ve been meaning to go to for years.  The park is beautiful but I was really there to see the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company textile mill which was destroyed during the Civil War.  The burned out brick building along the river is so picturesque that it was used as a film set in the Hunger Games.  The interior unfortunately is closed off but it’s an easy hike to see them & the museum at the visitor’s center has a model of the ruin along with several very nice exhibits of the machinery from the days when the mill was in use.

 

 

On Day 6 I took a short trip my steam locomotive at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.  Chattanooga was a rail hub of the south during the Civil War so a lot of the sites that aren’t battlefields have to do with trains.  Which are usually presented in their relationships to battlefields.  Anyway the train trip was fun, aside from the guy who made train noises THE. WHOLE. TIME.  At the opposite end of the tracks from the main rail yard the museum has a workshop where they repair historic trains from all over the country.  They also have a turntable which they use to switch the engine around & that was really cool to watch.  That trip was only about a hour but if you’re really into historic trains they also have an all day trip that goes all the way to Summerville, Georgia.  In the afternoon I went for a hike at Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, where parts of the trail follow the original route of the Trail of Tears.  It was a sobering experience to walk on those paths.  (Be careful not to accidentally wander onto the grounds of the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute like I almost did!)

 

 

On Day 7 I took another short rail trip, this time on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the steepest funicular railway in the U.S.  It runs at a 72.7% grade up the side of Lookout Mountain (home to a battlefield) with beautiful views of the city & surroundings all the way up the incline & from the observation tower at the top.  It’s actually a legit form of public transit used by locals, especially in the winter – it’s certainly safer than driving down the mountain in the snow.  Coming back down off the mountain I headed back into Georgia to the Chickamauga Battlefield (the Chickamauga & Lookout Mountain Battlefields plus Moccasin Bend, Chattanooga National Cemetery, & a couple of other properties collectively form Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park).  Chickamauga has like 762,000 monuments, pretty much one for every single regiment that came anywhere near the war.  I did the cell phone tour, where you drive around the loop & call in to hear the audio tour.  I didn’t stop to see every single monument but I did climb up to the Wilder Brigade Monument for a panoramic view of the whole area.  They also have an insane firearms collection at the visitor’s center, I’m not kidding when I say I think they have every type of gun ever made (at least up until the collection was donated in the 1950s).

 

 

Day 8 was dedicated to a totally different activity – a drive to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.  This place is A.MAZ.ING.  It’s like a garage sale, thrift store, junk shop, all rolled into one & on steroids.  It’s literally a huge warehouse full of everything that gets left on planes AND YOU CAN BUY IT.  HOW some of this stuff gets lost I will never know.  The walls have permanent displays of some of the weirder things – ethnic headdresses, musical instruments, priceless antiques.  I think those must be the things that airlines lose entirely (which is pretty wild, I mean how many people are flying with giant Alpine horns that nobody can reunite that with its owner?); there most be some intense angry airline customer stories behind some of it.  Then there’s the stuff that’s for sale – wedding dresses, cameras, laptops, jewelry, mountains of clothing & purses, it just goes on and on and on.  THEN, there’s a warehouse behind the main warehouse where they have clearance stuff & lost commercial shipments so there hundreds of rolls of toilet paper or a zillion tubes of toothpaste.  I bought a charger pack for my phone, a head band for my GoPro, & a practically new U.S. atlas for like $15.

 

 

Next week: historic sites & wild animals in Nashville!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 1

2018.06.20.034Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Forsyth, Georgia, June 18th – June 22nd

Stop 2 | Stop 3Stop 4 | Stop 5

About 6 weeks after I graduated from USF I was offered my first job on an archaeological project & headed out on a cross-country adventure from my home in Florida to the job site in Wisconsin.  On Day 1 I drove a little over 350 miles from Hernando, FL to Forsyth, GA, with a stop in Thomasville, home of the Big Oak.  The Big Oak is just that, a 300+ year old live oak tree which has grown to a height of 68 feet & a trunk circumference of 27.5 feet.  I really developed my obsession with KOA cabins on this trip – I bought a membership & it really paid off, 10% off each night plus I earned enough points to get a discount on my way back to Florida & even another whole year of membership for free!  The one in Forsyth is pretty nice, & the location halfway between Atlanta & Macon was great for visiting sites in both cities & the surrounding area.

On Day 2 I visited the beautiful historic downtown area of Macon, which has several historic homes open for tours.  This time through I visited The Cannonball House, which is named after the projectile that came through the living room wall during the Civil War (even though it wasn’t actually a cannonball!).  A few miles away is the prehistoric mound site at Ocmulgee National Monument, which has a museum and recreated earth lodge built around an original 1,000-year-old floor.

On Day 3 I finally made it to Georgia Aquarium!  After years of driving back & forth, each time thinking I’ll go see the whale sharks & then deciding I didn’t feel like dealing with Atlanta, this time I finally went.  It was AMAZING, I could seriously sit there & watch the whale sharks swim around all day, it’s very calming in the dark theater with the blue water & these super chill animals just drifting slowly around their tank.  Apparently they were shipped in from Thailand via UPS, just like all the junk I buy on Amazon.  They have tons of other stuff to see as well, including a dolphin show (avoid the first 10 rows if you don’t want to get wet), sea lions, penguins, & thousands of fish from a variety of ecosystems.

On the way back to Forsyth I stopped at High Falls State Park, which has some nice trails along a river as well as an abandoned ruin of a power plant.  It’s fenced off but the profusion of graffiti says that a lot of people ignore said fence.  It’s still really cool to see though.  On Day 4 I had lunch in Juliette (where parts of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed at the Whistle Stop Cafe & they never let you forget it) & stopped by the historic Jarrell Plantation, where all of the original buildings are open for visiting.  It was owned by the same family for 140 years before the founder’s descendants donated the property to the state.  Also they have goats to pet, & it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Next week: trains & battlefields in Chattanooga!

Destination: Round Island Lighthouse

Round Island is part of Hiawatha National Forest, is entirely uninhabited, and really doesn’t have any tourism to speak of.  Occasionally someone will take a kayak across the channel, or we’ll see a bonfire on the beach, but for the most part it’s pretty forlorn, the lighthouse locked up tight, nobody around.  One day a year the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, together with Boy Scout Troop 323 of Freeland, Michigan, open it up for tours.  The tour itself is free, but if you don’t have your own way across transportation from Mackinac costs $15.  First they put seven people into a smallish fishing boat, then they transferred us into two inflatable Zodiac rafts.  I wish I’d been wearing lighter pants, I was siting right in the bow and my jeans didn’t get dry the whole time I was there.

Nobody really took care of it from the time it was decommissioned in 1958 until a storm swept away a whole corner of the building in 1972, and people started to realize they might lose it forever.  They kept it from collapsing then but the interior is still in desperate need of reconstruction.  Holes in the walls, holes in the floors, but it’s a beautiful building.  Boy Scouts throughout the building talked about the history all the way up.  The first floor housed the two massive compressors that created steam to run the foghorn, the second and third floors were living quarters for the keeper, his assistant, and their families.  Some of the bedrooms had the foghorn right outside the windows – I’m sure that was fun to sleep through.  On the fourth floor there’s just a ladder up into the lantern room, and from there a tiny hatch opening out onto the deck.

While I was there a woman named Gertie came to the island.  She’s 90 years old, and her father was once the lighthouse keeper.  She spent a handful of summers living here as a girl, and sat for a long time telling us about carrying water up from the lake, the things her sisters found walking the beach, and making whatever fun you could in such a lonely place.  We moved into what had once been her bedroom, and while she spoke a floorboard broke out from under her daughter’s foot.

Going inside Round Island Light is a rare opportunity, and one that I passed up too many times.  I probably spend three hours wandering through it and listening to Gertie’s stories.  It would be nice to see it restored someday, but the money and effort involved with such an undertaking may be too much.  In the meantime we’ll just have to love it as a beautiful ruin.

Destination: Drummond Island

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Drive an hour from St. Ignace, to the very eastern corner of the Upper Peninsula, onto the Drummond Islander IV in De Tour Village, and land in paradise.

Paradise with nobody in it.

Paradise with cool abandoned stuff.

Paradise with lots of trees & wildflowers.

Seriously.

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Ferry passage for a car and the driver is only $14.  It was shocking how much stuff they put on that boat – cars towing boats, fifth-wheel campers, I even saw a semi towing a huge excavator waiting to board.  I spent two nights at the semi-rustic Township Park campground, a spot with electricity is $16/night.  The first night I couldn’t sleep, so I laid awake listening to loons call.  Bring a canoe or kayak if you’ve got one, there’s all sorts of little outlying islands, including Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge.  There’s also plenty of hiking and four-wheeling trails.  A lot of roads on the map unfortunately are signed as private roads, so I couldn’t explore as much as I wanted to :(.  There’s no shortage of services here, the main intersection in town has a grocery store, hardware store, and dry goods shop that all seem to be owned by the same family, and there’s plenty of restaurants, hotels, and campgrounds.  I think the gas station had as wide a variety as our grocery store here on Mackinac.

Destination: St. Louis

 

St. Louis is, weirdly enough, the only city I’ve ever been in where I saw an actual tent community on an empty lot.  It’s also the only city I’ve ever been in where entire buildings were painted with murals and Roman columns.


The Gateway Arch

For anyone unfamiliar with St. Louis, the Arch is exactly that: a gigantic steel structure randomly sticking up from the bank of the Mississippi, holding up nothing.  It’s actually part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the nearby Old Courthouse.  They’re doing some work on the museum underneath the Arch, so until that reopens the Courthouse is acting as the museum/visitor’s center/ticketing location.  I opted for the Arch + river cruise combo for $25 ($22 with a NPS pass).  After checking out the incredible dome and somewhat comical dioramas in the Courthouse I hopped aboard the not-so-imaginatively named Becky Thatcher for a narrated 1-hour trip up & down the Mighty Mississippi.  Our captain told us some of the history of the area and pointed out some interesting things along the way, including river traffic, abandoned buildings, and a casino that filled its basement with river water to comply with the law that all casinos must be “on the river”.  I guess it works.

Disembarking from the boat, I headed back up the Grand Staircase (being sure to find the 33rd one, the high-water mark of past flood) and headed down into the heart of the Arch.  Getting in here only costs $3, but while the museum is out of commission there’s really only the documentary movie.  The cool thing to do is to head to the observation deck on the weirdest elevator ride in town, up through the leg of the Arch itself ($10).  The elevators are these crazy little round pods with 5 seats that tilt & ratchet themselves along with the leaning leg of the arch, with windows in the doors that offer a great view of the inner workings of the building.  The visitor’s center in the Courthouse has a sample one set up for anybody who’s not sure if they can handle the confined space.  It takes 4 minutes to get to the top, but only 3 to get back down (yay gravity!), and they run about every ten minutes.  The view from the top is of course spectacular, with one side facing out over the city and the other across the river into Illinois.  I stayed up there for a long time watching people and cars, and looking for whatever little oddities I could spot.  Click here for a short video I shot on the way down.  (It’s not the greatest, but hey.)


St. Louis Zoo

The zoo itself is free, but they charge a huge amount for parking in the lots.  I was lucky enough to find a single open spot on the street that I didn’t have to pay for.  It’s a surprisingly nice zoo for not costing anything.  I only had time and energy to cover about half of it.  I really liked the insect house, although I was careful to avoid the employee walking around with a hissing cockroach asking people if they wanted to pet it.  One of the coolest things was a display of ants: they had the ant nest on one side of the box and the food on the other side, with a winding vine in between that the ants walked on.  I could have stared at them for hours, going back and forth with their little leaf pieces.  I also enjoyed the indoor penguin habitat (bring a jacket, the climate is for the penguins, not the humans!) and the seal tunnel.  There’s a train ride through the zoo ($5) that I didn’t go on but I’m sure it’s fun.