Downstream update

Update:

The ranger talk in the Carillon tower on Stephen Foster turned out to be a jam session with bluegrass, country and folk musicians with music interspersed with Stephen Foster-related commentary by the mandolin playing Park ranger. There were also a couple of banjos, guitars, another mandolin, and a squeeze box (concertina) played by a woman who also played the spoons. Such fun, a unique and rare experience!

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Saturday, April 21st. We got back on I-75 south for a couple of hours, and then connected to the turnpike at Wildwood for a few miles until getting off at the infamous US-27S. The bad reputation of this road was well merited as we stopped and started, sat at traffic lights in lines of idling traffic, and generally inched our way for another 2 hours through the welter of suburbs that sprang up in the Disney-fication of central Florida, from the Villages in the north to Lake Wales in the south. After that, the road opened up a bit as the countryside became more rural again and we passed the city limits of Sebring on the shores of Lake Jackson, lined with all the usual big box stores: Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, even an Aldi’s. Highlands Hammock is several miles off US27 on a County Road and when we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the campground was packed with campers, tents, kids on bikes, families grilling… I think ours was the last vacant spot and it was a very tight fit mostly because of all our neighbors’ trucks and other equipment hemming us in. Some of our neighbors (2 brothers, Byron and Brent) helped Scott back into the campsite, and the neighbor in the opposite site moved his truck so we would have enough room to do so. Even so, our trailer sustained a scrape and a dent on the side below the slide-out. But the site was fairly level after all, and the water and electric hookups worked fine, so we set up with no further problems and then unhitched and went to the nearby Aldi’s for supplies. We had the fan on all night so if there was any nighttime noise in the campground, we never heard it. 

Sunday, April 22nd. The campground started emptying out this morning, and by the afternoon, we were among the few still here. Without the crush of other campers, we can appreciate that it’s actually a lovely setting in an oak shaded hammock. We took a short walk on the Alan Altvater Trail that makes a loop on the east end of the campground through a classic scrub environment of slash pine and saw palmetto, with lots of other interesting familiar scrub plants like paw paw, fetterbush, rusty lyonia, etc. They do prescribed burns here every 2-5 years. We had signed up for an 11a.m. tram tour so we walked over to the CCC Museum to wait for the tram which turned out to be about 1/2 hour late and then we and an entire Girl Scout troop piled into the tram and we drove through an area normally closed to the public on the south and east park boundaries. The tour consisted of the volunteer driver stopping every few minutes to point out clutches of baby alligators on the banks of the moat that forms the park boundary. This got old pretty quickly, plus her knowledge about anything other than Gators was pretty vague. “There’s a hawk.” “There’s a butterfly.” “There’s a turtle….” We did see a juvenile barn owl, which was pretty cool. We rested for a while back at the trailer, waiting for it to cool off a bit in the late afternoon. Then we took off again and drove the park loop, stopping to hike on several of the trails through some beautiful old growth oak and cypress hammock. Very few people were around, the breeze picked up, some rain clouds threatened but did not let loose, and it was another of those moments of quiet magic, communing with nature.

Monday, April 23th. A day of exploration and discovery! We set off to find natural areas in this region of the Lake Wales Ridge. We knew that the Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge is not open to the public because of the  extremely endangered habitat it encompasses, but we saw on the map other contiguous areas administered by state and local agencies which did seem to be open to the public: the Carter Creek Tract, Royce Unit, Hickory Hammock… etc. We were able to drive on the road next to the LWRNWR, but never really found an entrance to any trails in any of the other areas.A89DF9F1-E768-44FB-97A2-559BAD05F158.jpeg We drove around Lake Istokpoga, stopped at a public boat launch, drove around some of the residential areas nearby. Then we drove towards Lake Placid and stopped at a little local park called Windy Ridge on the west shore of Istokpoga, took a short trail and noted evidence of enduring damage from Hurricane Irma, blue tarps still on roofs, many trees down, piles of debris. 46D4DC64-6DC6-49C1-A9D9-D52829E89D59In Lake Placid, a nice little town, we stopped for some lunch at Good News Cafe, a smoothie and sandwich place with many vegetarian/vegan options, and it’s across the street from a yoga studio.

Scenes from Lake Placid:

Then we drove around Lake Placid environs trying to find Lake June in Winter State Park, realized we were reading the map wrong, retraced our steps and finally did find the small, pretty, deserted park on the shore of Its namesake lake. We took the very short 1/4 mile Tomoka Trail, then wandered down to the lakeshore and admired the clear, tannin stained water.

Drove back north on US27 to Sebring. Parked in the historic district where the streets radiate out from a circular park plaza. Circa the same era and style of architecture as San Marco Square in Jacksonville, albeit smaller scale, and with a similar mix of thriving, surviving, and barely hanging on businesses, along with some empty storefronts.

We stopped at a vintage/retro ice cream parlor and shared a cup of vanilla ice cream. Do we know how to party or what?

Drove around trying to find the original residential neighborhood surrounding the plaza, but didn’t find much of it. We did find some of the original older homes on the east shore of Lake Jackson. Back to Highlands Hammock for our last night there.

Tuesday, April 24th. Walked to the CCC museum to leave a couple of books in their book exchange box, and then to Hammock Inn to ask if there are laundry facilities here. Learned that yes, they are in one of the restrooms in our campground, so went back and gathered our laundry. We were able to finish by our 1 p.m. checkout time, even though one of the dryers was on the fritz and we had to combine dryer loads. While I waited for the laundry, Scott took off to get air in the truck tires and had his own adventure in the process.

Finally got packed up and on the road south on US27 for the 1+ hour drive to Fisheating Creek WMA concession campground. Our originally assigned campsite was nicely shaded under oak trees, but small, uneven, right next to the RR tracks and the road, so we got permission to switch, and did so. After setting up we had some lunch, rested, and then explored the campground, which has some of the prettiest tent campsites right on Fisheating Creek. There is also a canoe-kayak rental with a shuttle service that takes you 8 miles upstream so you can paddle back down.

Wednesday, April 25th. Before taking off this morning, we stopped at the office to ask about a kayak rental for tomorrow, but we were told that the water level is too low now, with many sandbars, portages and lots of gators, and they recommend waiting another 3 months until the rainy season. So we took off for the 18 mile drive back north to Archbold Biological Research Station. 

We have heard and read and talked about ABRS for many years and given its special history and impact and relative proximity to home, we should have been shunned by the local community for avoiding it. But, we had. Until now. Weather cool. Sun bright. Surrounded by orange groves and cattle farms, they have managed to save or restore close to 100,000 acres of exemplary Florida scrub. Compared to the full extent of this truly unique ecosystem that existed when the Belle Glade culture thrived here, only 17% remains.

ABRS is a rare combination of tourist attraction, world class research facility, educational institution and of course, refuge for countless, endemic, rare and endangered flora and fauna. Many notable ecologists have visited, studied, researched and written here. 

The newest buildings have the highest LEEDS scores and every energy and water and recycling method they use is described in enthusiastic detail.

Picnic tables are covered in laminated pictures of plants and animals… each table describes a different micro ecology within its perimeters. We see volunteers leading groups, including an ESOL class from South Florida State College, and we take alternate paths to walk in relative solitude. 

A perfect time of the year to be here, aside from the low water levels in Fisheating Creek at our campground, putting on hold our aim of kayaking 50 miles downstream.

A small price to pay, for it is Spring, and we see many flowering plants, and in the mornings at least, it is still cool.

We take in 2 miles or so of trails along narrow, sandy paths. 

Florida ecosystems are a study in remarkable changes as a result of seemingly minor changes in altitude and water. This area is in the South end of the famous Florida Lake Wales Ridge… that relatively high set of dunes that remained above sea level as water levels rose. At times the Dunes were Islands, fostering an isolation that created ecologies like no where else on earth. Hundreds of highly specialized fungi, pollinating beetles and their associated plants and, higher up the food chain, the gopher tortoise, the remarkable Florida scrub jay, and many others. We like it. Standard oil. Roeblings. Talked with the education coordinator, a young man from NY named Dustin Angell. Asked him if there were any copies available of the large maps of the Lake Wales Ridge natural areas that are mounted on the wall in the Learning Center, and he agreed to email them to me, which he did! He lives in Sebring, on the same road we drove alongside the LWRNWR, Riverdale Road. 

After lunch and rest back at the trailer, and in the relative cool of the early evening, we walked along the 1.6 mile loop of the Knobby Knees Trail, the name referring to the prominent cypress knees all along the path following the course of Fisheating Creek. We could see how low the water is now, forming shallow pools of stranded fish, attractive to wading birds. We flushed a large limpkin, a couple of Osceola turkey, 3 white tailed deer, and heard but did not see some woodpeckers, doves, owls and a fish crow. Beautiful walk in an old oak and cypress hammock next to the creek. 

Tomorrow: Fort Center archaeological site in Moore Haven. From the brochure on Recreation Guide to Fisheating Creek WMA: In 1926, a hunter observed a wooden carving of an eagle in the muck of a small pond near Fisheating Creek.

The carving was sent to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, and eventually led to an extraordinary excavation of a pond at Fort Center. Bundles of human remains were found, along with the remnants of a wooden platform, decorated with wooden carvings of wildlife including life-size cats, a bear, foxes, eagles and wading birds. … The earthworks at Fort Center include mounds, ponds, circular ditches and, linear embankments, typical of others found in the Okeechobee basin. These structures were built over a period of at least 2000 years. Occupying the site prior to A.D. 200 were close to 100 people who lived on small mounds to keep their homes above flood waters. … Despite thousands of years of prehistoric human occupation, this site was named for Lieutenant J.P. Center, who occupied a cabbage palm fortification here during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).67B137D0-667D-4FB4-A31A-38553D55864B

Thursday, April 26th. Unbeknownst to us, the cooler was plugged in all night and thus drained the truck battery. So when we jumped in the truck to drive to Fort Center… nada. But Scott, ever resourceful, read the truck manual, and then jump started the truck from one of the trailer batteries, and we were on our way! Perhaps coincidentally, the Malfunction Indicator Light came on then, and in the manual it said this might be caused by poor quality fuel… in Sebring, we had gotten biodiesel, and we were concerned that this might be an issue, and perhaps it was. In any event, 18 miles later, down US27S, up 78E, and finally west on a shell rock road called Banana Grove Rd., (although no bananas were in sight) we arrived at a small parking area with 2 privies and an information kiosk, next to the FWC administrative office in Moore Haven. It took us a while to figure out that there is in fact a trail to the Fort Center site, and to find the trail head, which passes by the FWC maintenance facilities surrounded by chainlink fence topped with loops of razor wire. The trail starts out behind a chained gate, a continuation of the shell rock road with info kiosks spaced every 1/3 mile or so. It was sunny and clear with a cool breeze. We walked along the straight, sandy road between cow pastures for about 1.5 miles. But THEN! F10C6D35-B201-4A3C-83AA-7514A935B243

We are now accustomed to the subtle and often profound changes that can take place over short walks, and we could see that there was gradually an increase in the sizes of plants, with the occasional live oaks. From subtle to dramatic, we were abruptly inside a dark, beautiful oak hammock… snaking, twisted oak branches festooned with Spanish moss (a lichen) and hairy with ferns ; the temperature dropped and a cool breeze wafted through these oaks, amid a mixture of very tall sabal palms and slash pine, and many remnant citrus trees heavy with fruit.

We were struck simultaneously with a sense of quiet reverence, and we shared reflections on how respectful and grateful we felt, and how it might have been to call such a place home, those thousands of years ago. We took a side trail to the site of the Belle Glade People’s burial ground, originally a wooden platform designed to hold human remains, built over a small pond dug for this purpose. But at some point the platform burned and the remains were moved to a sandy mound constructed nearby. All this is still here, marked on the main trail with only a directional arrow and binoculars symbol without any text. The remains have been removed, and the pond is now just a damp depression in the ground, lined with sunken rows of rusting chainlink we assume to discourage artifact hunters. C1CB07DB-C478-4F92-8FC0-176F37491155The sandy mound is just to the north of the pond, near an info kiosk explaining what you are seeing. Once again, we are filled with the fervent awareness: how fleeting are the works of humankind!08C8BF4C-9F1A-4AC3-98B3-BA6933724F6F

This feeling is reinforced a bit further as we reach the end of the 2+ mile trail and find the solitary sign for Fort Center standing in the middle of an empty field on the shore of Fisheating Creek. There is a picnic table under an oak tree, and the fenced pastures of the Lykes cattle operation across the creek. This was once a fortification made of sabal Palm logs, and served as a military base in the Seminole Wars. Nothing remains. 

We rested a while at the picnic table, and then walked back, still blessed by that amazing cool breeze, and thinking how lucky we are compared with the unfortunate soldier who in April of 1855 recorded the unrelenting heat and billions of mosquitoes there at Fort Center. We stopped to rest at each of the 3 kiosks along the shell rock road (there are 8 altogether: 2 at the parking lot and  3 more in the oak hammock before the site of Fort Center), and looking out over the distant pastures to the wide sky with spectacular cloudscapes, we thought how amazing it would be to come back here in summer, and watch a thunderstorm from this spot. 52BA680F-74C0-4FB2-8BB8-1AD5CD765790

When we got back to the FWC office, I stopped to thank them for making this special place available to us, and to let them know that Kiosk #7 had been knocked over and was upside down. We like the fact that there is no vehicle traffic allowed on the shellrock road to the oak hammock, so that people can’t just drive up to the site and jump out of their cars, stay 10 minutes, read the signs and drive back out again. You have to work a bit to get there, and this adds to the feeling that during those 2+ miles you are walking back in time…

We got gas in Moore Haven, and then returned to our campground, passing a sign on US27-N pointing to “Ortona Indian Mounds;” this will be for another day. When we got back to the trailer and checked our email, we found a message from Dodge saying that our truck had detected an issue that required our attention: “Your vehicle’s Malfunction Indicator Light recently indicated your vehicle needs service.

“WARNING: Prolonged driving with the Malfunction Indicator Light on could cause damage to the engine control system. If the Malfunction Indicator Light is flashing, severe catalytic converter damage and power loss will soon occur. Have your vehicle serviced at your dealership immediately.” (Ours was not flashing.) What a smart truck! It also reported our current tire pressure and helpfully provided us with a link to “Find a Dealer!” Happily, after we got gas (low-sulfur diesel) today in Moore Haven, the Malfunction Indicator Light turned off, so perhaps it was caused by the biodiesel. A learning experience!

Friday, April 27th. We took a farewell walk around the Fisheating Creek campground this morning, and found the “Swimming Hole” which has been closed because of an algae bloom for a few weeks, although there was no sign of algae there this morning. Also some more pretty tent sites. We found out that you can boondock on a tent site if your RV fits, and as long as it doesn’t block the view of the water. After lunch, we cleaned up, packed up and left at 12:40 for the 1+ hour drive west across the state past LaBelle on 80 to Fort Myers and then south on I-75 to Estero. LaBelle is a surprisingly pretty farm town with mature oaks shading the side streets. In Estero, Koreshan Historic Site State Park is 2 miles west of the interstate, a quiet leafy holdout surrounded by the encroaching congestion of suburbia. After setting up quite handily, we drove 3/4 mile to the local Publix for supplies, had some snacks and a rest. 

Southbound!

Saturday, April 14th. Mammoth Cave National Park, day 3. Rainy day! Good day for a cave tour, but the only ones we hadn’t already done were sold out. We wanted to do several hikes, but made do with driving around and looking at the trailheads of a couple of them. We also saw the old Joppa community church and cemetery on the Brownsville Road, and managed to stroll around the short, 4/10 mile Sloan‘s Pond boardwalk in between the raindrops. Later in the day, the rain let up so we took the Whites Cave trail from the campground up past Mammoth Dome Sink and around back to the Visitor Center—about 1.6 miles. 

Sunday, April 15th. Sad to leave the beautiful campground, we headed for I-65S and drove over 180 miles, a relatively light driving day, out of Kentucky, through Tennessee and over the Tennessee River into Decatur, Alabama. Set up in a thickly populated community park, Point Mallard. $20. Unhitched, drove 3 miles back toward town to get gas and groceries at the local Walmart. The front that produced the rain in Kentucky yesterday followed us and pushed cold air this way (into the high 30s overnight!) so we had to keep the heater on. Tomorrow will be another light day, another 180 miles past Montgomery, Alabama to the Gunter Hill Army Corps of Engineers campground.

Monday, April 16th. Still cold and gray when we awake, but as we drove south the sun appeared and by the time we took a rest stop south of Birmingham, it was brilliant and clear with temps in the 50s. The Gunter Hill Campground is about 10miles off the interstate south of Montgomery, hidden away in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever seen! $9 for a site with water and electric with our senior pass!!

Wooded, large level sites on the banks of Lake Woodruff, a backwater of the Alabama River. We set up, made a yummy lunch of basmati rice and veggies garnished with an egg, and then set off to explore the campground. Had a beautiful walk through the woods along the lakeshore, taking pix of spring wildflowers, some of which we recognized (clematis, zephyr lily) and some not. Had a light dinner of corn tortillas with melted cheese. Some vegan days… some lacto days. Today was one of the latter!

Tuesday, April 17th. Today we drove due South from Montgomery into the Florida panhandle on back roads, a great relief after several days of interstate driving. We entered Florida very near the place where last year we climbed the highest point in Florida near Paxton — 345 feet above sea level! From there it was about an hour’s drive to Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State park in Niceville. We set up in a beautiful oak shaded campsite a few feet from the shore of Rocky Bayou on Chocktawhatchee Bay. We did laundry in machines outside the bathhouse, waiting for the loads to finish while admiring the view through the trees and out over the Bayou. Never before had we enjoyed such bucolic scenery while doing laundry! Then we drove 3 miles down SR 20 to a Walmart and Publix to stock up on supplies, including a foam mattress topper and mattress pad, doing our best to be good American consumers and keep the economy afloat.

Wednesday, April 18th. Back to Walmart to return one of the items we bought yesterday, to Publix for a few more sundries, and to Supercuts where Scott got a haircut. Then we drove over the Mid-Bay bridge, a long causeway over Chocktawhatchee Bay, and into Destin, then west along SR 98 into Fort Walton Beach, our destination. This whole area is a heavily developed tourist beach Mecca, a schlocky composite of Fort Lauderdale and Disney environs. Our first stop was at a Planet Fitness in a shopping plaza in Mary Esther, FL, just west of Fort Walton Beach. We worked out, showered, and then drove back into Fort Walton Beach to the Indian Temple Mound Museum. This is a group of four small museums administered by the city of FWB, including the Indian Artifacts gallery, the old schoolhouse museum, the old post office museum, and a civil war exhibit, all arrayed around the actual ceremonial mound built by people of the Mississippian culture and occupied by people of successive ancestral cultures over thousands of years, with the gallery focusing on the artifacts of the Mississippian culture of about 500-1200 AD. Some of these are astonishing, unique, displayed nowhere else.

There was also a lot of information about the vast trade networks of these cultures, and we learned for the first time of the central importance of the (new word to us) busycon (lightning whelk) shells as trade currency. There were wonderful examples of the incised and stamped ceramics of the Weedon culture which we had encountered last year during our visit to Letchworth-Love and Lake Jackson Archaeological Parks near Tallahassee, and which inspired us to add this Indian Temple Mound Museum to our list of places to see. What a worthwhile visit! We also enjoyed a tour of the old schoolhouse provided by volunteer docent Bruce, who gave us a lively account of the history of the structure.

Drove the back way to Niceville through Elgin AFB, avoiding the congestion of the beachside road. After lunch we did more laundry, took a couple of short hikes, played Words with Friends, had some snacks, and started looking at the map in preparation for our 4 hour drive tomorrow, mostly on I-10, to Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park Campground.

Thursday, April 19th. Only a four hour drive today, but it felt like longer because it was mostly interstate driving on I-10E with stops only at three rest areas. Our campsite #31 is in beautiful, oak-shaded Suwannee Loop; Canebreak and Gopher Loops are also under the huge old live oak trees draped with Spanish Moss, so typical of north Florida. We walked around the three loops in the campground this evening after dinner. We turned on the AC for the first time this afternoon, and it cooled things down nicely. Whiplash — Last week in Ohio, temps in the 30s! Tomorrow we’ll explore this park, which offers canoe rentals on the Suwannee River, the gateway to The Suwannee River Wilderness trail, a craft village square featuring local artisans at work, a Carillon tower pealing out Stephen Foster songs (now not in service, however), a Museum, something called Nelly Bly’s Kitchen, and a gift shop! Here we are in our campsite, with the sun streaming through the oak trees.

Friday, April 20th. What a beautiful day in such a lovely place! We started by taking a long walk on part of the Florida Trail that runs through Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park along the banks of the Suwannee River. Too beautiful for words… perfect weather, peaceful surroundings. This is the site of the annual Florida Folk Festival every Memorial Day weekend, so in a month this place will be jammin’! But today, all was serene.

We rested briefly back at the trailer and then walked past the Carillon to the Stephen Foster Museum, enjoyed the intricate dioramas based on Stephen Foster song titles, and a video presentation describing the history of the park and the surrounding community of White Springs. Then we walked to the Craft Square and Gift Shop featuring crafts made by local artisans. There are several cabins around the Square with artists demonstrating their work in a couple of them. We were treated to several dulcimer songs played by Barb Godfrey of Arkansas who spends the winter here in the park with her photographer husband.

The activity for tonight is a ranger talk in the Carillon tower on Stephen Foster. Tomorrow, we hit the road again. Destination: Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, FL.

Mammoth Cave National Park, day 2, part 2

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Scenes from the Historic Tour:

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Ranger Tom giving his introduction at the historic entrance to the cave.

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Original tulip-poplar logs, hand bored and used as a flume in the saltpeter mining operations in the cave. Saltpeter was mined as a source of nitrate, used in the manufacture of gunpowder. From the NPS brochure: “Before the War of 1812, enslaved persons mined large quantities of this mineral.” Relics of the mine can be seen on this tour.

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A famously narrow passage, bane of claustrophobes.

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Very different geology from the caves we visited last summer (Carlsbad, Timpanogos, Lewis & Clark Caverns)…

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Exiting the historic entrance at the end of the tour.

Scenes from the Domes and Dripstones tour.

This tour started with a 4 mile bus ride to the “New Entrance,” opened in 1921, as opposed to the historic entrance near the Visitor Center, which was used by Late Archaic and Early Woodland Indians between 2000 and 4000 years ago, and then by European-American settlers in the 1790s. This section of the cave contains most of the classic cave formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, popcorn, flowstone, etc.

Ended the day with a Ranger program at the Campground amphitheater on Bees.

Mammoth Cave National Park, day 2, part 1

Before our 11 a.m. Cave tour, Scott readjusted the trunnion style anti-sway hitch that had been installed too high at the dealership, making it almost impossible to get it on and off.

The height of the ball hitch on the truck may also need to be adjusted, but one variable at a time!

Our campsite is steps away from the campstore and post office. Did a few administrative chores before getting ready to walk back to the Visitor Center for our tour.

 

Early Days

Thursday, April 12th. Packed up, hitched up and got ready for our first long day on the road in our new trailer! Bypassed Cincinnati and headed south on 71 past Louisville onto I-65. Interstate roads very hilly, rough. Major truck traffic. But our truck and trailer did fine. We had called the Mammoth Cave National Park Campground as recommended to make sure there were campsites available, since this early in the season there are no reservations taken, and Tammy assured us that this is a quiet time in the campground. This is a primitive campground like most national park campgrounds, with no hookups, so when we pulled up to the ranger station at the entrance to the campground we were surprised to be asked if we wanted full hookups! $25/night for us oldsters with our Senior Pass. Sure, sign us up! Although we had been looking forward to testing out the boondocking capabilities of this trailer… we couldn’t pass up the convenience of FHU. Apparently there are only 2 such sites here and we figure they are reserved for the Camp Hosts who stay here during the summer.

Here is the view from our doorway:

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After setting up, we walked five minutes to the Visitor Center and bought tickets for 2 Cave tours tomorrow:3AC355F2-4EAD-4D4F-A543-1FA3324AA041

Enjoyed the typically wonderful visitor center exhibits about the history and geology of the Cave. About 390 miles of passages have so far been surveyed, encompassing an area only 7 miles wide! Took a few short hikes around the Visitor Center, and after dinner around the campground.

Our Big Day… and the next one

Tuesday, April 10th. Yellow Springs to Hamersville, OH. Another cold, overcast day for the 90 minutes drive on interesting rural back roads. Arrived just before 11 a.m. Prominent sign on cabinet in office: “Jesus is coming soon.” Scott restrained himself from asking, “And what RV will he be buying?” Mike Jones introduced himself and his wife Pam, and then Jeremy, an RV tech, gave us our pre-delivery inspection and run-through of all the trailer features and systems. Then a large check changed hands and we drove off with our new Nash 23D trailer hitched to the back of our truck for the 40 minute drive to East Fork State Park. Everything felt quite solid and steady. No one was staffing the park entrance booth, which Mike had told us to expect since it’s still early in the season. We found our campsite, with full hookups situated in a giant mud puddle, so we called the park office and got the ok to move our reservation to the next site in this virtually empty park with over 400 campsites. Pretty easy to back into this level, concrete pad, even without the trailer’s backup camera installed yet. This trailer has a hydraulic jack so there was minimal hand cranking involved in un-hitching — very fancy! There was a lot of hand cranking to lower the four stabilizers, which are essentially very sturdy scissors jacks. Almost everything about this is very sturdy, especially compared with our old Winnebago Micro Minnie. 

Still freezing cold outside, so we hooked up the water, electric and sewer, threw everything from the truck into the trailer, turned on the gas furnace and water heater to warm things up, had a snack of microwave popcorn, and jumped back in the truck for the 9 mile drive to the local Walmart to replace some of the necessities we sold along with our old trailer, like leveling blocks (although we don’t need them at this campsite), septic supplies, etc. We still need some surge protection and a few other items… 

Back at the trailer before dark, it was nice and warm inside, so we had a quick dinner of some pasta and soup and started putting things away and trying to make order. The shower was good and warm, the mattress a bit hard (we may switch it out), the campground dark and quiet, and we slept pretty well under our sleeping bags with the heat turned down to 65 degrees!

Wednesday, April 11th. Still chilly, but nice and sunny. Made oatmeal for breakfast, took our time getting ourselves together, and finally drove out to the boat ramp on William Harsha Lake, created by an earthen dam constructed by the Corps of Engineers for flood control. Judging by the mud and debris on and near the road (and a local newspaper article we subsequently found), the lake was recently about 30 above its normal level. There was a crowd of salvage (?)workers milling about by the shore, getting ready to GO DIVING in that cold, muddy water to bring up a sunken Ski-Doo. We were looking for a trail, any trail, which we finally found at a different boat ramp up the road from the campground. The Louisville Corps of Engineers website describes the Fern Hill trail as follows: “This moderate but challenging two-mile trail provides hilly terrain and many stream and ravine crossings. The trail is located just north of the Camper’s Beach parking lot.” It was very interesting to see evidence of major runoff and recent flooding near the trail head, but as the trail climbed, it was pretty dry, and we walked through dry oak, beach and hickory leaves typical of the eastern woodlands. About half way, the trail disappeared under the thick layer of leaves, and the previously plentiful trail blazers disappeared as well. We wandered around a bit, but then retraced our steps a short distance to a cutoff where the trail passed by one of the campground loops, walked out to the road and returned to our car that way. By then the day had warmed up so when we got back to the trailer, we turned off the heat and opened the windows and screen door. Made lunch (leftover pasta with sautéed veggies), read some of the trailer manuals, put up a few hooks and paper towel holder, cleaned up and relaxed!

More relaxation after dinner around the campfire!

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On the Road Again…

Ohio trip, April 2018

On Saturday, April 7th we set out on our way to Hamersville, Ohio to pick up our new Nash 23D travel trailer! First stop: McDonough, Georgia, a suburb about 20 miles south of Atlanta. We thought this 500+ mile drive would take about 8 hours, but there were about 4 major traffic jams on I-75, so that 8 hour trip turned into a 13 hour trip, and ended at 10:30 p.m. with us taking dark back roads in the rain using turn-by-turn directions texted to us in real time by our kind Airbnb hosts, Shelly and Mike Malikowski. 

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This was our review of our stay in their palatial home: “Shelly and Mike are wonderful, thoughtful hosts! They graciously accommodated our late arrival, quickly texting us turn-by-turn directions for an alternate route that allowed us to escape a traffic jam, and even offered us a glass of wine to welcome us after our long, difficult drive. The house is beautiful, in a gated community very conveniently located close to I-75 and many amenities. We had a restful, quiet night in our comfy bed, and enjoyed the breakfast left out for us in the kitchen: fresh fruit, homemade muffins and coffee. What a treat!” And this is Shelly’s review of us as guests: “Helen and Scott, a lovely couple, recently retired and loving life! Great conversation, especially when we were reminiscing about the older technology we grew up with compared to what we have now! Terrific couple! We hope to host them again and again.” A veritable love fest!

Sunday, April 8th. We left before 8:30 a.m. and the roads were blessedly clear  for many miles past Atlanta and into Tennessee. The scenery through North Georgia and Tennessee was lovely and we would like to return and spend more time exploring the area. We stopped for lunch at Little Bangkok Thai restaurant in a small shopping center near Knoxville, where there was also a “Blue Ridge Yoga” studio. 

There was only one major traffic incident… but it was a very serious one on I-75 near Georgetown, Kentucky — an overturned vehicle on the side of the road appeared to have hit a tree, people on the ground being tended to by emergency personnel, at least 3 other cars involved, many police vehicles, flashing lights, etc. We were very lucky to have come along only minutes after this happened, so we were near the front of the pack of stopped traffic, and we were waved on by police within 10-15 minutes. After that, the road was empty for many miles. We think only a few cars were allowed through so the emergency vehicles had enough room to move around. 

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Shortly thereafter we stopped at a rest area where, taped to all the ladies room stall doors, there were crackpot religious tracts calling Barack Obama the Anti-Christ. I tore down a few of them and threw them away, but I should have jotted down the “How are we doing?” contact info for the Kentucky Highway rest stop Department, which was also posted in the bathroom, but did not. Maybe we can find it online… Update: the contact info was posted at another rest area where we stopped a few days later outside Louisville, so I filled out an online form saying that this stuff should not be allowed in facilities funded by public tax dollars! To put it mildly!

Without further incident, we got into Yellow Springs and checked into our Airbnb.

We drove around the tiny village of Yellow Springs and Antioch College, walked a bit, stopped at Tom’s Grocery and got some Amy’s mushroom soup for dinner, and watched a wonderful PBS streaming Nature show on butterflies!

Monday, April 9th. Woke to the sight of snow on the trees outside our window!

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Made oatmeal for breakfast and walked 3 blocks in the falling snow into downtown YS, stopped into the public library, and then onto the Antioch College campus until our fingers were numb from the cold. Walked back home, heated up some lentil soup for lunch, rested a bit and then drove out to Glen Helen Nature Preserve bordering the Antioch campus. Walked about 2 hours on the wintry trails trying without success to find the Hopewell Indian mound. But the woods are beautiful, as is the river which gives Yellow Springs its name. 67C41BD6-C8AD-4333-82F2-986BE719DFD0Saw an old dam and a couple of small waterfalls, then walked back up to the parking lot, drove home to warm up before venturing out again to a “restorative yoga” class taught by Abby at Aum Yoga studio. (Not sure why there were antlers above the door in the yoga studio!)30DA2AC5-7F90-490B-B263-9CD9D18C48C5 Walked home and made some stewed apples with raisins which we had with Greek yoghurt. Looked over the RV Pre-delivery Inspection checklist in preparation for our Big Day tomorrow: picking up our new trailer at Mike Jones RV in Hamersville, Ohio, about 90 minutes south of Yellow Springs.

Scott’s thoughts on Yellow Springs and Antioch College

I left YS in late Spring of 1971, eager to close that tumultuous, exciting and unforgettable chapter in life..avoided the graduation ceremony, as no family or friends would be there, and to take a summer course at Harvard before heading off to graduate school at Clark U. In Worcester, MA. Over those years Antioch experienced a series of karmic shocks, resulting in its eventual demise and what is its 4th or 5th attempt at rebirth since its founding.
So, what has changed?
We walk the village from our Air B&B, and drive and walk around campus and take a stroll through Glen Helen… a respite, refuge, and a reminder that amid the folly and ever changing fortunes of humans, there lies the comfort of the relatively stable world of those isolated, protected remnants of wood and stream.
It is true one cannot go home again. Even had things appeared the same, which they most clearly had not, the places and people are molded by the culture of the time. What we did see were the inevitable results of that earlier time and, in retrospect, the initial shocks settled into a clear understanding that these changes would have been entirely predictable, had I stopped and thought about its future, as opposed to my own.
Yellow Springs is now a tourist attraction. What was once the Town, with its strictly functional stores and shops, owned by Townies, had morphed into the commercialism of the Left… a beautiful new hotel, yoga centers, small bookstores, tattoo parlour, trendy cafes and all. The old hardware store is still there, as is the Tavern… my freshmen refuge with its 2% beer and smoke filled lounge. The library and other mid-century anchors seem the same, and the many 19th century homes and farmhouses seem improved… housing is tight and real estate surprisingly expensive.
So, while Antioch had 2,000 students in the 1960’s, with unceasing and seemingly important activity, the town of Yellow Springs itself was flat and boring; a little backwater to the sophistication and near mayhem and self importance of its neighbor. Now, the vibrancy of the town stands in stark contrast to the emptiness and decay of the campus, although there are some bright and optimistic changes there as well.
The Village has been taken over by the former students. The College succeeded in its culture war with the locals, while unable to save itself.
YS and the College.
Touring the campus was emotional and the cause for much reflection on the essential irony of things, on the twists and turns of history, on the Individual and the Institution,  on Culture, Nationality, Identity.
They have rightly focused on the repair and restoration of the oldest buildings, including the infamous South Hall, closed to dereliction in my day.  Sadly, Horace Mann hall, the central administration building, is closed, as the steam plant was taken off line and someone had failed to turn off the water supply in the building during the 2 years the College lay in legal limbo; the water pipes froze, burst and flooded the building.

With intense feelings of ambivalence mixed with dismay and acceptance and relief, some of the cornerstone buildings designed in that familiar and ugly post WWII style of rectilinear brick and concrete and glass are in the saddesr states of rot and decline, proving that buildings without character make for unappetizing relics. The Union, Corry Hall…derelict and decrepit…even the pavement fronting the old cafeteria is gone.

I spent the summer of 67 in Corry… its glass and steel perfect to amplify the constant din of male dormitory life… 44C89BE3-D248-4612-ACB3-39C27210FD29while Detroit and dozens of other cities were consumed by riot and fire, and where I heard on a weak long distance phone call that my father had had a heart attack (he survived), and decided then and there to avoid the same fate, started to look inward, tried to change everything.
More on Antioch, past and present, by a classmate, Michael Goldfarb…
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