Friday, April 29, 2016

A Day For Waterfalls

Illinois is one long, long, state. It takes forever to get from bottom to top. I moved up to Starved Rock State Park which is about 90 miles southwest of Chicago. It is the most visited state park in Illinois (probably because of it's closeness to Chicago), but it is one of the most scenic. It is impossible to get into this park on the weekends unless you make reservations. I am here for four nights – Monday through Thursday nights and currently there is only one other camper here in my area. I will be leaving before the weekend rush.

This park is located on the Illinois River. I've been amazed at how wide the rivers are down here. The Tennessee, the Ohio, the Illinois are all monster rivers. They put my Mississippi to shame. Of course, I'm used to the Mississippi up close to it's source, the river has hardly had a chance to get going and grow into the monster river that I know it will become.

I use my phone to access the web and for the last few days I have not had any internet access. I can make phone calls and occasionally text. I am sort of ashamed to realize how dependent I have become on being plugged in. I could not navigate, I could not figure out where to stay, I could not look up the answers to all the silly questions that pop into my head. I was hurting. I finally found a place where I could use their WiFi and looked up a Verizon store. There was one in Peru, about 15 minutes away. I get to Peru and since I don't have any navigation, I'm wandering up and down the street that I know it is on. Finally, I stop for directions. At a Sprint store. They were so happy to see me walk in, but boy, did their faces fall when I asked them for directions to Verizon. I got my phone fixed and I am now connected to the world again. What a relief.

Miko and I hiked into St. Louis Canyon. It is cloudy but everything is very green. There is a nice little waterfall at the end of the canyon.
Miko checking out the waterfall in St. Louis Canyon

The next day, the winds came up and the clouds got more threatening. I waited around to see what the weather was going to do and it seemed like nothing was going to change so we headed out to hike LaSalle and Tonty Canyons. The trail goes into the woods, down 140 steps (I counted them) and then winds along the Illinois river. We get down to the river and the skies open up. I'm trying to decide if I should go on or not, but I have a raincoat, I'm not going to melt – I'm going for it. Miko, on the other hand, is not too happy with the decision. I have never seen a dog who hates to get rain wet as much as Miko. But she soldiers on.

The problem with the rain is that it makes the ground muddy (and slippery) and if you have to clamber over rocks, they are slippery also. I am so happy that I had my Walmart walking stick with me. It would have been perilous is I hadn't had it.

LaSalle Canyon's waterfall was special as you could actually walk under it. I don't think I have ever done that before.

Approaching from the left
And we are under the waterfall
And from the other side
And we are leaving
I continued on to Tonty Canyon. There were supposed to be some waterfalls down at the end, but it had rained so much that the mud was becoming deep and threatened to suck you down. I had visions of becoming mired waist deep in the mud and never getting out alive. As great as Miko is, she is no Lassie and I don't think she could have pulled me out or gone for help. So I turned back before I got to the end of the canyon. As they say – oh well, next time.

Tonty Canyon - there is a waterfall someplace down there

Thursday, April 28, 2016

This Isn't The Illinois I Knew

I am staying at Ferne Clyffe for four nights. It is such a luxury. I can spend more time exploring the area and also spend more time sitting in my lawn chair. You can never spend too much time sitting in a lawn chair.

Just down the road a piece is another Illinois State Park called Giant City State Park. It got it's name because there are a bunch of big sandstone bluffs and the way these rock formations are laid out, it could resemble city streets. After seeing the City of Rocks last year in New Mexico, Giant City was a bit of a disappointment. We did the nature trail and there were a few places where you walked between the rocks, but the trail mostly just went around the bluff. It was still a pleasant walk, but I guess I wouldn't go out of my way to see this.

On the other hand, I would definitely go out of my way to see the Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest. It is sort of the same idea as Giant City, but much bigger and better. The trail winds in and out of some massive rock formations. I was really surprised that people were able to climb all over the rocks. Seems to me that it would some sort of liability issue or something. It is a long way down from the tops of the rocks into the valley.

 The trail is only a quarter mile long, but it takes over an hour to do the whole trail because you just can't help but veer off onto the tops of these rocks. Let me just say here that Miko is much more sure footed than me. She also has no problem going out to the very edge. Just watching her out there was enough to give me vertigo.

These two girls were maybe around 12-13 years old

This sad guy was hanging out right outside the Garden of the Gods

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ferne Clyffe - I Feel Like Such An Elegant Speller

I skipped over Kentucky. Sorry Kentucky but I'll be back. I made it into southern Illinois. I was racing rain that was supposed to be coming in and I wanted to get to the campground and make camp before the weather started. It can get sort of miserable setting up in the rain. I rolled into Ferne Clyffe State Park  named because there are supposed to be a lot of bluffs and ferns here. They thought they would class it up by calling it Ferne.

I stop by the camp host, he tells me pick any spot that doesn't have a reserve tag on it. I find the spot and get all set up, including putting leveling blocks down. It is starting to sprinkle – whew, I made it. Mr. Park Ranger shows up and says – hey, you can't park here, it is reserved. I'm putting the tags up now. What? I asked when did the site get reserved? He says they came in at 4:30 this morning. It is now late afternoon and he is just putting the tags up now? I have to move. I only had to move across the street, but it was a hassle and it was raining pretty good by this time. What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?

I wanted to stop at Ferne Clyffe when I was heading south this trip but it just didn't work out time/distance wise. I'm glad that I couldn't stop because that was way back in March and it would have been way too cold and icy to hike. Yes, I'm a wimpy hiker. Besides that, there is a waterfall here and as nice as frozen waterfalls are, I really like rushing waters.
A little dribbler of a water fall

Just cause I thought this was pretty

A lovely waterfall

The other reason to stop here was that the park contains Illinois' largest shelter cave – one of those caves that First Nation people used back in the day. I followed the trail and came to a cave. It was a nice size cave, but rather under whelming. I thought to myself: well, this is Illinois. Illinois is not known for being a place of massive hills. Maybe this is huge by their standards. I spent a good amount of time here, took the obligatory photos and moved on.
The first cave. You could stay here and it would keep the rain off

I left the cave, rounded the corner and Wowzer – there was a massive shelter cave. Evidently my first cave was just a warm up act.
Miko in the giant shelter cave

Ok, now see Miko on the rock - you can see how huge this shelter cave was

Friday, April 22, 2016

Another Battlefield - When Will It All End?

Moving fast – there ain't no dust on me. I moved up to the north part of the state to Piney Campground. I think it is managed by the Department of Agriculture and is located in the Land Between The Lakes, which is pretty close to the Kentucky border. Nearest town is Dover, Tennessee for those following along in their atlases.

This campground is huge, I think there are about 400 campsites but the campsites are spacious and fairly far apart. When I got to my first site, two gentlemen popped out and proceeded to try to help me back in. I am a fairly good backer and while I appreciate the thought, I would rather do it myself. I trust me more than two strangers. It was nice of them though. I got backed in, and try as I might, could not get level. I then spotted the most perfect site, just down the road. Only problem I had to wait until the people in it were leaving. They were in the process of packing up and it was so hard not to be a vulture, just waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally they were gone, I moved over there (my two helpers appeared again to 'help' me back in). I have space, I have a beach right on the river and I'm level. I am just sad that I am only here for two nights.

My site on Kentucky Lake which is really the Tennessee River

My Beach or perhaps I should call it Miko's Beach

Piney Campground has got to be the most friendly campground I have ever been in. When I go out and walk the dog, it probably takes me an hour to get 100 yards. Everybody calls out, asks how you are doing and invites you to sit down and 'jaw' awhile. When you go out walking, you tended to run into somebody and ended up walking a ways with them. It was very enjoyable talking with all these people, but being the solitary person that I am, it did get to be a bit wearing. I can only handle so much sociability. Miko, of course, is loving all the attention.  She is becoming quite the rock star and she knows it.
I am here to see Fort Donalson, a National Battlefield and a National Cemetery. This land between the lakes was a crucial target in the Civil War. If the Union could take control of the area, they would cut off two major river ways and the main supply line railroad to the south. This particular battle happened just a few months before Shiloh which I talked about last blog. Again, it was a case of Confederate incompetence. They got themselves boxed in, they decided to get themselves out of their box, beat back the Yankees and then once the way out was open, they retreated back into their box instead of busting out. Lets just say that the Confederate leadership was somewhat lacking. It ended up with the surrender of 13,000 Confederates who were all shipped up north to Prisoner of War camps.

Fun Fact:  The general on the Union side was U.S. Grant.  When General Buckner (confederate) sent a message to Grant asking him what the terms of surrender would be, Grant responded by saying "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted"  From this point on, the media all said that the U.S. in his name stood for Unconditional Surrender Grant.  This particular battle put Grant on the fast track for Hero-dom.

Dover Hotel also called the Surrender House  where Buckner surrendered to Grant

Let me just say one thing about what I called Confederate incompetence. Part of the problem was that the Confederacy was a bunch of states, each of which thought of themselves as a sovereign entity. They hadn't quite figured out how to work together and they also didn't trust one another. If Georgia called for reinforcements, Alabama felt no need to supply them. This was true for all of the Confederacy. It took them some time to figure out what was needed. The other problem was that many of the Confederate command had absolutely no military experience. They still gave the Union a run for their money, but they started out with a lot of cards stacked against them.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Alabama to Tennessee

I guess I have sort of fallen behind with this blogging business. I am now three states away from my last blog. My, how time flies.

On the last day in Alabama, Miko and I went down to Tuscumbia to the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve. Way back when, two students came to northwestern Alabama for graduate school and loved it so much that they decided to settle here. They bought forty acres and then bought a little bit more land and then a little bit more until their land holdings were up to 750 acres. When I talked to the mister, he said that they just bought up land that nobody else wanted. For the past forty years, they have developed all this land into a nature preserve. They have gorges, they have waterfalls, they have bluffs with wonderful views. They built trails throughout this land and now allow the public to come and enjoy their land. When you pull in, you go up to their gazebo and register. They chat with you, give you some fancy maps, make sure you have a walking stick and water and send you on your way. They have also erected porta-potties at strategic spots and have coolers available on the trail with fresh cold water.  What a treasure this is and how wonderful that these people have done this for others. Miko and I probably spent about four hours walking through the preserve and when we finished, the owners were there to greet us and make sure that we had a great time.

Cane Creek Canyon Preserve:

The waterfall - notice the guy in the hammock about half way down

Who knew Alabama had hills?

More from the bluff

Another itsy bitsy waterfall

Miko and I broke camp and drove a whole hour up to Pickwick Landing State Park in Pickwick Landing Dam, Tennessee. Seeing as how it was the middle of the week, there was hardly anybody in the campground and we got a huge beautiful spot in the woods. Miko and I walked a couple of miles out on a peninsula in the Tennessee River where Miko spent about ten minutes chasing waves. I am please to report that there were no ill effects from her wave chasing. She is definitely a fresh water dog.

The reason to come to this area (besides my snail pace move back up north) was to go to Shiloh, the National Military Park. Last time I was in Shiloh, it was 1972 so I don't remember hardly anything. Shiloh was a battle that occurred early in the Civil War Time line. It was a two day battle where the Confederate army won the first day and then made a grave error figuring that the second day would just be a matter of mop up. Because of this error, the Union Army routed the Confederates and pulled off a victory. 23,746 casualties – the most casualties of all wars put together that were fought on the North American continent up to this time. Shiloh, by the way, means House of Peace.

I watched the movie which was excellent. Most of these movies at these National places are 15-20 minutes long. This “award winning” movie was 45 minutes long. I then picked up my Junior Ranger book and headed out onto the battlefield. Three hours later, I had taken the auto tour, filled out the minimum amount needed for my Junior Ranger badge and headed back to headquarters. I had to quit my junior rangering because they were closing at 4:30 and I wanted to make sure I was sworn in. I only scratched the surface of Shiloh.

The Confederate Memorial - Lady in the middle represents The Confederate - she is surrounded by Night and Death
These are the memorials to specific men of rank.  They are erected on the spot where they died. They all are the same with the four mounds of cannonballs on each corner of the memorial
This is the Minnesota Memorial - sort of hidden away, but very near to where they fought

My spacious campsite at Pickwick Dam Landing State Park  Site #33


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Florence 2

Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Who knew there were so many musicians with connections to Alabama? I've already toured the Hank Williams and W.C. Handy museums here in Alabama, but how about Nat “King” Cole or Emmylou Harris or Tammy Wynette or the Commodores? How about Louvin Brothers or the Delmore Brothers or even Jim Nabors? The list goes on and on. There are so many, in fact , that there is very little space allocated to each musician, songwriter or producer. The ones that make the grade generally have a picture, a small info placard saying who they are and what they did and maybe an instrument they played or an outfit that they wore. When I talked to an employee, they said that they have so many artifacts and so little room and funding that they cannot do anything more than a superficial treatment of each artist. They did have the band Alabama's tour bus on display which was interesting in a shabby sort of way. Let's just say that life on the road is perhaps not as glittery as we may think.

Front area of tour bus
Look at where the poor guy in the left bottom bunk had to sleep.  No turning over in your sleep in that bunk

I found the section of the museum that dealt with the Muscle Shoals history compelling as I had just watched a documentary (“The Wrecking Crew”) about this part of the country and the fabulous music that was created in the seventies. I also found it puzzling that there was no mention (that I saw) of the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Look at this crazy four sided guitar

Helen Keller Birthplace

Helen was born at Ivy Green in 1880. I remember hearing about her and also seeing pictures of her with Eleanor Roosevelt. What I really remember though is the movie “The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. This house was built in the 1820s and remained in the Keller family until the 1950s-60s. It was interesting to walk on the same ground where Helen Keller walked and had her monster tantrums. Ok, ok, sorry – I meant to say that she overcame her unfortunate start in life and became a beacon for sight challenged people everywhere.
This was a middle class plantation house in the 1820s

This was the cottage where Anne Sullivan taught Helen
We had a little rain the other night - this guy ended up sitting in the middle of a lake

Friday, April 15, 2016

Florence Alabama 1

I bought an extended warranty last December on my RV. My two year manufacture's warranty was almost up andeven though I'm not a fan of extended warranties, I just felt with something as complex as this RV, with all it's multiple systems, rattling down the road, it might be prudent to have one. Since I bought the warranty in December, they could not do an inspection on the water systems because I was all winterized. I've been wanting to get the water inspection down but it has been hard to get it scheduled since I seem to move quite a bit. Finally, I am staying someplace long enough to get inspected and today was the day. Ralph, the inspector, drove two hours from Birmingham north to Florence Alabama to get the inspection done. I am pleased to say that my RV is now completely under warranty.

Florence Alabama is in the northwestern part of the state and there are a ton of sights to see. I am staying in McFarland Park which is a city owned park right on the Tennessee River. I can watch the barges going up and down the river. On my back side, there is a fishing pond and down the road a piece a fishing pier. Lots of gold finches and cardinals.

I started off going to the W.C. Handy home and museum.

From the brochure:

“...known as the Father of the Blues, and this museum houses the most complete collection of his personal papers and artifacts in the world. It includes his famous trumpet, his personal piano, handwritten sheet music, photographs, household furnishings and a wealth of memorabilia.”

Ephretta was my personal tour guide. The front part of the building was Handy's two room log cabin that he grew up in. The back part of the building was a combination museum and community meeting place. I think what I found most interesting was the cast list for the movie 'St. Louis Blues'. It seemed like they had cast most of the predominant black stars of the day in the movie. Notice Billy Preston is in the cast. He was only about two years old and in later years went on to play with the Rolling Stones.

The House
The Cast List
A nice note from Mr. Gershwin which says "Mr. Handy,  whose early 'blues' songs are the fore fathers of this work  With admiration and best wishes.   George Gershwin Aug 30, 1926 "

This was a quilt in the house - I thought it was rather a unique quilting style

I then visited the 'Wright-Rosenbaum house.

From the brochure:

“In 1939, Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design their home, the only Writght-designed structure in Alabama. One of the earliest Usonian designs, the house has been called one of the purest examples of Wright's unique style.”

This house was a little different from other FLW houses. Usually, Wright would design for very wealthy clients. Startng in the late thirties, he started designing “starter” homes, even though his starter homes did not really have starter house prices. Wright not only designed the house, but he also designed the furniture. Wright was known to be rather a prima donna with his homes. He expected you to live in the house exactly as he designed it. He was known to drop in on some of his houses and make a big scene if things were out of place. Mildred, this house's owner, lived in terror of Wright dropping in and did not change a single thing in the house until after Wright died. Sadly, Wright never dropped in. Garrett was my personal tour guide here. The nice thing about being the only one on a tour is that you get very personalized attention. We explored every nook and cranny of the house.

They built the house around the piano because it wouldn't fit through any of the doors or windows

Onward to the Pope's Tavern Museum.

From the brochure:

“One of the oldest structures in Florence, Pop's Tavern was used as a stagecoach stop, a tavern and inn, and as a hospital during the Civil War. “

The tour guide here was a history professor from the University of North Alabama and boy, did he have stories. This time there were three others on the tour with me. I became quite the star as Wayne (tour guide) would pick up all these weird artifacts in the house and ask us what they were. I knew them all because my parents who are antique nuts, had them in our house as I was growing up. Butter churns, candle molds, etc. As the only Yankee on the tour, I also got an earful about the Southern Cause and learned a bit about current day southern attitudes.
1903 Edison Phonograph that used cartridge recordings.  Tour guide actually played it for us

This statute is very similar to one my mother has in her house.  It is Carlota, wife of Maximillian, emperor of Mexico

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Inspiration and Introspection (in a very minor way, of course)

I am chasing a the proverbial spring. When I left Montgomery, all the azaleas were drooping, dogwoods had lost their luster. Moving 150 miles north to Gadsden in northeastern Alabama, I have found spring again. Although my impression, based on very limited experience, is that Alabamans are not as showy as Georgians. If there is a hole in the landscape, Georgians will fill it with something that flowers profusely. Alabamans, not so much.

I read a lot of RV blogs. I get a lot of ideas about where to go, what to see from these blogs. I also get to know these fellow bloggers, in a literary sense. It seems that most of them have some sort of goal with their travels. There are the lighthouse fanatics, the aeronautic zealots, the pickleball enthusiasts. I have come to the conclusion, subject to change at any moment of course, that besides weird museums, my reason to be might just be waterfalls. A waterfall is a powerful force – there is no stopping it, yet the farther it falls, the lighter and frothier it gets. They are constantly changing, yet staying the same. I could sit for hours watching waterfalls.

So off I go to see Noccalula Falls, yet another waterfall where another Indian Maiden jumped to her death. I wonder how many Indian maiden legends there are that are tied to waterfalls. Noccalula Falls is an impressive 90 foot drop into a gorge. The city of Gadsden has done a great job by building a park around the falls. There are hiking trails, a wedding chapel and a miniature train that you can ride. The RV campground overlooks the falls and the gorge. Full Hookups, great WiFi – all for $21 a night. Originally I was just going to stay the one night, see the falls and skedaddle, but I ended up staying two nights. Good WiFi is a powerful draw.
Notice Indian Maiden on the right side all ready to jump
Looking down river


Actually, I found another Junior Ranger opportunity. Geez, sometimes I get so obsessed with things.

Somebody else evidently got a little obsessed with this Junior Ranger thing - Quite the inspiration

From the Little River Canyon National Preserve brochure:

It is one of the nation's longest rivers that forms and flows for most of its length atop a mountain. Then it plunges off the Cumberland Plateau at the head of Little River Canyon. The result is one of the most extensive canyon and gorge systems in the eastern United States and one of the South's clearest, wildest waterways.

Little River Canyon National Preserve was about an hour away and there was a waterfall. Imagine my surprise when I got to the visitor center and Miko was invited in to watch the movie with me and she also got a dog treat. Score! We saw the 45 foot tall waterfall and we drove about 25 miles down one side of the Gorge Rim. This gorge happened to be 600 feet tall in some places. It was a lovely day for a drive. Again, pictures don't do it justice.
A lovely waterfall
The gorge
Mushroom Rock - in the middle of the road