Life’s a bus ride

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

C.S. Lewis

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Very Grand Indeed

Absence makes the heart grow fonder….and also makes for some lonely dinners :/

But on the bright side…..it is very bright in the Grand Canyon and I enjoyed two weeks at the south rim for training.  This month involves quite a few out of town trips so Patti headed to Oregon for August, which is great planning given the high temps and humidity here in Georgia.  I’ll be joining her in about two weeks after a couple of quick trips to Mississippi and South Carolina.

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Grand Canyon – South Rim

My training classes were quite busy during the week, but I did have the weekend off and was able hike some new trails on the south side of the canyon on Saturday and Sunday.  Patti and I backpacked here a few years ago, spending 3 nights in the canyon and hiking about 32 miles.  Hiking in the canyon is incredible, but I also found the Rim Trail to be amazing and would recommend adding this to your list.  The total hike on the Rim Trail is about 12 1/2 miles and has options for shuttle buses if you want to break it up a bit.

On Saturday I took the free shuttle bus westward to the end of the road to a vintage structure called Hermits Rest.  Built in 1914, Hermits Rest was named for an old prospector that mined this area.  It was designed by Architect Mary Colter and built to support the emerging tourist attractions fueled by the railroad expansion to the rim.  Today is serves as a small visitor center/gift shop/cafe.  My plan was to walk back toward Grand Canyon Village for a while and then hop on the shuttle eastbound if needed.

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Start of the Rim Trail

The weather was nice with cool temperatures and cloud cover and I kept walking, passing the occasional shuttle stops and a few other hikers on the trail.  The views into the canyon were great and you actually see the Colorado River from this vantage….something not visible at the main overlook in the village.

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Colorado River

I had packed a lunch and found a nice spot to rest and soak it all in.  There are quite a few picnic tables along the way and there were many family and friend groups enjoying a lunch just a few feet from the steep canyon walls.  Talk about a table with a view.

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Postcard views all day long

My hike on Saturday was great….covering around 8 miles from Hermit’s Rest to the village. When I approached the Bright Angel trailhead the crowds increased considerably.  This is one of the most popular spots for arriving tourists to get their first look into the canyon and many of them set off down the trail to see how far they can get.  It’s an easy hike down….but the uphill return takes a toll on most everyone.  They have a saying here about hiking the canyon…. “downhill is optional…but uphill is mandatory.”  Planning is a necessity.

On Sunday I took a shuttle bus to the east end of the park where the Rim Trail intersects with the South Kaibab Trailhead.  It brought back great memories of our backpack trip together, this was our starting point for the big adventure we hiked in 2014.

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Rim Trail at South Kaibab

Today’s hike was quite a bit sunnier and at least 15 degrees warmer.  The views were spectacular again and the hike was easy.  There were considerably more people on this part of the rim trail, both hikers and bikers, due to the paved trail and proximity to the main visitor’s center of the park.  I packed a trail lunch again and enjoyed a shady spot at the visitor center watching the tourists come and go.  If the languages that I heard are any indication, I’d estimate about 75-80% of the visitor were from other countries.  I finished this part of the rim trail in the early afternoon, covering about 5 miles or so by the time I returned to my dorm.

Meanwhile….while I was “roughing” it at the Grand Canyon…Patti was enjoying full-time *Babcia duty in Salem.  It was great to stay in touch with her via phone, text, email, and Marco Polo videos and she provided daily updates on all the goings-on.

(*this is how you say grandmother in Polish)

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Projects with Daddy and Babcia (and Londynn’s new pin)

The Kitchenaide mixer got a good workout and Patti enjoyed a great afternoon making cookies with Londynn and Brooklynn.  Papa is hoping some of the cookies ended up in the freezer for later this month 🙂

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Sleepover at Babcia’s

The month of August is flying by and we’re both looking forward to being in the same state soon.  After my two quick trips I’ll be home just in time for us to take the girls to the Oregon State Fair.  We had a blast last year (logging about 12 hours) and are looking forward to soaking it all in again.

As a parting shot I thought I’d add a throwback photo from March of 2014.  We took this after cresting the rim at the Grand Canyon. Whew!

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The Heart of Georgia

Located in the center of Georgia, the city of Macon is affectionately known as “the heart of Georgia.”  We had a great time in a short time and enjoyed learning about the town.

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Cannonball House

The Cannonball house is one of the popular stops in Macon.  It is known as the only house in Macon to be hit and damaged in the Civil War.  The cannonball bounced into the house after hitting the sand sidewalk.  Fortunately, it didn’t explode.  The bronze cannon is also part of Macon’s history, being forged in 1864 at the Macon Arsenal.

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The Hay House – 934 Georgia Avenue – Macon, GA

Completed in 1859, this house was known as “The Palace of the South” and includes four stories and a three story cupola.  At 18,000 square feet in size, is consists of 24 rooms and was one of the first to have hot & cold running water, central heating, and a lift. Although we didn’t have an opportunity to tour the inside, the photos and postcards we saw were amazing.

While in Macon we learned that it was either the home of..or the early roots for… famous entertainers such as Little Richard, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, and Jason Aldean. Also noteworthy was the local baseball park, named Luther Williams Field.  Built in 1929, it is the second oldest minor league ballpark in the US (the oldest is in Asheville, NC).  It has hosted many teams, including the Macon Peaches, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Music, and Pinetoppers.  Although is has been without baseball team for a while, we read that plans are underway to have a team in place by 2018.  Got a good idea for a team name?  You can submit a name at this link.

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First pitch was 88 years ago

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Look at those ivories!

Although the temperatures were high, we endured the heat for a few hikes along the downtown streets, including Cherry Street, Walnut Street, and Cotton Street.  We had some great food as well, dining at the Rookery and Piedmont Brewing & Kitchen.

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Eatin’ like locals

With all of the old buildings in downtown Macon it was interesting to see lots of examples of early fire sprinkler bells and hose connections on the exterior of the buildings that are still in use today.  While driving to the Macon ball park I spied this gem along the side of the road and had to make a trip back to take some photos.  This sprinkler riser is all that remains of a building that was once a vital part of the town.  The exterior wall would have been right along the edge of the sidewalk, with the hose connection for the fire department outside, and the system of piping (the sprinkler riser) inside.  Finally a work of art that a fire marshal can appreciate!

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Fire Marshal Art

 

More of the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest National Park – traveling 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia.  We’ve been able to travel many sections of it and this weekend we added another 65 miles or so – covering the southern most part from Pisgah Mountain to the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After work, we camped at the Pisgah Campground.  It was fun to dust off the camping gear and we celebrated our first overnight campout in the south with a dinner of Italian Pepper Steak and Creme Brule (ala Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry).

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Surrounded by thousands (and thousands) of rhododendrons 

After a great night’s sleep we packed up and headed out in search of waterfalls.  We found five, including Loghollow Falls, Kissing Falls (yes we did), Lookinglass Falls, Sliding Rock Falls, and Soco Falls.

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Sliding Rock Falls (maybe next time….)

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Queso

In between our waterfall adventures we came across the Cradle of Forestry, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  What a great discovery!  This 6,500 acre site is the location of the first school of forestry in the United States, founded in 1898.  Our timing was great and we enjoyed a burger in the expansive visitor center and then headed out for a couple of loop hikes that traveled through the historic building  areas and railroad sites.

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We love our 36 hour adventures – it’s amazing how much you can see in a day and a half.  We still have a few hundred miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway to travel and look forward to connecting the dots on a future trip.

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Welcome back to Atlanta and the famous Spaghetti Junction

Not Just Peanuts

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Smiles from Plains, Georgia

We just returned home from a two-day trip that included time in peanut country (AKA Plains, GA).  Although we saw other crops along the highways and byways…the big dog around here is peanuts.  Catch this…Georgia grows about half of all the peanuts in the US, with an annual harvest of about 2.4 billion (with a B) pounds.  That’s a lot of goober peas 🙂

We started our trip with a visit to the Plains High School, which is now the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.   Our picnic lunch on the school grounds was great, although a bit hurried due to the infamous gnats that patrol the school grounds (and town, and county, and most of this part of the state) anytime the temperature is above 60.

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This historic site was very enjoyable to tour, partly due to the fact we both attended schools that had this “old-time” feel and also due to the relevance of the Carter presidency during our early adult years.

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The town of Plains was very quaint and we enjoyed visiting with locals, sampling peanuts, tasting peanut ice cream, and recalling the 70s.  You can buy almost any kind of peanut at Plain Peanuts, which is located prominently on Main Street.

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Boyhood home of Jimmy Carter

We enjoyed touring the home of Jimmy Carter along with the Carter Farm, which has goats, chickens, and a pretty good crop of gnats as well.  The Carter’s also had a small mercantile store that fronted the main road.  This store served many in the community and it was interesting to learn how engaged the Carter’s were.  Jimmy lived here from age four until he left for college in 1941.  Water and electricity were not added to the home until 1938.

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Front Porch Sittin’

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The “modern” shower

After our time in Plains, we headed over to Americus, Georgia, which is the “big town” of the area (pop. 17,041).  We enjoyed a nice quiet night at the Windsor Inn, the downtown hotel that was built in 1892. The burgers at The Station restaurant were pretty good as well.

After breakfast we headed over to Andersonville National Historic Site, which has three main features, the National Prisoner of War Museum, the Andersonville Prison Site, and the Andersonville National Cemetery.  It is hard to describe the emotions we felt visiting this site and really hard to comprehend the impact to human life that occurred here.  The prison stockade was initially constructed to house 10,000 POWs – eventually 32,000 men were held here.  12,000 died.  Museum exhibits of other wars are also on display, including POW history from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

We left Andersonville just before noon – headed north to Atlanta.  Our original plan was to catch one of the many many many CrackerBarrel restaurants for a quick and simple down-south-kind of dinner (which has become our “headed home” meal of choice.)  We heard a tip from a coworker about Yoder’s, which is a well known Mennonite restaurant just up the road on Highway 26.  The parking lot was hopping when we arrived and we made our way quickly through the serving line.  I opted for meatloaf and Patti had the chicken.  Oh my it was good!

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After dinner we walked over to the little goat pen to see the goats.  As luck would have it…you can feed the cute goats for only 50 cents.  They saw us coming and got somewhat interested in our arrival, but you should have seen them jump when Patti dropped two quarters in the #10 tin can in the mailbox that served as the “honor payment” station.  They knew they were in for a treat when they heard that dinner bell.

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At 50 cents per 2 ounces serving….I think these two little guys bring in some big dough for the farm!

1600 miles

Wow, that was a loop!

We headed out on a Monday for a six day trip that looped Florida, traveling south on I-95 and then back north on I-75.  It was a great trip and we saw almost as many cars as we did mosquitos.  The population of Florida is 20.2 million people, which ranks third behind California and Texas.  Driving “around” Florida was quite a contrast to Montana, whose population is just over 1 million.

Our trip began with a short drive over to Ocmulgee National Monument, which is just outside of Macon, Georgia. This park was established in 1936 and works to preserve historical traces of inhabitants from 17,000 years ago.  We enjoyed the visitor center and the inside look of the earth lodge, which has a clay floor from 1000 years ago.

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Ocmulgee National Monument

After a great picnic lunch at Ocmulgee, we drove another couple of hours to Savannah, Georgia.  We had heard many people rave about this city due to its history, culture, and great food.  They were right on all accounts.  Established in 1733, it is the oldest city in the state of Georgia and was once the State Capitol.  The city has 22 parks, known as squares, that are beautiful and fragrant.

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Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park

While strolling through the squares we learned that the movie “Forrest Gump” had used Savannah for some of its filming locations, including Chippewa Square for Forrest’s bench scenes.  Although the bench is now housed inside the Savannah History Museum, we found the spot where he waited for the Number 9 bus at the corner of Hull Street and Bull Street.

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Chippewa Square

On Tuesday, I was able to spend time at Fort Pulaski National Monument.  This monument was established in 1924 to protect the fort, which was built in 1847. The construction took 18 years to complete and a young lieutenant named Robert E. Lee designed the canal system and moats.  The fort has about 25 million bricks and some of the walls are eleven feet thick.  A bit of baseball trivia….a photograph taken at Fort Pulaski in 1862 showed soldiers playing baseball on the grassy area inside the fort, one of the earliest known photos of America’s pastime.

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Play ball!

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Amazing craftsmanship

After work we headed to Savannah’s River Street to see the history and check out the fine dining.  The street and many sidewalks and stairs are constructed with rocks that came from the ballasts of the sailing ships that visiting the port.  We enjoyed our stroll along the river and found a great meal at Barracuda Bob’s.  We enjoyed the Low Country Boil, which was a healthy platter of shrimp, potatoes, sausage, and corn-on-the-cob.  We also sampled some fresh pralines and glazed pecans from one of the many shops.

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The “Waving Girl”

We also read about Florence Martus, who is known as Savannah’s “Waving Girl.”  She became the unofficial greeter of all ships sailing in and out of the Port of Savannah from 1887 and 1931, waving a scarf in the daytime and lantern at night.

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Aye, Aye, Captain

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The diner where Jenny worked

After leaving Savannah we drove (and drove and drove) down to Homestead, Florida to Biscayne National Park.  It was very cool to revisit this area, my last time here was 43 years ago when I attended water survival training courtesy of the USAF and Strategic Air Command.  I still remember the salt water deluges from being dunked in the bay in parachute harnesses.

We were very close to Everglades National Park and opted for a 38 mile drive through the park to the end of the road at the Flamingo Visitor center.

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Tropical Wilderness

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Obligatory Flamingo pose

We found out that even short hikes in the Everglades are short lived due to the number and ferocity of the bugs that call this place home.  Even with ample doses of bug repellent applied, we were no match to the persistence of the flies and mosquitos.  They sure keep you moving.

We left south Florida on Friday morning an enjoyed a beautiful drive across the everglades.  We were also able to visit Big Cypress National Preserve, which borders Everglades on the north side.  The temperature, humidity, and bug population precluded any real hiking in this area, but it was very interesting to read how important this ecosystem is to the flora and fauna of the area.

After turning north and rejoining the heavy traffic on I-95, we travelled up to Gainesville, Florida, finding a nice hotel right next to a restaurant and fuel station.  Convenient!  The hotel was nice and quiet and we enjoyed waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing on the agenda and only about 6 hours driving time to return home.  The Atlanta traffic was a challenge (as always) but we found a few shortcuts and made it home almost on schedule.

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Thanks for the Orange Juice!

Kennesaw Mountain

This National Park unit is located about 22 miles northwest of our apartment and encompasses almost 3,000 acres of historic battlefield.  Not being students of civil war history, we did not realize how significant and how tragic this battle was.

The park is surrounded by the community of Kennesaw and, as we found out when we approached the visitor’s center, very popular!  Once we saw the crowded parking lot at the visitor center, we opted to head directly to one of the trails that we had read about, a loop trail that travels from Cheatham Hill around to Kolb Farm and back.

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John Ward Creek

This trail is located in the southern end of the park and is about 6 miles long.  It was a great morning to hike, 60 degrees or so and very wooded.  We had packed a lunch and found a nice group of picnic tables about 5 miles into the hike – a nice time to rest and recharge.

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The Illinois Memorial

The Illinois memorial was constructed in 1914 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle on Cheatham Hill where hundreds soldiers died in June of 1864.  The mountain top battle was brutal and there were so many casualties that both sides called a truce for a few hours to bury those that had been killed.  Interestingly, the accounts of the truce indicated that both union and confederate soldiers worked together to complete the burials.  For a few hours they were working as one team, only to complete that work and then go back to war.

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Cheatham Hill cannons

We had learned a bit of this battle by reading the interpretive signs along the trail, but it wasn’t until we spent time in the visitor’s center that we really understood the magnitude and impact of this battle.   With each bit of this history we learn about the Civil War, the more impact we feel.

Georgia Aquarium

Ranked #1 in the US and #2 in the world, the Georgia Aquarium sees about 2.2 million visitors each year.  With it being only a few miles from our apartment we decided we should up annual count by two and headed out for a tourist-like visit, even though we’re just a couple locals.

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The aquarium was built in 2005 and is a fun place to visit.  We enjoyed the salt water fish displays and then headed to the dolphin show to get a good seat.  It was very well done and a lot like the shows that we’ve seen at SeaWorld.  It is amazing how intelligent the dolphins are and how much fun the trainers have. We sat about ten rows back…just outside the splash zone.

An impromptu “march of the penguins” was held on one of ramps at the aquarium – hard to imagine what was going through their little heads as they made their way up the ramp.

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“Hey Eddie…is it hot in here or just me?”

This aquarium is the only one outside of Asia that houses whale sharks.  It was quite a contrast to see the big fish and little fish sharing the same pool.

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Big fish in a little pond (6.3 million gallons)

It was a great day to be inside.  Although it’s not summer yet, we got a taste of the Atlanta weather, 87 degrees and this thing they call humidity.  Yikes!

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Georgia for three months.  Time flies for sure.  We’ve got a couple road trips on the horizon that we’re looking forward to.  Stay tuned 🙂