A vacation!

I took a few days off work and Sean and I went to a cabin in Ellijay, the north Georgia town that hosts the apple festival I go to every year. Not sure if I’ll make it this year, given, you know, coronavirus, so it’s nice to be up here now. The cabin is lovely, just the right size for two, well appointed and cozy. We honestly haven’t done much besides lounge around. Each day has had one “event”: the first day we got hibachi takeout for dinner, the second day we picked up groceries, the third day we took a bath in the big tub, and today I went on a walk around the (very hilly) neighborhood. We leave tomorrow; I wish I’d made this a longer vacation, because I’m finally starting to feel like doing things. I had thought I would at least do some writing, and possibly some photo editing. Oh well! Ultimately the point was to get a break from everything, and I think we’ve accomplished that, at least.

There are more photos at my SmugMug.

The back deck of our rental cabin in Ellijay, from which you can hear the soothing sound of the rushing river hidden beyond the trees

Hello again

I did sort of overwhelm myself by making that list in the previous post. However, I’m happy to report that I’ve actually done some of the items.

Sean is now doing the grocery shopping and packing my breakfasts and lunches every workday. This is such a huge load off my mind. Food stresses me out to no end, so to not have to worry about two meals or the shopping for the third one is huge.

I make dinner, and to make them healthier we have decided to stop getting bagged noodles and rice. This cuts down on a lot of salt. We instead have plain rice, potatoes from scratch, or no starch at all alongside our protein and steamed frozen veggies. Eventually I might get back into cooking real pasta, but this is working for now.

I did actually audit the wall art, and I now have a list of all the pieces and their dimensions. I’m still not sure where to hang everything, as I keep thinking I want to rearrange my office again, but I can’t quite figure out the best configuration.

But this next part is the most fun. As I mentioned wanting to do in the first of the three posts I made on May 19, I have gone on a ton of hikes this year, as well as back to Gibbs Gardens and even on vacation.

In late June I went to the new-to-me Long Creek Falls, which was quite an adventure. I had to drive deep into the mountains on forest service roads to get to the trailhead; the trail to the falls is a spur off the Appalachian Trail. My car was covered in gravel dust by the end, but the hike was fantastic and the falls were absolutely beautiful. There were some lovely flowers in bloom in the forest, and the trail crossed streams frequently, necessitating some jumping from rock to rock. Adventure!

In September I went to another new-to-me site, James H. Floyd State Park. It was one of the nicest state parks I’ve been to, really set up well for staying overnight and having fun. I want to go back and spend a weekend in a cabin someday. This visit, I took the Marble Mine Trail to the ruins of (you guessed it) an old marble mine, then hiked up and along and back down Taylor Ridge, which overlooks the park. The ridge hike was kind of intense. At one point on the descent I fell right on my ass! Fortunately my backpack broke my fall, so the only injury was a little scrape on my forearm. When I was done hiking I was utterly drenched in sweat, as if I had jumped into the pond. I felt triumphant. I was so excited about this hike that I actually edited and uploaded pictures soon after I got home.

In late October I headed home to Kentucky to go camping at Cave Run Lake with AJ, Krystal, Connor, Logan, a few of Connor’s friends, and three dogs. It was amazing. There was beautiful fall color everywhere in Daniel Boone National Forest. We made s’mores and played Cards Against Humanity and AJ made us a big camp breakfast with eggs and bacon and hash browns. We hiked around the campground and the lake a little. And we just had a really good time together. After we got back, we had a big party and cookout for Connor’s 20th birthday.

So far in November I have gone to two new-to-me places: Providence Canyon and Red Top Mountain State Park. Providence Canyon is absolutely incredible. It looks like the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale (but it’s still pretty big). The rock formations are amazing; the state parks website explains that they are “unusual geological formations created by erosion of the Coastal Plain after years of poor agricultural practices.” The result is that you get to see spires and ridges formed of layers of different types of rock. I had no idea such a place existed in Georgia. It was amazing to explore. I hiked the canyon floor first, then went up and hiked a complete circuit around it. It ended up being a pretty long hike, but it was totally worth it.

Red Top Mountain State Park, which I went to the following weekend, has lots of nice trails, and there’s also an adorable Trading Post that had served as the visitor’s center until a new building was recently constructed. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t been there since 2014. It was lovely to explore the park and to see the fall leaves. The Trading Post has one of the best selections of magnets I’ve seen; I got one that was made to resemble the “US Engineer Department” (now the US Army Corps of Engineers) benchmark that exists somewhere in the park.

The day after I went to Red Top Mountain, I went to Tallulah Gorge, because I remembered the views from going for the first time back in April of 2018, and I figured it ought to look amazing with fall color. I stopped at Tallulah Point Overlook first, then went to the state park proper and hiked all the overlooks around the gorge. On my previous visit, I did the North Rim Trail, took the stairs down into the gorge, crossed the suspension bridge, and took more stairs back up to the South Rim Trail. That hike is extremely strenuous, and I didn’t want to overdo it this time. So instead of going down the stairs, I went all the way around the gorge to get to the South Rim Trail. It was a Sunday, and apparently the kayakers and rafters all come on Sunday. To get back out of the one-way South Rim Trail, I had to literally climb over people’s boats as they waited along the trail for permission to descend to the river. So that was funny. All in all, I had a great time. L’Eau d’Or Falls was absolutely beautiful, and I saw a ton of fall color. It seemed a bit past peak, but it was still gorgeous. The hike was great too, and I got a better view of the dam than I did the last time.

Of course, aside from visiting state and national parks, I’ve also gone to Gibbs many times since May—in June, July, August, and November—and I’ve also taken a few nice long neighborhood walks. The fall color has lingered around here, so I’ve been getting as many pictures as I can of it.

I’ve done some fun things other than hiking too. In September I went to JapanFest 2019, and in mid-October I went to the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay with Heidi.

And then, of course, there’s that vacation I mentioned.

This year, when Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told her that I wanted her to go to St. Augustine with me. To my surprise and delight, she said yes. So we spent a few months working out the details, and then at the end of July we actually did it.

Mom drove down to Atlanta on July 22, and then we left together the evening of July 23, stopping in Savannah for the night. We stayed at Savannah Bed & Breakfast Inn, which was beautiful and cozy. The next day, we looked around Forsyth Park, walked River Street, and had lunch at The Lady & Sons before heading on to St. Augustine. The drive was rainy most of the way, and we were very glad to arrive. We got settled in at the homey and welcoming Ocean Sands Beach Inn, had dinner at a lovely oceanfront restaurant down the street called The Reef, and then went to Publix to grab some groceries for the week’s breakfasts.

We packed a lot into our first full day in St. Augustine: trolley tour in the morning, lunch at Burger Buckets, strolling St. George Street, exploring Ripley’s Believe It or Not, having dinner at a mom and pop Italian restaurant called Casa Benedetto’s, and then heading to our hotel’s private beach at dusk for a view of the ocean.

Our second day, we went to the Colonial Experience and watched a few demonstrations. Then we had an incredible lunch at The Floridian; we shared a cheese board and we each had a sandwich and everything was absolutely divine. After that we took the trolley to the other side of town for tours of the Old Jail and the Oldest Store Museum. They were both really fun. That evening, we had a huge dinner at Aunt Kate’s Restaurant at the River, then spent some time on the dock out back watching passing boats and birds and enjoying the sunset.

On the third day, we went to the Pirate and Treasure Museum, which is always a good time. Then we took the trolley to Whetstone Chocolate Factory, but we didn’t get there in time for a tour, so we just bought some chocolates to enjoy. We did a little more walking in historic St. Augustine and I got a nice ice cream cookie sandwich before we caught a shuttle bus to St. Augustine Beach. I had never been there before and was interested to see how it was different from the hotel’s beach. The whole area was basically a beach resort, filled with hotels and restaurants and surf shops. We had lunch at the Beachcomber restaurant on A Street, and then Mom had a rest while I walked down to look at the ocean. It was a very hot and sunny day, and I ended up not spending much time there. We also were a little nervous about catching the shuttle back to town! But we made it just fine. For dinner we got cleaned up and went to the Raintree, which I love and had been to before. We shared lobster bisque, Beef Wellington, and crème brûlée, and it was all absolutely amazing.

By the next day, we were both slowing down. We decided to keep getting trolley passes so we wouldn’t have to do too much walking. The first thing we did this day was take a narrated boat tour of the river. It was kind of rainy, so we were happy to be below deck, but we still got great views of the skyline and the Castillo and the lighthouse. We also saw some cool birds. After that we had a late lunch at Harry’s. We had meant to go there the day before, but we had to leave shortly after being seated so we wouldn’t miss the beach bus, so we were happy to come back and actually eat! After that, we were both pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel and relaxed, goofing around on our computers and watching TV. For dinner, we ordered pizza and lay in bed and watched a movie.

For the fifth day, we planned ahead and scheduled a Whetstone tour. It was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be; we got to see some cool equipment and taste some incredibly delicious samples and hear some really interesting history. We had fish and chips at the Prince of Wales for lunch, sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze and the ambiance of historic downtown. Then we did a little browsing for souvenirs along St. George Street, finishing with some Dole Whip (a must). We spent the afternoon at the Fountain of Youth, where I got an inordinate number of pictures of peacocks. And then we did what I’d been hoping to do the whole trip, but which had never worked out until that day for various reasons: we went to Cap’s on the Water, sat right along the front of the deck with an excellent view of the river, and leisurely ordered appetizers while watching the sunset. It’s one of my favorite St. Augustine experiences, and I’m so glad I got to share it with Mom!

That was our last day. The next day, we packed up and headed back to Atlanta, bidding St. Augustine a fond farewell. I had always gone to St. Augustine by myself before, so bringing someone with me was new and fun. I really enjoyed sharing my favorite things with Mom and also discovering new things with her. Hopefully she and I will be taking another vacation together next April.

So while I haven’t fixed my entire life just yet, I have made some good changes and had some great experiences in the latter half of this year. There is more going on with me than just these things, too. But this is a pretty nice update, I’d say.

Jaunt to Little River Falls

Yesterday I went on a desperately needed photo adventure to Little River Falls in Gaylesville, Alabama. This was one of my spontaneous adventures–the decision to go and the actual going occurred pretty close to one another.

I had never heard of Little River Falls before the previous night, when I saw a picture of the falls posted to one of my Facebook groups. It was late in the evening and I was winding down for bed, but the picture was beautiful, surging water cascading over jutting rock. I pulled up a Google map of the location, noting that it was less than two hours away. Then I pulled up the National Park Service’s Little River Canyon page, poking around to see what the park was like and where parking was in relation to the falls. I went to bed happy to have found a new place to explore someday.

When I got up yesterday morning, feeling rested and excited and ready to do something, I knew I would be going to Little River Falls that day. I started the second load of laundry first, because I am a responsible adult! And in the meantime I read social media and had my protein shake and packed myself a lunch. Almost as soon as the laundry was in the dryer (whites, so no worry over wrinkles), I grabbed my camera bag, water bottle, and lunch, and headed up to my car.

The drive was quite pleasant. I truly enjoy driving, especially when I’m going someplace new. The route began with I-75 north, then branched off to the west on GA-140, north on GA-1, west on GA-48. I passed through downtown Summerville, Georgia, and it felt like the little town, if not dying, was barely pushing on. I passed closed businesses and abandoned storefronts and a few places that were still open, but not on a Sunday. I took a wrong turn up US-27 and discovered an ancient Hardee’s, and I stopped for a few pictures after that.

Then I was through and back in the countryside. In tiny Menio, Georgia, I turned left on Jamestown Road and then crossed the border into Alabama. It wasn’t long before I reached AL-35 and the parking area at Little River Falls.

Falls parking is free. The lot is pretty big, and there are two large, glorified porta-potties, one for women and one for men. There are two ways from the parking lot down to the falls viewing area: a series of beautiful stone steps, and a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. At the entrance to these paths, signage offers warnings about the rushing water, which you can already hear, if not see through the trees.

After documenting the parking lot and entrance with my camera, I set off down the steps. The falls came into view as I emerged from the trees onto a lovely riverwalk.

They were absolutely gorgeous.

Little River’s water level is not artificially managed, so the flow is entirely dependent on rainfall. The website indicated that winter and early spring are the best times to see the full effect, and I was not disappointed. Water surged, white and misting, down and around craggy shelves of rock. There were three main sections of waterfall: the largest, furthest from me; a comparatively slim and pleasingly symmetrical curtain of water in the middle; and another large section, surging just beyond the riverwalk.

The falls lie just down the river from AL-35, which passes as a bridge high overhead. The bridge is off to the right of the viewing area, offering a grounding backdrop for wider shots. I took my fill of photos, a variety of compositions from a variety of angles, and then I strolled along the riverwalk for a few shots of Little River.

When I got to the point where the riverwalk curved back up toward the parking lot, I discovered a dirt path leading off into the woods, labeled “Martha’s Fall Trail.” My plan had been to see the falls and perhaps to drive the scenic AL-176 route I’d read about online. But the woods and river were so inviting, and I was full of energy. I set off down the trail, feet cushioned by powdery dirt, dead leaves soft and oddly silent beneath my sneakers.

The path curved toward the river and became rocky. It was also high, weaving along a cliffside that often dramatically dropped off above woods and water. The precipitous nature of the trail was difficult to capture in photographs.

There were lichens and moss and pine needles everywhere. There were odd ground coverings I’d never seen before, miniature vines with bright red berries. It had rained recently, but much of the dirt had dried. I found spots where rivulets of water slipped in calming gurgles through the woods, across the stone, and down the cliffside. At one such spot, I climbed down a rock formation nearby to get a better view of the water, and I discovered a cave set into the cliff. Others had obviously found the cave as well; a fast food drink cup lay abandoned on the slick rock.

I did not enter the cave. Instead, I clambered up the rocks again and set back out on the trail. It guided me away from the cliff’s edge, and almost immediately I was in a lush grove, slim pines arcing overhead and small, bushy, pine-like grasses covering the ground like carpet. All was still save the rush of rapids and waterfall, unseen. In the hush, I felt like an intruder.

I emerged onto another rocky cliffside trail and stopped to gather my thoughts. Stepping back to write down what I’d seen, I nearly brushed up against a tree. It was covered in lichen, like gold leaf in the process of being applied.

Shortly I stumbled upon another grove, the pine-like carpet so thick my feet sank in by half a foot. Here and there the ground was spotted with mounds of pale green, tiny tendrils forming miniature explosions that came together in large, airy poofs.

I heard rustling and froze. Motionless, I squinted through the trees to try and find the source. Movement alone eventually revealed birds, tripping along through leaves screened from me by tree branches. I felt completely isolated from the world of people. My heavy footsteps, the beep and click of my camera were intrusions upon this natural, holy place.

I moved to try and find the real trail again, to make no more mark upon the sanctity of this breathless place, and it was then I came across the remains of a campfire. Then I sighted a hiker, not 20 feet away, on what was apparently the trail. I was not alone, but I felt that I was–a different alone than I’d felt not five minutes prior.

I sat on a rock overlooking the river and ate the last bits of a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. A red kayak slipped suddenly through the rapids; I was not fast enough to take a picture. I finished eating, stood, and realized my pants were wet and covered in damp pine needles.

Back on the main trail, I encountered more and more hikers. A family of four scrambled past me over the rocks; one of the children gushed, “It looks like a fairy garden!” and I knew exactly what she’d seen.

I was on my way back to my car, because I was satisfied and because my ankles were starting to tire, when I came to a roughly level area of dirt. Stepping through a deceptively dry-looking patch near a spot where a stream of water trickled over the cliffside, my right leg suddenly slid laterally out from under me, off to the left, sending me down on my hip and the side of my knee. I cursed, but I hadn’t been hurt, thankfully. I struggled to my feet and examined my mud-smeared jeans in dismay. They had just been washed the day before. Ah well.

Rather than return to the boardwalk, I hiked straight up and out of the forest to the parking lot. This path led me past the main entrance again, where a man and a woman were now standing. I didn’t really look at them as I stopped and stuffed a $10 bill into the donation slot, but all of a sudden they were saying “Thank you!” and I glanced over and realized they were rangers. “Oh, you’re welcome!” I said, and smiled.

I was ready to get back in my car at that point–I laid my hoodie in the seat to avoid getting mud from my pants on the upholstery–when I realized there was a river access trail just beyond the parking lot to the other side of where I’d been. Why not? I grabbed my camera bag again, locked up the car, and headed down.

This was an excellent decision, because the river access trail offers a beautifully close view of the water. I stayed three car lengths away, as the signage warned, and snapped plenty of photos. Then I hiked back up the side of the cliff rather than taking the trail, because I’m a rebel that way.

A paved path led off from the river access entrance to the AL-35 bridge. I strolled that way, crossing the bridge on a pedestrian path separated from the roadway by a guardrail. This high vantage point offered a breathtaking view of the width of the river and the charging mist of the largest waterfall as it surged over the edge. There was a staircase leading down to the river on the other side, but as the bridge sits upstream from the waterfall, I wasn’t sure there would be anything to see down there, so I didn’t go look. Instead, I finally headed back to my car. I dug into my packed lunch and ate a cup of blueberry yogurt, and then I pulled out of the parking lot to take the scenic drive.

In a lucky coincidence, I ended up accidentally taking AL-35 instead of AL-176. This was lucky because I soon came upon a gas station–my low fuel indicator light had just come on.

The gas pumps were ancient; the boxy units had analog indicators that rolled over to keep track of how much had been fueled. Of course there was no place to swipe a credit card; I went inside to prepay. With gas prices so low, I decided to spend $15, and this almost completely filled my tank. “You have to stop the pump,” the lady at the counter had said. “We don’t have a way to stop it.” So I stopped it at exactly $15.

I quickly found my way to AL-176–the turnoff was across the road from the entrance to the Little River Canyon Center. The road runs along the river on the opposite side from the falls parking area. I pulled off to get a picture of the sign and to start eating my bologna sandwich. Then I tooled down the slim, winding road, stopping at every scenic overlook for photos. Only the first stop, the Little River Falls Overlook/Boardwalk, had a view of the falls. The rest offered stunning cliff and river vistas. At one point I passed a series of huge rock formations, two of which sat in the middle of the road like a median. On my way back, I stopped and explored the outcroppings of stone. They were like a secret world, a maze of rock jutting out in weather-rounded overhangs. Here and there, some moron had written his or her name in permanent marker.

To finish up my excursion, I pulled off AL-176 shortly before it came out on AL-35 and hiked down to see if I could get a close view of the falls from this bank. I could see the falls, but there were too many trees to get a clear shot. I climbed back up the cliff and settled into my car. Even without this opposite bank view, I was completely satisfied. Little River Canyon is beautiful, and I had seen so much.

I decided to try and drive back without using GPS. I made it all the way through Summerville just fine, but then I missed the turn off GA-1 to GA-140 and ended up in Rome. From there I found my way to US-411, US-41, and then I-75, all without using GPS directions or even looking at a map. I was pretty pleased with myself (and with road signage in Georgia).

I’m really glad I took this little jaunt to Alabama. It was exactly what I needed after being cooped up indoors for so long. I’m refreshed and happy and ready for the week.


I awoke far too soon. I hadn’t slept much, and I hadn’t slept particularly well, but my eager mind was done sleeping. I was here, in a new place, and it was time to see things.

I dressed, slipped into my flip-flops, grabbed my camera and headed out the hotel’s side door. The world was dark. A yellow light at the corner of the building illuminated the sign and a well-worn path through the grass toward the road. I followed that path and crossed the silent street.

The further I moved away from the hotel, the darker it became. I used my phone to light the ground in front of me as I picked my way through beach grasses and across what felt like a low mountain of stones. The early morning night enveloped me. Soon I stepped onto smooth sand. The ocean roared out ahead, invisible.

I put my phone away and gazed out into the nothing, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Stars appeared above me, and the sand around me grew vaguely visible, but the ocean lay black beyond me, knowable only through the charge of waves rolling onto the beach.

I was alone and the world felt wild.

For a time I stood, an alien encroaching on a dimension beyond waking life. Then practicality returned and I pulled my phone back out. It was 6 o’clock, and the weather app indicated sunrise wouldn’t come for nearly two hours. I slipped back through the blackness to the hotel.

I used the next half hour to plan and then shower: I’d get some sunrise photos, then head straight to town rather than going for a swim. At 6:30 when I went back to the beach, an orange-yellow gradient had already appeared beyond the now-visible, low-crested waves, offering muted backlight to a long smear of clouds.

Into this dim morning a handful of souls stirred. A woman moved down the beach from my left, picking up trash. A small boat jetted across the water the other way. I stepped into the churn of foam as it raced up and down the beach and marveled: it was so, so warm. And as I watched the light intensify over the water, an enormous fish suddenly flipped up out of the waves and crashed back into the sea.

The clouds blocked the sun at first, painted in cool pastels until finally starfire burned brilliant, searing an outline upon their crest. And then the sun burst through, and the ocean was bathed in gold.

As the sun broke the dark, so too did morning birds break the stillness. Birds with long legs and narrow beaks bustled across the sand and burst into flight over the waves. Gulls passed overhead in a smooth line. A tiny white bird with grey markings sped across the sand, stabbing its beak in to search for breakfast.

With the world alight, I saw that what had felt to my feet like mounds of stones were actually rolling dunes of seashells. At the top of the hill separating the beach from the road were flowering vines and shrubs with purple and orange blossoms, undetectable to me in the night. And next to the hotel, the dark shrub I’d passed to reach the road was filled with delicate white blooms.

I rinsed the sand from my feet at the outdoor shower and made my way inside for breakfast. The sun was up on my first day in St. Augustine.


Fun in Chattanooga

Last month, Sean had William and Adam over to the apartment for a weekend of gaming. I mentioned this on Facebook and joked that I was thinking about leaving town; Adam’s wife Tricia promptly invited me to go whitewater rafting with her and two of her friends on the Ocoee in Tennessee. How could I pass that up?

I decided to go to Chattanooga the day before and see some sights. Despite reading all about it and even subscribing to the Chattanooga tourism email newsletter, I’d never actually visited Chattanooga. Every time I drove through on my way to or from Kentucky I’d think “I really should stop here someday!” and I never would. Finally I had a plan! So on the morning of Saturday, August 10 I hit the road for Chattanooga, intending to see Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Incline Railway.

Somehow, the drive seemed really long, and I got pretty tired. A stop at McDonald’s for unsweet tea and cookies perked me up.

When I got to Chattanooga I went straight to Ruby Falls. Sean went there last year as part of a team-building exercise, and ever since I’ve wanted to go. (He went to Nashville on that same trip, and took me there the day after Adam and Tricia’s wedding.)

Ruby Falls is a giant waterfall inside a mountain. Awesome, right? The attraction is very well organized. There are people outside throughout all the parking levels to guide you to a spot and answer your questions. It was easy (and free) to park, and then I took the nice pedestrian boardwalk walkway back up to the entrance.

Ruby Falls

The building was built at the turn of the 20th century with wood and stone from Lookout Mountain that was removed as the elevator shaft into the cave was created. It has a cool rustic lodge feel. There’s a line to get in and then they direct you to either buy your tickets if you don’t have them yet or wait in another line for a tour. Eventually you are shuttled down deep into the mountain by elevator.

the cave within Lookout Mountain

The caves are lit by energy efficient bulbs. There is an evening lantern tour available where they turn out the lights and all you have are small lanterns to see by.

As we assembled and got ready to head further into the cave, the tour guide asked everyone where they were from. There was a family from Chicago, a family from Atlanta, and others. When he got to me and I told him Atlanta, “You’re by yourself?” he asked.

Me: “Yup.”

Tour guide: “Sniffle, sniffle.”

Me: “I’m on an adventure!”

Tour guide: “Be careful! It’s dangerous out there, you know.”

Finally the sexist tour guide moved on down the line, which was a relief as I was starting to feel embarrassed by my perfectly legitimate life choices. But then, after more elevator groups had arrived and our group had filled out, he started yelling from the back of a huge line of people:

“Hey, where’s that lady who was by herself from Atlanta?”

I responded cheerfully, but inside I was nervous and a little angry. “What’s up?”

“There’s a man back here who’s by himself too. Want to get together?”

Seriously? “I’m married.”

“Oh, I thought I figured something out. Sorry, sir! She’s married!”

At this point I turned to the group from Chicago and remarked, “He just won’t get outta my business!”

On the way into the caves there was a little boy behind me. I’m going to guess he was between four and seven, but I’m not sure. He would not stop talking, much to the chagrin of his grandparents and the tour guide, but I loved it.

At one point when the ceiling was particularly low he yelled to me, “Duck, woman!” :D

He kept asking if there were diamonds or gold in the cave. He also reacted very loudly and excitedly to all the different rock formations with exclamations such as “Whoa, what’s that?” or “That’s crazy!”

He was a considerate kid, always letting his grandmother know about any dangers ahead. “It’s slippery ahead, Grandma!” After awhile I started interacting with him, asking him questions, pointing out rock formations, and trying to explain stalactites and stalagmites.

Among the fascinating formations in the cave are naturally-formed rocks that look like steak and potatoes. There’s a section in the ceiling that looks like bacon. There are beehives, a dragon’s foot, a turtle, a fish, and more. Some of the stone is smooth and shiny.

Steak and potatoes rock formation

Fish rock formation

Tobacco leaves rock formation

Dragon's foot rock formation

Finally we emerged into a large cavern filled with multicolored lights and music, at the end of which was the main attraction: the waterfall. Each tour group gets seven minutes to look and take pictures.

The experience was okay–the colors were neat–but I would have liked to have been in the chamber alone, in complete silence but for the cascading water. I wonder if such a thing is possible.

My flash photos seemed to be catching a lot of spray, so I took many photos without the flash. I thought about asking someone to take my picture in front of the falls, but before I could muster up the courage, it was time to head back out.

Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls

You head out the way you came in, so other than a few side tunnels, the view was the same. Eventually we were back at the elevators waiting to go up. The tour guide pointed out a different cave that’s used in the fall for a spooky Halloween tour ranked sixth in the nation by the Travel Channel. It’s also the emergency exit if the elevator ever breaks down.

After we emerged from the elevator, I tipped the tour guide (he was sexist, but he was good otherwise) and then headed up to the observation platform. The view was okay, but filled with power lines and industry, so not ideal. Then I went down into the gift shop and purchased the picture of myself that was taken in the cave. I also got a Ruby Falls magnet.

By this point I was starving, so I grabbed a turkey sandwich and a water from the refreshments counter before heading back to my car.

The lady at the counter inside had said to do Incline Railway next, but a guy in the parking lot advised me to do Rock City first. He sounded like he understood my timetable, so I took his advice and drove around Lookout Mountain until I finally found the place. (GPS was telling me to do some weird stuff; I finally just turned it off and followed the many signs.)

I didn’t have a good idea of what Rock City was before I arrived. I had seen billboards and looked briefly at the website, but my impression had been that it was a nature trail in the mountain that led to a cool lookout point. The second part is correct; there is an awesome view with a waterfall called Lover’s Leap, and that’s what you see in all the pictures. But the way to get there is not a nature trail. Rock City is actually an elaborate, meandering garden of stone and plant life. You walk down a paved stone trail through cliffs and rock formations and view carefully tended shrubs, flowers and trees. There’s music at the entrance to the garden. At first I was a little disappointed; it seemed cheesy. But once I got beyond the music and deeper into the gardens, I started to appreciate the effort that had gone into designing this beautiful area.

Rock City

Rock City

The trails curve around, up, and down, so that you’re often doubling back but you’re higher or lower than you were before. There are stone bridges and an extraordinarily fun bouncy bridge.

Looking down from a trail

Rock City trails

There are also gnome statues in various playful poses throughout Rock City. At one point there’s an entire gorge filled with them.

Of course, the main attraction is Lover’s Leap, which is as beautiful and breathtaking as the pictures. You get good viewing angles of the outcropping from various points in the garden.

Lover's Leap

Past Lover’s Leap is another observation area called Eagle’s Nest, and a small wedding ceremony was taking place there. Everyone was dressed in white and black and at least one of the maids of honor was wearing elf ears, in honor of the fairytale theme of Rock City.

At this point I thought I was pretty much done, but the gardens continued. The trail curved back around through more formations and sights, including a slim passage called “Fat Man Squeeze” and a deer sanctuary. Eventually it came back out to an alternate view of Lover’s Leap with a better angle for photos of the waterfall.

Lover's Leap and waterfall

And there was more to see after that. Winding through the garden trails, eventually you get to a cave with a fairytale-looking entrance. The designers of Rock City were German and were very into folktales. They built this part of the garden to celebrate fairy stories of all kinds. At first you see gnomes and fairies in playful scenes here and there. Then you come to Mother Goose Village, where actual nursery rhymes and fairy tales are reenacted in dioramas. Everything is illuminated with black lights, making the colors on the models shine an unearthly neon.


One little girl was so excited about each fairytale scene that she kept screaming at her family, “Come on! You have to see this!” It was so cute.

Eventually I emerged back into the sun, very close to the entrance of the park. On my way out, I stopped at the candy shop for some “Elfin fudge”. I knew I’d be out and about and the candy would probably melt, but I bought some anyway: a thick slice of peanut butter fudge, a ball of divinity, and four raspberry truffles. The fudge and the divinity actually held up rather well, but when I finally pulled the truffles out the next day, they had completely melted.

The guy at Ruby Falls had recommended I do the Incline Railway from the base of the mountain. He said this was better for people who were scared of heights, but it also sounded like it would mean saving the more exciting experience for last. So I drove down Lookout Mountain and back into Chattanooga to the lower station. For the first time, I had to pay for parking, but it was only $3, so I didn’t mind so much.

Incline Railway station

The little train station was cute. I checked in with the lady at the window, then walked around the track to the other side, where a photographer took my picture in front of a green screen. (I didn’t opt to buy the result.) Then I joined the line of people waiting for the next train. It didn’t take too long.

Though I was behind quite a few people in line, no one sat at the very end of the train where you could see down and out the best, so I sat there. I wondered if I should have sat at the back and watched the progression upward instead, but ultimately I really enjoyed seeing the train station and then the city slowly recede.

The ride was slow and not scary in the least. At times the train passed over a road or valley, but for the most part it ran right along the ground all the way up Lookout Mountain. I had a hard time capturing the height the train reached and the steepness of the track in photos. I get the impression it looked far more impressive in person than it ever will in a still.

heading up the mountain

further up the mountain

View of an Incline Railway train

The top station has a larger gift shop than the bottom station. It also has two levels of observation platforms from which you can view the city below. I went up and took some pictures, then wandered around for a bit wondering what to do. This was the last thing I’d planned, and it didn’t seem like a very impactful way to end the day.

I went outside and looked around. The top station is smack in the middle of a nice mountaintop neighborhood. What at first appeared to be a beautifully manicured park entrance was actually someone’s front yard. I noticed a sign pointing to “Battles for Chattanooga / Point Park”, so I headed that way. The walk was lovely; lots of nice houses and flowers and grass and trees. There was also a large open area next to the train station with lots of “No Trespassing” signs; whoever owns that land has a lovely view.

Eventually on the left I saw a Civil War museum. Advertisements boasted of a 3D Electronic Battle Map, which sounded really boring to me at the time. In retrospect, it probably would have been neat to see, but I guess I was in an Outside sort of mood. I passed the museum and headed to the end of the street, at which I found Point Park. The site of some hard-fought Civil War battles, the park has a walking trail alongside amazing Chattanooga overlooks. I paid the small entry fee, then wandered in and found plenty of places for photos.

Tennessee River as seen from Point Park

cannon and Tennessee River

As you round the curve to loop back to the entrance, another trail branches off to the Ochs Museum. I headed down to see what that was. It turned out to be another military fort building with an air conditioned room containing Civil War photographs from the area, as well as some memorabilia. The museum is named for the philanthropist who established Point Park. Beyond this room is a broad semicircular area overlooking Moccasin Bend in the Tennessee River.

Moccasin Bend

Point Park has some of the best views I saw in Chattanooga. I’m so glad I wandered down the street instead of just getting right back on the train.

For the return trip down the mountain, I got on first and went straight to the front. I wanted to see if the experience of going down would be more exciting, and if I could get a different sort of picture or video. Ultimately, though, the trip was so leisurely that I got my fill of photos fairly quickly and then took the opportunity to check Facebook.

Incline Railway train

At the bottom I took a quick spin through the gift shop, but nothing really caught my eye, so I headed out to the street to look for dinner.

There are a few restaurants in the area of the lower station. Right across the street is Mr. T’s Pizza and Ice Cream. I actually saw it on my drive in and thought it looked cool. However, I strolled around a few blocks to make sure there wasn’t something else I wanted. The seafood restaurant, 1885 Grill, was extremely busy, with a line out into the street. The burrito place looked a little too much like a bar. Other places were only open for lunch. Finally I decided Mr. T’s would be fine; there was no line, and freshly-made pizza sounded pretty good. I went in and ordered an 8″ Classic, which is your standard tomato sauce and cheese pizza with a bunch of meat. It was delicious. I also got a side salad.

Mr. T's pizza

I thought about having some ice cream for dessert, but I was pretty full after all that pizza (I couldn’t finish it), so I decided it was time to find my bed for the night.

This trip was my first experience using AirBnB. I stayed in the second bedroom of a woman’s apartment. She never came home, so it was like having an apartment all to myself. The place was beautifully decorated and felt very welcoming. I watched a little cable TV, as I enjoy doing whenever I’m away from home, and then turned in for the night. I knew I had to leave the Chattanooga area by 10, so I set my alarm for the latest time I should get up, 9.

I had some trouble getting to sleep, perhaps due to being in a strange bed, perhaps due to excitement, but eventually I managed it. I awoke at 6 feeling pretty refreshed, so I went ahead and got up. Since I had a few hours, I decided to go explore downtown Chattanooga.

I’d found a restaurant on Yelp that sounded decent, so I put its name into Google Maps and headed in that direction. It was near the aquarium. At first I pulled into a paid parking lot, but then I noticed that street parking was free at the time, so I quickly moved the car.

Not feeling particularly hungry yet, I decided to walk around a bit and take pictures. On my way into town I’d driven over an awesome bridge with sidewalks called P.R. Olgiati Bridge, so I headed back that way and strolled across.

Summer by Daud Akhriev

pedestrian bridge


Delta Queen

I got lots of pictures of the river, the riverfront, and the John Ross pedestrian bridge across the way, which I decided to use to get back. I headed into the north end of town, turned right, and walked down Manufacturer’s Road, snapping pics of storefronts. I noticed a restaurant called Good Dog was open, and then I realized I was hungry, so I stopped in and had their sausage and gravy breakfast sandwich. It was delicious.


A group of people in t-shirts were at a table across the room having beer cocktails. It was 8 o’clock in the morning.

Back out on the street, I considered walking down into Renaissance Park; I’d gotten some good overhead views of it from the bridge and it looked interesting. But I was eager to get to the pedestrian bridge, so I passed on the park and kept going.

The pedestrian bridge was everything I’d hoped it’d be, a long boardwalk with an intriguing overhead structure and great views of Chattanooga and the river. I smiled at everyone who was out biking, jogging, and walking dogs. There are so many cyclists in Chattanooga; it’s awesome.

pedestrian bridge

Delta Queen

art museum

Once across the river, I turned left toward the art museum, which sits atop a dramatic bluff along the river. The museum appeared to be closed that early on a Sunday, but I got some exterior shots. I also found a sign with a downtown map that led me further away from where I’d parked, to an overlook area with a sculpture garden. It was lovely.



dewy buds

After that I meandered back into town. I walked past a children’s science center and the baseball stadium, then found my way back to my car just in time to set out for my next adventure…whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.

I’d say my first visit to Chattanooga was a resounding success!

Check out all my pictures from this trip here.

Thoughts of Birmingham

A few weeks ago, Sean and I went to Birmingham, Alabama for his work. I took two days to explore some of the city’s attractions and had a really good time, despite the cold, rainy weather.

Last night, I had a dream that I was in Birmingham looking into some fictional university. The place was huge and architecturally impressive, and I also found it to be forward-thinking. For some reason Willow, the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was there with me. It started snowing. (These two parts of the dream may be related to my watching several episodes from Buffy season three before bed.)

Then a tornado siren started going off. Thinking back to my time living in Huntsville, I wondered whether Birmingham was also within Tornado Alley, and whether frequent storms were something I’d have to get used to. Willow and I checked out the sky looking for funnel clouds, but my good sense prevailed and we holed up in the basement of a building on campus.

In the dream, I remember being really excited to move to Birmingham. Indeed, I enjoyed visiting, and there were many places I could see myself returning to again and again, like the Botanical Gardens or the Museum of Art. And really, I am the type of person who craves change and enjoys the challenge of getting to know a new place. For a laugh, I checked Google Maps to see how far Birmingham is from my family in Kentucky compared to where we live now, and it’s not that different. Plus, the route would be new and interesting: instead of old, familiar I-75, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, I’d take I-65 through Nashville. The thought of all these new adventures is actually pretty exciting.

But realistically, I can’t say I want to move right now. For one thing, there’s no reason to, beyond my illogical wanderlust. I can’t say that I saw enough of Birmingham in the two days I spent exploring it to know that I would be happy there. I don’t know what the job market is like. Birmingham is slightly farther from my family and double the distance from Sean’s. And the base for Sean’s work is here. He may get dispatched to Birmingham and other locations occasionally, but being here is the most economical.

Still, it’s fun to have these flights of fancy from time to time. At the very least, I know that if I want to, I can visit Birmingham as easily as I can visit Augusta. And I still have plenty more to learn about Atlanta. I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

There are plenty of adventures to be had without moving somewhere new.

(That sounded convincing, right?)

NY Trip Day 4: Poughkeepsie and an Epiphany

This post covers the fourth day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. The events occurred July 17, but it took me two days, July 18 and 19, to write about them.

This was a highly satisfying day. I was out later than usual and didn’t end up writing a thing when I got back, so I started this update the next morning.

I had a plan for this day: Samuel Morse historic site, Culinary Institute of America, FDR site, Vanderbilt mansion. The first wrench in the works came when I realized the Culinary Institute was closed for the summer. There would be no tours or meals at the campus restaurants. So I had to cross that one off my list.

I got started early enough to catch the 10am opening of the Samuel Morse historic site, located on the south side of Poughkeepsie. When I arrived, I discovered there was a car show going on all over the grounds! I wasn’t sure where to park, so I pulled right into the main entrance. “If you’re showing the car, pull up and around to the left,” a guy directing traffic said.

“Actually I just wanted to see the museum…where can I park?”

“You’ll need to go back out down the street to Merrill Lynch and walk back through the woods.”

This wasn’t difficult, and soon I was at an entrance table where I paid $6 for the car show (why not? I could simply pay an additional $4 for the house tour, which was normally $10 anyway) and then meandered on into the grounds. I took some time strolling around all the cars, snapping plenty of photos. Finally I headed to the visitor’s center and bought a ticket for the tour of Samuel Morse’s house, Locust Grove. (As is typical of these older homes, photography was not allowed inside.)

Locust GroveIt turned out the house had had several owners, and it currently exists as its last owners, the Youngs, had it set up. Samuel Morse did own the home and make some amazing additions to it, but the home is also notable just for showing how people lived. The most impressive room to me was the billiard room with its rounded, vaulted ceiling. The room was huge, with walls curving around a pool table in the middle, and the extraordinarily high ceiling is capped off by what used to be a skylight–it leaked, so it was closed off. Closets with curved doors to the left and right of the entry served to store ball gowns, so there was no smoking in the billiard room. There was a music player that played wax rolls.

I also loved the add-on back room, with its huge windows and French doors. It was like a giant sunroom, with access to the veranda and backyard. The room originally boasted a beautiful view of the Hudson, but trees have since grown up to block that view.

Every room in the house was filled with collectible items. Some were antiques or valuable and others were knockoffs. The Youngs apparently didn’t throw anything away. But I found the eclectic collection quite charming. One lady of the house collected teapots, and it was neat to see them all around.

The dining room had, I believe, been added on by the owners previous to Morse. The butler’s pantry off that room features a mirror that allowed the lady of the house to signal the butler without it being obvious to the rest of the table. There was also a nice dumbwaiter leading down to the kitchen and a safe hidden behind a painting.

This home was a neat contrast to Boscobel. Boscobel is Colonial era; this house, Locust Grove, had been lived in and updated until 1975, and after that was restored to turn-of-the-century. So you see things like electricity and real bathrooms with tubs, sinks, and toilets. The hearth area where cooking would have been done over the coals in colonial times now boasts a gorgeous black gas stove.

After I was done in the house, I went back to the welcome center and looked at the Samuel Morse exhibit, which shows off many of his portraits (I’d had no idea he was a painter), other paintings, and a sculpture. It also, of course, detailed the creation of Morse Code. Reading it all was really exciting. To think that before the telegraph, instant communication simply wasn’t possible…this breakthrough summoned forth our current age.

I also liked seeing the books and toys that taught children Morse Code, making it fun to learn the tools they’d need for work in the future. It reminded me of mail-order science kits or those build-it-yourself radios you could get at Radio Shack when I was a kid.

Finally I headed back outside and looked at more cars on my way back to the Camaro. The gentleman who’d waved me out when I arrived recognized me and was stunned to discover that the car was a rental.

I hadn’t had breakfast, and by now it was time for lunch, so I searched Yelp! on my phone for a nearby restaurant and ended up at the Derby on Main Street in Poughkeepsie. It’s right up the street from the water and pretty easy to find. When I walked in, the place was dead…probably due to the fact that the air conditioning wasn’t working in the bar or in the first dining room. The second dining room had window units, though, so I was good to go. I sat down and snapped some pictures and looked at the menu.

The Derbyme at the DerbyIt seems to me like pulled pork is becoming a thing up here. Or maybe it has been for awhile. Coming from the South, I kind of wanted to try something different, something more local. Many of the menu items sounded like stuff I could get at downtown Augusta restaurants. Finally, with the help of the waiter, I settled on their Derby Summer salad, which includes strawberries, nuts, and Brie. I asked to have salmon added.

I waited for a very long time, drinking two or three refills of water in the interim. Finally the waiter came back, looking embarrassed, and told me that they actually had no salmon. Somewhere the lines of communication had completely broken down. He gave me the salad without the salmon and said it was on the house.

Derby summer saladThe salad was amazing. It might have been the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Plus, I really didn’t care about having to wait, or having no salmon. I can be pretty easygoing when I’m by myself and don’t really have a deadline. I left a $10 on the table, which now that I think about it wasn’t enough to cover the food, tax, and tip, but since they were giving it to me for free hopefully they can work something out so that the waiter gets a fair share.

I thought about walking down to the river from there, but the parking was only for restaurant customers and I didn’t want to risk being towed. I decided against driving around looking for a riverfront parking area and continued on Highway 9 to the north.  I passed the Culinary Institute of America, to my left as I was leaving Poughkeepsie, but as I mentioned before, it was closed, so I just drove straight past. By the way, for those of you who don’t watch Law & Order, Poughkeepsie is pronounced “puh-KIP-see”. ;)

The next place on my list was the Franklin D. Roosevelt historic site in Hyde Park. But I somehow wound up in the wrong lane and had to make a right turn off of the road I was supposed to be on. I was going to just turn around and go back, but then I saw a sign pointing the way to Eleanor Roosevelt’s house. Purely on a whim, I followed the signs and ended up at Val-Kill.

Val-KillThe grounds are lovely. I drove in and parked, then purchased a tour ticket at the welcome center. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is maintained by the National Park Service, so everyone, tour guides and ticket sales alike, was in uniform. The tour began with a video about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life.

Watching that video, and then listening to the tour guide as she showed my large group through the house, I had a revelation. You see, I had never really known much about Eleanor Roosevelt before. I had a vague understanding that she was a first lady who championed causes, but I never realized what those causes were or why she did it. She didn’t do what she did because she was expected to; she did what she felt was right. In fact, what she did often clashed with the majority opinion of what she should be doing…but she didn’t care.

She wanted to help, to take care of people, to ensure that everyone was treated equally. She cared about people. She wrote and wrote and wrote. And her home was a simple, comfortable one where she could entertain family and friends with dinners and potlucks and swimming.

She started out shy but madly curious, uninterested in “girly” stuff such as her “coming out” and eager to learn all she could about everything. She met and married a kindred spirit and together they achieved greatness, despite his infidelity.

At one time the Ku Klux Klan put a bounty on her head, and she drove winding country roads in the black of night to get past them so she could attend an important meeting.

The reality, the power, of believing in people and oneself and actually doing something about injustice thrummed through me to the bone. Here was a woman who didn’t, say, get a job in TV news and then censor her own opinions for five years, crippling her writing and miring herself in fear of what current or future employers might think. Here was a woman who simply did what she believed was right. All in. All the time. She wrote every day and she pulled no punches.

I was profoundly affected by learning the story of Eleanor Roosevelt. I think I will finally be able to get myself back on track now.

I took a short walk around the grounds and got some photos, then headed back to the car. As I was messing with the GPS, two older ladies tapped on the window and asked if I was going to the FDR library, and if so, could they get a ride? Yes, and yes! We fumbled around and figured out how to move the passenger seat so one of them, Ann, could get in the back, then the other, Elaine, sat up front. We chatted about how it was really too hot to walk all that way; they thanked me profusely and I said it was no problem. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen the FDR site yet, and I wondered if I had enough time to do it all. They recommended the library over the house, and I took that recommendation.

The FDR site is much larger than Eleanor’s. The sprawling estate includes the house, the library/museum, a large visitors center, and various gardens. The Roosevelts are buried there. After parking, you go through the visitors center, get your ticket, and then exit a different door onto the grounds.

statue of the RooseveltsIt was indeed a very hot day, I thought as I marched up the gravel path to the library. The site is currently being renovated and restored for the first time since it opened–construction started this year and there’s taped off areas and construction equipment and dirt and concrete all around. It gave the area a starker feeling than I think it would normally have; I can imagine the site being much more pastoral and beautiful.

At the library I learned about FDR’s life and presidency and about the reasoning behind social security. A lot of the opposition back then used the same arguments we’re hearing today. The exhibit included a place for people to write their own thoughts as to whether or not social security is the right choice moving forward. I was also interested in the sections concerning FDR’s role in the atomic bomb and Japanese-American internment camps.

However, I had been so wowed by my epiphany at the Eleanor Roosevelt site that I didn’t pay as close attention to the FDR site as I might have otherwise. I looked at everything–one nice touch was that photography was allowed–but I didn’t feel the same connection. There was a room dedicated to Eleanor in the museum, but it was small and I felt I had already gotten to know her at Val-Kill.

Finally I went outside and walked the grounds a bit. I checked out Springwood, FDR’s house, the main house used by the couple. (Val-Kill was originally a furniture factory and then a summer home before Eleanor moved there after FDR’s death.) I was too late for a tour but I got some exterior shots. I also saw Franklin and Eleanor’s grave.

SpringwoodGrave of FDR and ERI headed back to the car through a field filled with leaping insects, long waving grasses, and clover. All I could think was how happy I was to have gone to Eleanor’s site. How there was no one saying I couldn’t write anymore–I was the only one blocking myself. I felt a new hope and optimism that had been missing for a long time.

Why should I be afraid to write what I’m thinking, and how I came to think it? Is the alternative, writing nothing, really better? No. It’s worse. I’ve always known it was worse. But I was afraid. And I’m tired of fear.

My last stop was the Vanderbilt mansion. Again, I was too late for a tour. I’ve toured the Biltmore, and it felt like a very “look how rich they were!” tour, which is completely unappealing to me. But I’ve heard that this mansion tour focuses more on how people lived, and I’ve also heard that the Vanderbilts were extremely generous with all that wealth. So I do want to go on the Vanderbilt mansion tour someday.

Vanderbilt mansionWhen the grounds are open–they’re free to the public from dawn until dusk–you can just drive on in and park. I saw lots of people walking, running, and bicycling, and even one woman laying out getting a tan. The grounds are extensive, covered with trees, and well-maintained. This open, public, comfortable atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the theme park feel of the Biltmore. There, you pay an admission fee of $44 to $59 for access to the house and grounds (which includes a self-guided audio tour of the house), and there’s more driving around on all the winding roads than there is walking or bicycling. But of course, the Biltmore is not a public park; it’s owned by a Vanderbilt descendant.

I walked past the visitors center and around the house, which is lovely, then followed a path far back into the woods until it ended at a large Italian-style flower garden. Maintained by volunteers, the garden has several levels filled with blooms. There’s a small fountain at the top, and below, just above the lowest-level rose garden, there’s a pool filled with lily pads and watched over by a pale statue. There are some arbors, but most of the garden is in direct sunlight, making for a steamy meander. I strolled through most of the levels but left the sparse rose garden unexplored.

Vanderbilt gardensflowersgardensEvery now and then at these sites I’ve seen a sign indicating a private residence. A house alongside the garden is one such property. I wonder what it’s like to live in the middle of a public park?

I walked back to the mansion, this time taking a moment to walk around back. I was glad I did, because the Hudson River was visible. The back of the home was lovely as well. I took more pictures and then headed back to the car.

Hudson River viewrear of Vanderbilt mansionWith this, my mission for the day was complete. I knew, though, that if I went back to the hotel now, I’d be stuck shivering in the air conditioning for hours doing nothing interesting. So on my way back south on highway 9, I took an exit in Poughkeepsie called “Water St”. The sign was huge, so I figured this was the best way to get to the riverfront.

And it would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for all the construction! Not long after I got onto the ramp, it turned into gravel, with traffic cones demarcating a rough lane. I was unsure I wanted to go this route, but there was no way back, so I plunged forward, following construction cones and detour signs until I was back on regular roads and the river was before me. Ah! The riverfront! I drove straight down into a cul-de-sac and found a park area. Perfect. After a little confusion about where to park the car, I finally found a four-hour public parking space on a side street.

As I was walking back to the park, I saw a restaurant called Captain Cliffy’s River Station. Seafood. Awesome! I headed on in for an early dinner. They seated me near the back window so I could see out to the park and the Hudson River beyond without missing out on the air conditioning.

Captain Cliffy'sThe place has your normal bar and grill on the coast sort of feel. Comfortable, a little loud, great view. I had the swordfish and it was wonderful.

Once I was fed and watered, I headed down to the riverfront park and walked its length, first right, then left. There was music playing at a picnic shelter near the park entrance, and lots of people were dancing or sitting and listening. There was a skate park and a playground further down the path. Up ahead was what I thought was a working train bridge, but then I came across an informational sign that let me know it was a former train bridge that had been converted to a walking and bicycling path. The thing is really long. I wanted to find where it started and cross it, but there was no way I had time. A little further up the path is one of those binocular machines–free–and I was able to see the people walking along the bridge.

Poughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontbinocular view of converted train bridgeThe path ended with a large covered area suitable for small concerts and gatherings; a young couple was walking around inside. The riverfront park really isn’t all that big, and Augusta’s Riverwalk, it could be argued, is far more elaborate in terms of landscaping, gardening, and walkway design, but there were all kinds of people there, from the nearby apartment building or restaurant patrons or visitors, and it all felt very friendly and nice.

Back the other way from the entrance, there’s a three-piece whale-serpent statue lying across the grass such that it appears to be swimming, with only its tail, midsection, and head visible. Each piece has beautiful decorative tiles embedded along the top like scales. Beyond that, the trail meanders down to a pier that extends out into the Hudson, affording lovely views. There’s no railing at the end, so I assume boats can dock there briefly to let people on or off. To the right of the pier, down the river, is the train bridge walkway; to the left, almost immediately, is a highway bridge, light blue.

whale serpentwhale serpent's headdockPoughkeepsie riverfrontAs I walked back to the car, I just drank in the happy view of a Sunday evening at the river, families and couples and individuals all out having a nice time.

When I got back to Fishkill, I rode with Sean to get his dinner (Wendy’s) and then up to Friendly’s for some ice cream. This time I had a strawberry shortcake sundae, and it was yum. And that concluded my fourth day in New York State. I went to bed as early as possible to prepare for Day 5: New York City!

NY Trip Day 3: Fishkill and Beacon

This post covers the third day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 16.

Today was a slow day. I didn’t get up until 12:30pm; guess I was tired! I spent a few hours searching online for historic or interesting sites to visit and eating a sandwich and some blueberries. Finally at around 3 I decided to head out.

My first stop was the ATM in Fishkill to grab some cash, because I don’t want to run into the cash-only entrance fee problem unprepared again. Then I headed back up the road to the Van Wyck Homestead, which is right at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Highway 9. It was 3:50 when I arrived…and the house closed at 4!

Van Wyck HomesteadI managed to catch the tail end of a tour. The house isn’t that big, and it hasn’t been perfectly restored, so really the main interesting things were who had stayed at the house and how people had lived there. I saw the kitchen and heard how people cooked, and the guide talked about how people made soap from animal fat and had to import sugar in cones from the Caribbean Islands–where Alexander Hamilton was born, something I had never heard before. Hamilton, along with Lafayette, von Steubing, and Washington himself are said to have stayed at the Van Wyck house when it was used as a headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

After a quick look through the gift shop–which included a cabinet said to have originally housed a Murphy-style fold-down bed used by Gen. Washington–I headed outside to allow the poor proprietors to close the house up. I didn’t leave right away, though; instead I circled the home taking pictures, getting some decent shots of the building as well as some interesting stone structures, a garden, and a well. There’s more information about the house here.

Also on the property is a historic marker for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path. I was excited to see this since there is also a marker for for path at Riverwalk in Augusta! (Click here for more information about the Path.) Needless to say, I got a few pictures.

When I was done poking around the Van Wyck Homestead property, I went back to the car and wondered what to do next. The obvious option was to head up the street into Fishkill and walk around, but I’d already sort of done that, so the idea didn’t excite me. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and searched Maps for “historic”. Many of the sites that came up were some distance away. I avoided those because I’d noticed many of the smaller historic sites had early closing times, like Van Wyck. But I did see a point nearby: the Madam Brett Homestead on Teller Street in Beacon, Fishkill’s neighbor to the immediate southwest. (Interestingly, the Van Wyck house was built on land purchased from Catheryna Rombout Brett, the lady who lived there. I didn’t discover that fact until I started writing this post.)

Madam Brett HomesteadI put the address into the Garmin and headed off to Beacon. It was a short and simple drive. When I got to the house, there was a big sign for it, but no parking area other than a normal-looking half-circle driveway, and no one was parked there. I saw a bunch of people walking around, and I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable getting out there. So I drove past and parked along the water on Main Street, where I saw some shops and cool murals.

muralschurchAs I walked back up I took pictures of a neat church, and I saw a building just beyond it that looked really awesome, but I figured I’d come back around in a loop and get pictures of that one later. I saw plenty of other interesting things on my way back to the Madam Brett house, and I took pictures all along the way.

The house sits on a wide lot behind a firehouse. The land and home are well-maintained. I walked up to the front door and created the spot on Gowalla and checked in, then got plenty of pictures around the site. I saw no information for visitors, so I’m not sure the house is actually open to the public, but it was still neat to see. I finished up by photographing the big sign at the corner, then walked back up to Main Street.

Madam Brett Homestead signAt that point I could have walked back to the car and left, but I saw that I had come out on a lively shopping and restaurant district. I turned left instead and headed further up Main, taking pictures of all the cool signage and architecture. I walked and walked until I got to the end of the street and saw signs for the Beacon/Newburgh Bridge. Then I crossed and headed back down the other side of Main Street. I got photos of an awesome church with a “fallout shelter” sign, the fire station in front of the Madam Brett house which was built in 1901 and is still in operation, and many small shops and restaurants with cool signs, including an authentic old-school diner called Yankee Clipper. I passed a place that made real fruit popsicles on my way up the street, and I so meant to stop and get one on my way back, but somehow I missed the place and didn’t want to try to go back up and find it.

downtown Beaconfallout shelter churchunisex salon signlive bait and deli signfire station signOn my way down, I gave $1 to a guy who said, “Could you spare a dollar?” Normally I don’t give to panhandlers, but this is because normally I feel accosted by them. I found the honest, direct question refreshing compared to Augusta panhandlers, who tell you their entire life story and how they believe in Jesus and whatnot before they get down to implying you should give them money. I also chipped in to a couple of guys playing a guitar and a banjo on the street outside a restaurant.

street performersThe cool-looking building next to the church did not disappoint when I finally worked my way back to it. I wish I knew more about architectural styles so I could describe it properly, but to do it justice, you have to see it. It’s dark brick with wooden features, including two small panels with cutout shapes. The place turned out to be the Howland Cultural Center. It didn’t appear to be open at the time, but I was happy enough taking photos of its dramatic, gorgeous exterior. Go here for information about the building, including its history and architecture.

Howland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterI stayed at the center for a long time, then started walking back down where Main Street curves along the river, toward the car. I was fully prepared to leave at this point–it had been a good walk, and I was thirsty–but I decided to meander a little further down Main to see if there was anything of interest. Almost immediately I came upon some wonderful street art (starting here) along a windowless wall–I’m not sure if it was graffiti or “authorized”, but it was very striking.

street artGoing further, I suddenly realized I was hearing rushing water. I looked across the street and saw a waterfall. It was Beacon Falls: a man-made lock, like Savannah Rapids in Columbia County, Georgia, though not nearly as wide. Water gushed down into a beautiful shallow river charging across an endless field of jutting rock.

Beacon FallsComing at it from this angle, I saw a lot of “NO TRESPASSING” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs, but as I approached the lock itself I realized the waterfall was at the end of a public trail, and it was the waterway and land beyond the trail that were private. My guess is they belong to whoever’s restoring the large round building overlooking the churning water.

Beacon FallsBeacon FallsBeacon FallsI took many pictures, probably too many, of the waterfall, then walked down the path a bit. It’s very short, leading through some trees to a small parking lot. I thought about going to the end, but even that seemed a bit much with how thirsty I’d become, so I turned around and went straight back to the car.

GPS led me back to the hotel a different way, through Beacon and downtown Fishkill, and I enjoyed the scenery and the views of local businesses as I swallowed against my dry throat and pondered stopping for a drink. But it wasn’t long before I got back to the room. I immediately downed about four glasses of water :)

Day three: Success!

NY Trip Day 2: West Point and Washington’s Headquarters

This post covers the second day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 15.

After we arrived in Highland Falls and Sean went to work, I took a little walk around the village and snapped some photos of the intriguing architecture.

Cool house on Main Street in Highland Falls, NY

red church door
Church with red door in Highland Falls, NY

When I was satisfied with my walk around the block, I had breakfast at Andy’s Restaurant, the place I found yesterday after I’d already eaten at the Dunkin Donuts. I had a lox omelet and it was quite good. The home fries were amazing.

andys restaurant
Andy's Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

lox omelet with home fries
Lox omelet with home fries, Andy's Restaurant.

After I ate I did a little more walking, then headed to the US Military Academy Visitors Center. I knew from yesterday that it opened at 9, so I was just in time. I wondered what exactly it would have, since there is a separate building for the West Point Museum. I was thinking maybe it just had information on the West Point tour. It turns out there is a whole information center there about training at the US Military Academy. The place seems to be geared towards potential cadets and their parents, but has useful information for anyone. I was most intrigued by the cadet quarters on the upper level, seeing what the beds and desks are like. There’s a room off to the left of that showing all the different uniforms cadets wear, and a theater off to the right showing a twelve-minute introductory video.

cadet quarters
Cadet quarters example, US Military Academy, NY

There was a booth where you could sign up for a tour of West Point, but you could only pay cash and it cost $12, which was more than I had. I left the display area, walking through the entry hall in which a plastic soldier is parachuting from the ceiling, and crossed over to the Visitors Center Gift Shop. This was a disappointment…mostly clothing, and high prices. I didn’t buy anything.

parachuting puppet
Plastic parachutist, West Point Visitors Center

As I was finishing up, many tour groups started arriving. I walked over to the museum, walked back, and walked over to it again, wasting time until it opened at 10:30. After seeing the visitors center I wondered what the museum would house. It turned out to have several displays on multiple floors: history of the Academy, history of warfare, small arms, large arms. There was another display upstairs but I didn’t have time to look at it.

West Point Museum
West Point Museum

I noticed that the Civil War was completely omitted from the history of the Academy exhibit. Gen. Robert E. Lee was one of the Academy’s superintendents, so I was interested to read about any issues that might have come up over that…but it was all blithely and neatly ignored. After I got out of the history of warfare exhibit, I discovered a small alcove that did address the Civil War, though not in the detail I might have wanted. I did appreciate the information right at the mouth of the alcove about causes of the Civil War and the way the two sides basically tried to ignore the slavery issue afterward; the South by claiming the war was really about states’ rights, and the North by just refusing to talk about it anymore. (This is one reason I like modern society and the internet. There is always a place for this sort of discussion.) The introductory text made the point that for the North, it was not about ending slavery, because most Northerners had the same wrong-headed views as the rest of the “civilized” world. For the North, it was about keeping the country whole. The introduction argued, though, that there had been plenty of strife between North and South before that had been resolved, and the only reason the South went so far as to try and secede was because of the Abolitionist movement. This jives with what I learned at the Abraham Lincoln exhibit I saw at the Atlanta History Museum; Lincoln’s equality views were not popular and he basically had to force the issue. Thank goodness he did.

Anyway, after those exhibits I walked through the small and large arms displays. In history of warfare there was a 1/10th scale copy of Fat Man (the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki), but there is a full-size version down in large arms. Having been to Hiroshima’s museum, I was a little underwhelmed by the lack of attention to the effects of the atomic bombs in both exhibits.

There was a Japanese tour group there–I passed them as they were going into the visitors center. I was sort of morbidly curious as to what the tourists’ reactions would be to the atomic bomb displays, but I didn’t see them in the museum.

When I came back out of the sub-basement galleries, I went into the gift shop, where I found a great Academy refrigerator magnet. Yay! While checking out I had to listen to this really obnoxious man discussing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the shop employees. He kept using the phrase “Guess what?” I wanted to say, “Guess what? You’re really annoying!” but I contented myself with a massive eyeroll on my way out the door.

Sean texted me as I stepped outside; he only had to work a half day and was done. We met up in the parking lot, then walked up the street to Park Restaurant and had some great salads for lunch. Seriously, that fruit and grilled chicken salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. Park Restaurant’s whole menu sounded divine!

fruit and grilled chicken salad
Fruit and grilled chicken salad, Park Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

After that, we drove through town and the mountains with the top down. I can’t recall if I’d ever ridden in a convertible with the top down before. If I have, it was a very long time ago. I did have the foresight to tie back my hair before we got going. It was a neat experience–I could see a lot more, and I liked all the light. But the sun was beating down on us and it was also too noisy to talk much of the time.

Our hotel is in Fishkill, New York, near Beacon, across the Hudson River from Newburgh. We stopped in Newburgh to take a look at a home that served as Gen. George Washington’s headquarters for a little under a year during the Revolutionary War. The buildings are undergoing renovation, but the grounds are nice, and there is an extraordinary memorial set up to look like a guardhouse/watch tower overlooking the Hudson. It’s huge, made of stone, with four copper gates intricately wrought into patterns with state names and seals. Inside is a larger-than-life statue of Washington, looking out to the river and standing ready to draw his sword. One of the gates is open so you can go in and see him. As you walk away from the stone citadel and turn back, you see Washington’s silhouette standing guard through the open area above the gate.

monument to Washington


Washington statue

Washington statue

Washington's silhouette
Washington's silhouette

Unfortunately we weren’t able to enter either of the houses on the property; one’s under intense restoration and the other required a cash-only tour. What is with cash-only tours? It’s 2011! But we walked all around them and noted their interesting architectural features and spotted a gravestone, what appeared to be a filled-in well, and a monument to the Minutemen. The grounds are nice, a long field of green grass. The view of the Hudson can be lovely in places, but it’s slightly marred by the telephone wires and metal buildings running along the industrial section of Newburgh’s waterfront.

Washington's headquarters
A last look at Washington's Headquarters.

When we were done there we continued on back to Fishkill, where we made a pit stop at the hotel and then headed out to Friendly’s for ice cream and the bank for quarters to do Sean’s laundry. I wanted to go to the Van Wyck Homestead, which we passed coming back into town, but Sean was all tuckered out and is in fact now curled up on the bed fast asleep, poor thing.

It was a nice day :) What will the weekend bring…?

NY Trip Day 1: Highland Falls and Boscobel

This post covers the first day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 14.

My first full day in New York was pretty fun. Sean and I drove to West Point, then he went to work and I took over the car. 25 cents bought me an hour on a parking meter, and I used that time to walk around historic downtown Highland Falls and look at the cute storefronts. I love how all the signs have old-time charm. One interesting feature is the way they decorate their fire hydrants; here’s one example:

fire hydrant
Fire hydrant in Highland Falls, NY

I also liked the small park with white gazebo I found. It looked like a cozy place for a picnic.

gazebo in park
Gazebo, Highland Falls, NY

I snagged breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts–I’d wanted to find a locally-owned diner or something, but had had no luck and was really hungry. It was only after I’d already eaten that I happened across a place that would have been perfect. Alas!

When my meter ran out I drove around trying to find some riverfront access, and I ended up accidentally going through the gate at West Point. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to come in here!” I told the guard. “Can I just turn around?” He was nice and waved me back out. I drove around that area a little more, then started heading back the way Sean and I had come in, deciding to check out one of the many things I’d seen on the drive that had interested me.

It took awhile, especially since I was too snobby to use the GPS, but I finally ended up on the correct road out of the area. The first sign I saw and decided to check out was in Garrison, NY, for “Historic Garrison Landing”. A skinny road twisted back and down and around, past the most adorable train station (wish I’d gotten some pictures!) and finally to Garrison Landing, which seemed to be a very small community–like two houses, two storefronts, a couple of art and theater arts buildings, and then a pier. It all sits just below the train station and there are signs everywhere saying “TENANT PARKING ONLY – NO COMMUTERS”. I finally found a space without a tenant-only sign and parked in it, then got out and looked around and took some photos. The boat launch appeared to be private, and the rest of the area was filled with children, there for an arts camp. After awhile I wondered why there were signs pointing here if there was nothing for tourists to see, and I got back in the Camaro and headed back out.

Garrison Art Center
Garrison Art Center, Garrison Landing, NY

When I got to Cold Spring, I decided to stop at Boscobel, because I’d noticed the historic site sign on the drive in and thought the name was funny. It turned out to be an historic home, originally built several miles further down the Hudson but moved to its current location after the local government sold the land it was sitting on for $35 and the house was in danger of being bulldozed. Volunteers dismantled the house and stored pieces of it in their basements until suitable land was found and it could be rebuilt and restored. I took a private tour and thoroughly enjoyed learning the history of the house. (The man who had it built originally was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War; he was a farmer who ended up making a lot of money working for Britain, and used that to finance the home’s construction. Unfortunately for him, it took a long time to get to that point, and he suffered a carriage injury and other problems…so he only saw the foundation laid before he died, and his wife, 20 years his junior, saw to the completion of the house.)

Boscobel House
Boscobel House from the back

Boscobel House
Boscobel House from the front

Photos aren’t allowed inside the house, which is pretty standard in historic homes, but I was able to get lots of exterior shots. The rear is the most lovely, likely because it boasts the view of the Hudson.

Hudson River
Hudson River and US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

US Military Academy
US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

Before taking the above photos of the river view, I went downstairs and enjoyed the house’s current art exhibit, interpretations of the Hudson River area. I also went on a walk through the Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail, which features a waterfall, creeks and streams, wooden bridges and benches, and of course a wonderful winding trail through the trees. The Hudson River and the marshland just below Boscobel are visible from certain points on the trail, as is the US Military Academy; it was all very lovely.

Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail

US Military Academy
US Military Academy as seen from forest trail

After my adventure at Boscobel, I came back to the hotel to charge my nearly-dead iPhone and ended up websurfing for awhile. I was planning to go wander around a park up the street from Boscobel before picking Sean up, but I ran out of time. Sean and I finished our day messing around online at our hotel in Fishkill, only venturing out to try a Japanese restaurant that unfortunately didn’t turn out to be very good. Still, it was a full day of fun and I got lots of great pictures–an auspicious start to a wonderful trip.

Watashi no Nihon Ryokou – My Japan Trip

It seemed like every morning we were throwing belongings into bags and charging off to the train station, wrestling too-big suitcases into the passenger cars and barely finding room for them in the overhead racks.

The first two weeks of my trip to Japan consisted of a tour of the country by rail that took us from the medium-sized port city of Sapporo, located in the cool northern island of Hokkaido, down to the pleasant backwater town of Yatsushiro in Kyushu. Along the way we stopped in Otaru and Hakodate in Hokkaido; and Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Nikko, Tokyo, Nagoya, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Hiroshima in Honshu.

The last three weeks were spent in Yatsushiro and the surrounding areas, including Minamata, Mt. Aso National Park, and Kumamoto City. We spent a night in Fukuoka before returning to the states.

It felt like we jumped out of the plane running and never stopped till we hit the plane back home. It was exhausting, grueling, torturous.

It was the best time of my life.

Every day there was something new to see and explore, to learn about. I saw the thriving city of Hiroshima, which for some reason I’d expected to be nothing more than a wasteland. I saw the ancient burial mound of Prince Kanenaga, one of the most influential figures in fourteenth century Japan. I saw Tokyo’s tsukiji, the largest fish market in Japan. I climbed up and peered into an active volcano whose lava was a funky green color. I explored Nikko, home of the most authentic old-style buildings in all of Japan-and wholesale NBA jerseys coincidentally, a famous tourist site. I wandered through dozens of shrines and temples, including the Todaiji near Nara, home of the Daibutsu, a fifty-three foot bronze buddha which is housed in the largest existing wooden structure in the world.

I fed tame deer and took cable cars up to mountaintops. I explored a seven-story electronics shop in Tokyo that was only one of many such retailers in behandelen the Akihabara electronics district. I learned to write Japanese calligraphy with a brush. I shopped at several arcades, cheap jerseys “shopping streets” that consist of partially enclosed alleys that can extend for miles.

I ate soba, sukiyaki, ramen, sushi, jokes: sashimi, tempura, and curry, and discovered that unagidon, barbequed freshwater eel on rice, is my favorite dish in the world.

I immersed myself in Japanese pop music. I went bowling. I played video games. I watched NHK and wholesale jerseys the news and anime and dramas and comedies.

I rode a bicycle through a maze of machis, down the narrow ??????? passageways 6.20.01 between houses and out onto streets clogged with tiny cars.

It Here! was breathtaking. The whole country was breathtaking.

This essay was originally written in thanks to the Institute wholesale NFL jerseys of International Education, without whom this trip would not have been possible. This post, made for archival purposes in January of 2015, has been backdated to August 1, 2001, but I’m not sure about the actual date of writing.

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