Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tales From the Road: First Wheels Update

Last month I was up in Michigan visiting family.

One evening Mom and I grabbed a photo album at random from the bookcase full of albums in the guest/sewing room.

As we flipped through it page by page, pausing at random intervals to squint and marvel at some of the photos, I discovered a couple I didn't know existed.

They are old and tiny snapshots, but they're still a record of my first car from back in 1971 that I didn't know existed. (The photos that is, I knew the car existed!)

Isn't she a beaut??

At this point she was fresh from the maintenance shop at Dad's work with a new coat of Construction Equipment Yellow paint, though I doubt she'd ever be mistaken for a bulldozer.

Of course, the first order of business is a good wash and wax, and that's dad way over there on the right making sure I do a proper job of it!!

Now you have to understand that in our house washing and waxing was considered a necessary life skill and my brother and I were waxing our bicycles all by ourselves long before we had racked up enough birthdays for a car, but - well - I guess Dad thought there was no sense in taking any chances!!

(I haven't bothered obscuring any faces to protect the innocent because, unfortunately, I no longer look anything like the virile young stud pictured here. . . OK, so in reality I was part of the geek squad before there was a geek squad, but at least I was young!!!)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wall of Shame

In my previous post I talked about visiting Starved Rock State Park.

As you might expect in such a heavily used park, one of the rules to abide by is to stay on the marked trails, off-trail hiking being forbidden both for safety and to protect the beleaguered ecology. This is a rule reinforced by many, many reminders along the way in the form of signs big and small. But considering the abundance of Poison Ivy I saw, especially down along the river, I would have thought the signs superfluous.

But then I'd be wrong; because anytime there's that many people in one spot, there's going to be candidates for the Wall Of Shame. (And I'm not even counting the gaggles of phone-engrossed, chattering teenage girls with ass-showing shorts, belly-cropped tops and the-world-is-mine attitudes that had to be negotiated as carefully as a street full of IED's as the crowds built on the trails there during the latter half of my hike.)

At first I thought my Wall Of Shame award was going to go to the two young men I judged to still be teenagers that had gone off-trail and were clearly lost. though only 30 yards from where I was standing, still on the trail. (Hey, don't laugh! It wasn't that long ago that a lone woman hiking the Appalachian trail got lost when she stepped off-trail to use a bush and ended up succumbing to exposure weeks later.)

I hike quietly and my sand colored hiking clothes sort of just blend in, besides, they were too busy panicking, darting a few steps in one direction then another, trying, unsuccessfully to figure out which direction they had come from, to notice me before I spoke up. (No! of course we're not lost they claimed as they crashed through the underbrush like a couple of barely guided tanks to where I was and took off up the trail at a near run. Dumbasses.)

But later I was witness to an even more egregious event which easily won the Wall Of Shame award.

What you're looking at here is mom, dad and son. Or perhaps more accurately, Jackass, Timid follow-the-leader mouse and temporarily innocent.

The approved trail, the one the vast majority of people were courteous enough to stick to, is just there to the right of the photo. Having been there, carefully picking my way down that steep section of trail at the time, I know that it was dad that decided the rules, along with any form of common sense, don't apply to his little family group, and it wasn't a case of the kid darting off uncontrollably as kids are wont to do. It was dad that deliberately decided to drag his little family group off on a macho adventure, stomping and slipping and crushing their way up the fragile slope.

Considering that the top of that post you see in the bottom left corner, the post they had to squeeze around to get where they are, is holding up one of those Not A Trail signs, just what the heck does this duffus think he's teaching his kid????

People! Can't abide 'em, but wouldn't exist without 'em. . .

Starved Rock State Park

OK, on pain of revealing myself as - well - having feelings; I wouldn't have minded hanging around the family home in Michigan just one more day, 24 more hours to slip in some additional visit time, (A prior commitment cut deeply into the time my brother had available for - well - you know - brotherly love stuff.) but if I had done that it would have put me at my next destination on a Friday afternoon and, contrary to what might be said about me in some circles, I'm not dumb enough to try that!! Especially when my next destination was the popular Starved Rock State Park barely an hour from the western edges of that churning, boiling mass of humanity called Chicago.

My ultimate destination was somewhere out there in mid Nebraska, and in my younger days I'd have left from Mom's driveway in the wee hours of the morning and by the time she got up I'd be nearly out of the state and well on my way to punching all the way through to Nebraska, but that was then, a time when my life was focused on end goals and getting there as efficiently as possible so I could start on the next end goal (Ah, the competitive life of working for a living, a life that permeates even the brief instances of 'free time'. . .) and this is now.

A now where I'm no longer working in that pressure cooker environment; a now where I have very few hard schedules to meet; a now where after 4 full years of trying, I'm just beginning to learn how to live without setting myself inflexible goals, a now where I can take my time, as long as I remember to take my time, and on this trip I was making an extra effort to remember to take my time. (Though with the 4th of July holiday was lurking there just beyond the edge of the extended weather forecast like a mischievous Puck peeking out from the moonlit woods, along with my near pathological aversion to getting mixed up in holiday free-for-alls, meant that looming July weekend needed to be carefully accounted for.)

Anyway, when looking at my map between here and there I found I had stuck a number of pins along or near my mythological route, including one, courtesy of Lynne of Winnie Views, at Starved Rock.

In fact, Lynne has written about Starved Rock more than once, so naturally it was high on my list of places to check out.

Unfortunately to get there from here I had to run the gauntlet that is the greater Chicago Metropolitan area, a gauntlet which seems to me to start somewhere around Michigan City Indiana and finally relinquish it's grip somewhere beyond the western environs of Joliet.

And can someone explain to me why, right in the middle of that mess, one short little 5 mile stretch of Interstate 80 has arbitrarily been designated as a toll road???? (Though I admit, when you're caught in the mayhem of Chicago's perpetual demolition derby it seems much longer than a mere 5 miles.)

But eventually the relentless grip of the city begins to loosen around my neck (Actually the grip is much lower than my neck but - well - you know.) and real countryside starts making an appearance again. Then, just when I'm starting to get my rural rhythm back, Just when I'm ready to stop holding my breath, to sit back a little and ease up some on my steering wheel death grip, the twin townlets of North Utica and Utica loom up and it's time to get off the road.

Oddly enough, these two towns are not split into north and - well - just town, by the nearby Illinois River but rather the bluff on the north bank of the river seems to be the dividing point. (North Uticans live 140 feet higher than Uticans but they all live on the same side of the river.)

Regardless, after negotiating the twin towns (Combined population around 3300) and popping up and over the Illinois river on the SR178 bridge, the road to the Starved Rock State Park visitor center is soon there on the left.

It was getting later in the day by then so my purpose in stopping at the Visitor center wasn't to dally; or shilly-shally if that be the case; but rather to just grab a trail map so I could do a little route planning that evening.

 My more immediate destination was the Starved Rock State Park campground and with fresh shiny trail map in hand I quickly beat a hasty retreat in that direction in an attempt to one-up that other camper wan-a-be that was also hoping to snag one of the last available sites.

The woman in the permit booth looked relieved when I told her I only needed a site for the one night.

I was relieved when she told me that in that case there were a few sites left over still. (As a backup I had already checked online for a site at a nearby commercial campground and found zero sites available, even for a Thursday night. As a plan C, there's a truck stop a few miles north of the twin Utica's but after a week of driveway surfing I felt the need, the need for campsite.- Apparently, having seen that movie only once, I'm classified as a bit of a freak, so I assume most of you get the reference.)

It may look like there's plenty of empty sites here, but a good chunk of those that you see are reserved from Thursday through Sunday. (And a number of otherwise available sites were partially flooded and a bit - OK, a lot - muddy.)

She handed me a blue card and told me to just drive around the two loops until I found a valid site I liked, leave the blue card on the post to claim the site then come back to the permit booth and finish the paperwork.

To find a valid site, you have to read the yellow card already posted on every single site. These cards represent reservations and have from and to dates written on them in marker. What you're looking for, on a Thursday, are cards with from dates that start on Friday. Only problem is, most of these cards seem to have been placed there on the posts several days ago and the marker (Cheap government crap I assume) has now faded to the point where you have to get out and walk right up to each and every post in order to check the dates. . .

 Anyway, after a little driving, stopping, climbing down, squinting at dates, climbing back up, driving - well - you get the idea - I ended up with a pretty decent site for the night. Though $25 for an electric only site (Water is available from a handful of hydrants scattered around.)  in a campground with pit toilets (Showers and flush toilets are available at a single building near the entrance to each of the two large loops.) felt slightly pricey. (later on during this trip I paid $27 for a water/electric site at a place with private shower rooms, laundry, Wi-Fi, fishing pond, fenced playground, and pool.)

This sanctioned photo of the Visitor Center must have been staged, because even when I rolled into the parking lot at 6 the next morning there were people about.

But it was a huge improvement over when I was there the afternoon before. This place has a huge, as in really really big, parking lot and when I rolled in to pick up a trail map the lot was approaching full, even though it was a Thursday. And for just that little extra zing, included in the mix was a lineup of no less than four full sized school buses. (Oh, that can't be good!!. . .)

Early Friday morning there were maybe a couple dozen cars and most the occupants seemed to be occupied with either fishing, or staking out extended picnic areas, presumably for the rest of the gang expected to show up at a more civilized hour.

And apparently even that large parking lot is not enough because there's an overflow lot, probably just as large again, up on the flats beyond the bluff with shuttles to collect the unfortunate latecomers.

As you would expect in such a popular place, the trails were wide, well marked and well used. But that's OK, it's been a while since I was able to get in even an OK hike, so off I went.

 For a while I had the trails to myself, the only wildlife that seemed to be around was either floating in the river or perched in the trees.

View up the river from Starved Rock itself

 There was kind of a watery haze hanging in the air and that, combined with many views to the east, right into the rising sun, limited the quality of photos, but hey! pretty much any hike is a good hike.

Of course I knew I wouldn't have the trails to myself for long, but I didn't expect the first interlopers to come from above!!

Apparently the Illinois Valley Regional Walter A Duncan Airfield is only a few miles away in the next town to the west. And apparently the Illinois Valley Regional Walter A Duncan Airfield is home to a crop-duster.

At least that was my first thought. But by the time that first plane was joined by a second, then a third, and a fourth, all flying up the river on slightly divergent courses, I revised that thought to the Illinois Valley Regional Walter A Duncan Airfield is home to a big crop dusting company.

But eventually I counted a total of eight of these little buzzing annoyances zipping around, never more than a couple hundred feet off the ground. And there was absolutely no crop dusting involved. Instead the planes were making incessant out and back trips along the river, spaced out just enough to avoid collisions.

By now I'd decided that the Illinois Valley Regional Walter A Duncan Airfield was actually home to some sort of crop duster pilot's school. Though today's lesson seemed a bit strange since all I ever saw them do was fly east up the river for a bit towards Ottawa, turn around, fly back down the river towards Peru, turn around and repeat, over and over and over; and over; again. Not very crop dustery.

This went on for hours but that's OK, eventually they faded from fist-shaking intrusions to a faint background noise, and the hiking, while not by any stretch of the imagination remote, was certainly pleasant.

Some of the trails are out and back spurs, reaching into the many side canyons along the river, some follow the riverside, and some are up on the bluff, and in between are steep, really steep, climbs and descents

Now these climbs posed no problem at all early on in the day, but later, when there were witnesses out there, I couldn't plod slowly up, step by step, stopping at each and every landing to rest. No-o-o-o!  Once there were witnesses, once the hordes were there ready to attack and rip at the first sign of weakness, (I know, I know, but welcome to the world inside my head!) I was forced to step lively, forgoing any wimpy rest-stops, no matter how badly they were needed, and when those rampaging hordes were close enough, I even had to pretend that I was breathing normally, just another, everyday stroll from the couch to the fridge, instead of puffing and wheezing like the leaky old steam engine with bad gaskets and loose joints that I am. . .)

The trails, and there are many of them, are well marked to the point where if you walk up on a yellow dot painted on a tree or post you know you are headed away from the Visitor Center, if the dot is white you are headed towards the Visitor Center.

Though I did think this particular marker was unnecessary. If you zoom in you'll see that the marker clearly says Not A Trail.  Well duuh!! It's laying there on a slippery, steeply tilted overhanging ledge with a life-ending drop below it. I'm pretty sure most of us can figure out that's not a trail without the sign!!!  (And for those that can't, do we really want them breeding anyway???)

The very colorful hollowed out space under that ledge made me think of being inside a snake's belly, not that I've ever actually been inside a snakes belly, but if I was I imagine this is what it would look like.

There are some significant, and rather direct, drops here among the limestone outcroppings along the river (See the red-shirted person just above the center of the photo down there in the canyon?.)

But the acrophobic can start breathing again, because the trails and overlooks are designed with barriers and railings to keep people from making any sudden trips between the high points and the low.

This is called Eagle Cliff Overlook. Downriver, just beyond view, is Plum Island, which has become a favored nesting site for Bald Eagles who like to fish in the year-round open water below the dam there at the base of the overlook.

Well, there's good barriers for the most part anyway. . .

The #6 dam and accompanying lock sits on the Illinois River adjacent to the state park and forms a section of the Illinois River Waterway, which allows commercial, and recreational if you've got the money and time, vessels to travel from the Great Lakes (And by extension, the Atlantic Ocean.) down to the Mississippi and on out to the Gulf of Mexico.

That Friday morning the lock was a really busy place.

Just beyond that little green island is a down-bound tow waiting for an up-bound tow, (Left of that distant building.) to clear out of the way. Even then, the relatively short 4-barge down-bound tow will then have to wait as the half dozen cabin cruisers and other pleasure boats that have been anchored all morning in a little pocket along the bank just beyond and behind the down-bound tow make their way past and tuck into the far end of the lock first. (You really have to blow the photo up to see all this.)

There had been two other down-bound tows go by that morning but they were both 8-barge tows which left no room in the lock for the non-commercial craft.

OK, a woodcutter in training?? That's the only explanation I can come up with for the extra steering notch in this stump.

Oh yeah, if you're not into camping, there's also a lodge here at Starved Rock State Park, a big lodge with some 90 rooms and/or cabins along with a restaurant or two.

The lodge sits up above the bluff and has it's own large parking lot, (Not the same parking lot as the Visitor Center.) a parking lot where several of park's trails seem to end up. But even that was interesting because there were several of these playfully carved totems situated around the lodge parking lot so stumbling in there, even if you're not a lodge resident, is not a wasted opportunity.

Despite the popularity, and attendant crowds, Starved Rock has some pretty spectacular scenery tucked into and below the limestone bluffs, as well as plenty of little nooks and crannies conducive to quiet contemplation. So if you time it right to minimize the scourge of popularity, which, given the circumstances, I think I did pretty well, Starved Rock State Park is certainly a place worth checking out. Just be aware that if you intend to camp your best bet is to plan ahead and make reservations.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Greenfield Village

Horay!!! Off to Greenfield Village!!

If you're from Southeast Michigan this place is a right of passage.

If you used to be from Southeast Michigan, and haven't been there in a good 45 years or so, this place is inexplicably high on the wish list of things to do in a short time.

At least it was for me, even if I didn't know it.

For some odd reason (She says it's because she loves me but I grew up with her so naturally I find that a little suspect!!) my sister decided that devoting one full workday to me for kayaking wasn't enough and she took a second day off as well. (Though with her kind of job she never really gets a day off, the work just piles up and waits for her.) When she asked what I'd like to do I blurted out 'You know, I've been thinking about Greenfield Village lately'.

Now you have to understand that Greenfield Village is really one of those kid oriented things, not really proper fare for the discerning and sophisticated adult. (Dang good thing I'm neither!! discerning or sophisticated.)

I'll bet just about every kid within 50 miles of the place has had at least one field trip to the Village, and it's the kind of place, if you're of a certain age, you're sort of obligated to hound your parents into taking you to as a summer outing at least once every few years as well.

And then, once you're a parent in your own right, with children of a certain age, you've probably been guilted into being a 'volunteer' field trip chaperone, or just plain hounded into taking your own spawn a time or two.

But outside that age demographic Greenfield Village is one of those places only thought about when going back through the old photo albums.  But here I was, with my AARP card limp with nearly a decade's worth of dog-earidness, my National Parks Gezzer Pass burning brightly in my pocket, taking senior discounts without the least hesitation or reluctance, and all I could think about was Greenfield Village. . .

So off we went, brother and sister, along with mother and niece, and to make it legit, we threw in one 7 year old great-nephew.

Greenfield Village is one part of what is simply called The Henry Ford. (Because everybody automatically knows what that is, right?) A complex of museum, living history park, giant-screen theater and factory tours. This meant that if the weather was crap we could fall back on the museum instead of weathering (Get it? Weathering!) the Village. Though I'm not sure how the token kid would have felt about that!!

 But the weather was good, so to the Village we went!

A visionary in more ways than one, Henry Ford preserved much of his childhood home and it's contents and all are now on display in the Village. (OK, I'm not sayin' that I'm in my dotage or anything, but that footwarmer in front of the chair looks like it could be real comfy come winter!!)

Note the 'faucet'. Now days we pay big bucks to have a faucet that looks vintage like that! (But we sure as heck wouldn't buy one we had to actually pump!!)

Just outside the Ford's storage shed/workshop, this park reinactor was demonstrating Ford's first working engine. Apparently he (Ford, not the reinactor!) carried it into the house Christmas Eve, (Too cold out in the shed he claimed!!) clamped it down over wife Clara's kitchen sink and made her put down the Christmas pies to regulate the fuel; gravity fed through a modified drip-oiler; while he spun the flywheel.

It worked!  And, as a bonus, it didn't shake the house apart, or even chip the sink.

OK, I'm pretty sure they didn't have Ipads in the early 1900's, but that didn't stop this reinactor from flipping, really fast, through his while standing in a replica of the first Ford factory. (The 15th million Ford off the line, a Model T, was sitting there off to the left.)

Those are creases in the photo, not giant cobwebs.

Greenfield Village is split up into 7 districts, including Main Street where Mrs. Cohen's millinery shop now resides. One of the few 'legit' professions available to single mothers of the time.

Nowadays there's still a hat maker sitting there in the rear of the shop, (I'm pretty sure it's not Mrs. Cohen because she didn't levitate, drift through the wall or rattle any chains.) working on wares that are sold through the, you guessed it, Village gift shop.

There was lots of trying on of hats while we were in here, with some hilarity, along with a couple really nice glamor shots, (My niece is very photogenic.) but I can't really show those here because with the faces blurred beyond recognition then they're just photos of - well - hats.

Along with much of Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Complex some other historic industrial age landmarks have been moved to Greenfield Village, including the Wright brother's original cycle shop.

 Side by side on the shelves in the cycle shop were tire puncture repair kits (The yellow boxes) and these Dress Guard Lacings, though I can only guess at just what a Dress Guard Lacing is since I'm not quite that old. (Mom??) (Ohhh, I'm going to pay for that!)

 Near the back of the shop was this hand-cranked wind-tunnel. We all chickened out and left the cranking up to 7 year old arms. . . The wing in the tunnel actually flies!! (And the cranker survived. Ahh youth. . .)

While perambulating around Main Street, around the entire Village for that matter, it behooves one to keep an eye out. Besides a steady stream of Model T's, top up or down, there's also horse-drawn Omnibuses wandering around, which pack a double whammy. If the omnibus doesn't run you over the twin 'engines' leave little squishy landmines laying around for the unwary.

But if you're idea of a trip is round (Get it? Round trip, carousel!!) then maybe the 1919 carousel is your thing.

Now days the carousel is sheltered in a fancy, open-sided building,

but I'm not sure that horse is any happier about having a giant rooster hovering over him regardless of how hard he runs.

I got a pair of really excellent shots at the carousel.

One, a study of a 7 year old's bright-eyed anticipation as he hangs onto the pole waiting for the ride to start.

The second of the same subject after the ride is going, now with head down, forehead resting against said pole, arms dangling loosely in abject disappointment as he realizes he wasn't paying attention to the ride operator's warning that the animals with their feet touching the deck don't actually go up and down. . .

But once again, it's all about the expression, which doesn't show when blurred out for privacy. . .

And every self-respecting industrial age historical park has to have a railroad. In this case the roundhouse is a working roundhouse and if you, oh, erm, or rather I mean the kids, time it right, you just might be called on to help turn an engine on the arm-strong turntable. (You line up along that bar sticking out on the near left side and push.)

And where there's trains, there's train rides!!  At least here in Greenfield Village.

The two mile run takes you around the village, past Main Street, the Menlo Park complex, the Liberty Craftworks district, and here, the working farms.

Along the way the train goes past these old rail cars, but this is not a museum display, these are actually classrooms for a highly accredited, tuition free, college prep high-school!!

Now that's a proper sun-hat!! Beats the heck out of those little visors.

OK, take a mill-pond, add in a pinch of boy, and what do you get?? DistracTION, with a capital D capital TION!!

Around the pond lies the Liberty Crafts district with buildings housing many different crafts and trades of the late 1800's early 1900's life. Pottery, yarn making, weaving, sawmill, machine shop, print shop and more.

All of which are working shops staffed with artisans.

That's one big kiln!! This baby is fired up (wood) a couple times a year when potters from around the country are invited to come and throw their best. I'm not sure if that twist in the chimney is functional or decorative, but it sure is eye-catching.

And while our youngest member had to be coaxed from the delights of water, which he was in danger of falling into a time or two, at least to my inexperienced eye, once in the various workshops I was amazed at how interested he was, pushing his way right to the front and hanging on the reinactor's every word; such as here in the print shop. (OK, so 7 year olds are short. You'll just have to take my word for it that he's standing there near that pole.)

OK, What is it with rules for teachers?? I've seen these, or ones like it, posted prominently at Cowtown, Homestead National Monument, and the Grant County Museum, all excellent stops in their own right.

3: Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of the pupils
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evening a week if they go to church regularly.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop, will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.


And here in the tin shop where he's going to pop a blood vessel attempting to blow out the candle in this hurricane lamp. (I didn't have to do any fuzzing here, he did that all on his own!!)

before the reinactor points out that the holes are punched from the inside out so the edges of the resulting openings naturally shed the wind.

Another big hit was the glass shop.

I mean what's not to like?? Fire!!

The day we were there a visiting glass artist was producing some sort of exterior building sign/decoration/lighting. (It was loud in there as well as hot so I didn't catch everything that was being said. In fact I didn't catch much of what was being said.)

So I just watched.

And for when you wear out before the kid, which is going to be pretty much all the time as far as I can tell, the Village comes complete with a fancy playground full of all sorts of activities that we never had when I was a kid. At his age I had no idea what this was, but nowadays nobody has to tell a kid what a climbing wall is for. They get it. . .

OK, I probably should have split this up into a part 1 and 2, as it is I've greatly exceeded normal and reasonable post length, so I'm going to just stop here before this monster gets any worse. But there really is much more to see at Greenfield Village if you're ever up that way. (I sense a business opportunity here! Rent A Kid!! for those wanting to look legit when they get a hankering to go to places like the zoo or the Village. . .)