Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spring Gap

I hadn't been back from the road trip but three days when Pat asked, "Do you want to go camping this weekend?"

That's code for him saying, "I'm going fishing this weekend." ;)

I tossed out the idea of Spring Gap. It's the furthest west of the C&O Towpath campgrounds, and we hadn't been there yet. He was game, on Saturday afternoon, after stopping for provisions, we made the trek to Cumberland and then dropped down MD51 to the Spring Gap Campgrounds.

The site was more like the other campgrounds we'd been to than Paw Paw, which was like camping in someone's back yard. It was also wide open, though whether than was due to the hot weather or lack of area interest, it wasn't clear.

We chose site seven and set up camp, then Pat went off to go fishing. I decided to bike eastward to see what there was to see.

The campground is just west of mile 173, and I rode past mile 168. There were a lot of painted turtles, especially in the 169-168 area.


There were a LOT of tires in the canal and the Potomac River in this area
I don't know if I should post photos of thistles or not

Believe it or not, not the same turtle nor tire as above!

Past 168, I finally decided I should head back. Not too far up the towpath, I catch a glimpse of something, stop and think, "Are those worms? Wait, no...."
A copperhead has a gartner snake for a late afternoon meal
The garter snake was just larger than earthworm size, and the copperhead was just a little larger. The photo above was taken with a telephoto. I did take a "close up" with my cell phone that I posted on Instagram, but I was still a respectful distance from a definitely poisonous snake.

While snakes usually don't both me, the scene had me a little shaken. It would only get worse a little ways down the trail.


I'd seen this blue heron on my way down the trail, so I was surprised he was still in the area when I came back.



Then I saw something.... weird.

It kind of looked like a beaver, or maybe an otter. I was thinking, "Cool!" Then I realized how much the animal appeared to be struggling to swim and keep its head above water.

That isn't a beaver's tail.
Struggling
Ummm.
Damn.
It's hard to see in my photos, even in the last one, but I saw it with my own eyes, so take my word for it. The beaver -- and it was a juvenile -- had been attacked and latched onto by a copperhead. During the animal's struggles, the snake's tail would get flung above the water level. The beaver was smaller than a football (smaller than even a Brady deflated football ;)), so it may have been a viable meal for the copperhead, which looked to be at least as thick as my wrist (let's go with ~2-2.5").

It was horrifying, and the longer I stayed to watch and try to photograph the animal's struggles, the more I was horrified.

Turtles. Yes. Turtles are cute and harmless.
Yes, see the turtle sunning itself.

Oh, look, it's a white tailed doe in the stream running out of the culvert.
I was still mildly disturbed by the time I got back to the campsite. Pat wasn't around, so I puttered around a bit, then once 7PM passed, I started to become concerned. Because copperhead.
Let's look at the river behind our campsite
How about the river behind a different campsite?
The river from the far (east) end of the campground
Street tires ruin everything
An older Ford pickup had come up and parked at the end of the camping area, and two guys with fishing gear had wandered down a path at the end. Then one of the other campers (there were only three sites being used at this time) drove over to the same area to scavenge some firewood for his firepit. Finally, Pat emerged from the wooded area.

They weren't bison burgers, but they were still quite tasty
I had the campstove ready to go, so I lit it and we dropped the steakburgers on. Everything was going great until Pat went to take the nearly done burgers off and managed to flip on upside down. The problem with that was it had cheese on it! So, there was cheese all over the grill attachment. I figured I'd worry about it in the morning.

It was a relatively cool night, as the humidity still hadn't built to excrutiating levels. Our tent was oriented in such a way, though, that the early morning sun woke me up by 8AM (well, the birds tweet, tweet, tweeting had really done the damage), so I crawled out of bed and scoped the area.


I decided to throw the breakfast sausages on the grill and cook the eggs by about 9AM, because any other time, Pat's back by then. He wasn't. I texted him, "Breakfast is ready!" 9:30, and he still wasn't back.

I wasn't sure where to start looking for him, but around 9:40, he showed up. He'd gotten caught up with trying new lures.

I'd already packed up some of the stuff to hasten our departure, so after we were done eating, I told him I wanted to bike westward to see if I could get to Lockhouse 75.
Remains of a railroad bridge
Remains of a steam pump
More from the steam pump area
Lock 72
I made it just past lock 72 when I went to take a sip of water from my water bottle, and it wasn't in the bike's carrier. Knowing it must have fallen out, I turned around, asking bikers and hikers along the way, "Have you seen a red water bottle?" Everyone mentioned it was "just down the way," and sure enough, it was just laying there in the towpath. That's the last time I attempt to carry that particular water bottle (it's a collapsible bottle/bag) in the bike's carrier.

Back at the campsite, Pat's starting to put things in the truck.

This butterfly has been hanging around all morning though, and we couldn't quite figure out why. It appears to be a purple admiral, and if that's the case, then it was evidently eating the bits of cheese that had been cleaned out of the campstove from the previous night's burger flip.

Just for grins, and because it was still in the camera bag, I took a photo with the diecast Camaro.

We headed home soon afterwards. Pat was satisfied with his fish haul, and while I was a little disappointed with my historical sites, I more than made up for it with some crazy nature photos. :)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Day One : Here We Go Again
Day Four : Venturing Fourth
Days 5-6 : Pleading the Fifth
Days 7-8 : Lucky Seven
Days 9-10 : Niner Niner
Day 11 : These Go To Eleven
Days 12-13 : Twelve Monkeys
Day 14 : Two Weeks Notice

Western Nebraska isn't much different, visually, than Wyoming or South Dakota.

The previous night, mom had expressed interest in going to Agate Fossil Beds, saying it was "right next door" to the Robidoux RV Park. Well, the guide she was going by had mislocated Agate by saying it was in Gehring; it was over fifty miles to the north. Still, when I sat down and planned out our day, I figured if we left the RV Park by 7AM, we could do Agate, Scott's Bluff and the two Pony Express Stations easily.

So, we left just before 7, and headed up towards Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Like Fossil Butte and John Day, it is a post-Jurassic, Miocene era fossil site; no dinosaurs here. The visitor center also includes a rare look at Lakota Sioux artifacts given by Red Cloud and his family to the original ranch owner, James H. Cook.
Cook's "bone barn"

Paleocaster, an ancient burrowing beaver found within the strange daemonelix structures that were originally thought to be fossilized tree roots. We know now that the daemonelix is a fossilized burrow.
Hiking out to the two hills (University and Carnegie) where the bone beds were discovered was out of the question, partly because of mom's knee, but also because we'd been told there were no fossils on display any more due to past vandalism. I did stop by the Daemonelix Trail on the way out of the park, which was about a mile.
Flower along the trail
This daemonelix was over six feet tall
More flowers along the trail
From Agate, we headed back towards Scottsbluff and the National Monument there. In the visitor center, we saw quite a few fossils (especially turtles), and learned that the bluff was named for a fur trader who died there on the Oregon Trail.


A model of a wagon odometer. I didn't get a picture of the full-size thing when we were at the California Trail Interpretive Center.
Along the Oregon Trail

After exploring the visitor center and the Oregon Trail area, we drove up to the summit.

Looking down towards Scottsbluff and Gehring
While there, we were approached by a group of motorcyclists who asked about the RV. It turned out they were also from Maryland, and had been at the Sturgis Rally the previous week. Not only were they from Maryland, but one of the guys was from Glen Burnie, and another was from Frederick. Small world.
We drove past Chimney Rock on our way out of the area, towards I-80, and should have stopped. Mom thought it was just a state historic site, but it turns out that it actually is a National Parks Passport stamping location. Oh well.

Ogallala was where we got back on I-80, and we'd be on the interstate (80 or the linked ones 76 and 70) for most of the rest of our trip. Our last two stops for day fifteen were original-but-relocated Pony Express Stations, one in Gothenburg and one in Cozad. The Gothenburg one is in better condition, and is used as a gift shop. The Cozad one is just an historical stop in the town's park.

Gothenburg Pony Express station
Cozad Pony Express station, the Willow Island stop
The drive to Agate and extended time at Scottsbluff saw my anticipated stop in Council Bluffs not happening. So, we opted to call it a night in Grand Island, which wasn't very far from where the Rallycross Nationals were held. As a result, we did see several westbound rallycrossers on I-80 on Sunday afternoon/evening.
The obligatory "I'm driving I-80 west through Kearney" photo
With two days left, and the itinerary pretty much done, we decided to stop in Lincoln on Monday morning to see what the State Natural History museum at the University's Morrill Hall held. Turns out, it has a ton of fossils, primarily because Nebraska is apparently one gigantic bone bed.
Oh, yeah, Morrill Hall is just outside Memorial Stadium
Mammoths
Four tusker elephants
Equus excelsior
Poor turtles
Smilodon and dire wolf
Bone bed from Agate
Giant tortoise with recreated skin based off the Galapagos tortoise
Pleiosaur head. The entire skeleton was monstrous, and actually in the floor
One part of the fossil exhibit was Highway Paleontology. Like the Vore Buffalo Jump we'd visited earlier in our trip, many fossils in Nebraska are discovered during road construction. Because of that, there is actually a highway paleontology division that is present during road construction in the state.
The road they were found on is indicated

The latest highway paleontology find. This one was over two and a half feet long.
There were also some dinosaur fossils present. Not as many dinosaurs are found in Nebraska as in Utah or Wyoming.
Stegosaurus has a really small head
Allosaur
The museum also had a rocks and minerals display on the third floor, as well as a natives exhibit and an "Exploring Evolution" room. We didn't spend as much time on the non-fossils displays.

Frankly, I'm shocked that I didn't know how awesome this museum is until we visited. All the times I've been in Lincoln for Nationals, plus passing through on trips to Wendover and on the way home from Packwood....
A giant HIV model in the "Exploring Evolution" exhibit
See you.... sometime, Lincoln
From Lincoln, we drove as far as we could so that Toledo and home were doable for Tuesday.
A bed of flowers at an Iowa rest stop. Seemed to be a rest stop for a variety of butterflies as well
This meant our latest stop ever -- 9PM -- in Indiana at the Lakeside RV Resort. The manager was really nice though, and met us at the office and she and her son were really helpful with getting us situated for the night. We even were given a little gift bag (an insulated lunch bag) with cups and hot/cold packs, which was neat.

Toledo was the last point of interest, and we have two places to go. The first was a stop at the Fish Market to see if they had walleye.

The answer was "yes!" and so I bought two large fillets for Pat and we stuck them in the freezer.

Then we headed over to the Toledo Museum of Art. Mom's first experience as we entered wasn't exactly pleasant. An overzealous docent with a lazy eye looked at me and said that there was a "new policy" and "over-the-shoulder bags had to be hand held." And then she kept looking at me, and I put my hands out to the side, saying "What are you talking about? I don't have a bag!" Then she looks at mom and says, "Well, she does." So, mom sighs and moves to secure the bag (actually a convertible fanny pack) around her waist, and the docent says that's not acceptable either. I'm rolling my eyes, mom's ready to just leave, and I grab her bag and say, "Let's just go" to get away from the woman. Meanwhile, others are coming in with shoulder straps and none of the other docents are saying anything. I kind of wanted to hit the restroom, and started that way, when mom is still perturbed by the docent's attitude. Another woman going into the restroom overheard her, stopped and said, "Are you serious?" We both nodded, and the other woman said something to the effect of, "That's bullshit."

We went upstairs and then outside to cross Monroe Street to the Glass Pavilion. Mom took her bag back, slung it over her shoulder, and guess what? The pleasant docent there opened the door for us, remarked on the beautiful weather they were having, and didn't say a word about shoulder straps.

[for the record, the "collection safety" section on the museum's website only mentions "umbrellas, backpacks and other bulky items"]

So, mom calmed down and we perused the glass collections.
Nematocyst, Robert Mickelsen, 1998.
Greek Gods vs. Norse Gods glass chess set, part of the Play Time exhibit
We made our way over to the main building, and again, the docent welcoming us in didn't say a word about mom's bag. We checked out the ancient civilizations gallery, then moved back through the main lobby towards the Claude Monet mom had seen when we came in. The lazy eyed docent was now in the lobby, but we ignored her and I couldn't help but notice she wasn't saying anything to anyone. I have to wonder if someone finally said something to her superior for badgering the guests.

Anyway, we looked through some of the other paintings and finally headed out, as we needed to be on the road really by 12:30 to be home at a reasonable time. I had kind of wanted to see some of the interactive Play Time installations, but I was started to become annoyed by children who were allowed to run (literally run) around in the regular galleries, so it wasn't worth the irritation. I can't imagine how the guards hadn't already had heart attacks over potential damage to some of the artwork. We saw a small child running through gallery 35, trailing his hand against the wall, moments from trailing his hand across Monet's Water Lilies. As it was, he barely lifted his hand as he ran past the painting, and his mother said nothing. SMH
Animation, Stina K√∂hnke, 2002-2007
Children everywhere in the museum should have been accompanied by an adult, or someone who acted like one
The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful.
The Allegheny Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike
We pulled into the driveway at nearly 8PM exactly, and we'd only been there for maybe five minutes when Pat pulled in. As soon as I saw him, I yelled, "Bruce!" and the spaz dog started jumping around in the cab of the Lightning.

It took about an hour to unpack things from the RV and transfer them either into the house or into the Camaro. Of course, it also took me nearly ten minutes just to figure out what I'd done with the keys to the Camaro. I still managed to leave several things behind, but oh well.

Sorting through the post cards I got and starting to put them in an album on Wednesday, it turns out that I came home with 248 cards. I did get an excessive number of post cards of various military planes and jets when I was at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, as well as from the Wendover Historic Airfield. It was still more than I expected.

It was a long journey, but oh, so short. It was sad. It was joyous. It was frustrating. It was awesome.

There were many times that I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I shouldn't be there, that it was dad's place to be in that bed. I dreamed of him several times during the trip. But I was also happy for the time with my mom, to be able to share some of my favorite places with her, as well being able to see things together for the first time.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.