Saturday, August 31, 2013

Elk Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains

We arrived at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, Stop #29, a few days before our conference was scheduled to begin.    It's always good to have a few days of rest and catch-up time between travels, and this is the perfect place for that. 

The small town, a little west of Asheville, is centered around a large, beautiful Methodist Conference Center and its 400 acre lake.  It has allowed us to refresh both body and spirit with daily walks around the lake and a delightful Labor Day Mountain Folk Festival of music and dance.

The first night we arrived, we took the advice of other campers and went elk hunting in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We don't hunt armed with guns or bows and arrows, of course, but with cameras and curiosity.

The scenery was breath-taking as we climbed higher and higher along the Blue Ridge Parkway and connecting mountain roads.  But no elk to be seen.
Each turn and twist of the road opened to us a new vista of beauty  But no elk.
Our ears crackled with the decreasing air pressure as we drew nearer to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  But not a four-legged creature was stirring.
Then, ever so quietly, out of a dense thicket of trees and brush, strolled this magnificent looking creature, a young but full grown female elk.  We never learned the reason for the ear tags and necklace she wore, but she gazed around calmly as if she was used to being the entertainment for a crowd of human gawkers with cameras.
While she got down to the business of eating dinner,
two more female members of her family arrived, one full-grown with a nursing calf.
We watched as the family ate dinner together.
If we kept quiet and still, these residents of the forest did not seem to be camera-shy.
Then, to our surprise and delight, Papa came home to supper, too!
He was, indeed, a noble specimen of elk-hood: a full-grown male with a ten-point rack of antlers.
He grazed on the lush green grass, leafy vines and tree leaves as he watched over his family. When his stomach got full and his patience got short, he encouraged his family to move on.
Our elk-hunting safari had been more successful than we could ever have imagined!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, Virginia

Stop #27 on our 2013 Summer Tour was at our very, most favorite campground in the whole world: in the meadow above our son Joel's house near Athens, Ohio.

What fun to sit around in the evening visiting with him and his faithful canine companion Clyde.  It was almost a gift that we got to stay an extra week while our truck got fixed.  But, by the last week of August we were headed southeast.

Near Marion, Virginia, we stopped for a few days at Hungry Mother State Park in the Camp Burson campground, Stop #28.

What a lovely park!  Our site was level, tree-shaded and very comfortable. But we wondered about the unusual name of the park.  Perhaps you, too, find it a bit strange.
The legend of the name, as printed in the park brochure, is this: 
 "Legend has it that when Indians destroyed several settlements on the New River south of the park, Molly Marley and her small child were among the survivors taken to the raiders' base north of the park.  Molly and her child eventually escaped, wandering through the wilderness eating berries.  Molly finally collapsed and her child wandered down a creek until she found help.  The only words the child could utter were 'Hungry Mother.'  When the search party arrived at the foot of the mountain where she had collapsed, they found Molly dead.  Today, the mountain is Molly's Knob and the stream Hungry Mother Creek.  When the park was developed in the 1930s the creek was dammed to form Hungry Mother Lake."
We enjoyed visiting the Information Center and its museum.
The meals at the restaurant were delicious.
And the live week-end music at the gazebo on the lake shore
was a taste of mountain culture.
The wildlife was entertaining.
But the walking trail around the lake was our favorite part of our stay. The trail head was just across the campground road from our site.

Up the hill, past the spillway of the lake we hiked (and puffed!)
then the lake spread out before us!
An easy  two and a half miles later
the swimming beach, the boat rental, and the bridge to the amphitheater came into view.
One evening after supper, Bruce decided to walk all the way around the lake.
He discovered, as the evening shadows were lengthening, that the trail was 7.5 miles instead of the 5.7 miles indicated in the informational brochure!
Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia is another place we are adding to our "Come Again" list!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Travel Emergency: Sick Truck

Our truck has had a CVA!  Most of you know that, when speaking of human health, CVA means Cerebro-Vascular Accident, more commonly known as a stroke.  It occurs when something -- a clot or a bleed -- interferes with the blood circulation to some part of the brain.  A CVA is a serious situation and can be fatal.  However, there are many different treatments that can help a person recover from the effects of a stroke.

Speaking of our truck, however, CVA has a slightly different meaning.  It refers to a Costly Vehicular Anomaly, more commonly known as a blown head gasket!  It, too, is serious, and I suppose could be fatal, leaving us stranded along the roadside somewhere in the wilderness.  Our truck, however, chose to blow its head gasket in a more convenient place.

Coming in to our son's house in Athens County, Ohio the end of August, Bruce noticed that the engine was overheating on uphill tows.  He decided to have it checked out so made an appointment at the Ford "truck hospital" in nearby Athens.  The news was prompt, and not good.  Our trusty travel donkey had blown his head gasket!

We had no choice but to get it repaired if we ever hoped to tow the fifth wheel back to Texas.  So the truck "doctors" and technicians set about replacing it.  Of course, they had to tear out three-fourths of the engine to get to it so our poor F350 was confined to the "hospital" for 9 days. 

As the days dragged on, I could mentally see the bill adding up and I knew that our Medicare benefits did not include vehicle coverage!  On one visit to our ailing six-wheeled carrier, I asked the "hospital's head honcho," "Shall we make application for the poorhouse tomorrow or can it wait until next week?"  The 12 month or 12,000 mile warranty on the repairs being made helped keep me from complete panic.

The need to rent a car for scheduled events in Indiana only increased my mental  monetary misery!  Fortunately, most of the time we could borrow our son's second vehicle.

Finally, the day came and the truck was released from the "hospital."  I drove it home without difficulty.  But, on the way to a restaurant that evening, both Bruce and our son Joel heard suspicious new noises in the engine that they didn't like: a hiss and a squeal.  We planned a follow-up visit to the "hospital" the first of the following week.

Sunday morning, we were ready for church.  We climbed into the truck and discovered that it wouldn't start!  Two days out of the "hospital" and it was sick again!  This time, it was the vehicular version of CHF, Congestive Heart Failure when a person's heart becomes too weak to pump the blood around through the body.  Our recuperating "towing machine" had come down with CBF, Complete Battery Failure! 

It took some effort, but our son was able to jump start it from his little car and back to the "Ford hospital" it went.  This time it was dropped at the "hospital" door showing no signs of life.  The diagnosis was prompt: dead batteries and a faulty Y-tube (whatever that is!)

It was about this time when I realized that for eight years we hadn't been riding around and towing in a Ford 350.  We were, instead, getting transported by a big, white lemon!  Now, I know the old adage, "When life gives you lemons, add a sweet smile and make lemonade."  Sweet smiles were in short supply around our house by that time.  So, instead, to our big white lemon, we added:
       1. Bruce's persistent good humor and optimism
       2. My temper tantrums
       3. Our son's patience with guests who stayed longer than they promised
       4. Ten percent of the price of a new truck
       5.  Two new head gaskets, a new oil cooler, a new radiator, a new rocker arm, two new batteries, a new Y-tube and all the clamps and hoses that go with it, all the labor  necessary to install all of the above, and 12 days of borrowing or renting other vehicles!

We think that, with all of these additions, we deserve more than just lemonade!  We want, at least, a lemon meringue pie! 

See you on down the road, we hope.  Just look for a big, white, expensive lemon!

Sunday, August 18, 2013


During our visit in Pittsburgh, we spent a day touring Fallingwater, Stop #26 on our summer tour.

This house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for the family of Edgar Kaufman, Sr., President and CEO of Kaufman Department Stores.  It is located in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. 

  The house is nestled into a hilly, heavily forested area on Bear Run Creek.
Beautiful gardens line the walkway to the house, which is visited by over 150,000 persons each year. 
The American Institute of Architects, in 1991, voted this house  the "best all time work of American architecture."
The design is very creative and uses the natural setting of rock and stream within the structure.  Rather than building the house beside the stream, Wright had it constructed in and over the waterfall.
The Kaufmans had originally proposed a budget to Wright of $20,000 to $30,000 for the construction of the house.  The total cost came to $155,000 which would be about $2.6 million in 2012 dollars!
The visitor is greeted with this unique handwashing fountain.
In his design for Fallingwater, Wright made extensive use of cantilever construction, that is concrete overhangs without visible supports.  Numerous engineers and other architects argued that it couldn't be done, but Wright persisted.
Fallingwater served as the week-end home of the Kaufman family from 1937 to 1963.
In 1964, Edgar Kaufman, Jr. donated the home to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy which opened the home to the public.
It is, indeed, a wonder of the architectural world!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: the Three River City

Stop #25 on our 2013 Summer tour was so long ago that I had to check back in our travel log to see what it was and where it was!  July 25 through 28 we were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania visiting with Bruce's sister and her daughter (who live in Peoria, Illinois), at the home of his brother and sister-in-law in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Every visitor to that city needs to take a trip up Mt. Washington to enjoy its beautiful views over the city and its three rivers.

The three rivers of Pittsburgh are the Monongehela and the Allegheny
which join to form the Ohio,
here at Three Rivers Point.
Fountains and a small park make it a lovely setting for the confluence of these great rivers.
We, of course, got a special and personalized tour guided by Bruce's brother who has lived in the city for about 40 years.  He seemed to focus the tour upon institutions of higher education of the Pittsburgh  area.  No doubt  that was for the sake of our niece who will be starting high school this fall.
Heinz chapel, donated and named for the family of catsup fame, is a beautiful part of the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
This high-rise, multi-storied building is known as the Cathedral of Learning and is the main academic and administrative building of the University of Pittsburgh.
Stepping inside that building, we felt as if we had entered a medieval castle!  Extremely high ceilings, structures all of stone, dim lighting and long hallways caused our niece to remark, "This reminds me of Harry Potter and Hogwarts!"
We were especially interested in the many "nationality rooms" of which we visited a few:
The Austrian room,
The Swiss room,
The Indian room,
The African room (with other tourists enjoying them as much as we were!)
The Israeli room (and two of our tired tour companions!)
and The Ukranian room (as our tour guide stands in the doorway talking with another visitor).
Driving tours through the campus of Carnegie-Mellon University and several others finished off our tour of the higher education opportunities in the Pittsburgh area.  A delightful afternoon exploring a beautiful and bustling city!
But another treat awaited us at Stop #26.  Stay tuned!