Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cave Exploration

While at Bowling Green, we visited two very different caves - Mammoth and Lost River. Both were not quite what I expected.

Mammoth Cave was designated a National Park in 1926. Unlike most caves I've toured, Mammoth doesn't have many of the typical interesting formations. Rather its claim to fame is 365 miles of explored passageways, more than twice as long as any known cave. And geologists think there could be as many as 600 miles still undiscovered.

The crowds were unbelievable to me. I guess I'm not used to being a summer tourist. Our tour group consisted of about 100 people. We were bussed to the 'New Entrance' which had been discovered by throwing dynamite into a sink hole!

After descending 280 steps down some vertical shafts, we made our way through what looked to me like underground slot canyons. I was glad Peggy had on bright clothing - it was hard to see down there.

Although the tour was only 3/4 mile long, it seemed longer underground. Since we were near the back of the group, it involved a lot of catching up. Mike commented, "This isn't a tour, it's a workout!" The group only stopped twice for ranger talks, but I don't know how you can do much more with a group of that size.

After traipsing what seemed like miles, there was one area at the end of the tour that had some pretty formations. Here's some nice flowstone . . .

And some stalactites and stalagmites. That's more like it.

They do have several different tours at Mammoth and maybe I would have liked another one better. This one just didn't do much for me.

Another day the group visited Lost River Cave which is a National Historic Landmark. I thought, "Cool, a boat ride through a cave - that's unusual." Well, once again I was disappointed.

We had some willing strangers take our picture while we waited for our guide. My photographer did a great job.

We all piled into the boat and posed for the obligatory souvenir picture. Shockingly, I actually bought it - paid good money. But it is kind of cute, don't you think?

The tour guide did a really good job and told us lots of history about the cave. I thought the most interesting fact was that there was a nightclub at the cave entrance from 1933 until the early 1960's. Now they rent that area out for weddings and such.

The most exciting part was when we had to duck under the low ceiling.

The cave opened up and, although the tour guide was informed and interesting, I think we were all surprised when we came to the turnaround point after only going about 200 yards. Once again, I had expected more.

After the boat tour, we walked the Blue Hole Trail. The blue holes are actually places where the roof of the cave collapsed. Hopefully a long time ago. The holes were more green than blue because heavy rain the night before stirred up the sediment.

And Wanda tried her hand at panning for gemstones - nothing yet.

The best part of the day was when we had ice cream at the local creamery. Yum!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bowling Green, KY

Today we joined up with the WIN caravan in Bowling Green, KY. I just love that name - Bowling Green. It conjures up a lovely pastoral scene with people sitting around in lawn chairs, drinking mint juleps, and lawn bowling. . .

Anyway, we pulled out of the campground at Land Between the Lakes at 7:20am - certainly a record for us. However we had incentive since Ernie and Wanda (our hosts for this stop) had scheduled a tour of the Corvette assembly plant for this morning at 11:30, followed by the Corvette museum. What fun!

Unfortunately the factory does not allow cameras so you have to imagine hundreds of Corvettes making their way down the assembly line. We asked how many were currently on the line and were told they put out 88 a day and each one takes 5 days, so you can do the math. It was an impressive sight! We also learned there are currently four models with the cheapest going for $46,000. I thought she said $26,000 and was all set to buy one. Surprisingly, none of the WINs asked if you can tow it 'four down.'

Next we had a special tour of the museum where they did allow pictures. Ron found a nice blue one he liked. Of course it was one of the most expensive ones at over $100,000. If you look closely, you can see Max, Peggy, Marvin, and Judy in the background.

The first Vettes were made in 1953 and the museum had one from that year. You could get it in any color you wanted as long as it was white. :-) I thought it was interesting that they had automatic transmissions.

Here's the info on it.

I liked this slightly newer one with the signature side panels.

Bowling Green had one of those town art projects to raise money so obviously they decorated Corvettes. I think it was only a year or two ago, so we'll have to be on the lookout for them around town.

Wanda demonstrated her prowess by lifting one end of a Corvette frame while Austin looked on in amazement.

Kids, don't try this at home, but they purposely ran this car into a wall at 35 mph. Corvettes are designed to crumple and fall apart like a race car, protecting the passenger compartment.

Interesting fact, each year has a slightly different insignia on the hood. We were told that Corvette enthusiasts wear a pin with their car's insignia to identify other owners with the same year car.

The museum personnel were kind enough to allow me to take this $54,000 baby out for a spin.

(You know I'm kidding, right?)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quick Trip South

Last Thursday Ron and I left the RV with the WINs in the Land Between the Lakes and made a quick 1600 mile trip in the car. Crazy, you say? Maybe. But we both had a great time.

First we drove 450 miles to Lake Oconee, about 60 miles east of Atlanta, where Ron's family was having a reunion. What a gorgeous place!

We decided to try a little southern porch sittin'.

Ron's nephew Steve was kind enough to take some of us out for a sunset cruise. How lovely.

Also in the picture are Ron's sister Mary Jo, great niece Kaylee, and Steve's wife Lana.

The next morning I took the car and left to visit my daughters and son-in-law in Jacksonville, FL - a mere 350 miles. John cooked us some terrific vittles and Laura, Christy, and I shopped 'till we dropped! Although none of us really likes shopping, we sure have fun doing it together. It took me back to when they were teenagers and we passed clothes around the dressing room. Christy and I even bought the same shirt. I should have taken a picture of us in them.

And I had the chance to spend some time with my Aunt and Uncle who also live in Jacksonville. It was wonderful to see them again. So I guess I had a family reunion too.

Amazingly, my friend Jonetta and her guy Mike happened to be passing through town while I was there. The girls and I joined them for a meal at Applebees. I hope Mike wasn't too overwhelmed by all the women - John was probably smart to decline.

Jonetta still looks just the same as she did 30 years ago when we were both in a choral/theatrical group. We really had some fun times together.

Monday, June 15, 2009

LBL Nature Center

The Land Between the Lakes is a boaters' paradise. As I mentioned in the last post, our campsite is right on the lake and Ron kayaked and fished from our backyard. But people with large boats can put in at the boat ramp, then tie up right at their site. Although the campground has a 21-day limit, they also have long-term sites. It's wonderful to see the facilities being used by families, but I feel sorry for all the tenters every time it rains - which it does a lot.

During one break in the rain, we went to the Nature Center, home to injured animals that can't be released back into the wild.

This barn owl was very alert for a nocturnal animal.

This fallow deer (so the sign said) didn't seem bothered by us at all.

The very elegant red-tailed hawk refused to turn around and show off his red tail.

There was also a butterfly garden and lots of bird feeders. This tiger swallowtail was so busy eating that I don't think he even noticed me.

And the gulf fritillary on the orange butterfly milkweed almost hurts the eye.

Back at the campground, we caught this nice sunset over Kentucky Lake.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Land Between the Lakes

Since Tuesday we've been at lovely Piney Campground in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The NRA lies between two of the largest man-made lakes in the US and is about 1/3 in Tennessee and 2/3 in Kentucky. I can certainly see where all the water comes from, it rains every day. The first night, I forgot to close the windows on the car. When the thunder woke me, I thought of it, but after I noticed how close the lightning and thunder came together, I wasn't about to go out and shut them. A couple of times I could hear the actual crack. Ron even woke up once. After the storm passed (came back, passed, came back again and finally left for good,) I went out and shut the proverbial barn door after the horse escaped. It took three days to dry out the carpet and it still smells funny. Does anybody have any suggestions how to get rid of the mildew smell? Besides going back to the dry West?

This is a lovely huge campground with large spaces right along Kentucky Lake. It was a challenge to find a spot where we could get satellite TV, but we managed. It helped that we came on a Tuesday so it wasn't crowded. What is it with all those trees? There are people here with satellite dishes 100 feet from their rig. Ours is on top of the RV, so we just have to park where there's an opening in the trees. (I know what some of you are thinking, "Why does she need TV?" But you have to remember that this is my life, not a vacation. If I'm going to be here for a week, I want TV.)

We were thrilled when Diana and Phil stopped for two nights on their way through the area. Phil drove us around to check out the area (well, our car was wet!) and we tracked down this herd of bison. Check out the little ones!

Mostly, though, we're just relaxing. Ron got a fishing license and launched the kayak from our backyard today. He caught a bass that was big enough to keep, but didn't. I can't say I'm too upset, although I know he would clean it.

So instead, we went to Cindy's Catfish Kitchen tonight for dinner. If you ever get in the area, it's near the southern exit of the park and was very good and reasonable. The buffet was $8.50 and included dessert. The catfish was great and the apple crisp was perhaps the best I've ever eaten. Yum!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tennessee Waltz

We crossed the mighty, muddy Mississippi last Thursday and settled in at a lovely site in T.O.Fuller State Park in Memphis. Since they had raised their rates and eliminated the senior discount, we stayed two nights instead of three, but we packed a lot into those two days.

First we ran down to Tunica, MS to check out the big casinos in the middle of nowhere. They were having their 15 year anniversary and I was sure I was there more than 15 years ago. I guess not. The Hollywood is my favorite with all the movie memorabilia. It did seem a bit dustier than the last time. My favorite was the sinking Titanic.

We tried to find a cheap buffet, but they're only for people who actually gamble. Oh, well.

Then I dragged Ron to one of my all-time favorite tourist attractions. It took me three trips through Memphis before I finally saw it a few years ago. Once, it was closed for the season, once it was on a Monday when they're closed, and the third time was the charm.

The adventure begins with a monorail ride from downtown, across the Wolf River, to Mud Island.

The trip takes less than two minutes!

Then for map lovers like me, the 'piece de resistance,' a half-mile long topo model of the Mississippi River. I just love this and, fortunately, Ron liked it too.

For those inquiring minds, here is the sign explaining this wonderful Mississippi Riverwalk. In short, the scale is 30 inches to the mile with a vertical scale of 1 inch to 8 feet. There are lots of signs explaining points of interest along the way.

The major cities along the river are also depicted. Here's Memphis.

And here's the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico which seems to be populated with dragons.

Oh, and they also have a very nice Mississippi River Museum. You get all this for the very reasonable price of $8 ($6 for seniors)!!!!! Surely one of the best bargains today.

The same cannot be said of Graceland. We decided to pass on seeing that after checking out the prices. First of all, it's $10 to park. Then the tickets start at $28 just to see the house and go up to $69 for the works. And for another $15 you can also tour the stables. What a ripoff!

I saw it years ago and must say it was pretty entertaining. I'm not the biggest Elvis fan, but the 70's decor is really something. I think my favorite was the pool room which had dizzying material all over the walls and gathered on the ceiling. You just don't see that anymore.

After Memphis, we moved on to Jackson, TN, home of the legendary Casey Jones. Everyone has heard the story about how Casey Jones died a hero trying to stop his train before it hit a stopped train in his path. I always wondered why he didn't just jump to safety like his fireman did - after all, it was just a train. Well, what I never heard was that he was running a passenger train and he managed to slow the train enough that his was the only life lost in the accident. That truly was heroic.

At the Casey Jones Museum is a replica of Casey's engine on that fateful night.

Near Jackson is Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park, the site of prehistoric mounds built almost 2000 years ago. Believed to be ceremonial, this is the second highest mound in the United States. Because of the huge trees, it doesn't look 72 feet tall.

Until you climb all the steps to the top.

Because it was built before shovels, Native Americans probably used the shoulder blades of deer to scoop dirt into a woven basket which they carried to the mound. It is estimated that the dirt required to build this mound would fill a line of average-sized dump trucks stretching over 26 miles. Wow!

Today we moved to Paris, TN where we saw the Eiffel Tower. Funny, I thought it was bigger.

And visited the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge at Kentucky Lake. Today's big sighting was a pair of Summer Tanagers and, on a less happy note, our first ticks of the year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On a Roll Here in Little Rock

This is our third night in Maumelle COE park, right on the Arkansas River and just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm really getting spoiled with these parks. Although the last two days were really hot and humid, we've been running our air. However we did have a slight blip on the happiness meter when the electric died about an hour after we arrived on Monday.

So we decided to go for a ride. And what did I want to see? The Presidential Library? The Capitol? A museum? No!

I wanted to see the. . .

As you can see, the pedestrian/bicycle bridge is seventy feet above the water atop the Murray Lock and Dam. Unfortunately, we didn't see a barge go through the lock, but we have seen them pass by from our rig in the campground.

This is a look down river with the ramp we walked up in 90 degree heat and humidity to get a picture.

The dam and lock here and the one we stayed near in Oklahoma, as well as about 17 others, are part of the Arkansas River Navigation System. Completed by the Corps of Engineers in 1971, the navigation channel extends from Oologah Lake just north east of Tulsa to the Mississippi River - a distance of 445 miles.

Today our friends Sue and Ken met us for lunch. We had a wonderful time catching up and three hours flew by like no time at all. They are volunteering for two months at Hot Springs National Park and came to Little Rock for the day. If you see them there, be sure to say 'Hi.'

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sallisaw, OK

From the sample of Oklahoma that we experienced during our trip across the state, we noticed that Okies are a fun-loving group.

Take for example this dual dog walk at one of the rest areas.

We found a Corps of Engineer campground on a lovely lake. Since we arrived on Saturday, it was crowded and smoky from all those requisite campfires, but it cleared out nicely the next day.

Those of you familiar with the COE will recognize their symbol that somebody painted on one of the old bridge supports at the dam.

We had the best breakfast at a truck stop that had these kid-sized peddle cars all around the building. Ron and I got a kick out of them and found out we had something in common. We both knew somebody who had one when we were little and coveted it. How's that for compatibility?

We checked out Sallisaw's 14 Flags Museum comprised of a collection of historic buildings.

The fourteen flags represent the influence of 14 separate nations and peoples on Oklahoma's history, beginning with Spain on the far left through the current flag of Oklahoma at the near end.

I especially liked the old car and gas pump.

And finally, here's what happens when you have two rules to post and money in the budget for only one sign.