04 November, 2013

Islands in the Mist OR Getting Soaked for No Good Reason

En route to Rhinebeck, we stopped briefly to visit a friend in Buffalo. So we thought we'd go see some of the falls in nearby Niagara.

Three Sisters Island Falls
Awww… They're so adorable!

Obviously those weren't the main attraction.

Niagara Falls
That would be these.

Gonna give you a warning: If you want a lot of fantastic views of Horseshoe Falls and American Falls, then go somewhere else. Possibly Google image search. The pictures will probably be better.

Don't get me wrong, the falls are awesome, but I want to talk about other things. Like the splendid park at the top of the falls. With free Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi sign
Because nothing says Nature like burying your face in an iPhone.

I'd been to Niagara Falls before back when I was 17. Back then we mostly wandered around the Canadian side.

Canadian Niagara Falls
Where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the falls, then go to the casino, eh?

But this time I forgot my passport. Even if I had remembered, it wouldn't have helped since I need to renew it anyway.

So we stayed in the US. And decided to get soaked.

Maid of the Mist sign
The Maid's sister married well and became the Lady of the Lake.
Their mother never let the Maid live it down.

Near the dock was a towering edifice of architecture. One to rival those big statues in the Lord of the Rings movies (you know the ones). One which will withstand the ages and show future archeologists the glory of our civilization.

Elevator tower
One which housed the elevator that took us down the cliff.

I know I should have been up front getting soaked and taking pictures of the falls…

Maid of the Mist passengers
Like these poor fools people.

…But I got, well, fascinated by other random things. Like the birds that spit in the face of the mist:

Birds in the mist
They mocked us humans and our foolish need for ponchos.
Or the creepy little sally port next to the bottom of horseshoe falls:

Horseshoe falls outlet
I searched, but couldn't find out what this thing is.
I'm going with hobbit hole.

And finally, the abandoned building that pretty much every other tourist ignored.

Ontario generating plant
Seriously, it is not a small building.
Why did nobody else take a picture of it?

After a bit of internet research (okay, maybe the park Wi-Fi could serve some purpose), I found out that it's the old Ontario Power Generating Plant. It was built in 1905 using designs by Tesla, Westinghouse, and other such people.

It was abandoned in 1999. The alternators were removed and all the tunnels were filled in. Why? So they could build that shiny casino on the cliff above it.

But I digress. Let us return to our journey.

Maid of the Mist Gift Shop
But not before visiting the gift shop!
The Maid of the Mist ain't no fool.

After quickly passing through the giftshop, my two stalwart companions and I set off to the islands above Niagara Falls. According to the informative plaque, this was such a monumental undertaking that when three sisters made the journey in 1818, they named the islands after them.

Three Sisters Island Plaque

Sadly, the islands were not immediately named after us when we got there. Evidently they're a lot tamer than they were back then.

Three Sisters Islands
What are you talking about? This is positively rugged!

The naming conventions of these islands are generally somewhat suspect. For example: Green Island. Perhaps you are thinking it got its name from being so full of nature and, well, green. Nope! It's just named after a dude called Mr. Green.

Green Island Plaque
After being found guilt of murdering Mr. Boddy,
Mr. Green fled to an island above Niagara Falls.

On the islands, it occurred to me how French explorers might have approached the falls…

Calm river
"Why, this wide river is quite calm! What smooth sailing"!

River Rapids
"I don't mean to alarm you, Pierre, but things are getting quite rough…"

Falls drop off
"Sweet Mother of Cheese, we're all going to die!"

What intrigued me was how empty the walking path around the islands were. Seriously. Most of the time we were pretty much the only people there. And at the few lookouts, there were only a handful of people. Yes, we were there in the middle of the day on a Friday, but still: The Maid of the Mist and other tourist destinations were plenty crowded.

Not that I'm complaining. Every time the crowds stick to a few places and avoid the side areas, I get to enjoy a little more solitude while I check them out.

But I wouldn't mind a little company out there in Fascination Land.

Tesla Statue
Nikola Tesla would approve.

Oh, and according to Google translate, "Sweet Mother of Cheese" is something like "douce mère de fromage." I will give you extra credit if you use this phrase as an exclamation. Credit will also be given for the shorter "mère de fromage."

28 October, 2013

Returning to Rhinebeck OR Fall Excursions in New York (the State)

Last year, my wife and I had only recently arrived east of the Mississippi. This put us in road-tripping distance of the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY, known by knitters simply as "Rhinebeck." So we went. (Day 1 and Day 2 from last year.)

This year we went again. Because it's awesome, that's why!

Content sheep
Simon the Sheep is using all of his zen process to contain himself.

Before we begin, I'm gonna conduct a brief poll:

Who thinks of knitting as a polite, quiet, and generally sedate activity?

Without even tallying the results, I'm going to laugh heartily at you. Because no matter how quiet and reserved knitters might be normally, when you get them in a group they become a force with which to reckon.

Witness: The line to enter the fairgrounds on Sunday morning. Before the fair even opened.

Rhinebeck line
Outside the fence...

Rhinebeck Line
…Inside the fence.
They let the first hundred or so people with pre-paid tickets inside the fence. They waited, calmly and peacefully watching the arms of the tiny volunteer standing in their way.

Then the arms lifted and the girl stepped aside.

Knitters running
Unleash the kraken!

These knitters ran, yes ran, to get to the booths with their favorite yarn. And this was on Sunday, when the crowd was half as large. (For those of you keeping track at home, the Saturday crowd was something like 47,000 people. Just on Saturday.)

And why not be excited? Rhinebeck has hundreds of vendors of yarn, accessories, and wool-related items. Not to mention the food building.

Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival map
All of those green buildings are vendors.
The orange ones are for sheep and things.

Three of these are open air "buildings".

Building A
Packed to the canvas-covered rafters with wooly wares.

The one "normal" building was filled with gourmet food vendors for foods like honey, cheese, maple products, biscotti, sauces, and other things that are just making me hungry.

Food vendors
There were enough samples that wandering through was almost a meal by itself.

Then there were the "barns," which are actual barns set up for booths for vendors.

Big Barn
Yes, that is a second story up there.
Oddly enough, you can only reach it by going up the hill outside.

Other barn
The rest of the barns were much more rustic.

And there aren't just a few barns.

The street between the barns
A rare moment of peace between the barns.
(Everyone was lined up at the myriad of food stands.)

Speaking of food, there is, of course, more than merely yarn here. The whole place is a splendid celebration of fall and general rural awesomeness with a classy twist.

For example, food booths like the Flammkuchen trailer. (Flammkuchen is a German flatbread that's like a pizza crossed with awesomeness.)

Flammkuchen cart
This was the only time the line was less than 30 minutes long.
…but they are so worth it.
Then there's the maple syrup from local growers. And their maple cotton candy, which is the best cotton candy in existence. I particularly enjoy the tasting stations where you can try the various grades of the season.

Maple syrup
I treasure maple syrup like others treasure fine wine.

I was tempted by the First Edition maple syrup (the lightest and most flavorful), but opted to walk away with just the Light maple syrup. (I told you I treasure it!)

Then it was off to the demonstrations, such as the top coat sheering they do before the sheep are judged.

Sheep face
Simon knows he looks good. You don't have to tell him.

Sheep shearing
The sheep and the shearer do not gossip about the barnyard during this process.
Proving that sheep have better manners than most salon patrons.

And finally, a fascinating display of what sheep herding actually looks like. (And no, there was no pig involved.)

Three sheep
"I say, this is a nice little pasture. We certainly have nothing to worry about…"

Sheep with dog
**JAWS theme plays**

Overall, I loved the second year as much as the first. And will strive as much as possible to make it a yearly occurrence.

21 October, 2013

Give Me Home Where the Turkey Do Roam OR Running Into the Woods

Indiana turned 100 years old in 1915. It seemed as good a time as any to establish a state park system, and the second park the commission bought was Turkey Run State Park in 1916. (In an odd twist, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave the park commission half of the money it needed to make the purchase.)

The park straddles Sugar Creek like a blanket made out of trees.

Covered bridge
An uncomfortable blanket with random bridges in the middle of it.

Thing is, all of the parking and less nature-type attractions on one side of the river, while the hiking trails are on the other side. So a good chunk of the people hang out at the pool, nature center, and other places that have actual plumbing.

Others take lazy trips down the river. Often involving booze.

River view
Foreground: Scenic Sugar Creek
Background: The Indiana Drunkard in its natural habitat.

Eschewing both plumbing and booze, we forded the creek (the main bridge was closed) and set off into the wild on the far side.

Turkey Run Trail
By "wild" we mean "well-maintained nature preserve."
But you get my drift.

Turkey Run features many nice paths through forests, but that's not why anyone hikes there. People hike there for the sandstone gorges.

Gorge and trail
Once you step off that walkway, it's just you, the creek, and the gorge.

Turkey Run lies just south of where the glaciers halted during the Ice Age. The tallest thing from there to Lake Michigan is the windmill electric generators. So the canyons and hills are pretty striking.

But let's pause for a second to consider history. Before Turkey Run was a state park, it was largely owned by the Lusk family. They did things like farm the nearby flat lands and built a coal mine with very low ground clearance.

Coal Mine
This is the opposite of the "You Must be This Tall to Ride" signs.

It really wasn't a productive mine. It pretty much gave them enough to use at their house. Today it's ruled by the Lord of the Bats. See that grating? It's specially designed to keep stupid teenagers out while allowing bats in. How do I know this? Why, an informative plaque, of course!

Coal Mine Sign

Educational activities aside, we opted for the trail that took you over the most varied path. Otherwise known as the most fascinating path.

Mud? Rocks? Dirty water?

The path we took takes you along the creek bed through a canyon. You're often climbing on the actual rocks the water travels over. Being the mountain-raised fool I am, this meant barefoot hippie climbing.

Rocky canyon
Others might sigh and find a way around.
I rip off my bourgeois shoes and bound forward like a toddler after a shot of espresso.

This is definitely my favorite part of Turkey Run. But the other end of the gorge still involves a lot of fun ups and downs.

Sometimes very up.

But the great thing, of course, is the nature everywhere. There's something heart warming about being surrounded by nature.

Tree in the middle of the path
Even if it does raise it's middle finger at your maintained pathways.

The whole thing was a great reminder that nature hangs right outside our manicured fields, lawns, and towns. Much like how stereotypical hoodlums hang outside stores smoking cigarettes and sneering.

Tree in the middle of wood stairs
Nature would like to say, "Screw your wooden staircases!"

Sometimes, however, steps just aren't enough to get through the canyons. But nobody lets that stop them.

Turkey Run Ladder
Seriously. This is just part of the trail.

What's kind of neat is the reminder of how much people had to claw their lives away from the wilderness.

Because once you walked along the river's shores...

Sugar Creek
Please note: Kayakers are not authentic to the 19th century.

...and once you walked past the dramatic cliffs...

Sandstone cliffs
The cliffs, however, are authentic to the 19th century.
...and, you know, thousands of years before that.

...you'd find the old Lusk family home in a small clearing surrounded by woods.

Lusk home
You know, the one that used coal from the short mine.

And while I got the pleasure of enjoying Turkey Run on a lovely early fall day, the Lusk family lived there all year. Including the dead of winter.

But that's the thing. No matter how much nature raises its wooden middle finger at me, I still love it. And as the Impressive Clergyman would say, "Chewish your wove."

Even if it means running around like a crazy turkey.

14 October, 2013

50th Post! OR One Year Later (Please Don't Do the Math)

I went to write a post about visiting Turkey Run State Park. But then realized that I'm on the big 5-0 of posts. So I moved that post to next week, and decided to do a bit of a retrospective. Because sometimes perspective is a good thing.

Back in June of 2012, my wife and I sold a bunch of our ungainly things, shipped a lot of smaller things (mostly books), and jammed the rest of our stuff in our car. Then we said goodbye to our old street in Montrose, CA...

Montrose Street
Goodbye, Trader Joe's at the end of the street!
I'll miss you most of all!

...and hit the road for Indiana.

Nevada Road
Including the long, straight, empty road across Nevada.

Since our two cats were in the backseat (and, it should be noted, freaking out the whole time), we decided to take the trip a little slower and stop several times along the way.

Car at Utah gas station
This picture features our packed car (complete with cats),
and the only gas station/anything within 80 miles of the Nevada/Utah border. Seriously

So, we thought, why not take pictures? And what if I put them up on a blog? It would sure beat the hell out of showing everyone a boring slideshow of our road trip.

Our trip took us across Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, and into Indiana. Some roads were more exciting...

Utah canyons
The canyons of Utah certainly made for colorful driving.

...while others were "very, very relaxing."

Kansas prairies
By which I mean, "boring."

At this point, we had vague ideas about me doing a blog. Possibly as a way to keep in touch with those still living in California. Possibly as a place to practice writing. Or, most likely, as a way to spread the random things I tend to see around me. Whether they were picturesque...

Glenwood Springs
Scenic old town Glenwood Springs, Colorado

...or bizarre.

German Restaurant in Glenwood Springs
Also Glenwood Springs.
Because who DOESN'T need a random Bavarian restaurant?!?

Then we arrived in Anderson, Indiana, where we still live to this day.

Mounds diagram
Home of Strange Prehistoric Mounds

Not gonna lie: I wondered how I'd still find things fascinating enough to write about. After all, it's not like I'm constantly driving cross-country. I kind of expected the blog to slowly die away as I got too busy.

But it didn't. Quite the opposite. The blog's regular schedule forced me to constantly keep exploring the world around me. (Don't do the math on my 50 posts and "weekly" schedule. It just makes me look bad.) We officially arrived in Indiana in early July 2012. We've now been here slightly over a year. In that time, I've explored a great deal of my new nearby metropolis...

Turns out Indianapolis is an actually real city with actual neat things to do.
Who knew?!?

...I've re-visted old haunts...

Northwestern Arch
Including landmarks that I totally didn't climb multiple times.
That would have been stupid, and unlike everyone else, I didn't do anything stupid in college.

...and I've explored my new state.

Tractor on parade
Which, yes, does include tractors in parades.

But you know what? I've learned a lot, and seen a lot of neat places.

Nashville informative plaque
And read many informative plaques.

Wabash Informative Plaque
They're just so damn informative! Informative, I say!

In retrospect, this blog has been one of the greatest decisions I've made. And it was almost totally made on a whim.

So for those who have been following the blog this whole time, I hope you've had as much fun as I've had. You all have a standing invitation to join me for coffee.

SoHo Cafe
After all, I know quite a few good coffee shops.
And I'm finding more all the time.

But enough of this think. It's time to get back out there and find more fascinating things.

Indy Children's Museum
Possibly involving dinosaurs.

So stay fascinated, people! I know I certainly will.