On the Road Series: Northeast 4 – New River Gorge National Park

IMAG0665New River Gorge National River is a National Park, who knew?  I found it by accident on my map as we looked for something to kill time with in West Virginia.  The bridge and the whitewater rafting is what attracts most to the area.

The bridge is impressive, built of steel in the late 1970’s, it is taller than the Eiffel Tower plus two Statues of Liberty.  Viewing it from the river side is particularly impressive.  The area played an important role in the industrial revolution, it hauled coal on the railways from the mines tunneled in to the mountain there.  People came from all over for the jobs that were available in the area.

The Park Service has taken ownership of 70,000 acres, but for once, they haven’t shrunk the value of the area.  I am not one to criticize the National Park Service, I love the properties they have preserved for the future.  What they have done differently with this one is to continue to allow use of the river for commercial purposes and there is even hunting on NPS land.  That makes great sense to me.

So when you visit, plan a trip with a whitewater guide, take the “Bridge Walk”, be sure whatever you do, you get near the water and look up.  Look at the land that was used to fuel the Industrial Revolution, and look at the way nature has reclaimed it.  Appreciate the value that land offers, no matter the season, it always takes care of itself.

On the Road Series: Northeast 3, Coal and Beer

IMAG0655Coal is the lifeblood of this Pennsylvania landscape we are in, anthracite coal to be exact.  There were millions of tons of coal buried in slants under the landscape and many worked hard to remove it.  One of the best places to view the process is the Pioneer Tunnel in Ashland, Pennsylvania.  We stopped at the local museum first to look through the exhibits and see what was to be seen.  They do a great job of sharing how the coal is formed and how it is different than other coals.  The fields of coal lay under the mountains in this area in a vertical slant, much of what is extracted is done from underground.

The Pioneer Tunnel piles you in to a Loki and takes you down the tracks, 1800 feet in to the tunnel, the tracks stop.  There are many veins of coal that you pass under in this tunnel that was actively worked until 1931.  There are offshoots that you can walk down to see the chutes that have been dug both high and low from the tunnel to extract the coal.  The process is dirty, dangerous and back breaking.  Over 31,000 men have died in the industry since the process began.  While the press plays up the big explosions and collapses, the majority of men were killed one or two at a time doing industrial work.  Our prayers for all of them.

Not far from Ashland is another Pennsylvania treasure.  The Yuengling brewery, founded locally in 1829, it is the oldest American brewery.  The story starts five generations ago when a German immigrant named David came over to the new country.  He wanted to build a brewery to support his family, so he looked for a place with a strong German culture, at that time in Europe, men, women and children in Germany drank beer.  He wanted to replicate that formula so he had built in buyers.  He landed in Pottsville, where the original brewery still stands – well, almost original, as was common in those days, the first one burnt down.  What I loved about the place was the sense of history, the world has not been scrubbed and polished, the doors still swing on pulleys, the basement is still dug out and accessible, there is no security at the door making sure you follow every sign.  It feels small, it feels personal, it was awesome.

The fifth generation still heads and owns the brewery today, there have been five male born descendants that have headed the company…the current one is 71 years old and he has four daughters active in the industry, but no sons.  A change is afoot.  Over the last fifteen years, Yuengling has expanded tremendously from it’s humble origins, there are now two additional breweries that each make 1.7 million barrels a year, in addition to the original.  Yuengling can be purchased in 18 states and is continuing it’s expansion.  Pretty impressive for a local brewery.

There is one more thing in Pottsville that the locals are proud of, perhaps more than the brewery even.  That is the Pottsville Maroons, a professional football team who won the championship in 1925.  Perhaps you’ve heard of them, they go by the Washington Redskins now.

 

 

On the Road Series: Northeast 2

IMAG0628Maps have always been one of my favorite things, whether coloring in a map for school; drawing a map for directions (a side note here, if I drew it, don’t trust it); following a map, whatever the reason to have a map, it must be a good one.  Our first order of business was sleuthing through a local cemetery to find some relatives.  We thought we had some good information, turns out, it wasn’t that good.  We could have used a map.    The cemetery was in Sunbury, PA, originally founded in the early 1700’s.  Most of the headstones were worn by the weather, so impossible to read.  It is always interesting for those of us who grew up in the west to come east where everything is older.  Our states and landscapes had been viewed by just a few when whole generations were being buried in the east.  We were successful in only finding a single headstone that was on our list, and that was with the help of the internet.  Amazing how a new technology can link us to something almost 300 years old.

By the time we had stopped exploring the plots, we had come upon dinner time.  A local suggested the Hotel Edison.  Right there in Sunbury is a shrine to Thomas Edison, the first commercial building in which he wired his new-fangled light bulbs in 1877.  There were many other items in the hotel that he had invented, it was quite the history lesson.  It wasn’t quite dark, so we added a “speed tour” to our list of topics for the day.  The Rand-McNally map has three items listed in pink in our area today (we assume these are places of interest), so we set out to see the pink dots around Sunbury.  First stop, Fort Augusta.  An outpost of the British to protect the colonies during the French-Indian war…yes, that is before the American Revolution.  They’ve built a small scale version of the Fort on the property where the original Fort stood.  Next, the Jacob Priestly House, across the river from Fort Augusta, this is the home of a leading nineteenth century scientist.  The man who discovered oxygen and many other things, including the concept of photosynthesis.  It is said that Priestly’s thought process was so out of wack and controversial, that he was run out of England.  Last pink spot for the day was the Susquehanna University campus, a quaint little campus near the Susquehanna River that was founded in the mid 1800’s.  Beautiful place, but with tuition and room and board at over $50K a year, I doubt I will know anyone who attends.

I really enjoy speed touring, it is a combination of sleuthing, speeding and hanging out with the people I enjoy the most.  We may not get the full experience, but it is always a good time.

 

On the Road Series: Northeast

IMAG0646In 1962, the small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania began to burn.   It still does to this day.  This area of Pennsylvania is known for its’ coal production, and that coal lies under the surface of the ground.  A fire lit to burn garbage, lit the coal on fire, there has been no way to extinguish it.  Some roads have crumbled, but for the most part, the government came in and bought out the residents of the town to relocate them.  Most left gladly, there are still about 10 residents who stayed.  The rest of the town is abandoned.  The homes have been razed, there is a section of highway that has been detoured, but the streets and sidewalks remain, if you hadn’t heard why the town was gone, it would look like an alien plot.

If given the chance, find the highway that has been detoured, it is covered with graffiti and has an otherworldly feel.

Shiloh Military Park

shilohShiloh, almost six square miles in Tennessee that once housed families and farms, a peach orchard, a couple of ponds, smiles and laughter, over 70 buildings of one sort or another..  One hundred and fifty years ago, the Blue and the Gray clashed in a bloody battle, over 111,000 men met in this small space; over 7,000 died, more than 30,000 others were wounded.  One of the first battles of the bloodiest war in the history of America in the War Between the States, took place in April 1862 at Shiloh.

It has become known as the Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865, over 10,000 battles raged across the country – as far west as New Mexico, but concentrated in along the borders states between the Union and Confederate states.  There are many monuments to both throughout the country, this was our first all out tour of a military battlefield.  The Shiloh National Military Park is well put together, the museum holds artifacts from the time period, the movie is well worth every minute, but the battlefield is what will impress you most.

Each space is filled with markers that relate the troop movements, relate the battles won and lost, the sheer number of participants.  There is a nine mile loop that takes you through the various spaces to give you an idea of what it must have been like, but we were there with probably 100 other people, not 100,000.  I can’t even imagine the crush of people, all carrying weapons, the damages were staggering to both the North and the South.

The National Park Service does an awesome job preserving this military park.  I recommend this one at Shiloh to anyone, we also stopped at Brices Crossing, not as much to see, but still interesting.  The one in Tupelo, not so much – we made the trip because we didn’t know what to expect.  It was a city park, 1 acre square, aside from the two confederate tombstones, there wasn’t anything to see.

Temecula, CA…where good people meet

It’s Sunday, we are hunting for a place to watch the NFC championship game in Temecula.  Everything suggested to us is a chain, and I’m just not in to chains, now mind you, they have their place…but I am more in to supporting the local entrepreneur.  Driving around, we notice a brewery in old town.  The Crush and Brew, now that’s a clever little name.  They have a wine side and a beer side and only serve cold foods, it sounds interesting and for a Sunday at noon, it’s perfect for us.  We opt for the beer side, over 22 beers on tap, some as high as 12%.  Rich is an IPA drinker, so he chooses a sample platter of those, I go for a wheat beer, like usual.

At halftime, we are lamenting the slow start of the forty-niner’s, but have placed our order for the Block and Barrel, it’s an extra large cutting board full of meats and cheese, bread and various condiments.  Included is salami and deli meats, sauerkraut and olives.  Perfect for two.  They also serve a cheese platter, a bread board and lots of beautiful salads.  Add a great selection of wine and beer and you have yourselves a winner.  But that wasn’t the only thing that made the afternoon great.

We met Carol and Ernie and their daughter and son-in-law.  They are out touring the area, from Riverside, they like to spend their weekends looking for breweries and good food.  Temecula was their stop today with the help of Yelp.  I overheard a conversation about brew festivals coming up and asked them what they found.  This translated in to thirty minutes of animated conversation with some terrific people.  On top of that, they paid for our first round before they moved on to their next stop and came by for hugs to thank us for the conversation.  Wow, some people are just so nice.  So raise your glasses everyone to Carol and Ernie and all the kind people out in the world like them.  Perfect strangers can become perfect friends.

2012 Rose Parade Day One

The Rose Parade is a great experience, especially if you show up early in the week.  You can see the floats at their naked best and watch them progress from day to day.  The last day when the flowers are added just changes everything.  We are at the Rose Palace all this week, there are nine floats in residence.  Many of them so completely elaborate you have to applaud the designers.  The Lion’s Club float is an architectural wonder, it represents everything from the Sydney Opera House to the Eiffel Tower.  The Nurse’s Float (a new one this year) is beautiful with animals of all forms on it.  The mama deer is my favorite, although Haley was partial to the turtles, big surprise there.  And there is a “Love Float” that includes a wedding to happen, we can’t wait to see the dress rehearsal and how the bride gets up and down the ladder.

There are thousands of tasks to do, all of a small nature, every little task adds to the bigger picture.  At the Rose Palace, there are no small tasks, just small people.  We spent the first half of our night making 2” diameter curlicues from dried corn silk.  These curlicues were then added to a giant size teddy bear to form his face.  I’ve added photos so you can see the progression.  That’s kind of how everything works around here.  You start with a simple material, and then you chop it, or trim it, or cut it or twirl it.  Then you glue it to a part of the float.  Every part of the float that is visible must be covered with a natural material.  It’s really very impressive, I can’t wait to go back today.