Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas 2013 at the Columbus Zoo

It had been several years since we had been to the Columbus Zoo at Christmas time.  When I taught AP Biology at Cabell Midland High School we took a class trip there every year.  We typically went on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We would charter a coach and leave the school at 8 am which would put us at the zoo around 11 am.  We would eat a brownbag lunch and get behind-the-scenes tours at several of the exhibits.  We would have enough daylight to see the animals and since the weather was cool, many of the animals were much more active than in warmer weather.  As the evening approached the Christmas lights would come up.  Carolers and Dickens characters would walk around the zoo grounds to entertain guests.  There would be an ice skating rink, roasting nuts warm cider and hot chocolate.  It was an excellent class trip.
Today it was only Mary and I for the trip.  We left home at 8 am and drove to Columbus through Portsmouth, Chillicothe and Circleville.  We went to Juergen’s German Bakery and Restaurant in Columbus’ German Village for lunch.  It is a small family owned restaurant, bakery and German store in an old building on 4th Street.  There were only a few tables but people came and went there the whole time we were there.  Most of the staff at Juergen’s was from Germany and chatted with us in German, at least as much as we could.  Mary had a Kase Schnitzel with is a pan fried veal cutlet covered with melted cheese.  My Jeager Schnitzel was covered in mushroom gravy.  We both had a generous serving of Spaetzel and an assortment of breads made fresh on the premises.  Before we left, we bought a huge coconut macaroon that was moist and delicious, a Bavarian cream dessert, a slice of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and some anise cookies.  It was all quite good.
We arrived at the Columbus Zoo around 12:30 and used our Cincinnati Zoo membership to get a 50% discount on admission.  When we arrived we were concerned that the wind might make the trip too cold but once we got inside the zoo there was little wind.  
The temperatures got to the low 60s with lots of sunshine which is great for Columbus in late December.  The North America exhibits included bears, wolves, bison, pronghorns, moose, cougars, bobcats and swans.
From there, we walked through the Asia and Africa exhibits.  We were especially entertained by the Langur monkeys.  One monkey was especially mischievous and spent the time we were there harassing and tormenting the other Langurs.  Mary said that monkey reminded her of me.  I can’t imagine why!
Of course, we had to go see the red pandas.  They were up in one of the trees in their exhibit and took time to playfully romp for us.  We enjoyed the exhibits of African lions, black rhinos, Humbolt penguins and koalas before checking some of the exhibits in buildings as the light dimmed.  The reptile house is always good and has well displayed specimens of a nice variety of reptiles and amphibians.  
We ended our visit at the aquarium.  Since the room was warm, we nodded off as we watched the variety of fish in the huge tank.  When the room started to fill with people we moved on and made our way to the zoo exit.  As we were leaving there were many people coming in to the zoo for the evening’s light shows.  As the zoo was getting crowded, we were happy to be leaving.
We drove around I-270 back to Rt. 23 South and drove to Chillicothe where we picked up Rt. 35.  We stopped for dinner in Rio Grande, Ohio at the Bob EvansRestaurant.  This restaurant is on the grounds of Bob Evans Farms and is at the site of the original Bob Evans which was built in 1946.  We both enjoyed our salads and started back home.  We arrived at the house at 9 pm and turned in after doing a little reading.  We had a really nice day and are looking forward to going back to the Columbus Zoo in warmer weather when some of the less cold tolerant animals will be on display and active.


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Friday, October 11, 2013

Back Home From Oregon

We left Whittington’s a little after 3 am headed to the Eugene, Oregon airport for our return trip home.  The rental car was filled last night so we didn’t need to stop before returning it to Enterprise.  Overall we were impressed with the Hyundai Genesis.  Mary especially liked the heated leather seats.  The car had a nice ride and got good fuel economy for a car of that size.
Although there was a lot of fog in Eugene, our flight left on time.  We fully expected to not make the connecting flight in San Francisco since there was only a few minutes between when we arrived and when our connecting flight boarded.  We were fortunate to get to the next gate quickly and made the flight.  We were a little concerned since the flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC was at the international terminal.  The 757 from San Francisco to Washington was a comfortable plane.  We were in business class which gave us some welcome legroom.  There was a $7 charge for the in-flight movie and we didn’t want to spend money to watch a bad movie so we read, napped and listened to music on the iPad.  You had to pay the $7 even to watch the flight map or listen to the radio on the aircraft.  The flight was a long five hours but having the roomier seats was a plus.  We got to Dulles a little ahead of schedule and made our way to our departure gate.  Dulles is quite a maze to negotiate in getting from one concourse to another.  We got to the gate with time to spare and made the short flight to Charleston.
We picked up our bags and drove home arriving by 7 pm.  We cooked some chicken on the George Foreman Grill and started unpacking from the trip.  We have a number of things to do to get ready for the week.  I also want to get some things done in the bathroom remodel project so I made a run to Home Depot to pick up the new shower door that I hope to install over the weekend.
We sure enjoyed our time in Oregon.  The landscape there is breathtaking.  The waterfalls, covered bridges and snow-capped mountains are quite scenic.  We also enjoyed out time with the Whittingtons and especially appreciate Robert giving up his bedroom to us for the week.  Both Robert and Michael are doing well.  It is great to see them growing up.  We look forward to seeing them again soon.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bridges of Lane County (plus one in Douglas County)

Can we dance wif yo dates?
Our trip to Oregon is coming to an end, but fortunately the weather held out for another day.  We had a lazy morning. After breakfast, Mary did some laundry, and Steve went to find some local geocaches near Lowell, Oregon.  Lowell is a small town on Dexter Lake.  The Dexter Lake Club is a little bar that was the location for the bar scene in the movie Animal House.  The scene where the guys from Delta House pick up some girls and take them to see Otis Day and the Knights.  The Dexter Lake Club had been empty for a number of years but was recently sold and reopened as a bar with a diner next door.  They are playing on the bar’s role in the movie in hopes of making the bar a success.  They even brought Otis Day back for the grand reopening.
Restored Chambers Bridge in Cottage Grove, OR

After a lunch, we headed to Cottage Grove to see the covered bridges.  The Chambers Bridge was being restored when we were here in May 2011.  It had unused since the 1950s, and a high wind had almost toppled it.  It was undergoing renovation in 2011-2012.  The bridge is the last remaining railroad covered bridge west of the Mississippi.  They used metal artwork to represent the modified engines inside and outside of the bridge.  They’ve created nice little park area, but the beavers have cut down two of the newly planted trees.
Currin Bridge
After a quick stop at Territorial Seed to check out what’s new in gardening, we drove up toward Lake Dorena.  We circled the lake, stopping at the Currin, Dorena, Mosby Creek, and Stewart Covered Bridges. 
Dorena Bridge
There are two large hiking/biking trails, one on each side of the lake following the old railroad tracks.  A scene from the movie, Stand by Me was shot at Lake Dorena near Cottage Grove.  It was not the iconic railroad bridge scene, however. They are relatively flat, and lots of people were out on bikes. 
Mosby Creek Bridge
We were impressed with the number of biking and hiking routes in the area.  Cottage Grove is a small town but is neat and clean.  
Stewart Bridge
There seems to be a high quality of life there.  Cottage Grove was also used in the Animal House movie.  The main street in Cottage Grove as the location of the parade scene that was one of the final scenes in the movie.
After leaving Lake Dorena, we went southwest to Drain, Oregon in Douglas County to see the Pass Creek covered bridge there.  
Pass Creek Bridge in Drain, OR
Unlike the ones in Cottage Grove, there wasn’t signage, so we had to ask for directions.  It was painted dark brown but had a high opening like the Chambers Bridge.  After stopping for gas in Crewell, we headed back to Whittingtons.
Robert had to work until 8 pm and Michael wasn’t interested in joining us for dinner at P. F. Chang’s.  We had chicken-lettuce wraps and fried green beans as appetizers.   For entrees, Cindy had pad Thai, Mark had sesame chicken, Mary had crab fried rice and Steve had kung pao chicken. We all enjoyed our meals and shared each other’s selections.  It was a very nice evening out.
We spent the rest of the evening packing and preparing for our early morning departure.  We will need to leave at 3 am to return the rental car, check our bags, get through security and make our flight.  We will go from Eugene to San Francisco to Dulles to Charleston.  We have little time to change flights at each airport so we are hoping that everything is on time and that we make all of our connections.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sisters, Oregon

Goodpasture Bridge at Leaburg, Oregon
Mary & I left Whittingtons before 9 am and drove east along the McKenzie Highway.  Unlike Monday’s trip, we stayed on the newer McKenzie Highway for our drive to Sisters, Oregon.  The drive was very nice and the weather was much more cooperative than on Monday.  We made a few stops at a covered bridge and state salmon hatchery in Leaburg, Oregon.  The Goodpasture covered bridge in Leaburg was built in 1938 and still carries vehicular and pedestrian traffic today.
There were several scenic overlooks and view points along the highway but the fog was heavy and didn’t allow much in the way of views.  We were hoping to see some of the snow covered mountains in the Cascades but we could only catch glimpses through openings in the clouds.
Sahalie Falls
A stop at Sahalie Falls was worthwhile.  A walk took us on a short walk to the falls where the falling water and the fog made a thick mist in the canyon.  We took several snapshots until the sun peeked through the clouds and formed a rainbow over the falls.  It was a beautiful place.
Clear Lake forming the headwaters of the McKenzie River
Clear Lake is formed by a spring that makes a beautiful clear blue lake that is popular with locals and visitors alike.  A trail around the lake is a nice walk with a lot of birds and wildlife.  Where the spring forms this lake is the head of the McKenzie River.
We stopped for lunch at the McDonalds in Sisters, Oregon.  According to Cindy the town has really changed in the past few years.  When they lived here in the 1980s Sisters was a sleepy small town with a very laid back atmosphere.  Today the town has as many Lexus as pickups on the streets and Sotheby’s has a real estate office in the town.
Lava Field along the Old McKenzie Pass
We took the scenic route back from Sisters which was the route we drove on Monday.  Since there was heavy rain the whole time we were on this road, the Old McKenzie Pass, we didn’t get to see as much as we had hoped.  The weather was much better today with no rain.  The fog still limited visibility of the mountain peaks and the air was very cold in the low 30s.  Above 5000 feet there was a good bit of snow on the ground making the lava fields look interesting with the snow covering.  
Mary at the Dee Wright Observatory
We drove to the Dee Wright Observatory that we visited on Monday.  At over 5300 feet, there was a good deal of snow making the steps up to the observatory slick but their lava rock construction made the walking easier.  There wasn’t as much wind but the cold was still intense.  We were happy that we brought jackets and caps.  We walked around the observatory and learned more of the area’s history before getting back in the car for the drive down the mountain.
We stopped a few places to hunt a few geocaches as we drove back to Whittingtons but still got back by 4:30.  We visited with Michael briefly before Mark and Cindy got home.  We had brots, kraut and mac and cheese for dinner. As always, everything was very good.

We plan to do a short trip to Cottage Grove, Oregon on Thursday then come back early to prepare for our early Friday flight back.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Columbia Gorge

Henry Gulick's house
We awoke at 5 this morning after sleeping well at the Shilo Inn in The Dalles.  We responded to some emails and made a few calls for work then went to breakfast with Mark & Cindy at the hotel dining room.  The breakfast was very good and got us started well.  While we were eating breakfast we saw some old buildings behind the motel near the banks of the Columbia River.  We learned that the structures were built by a Scottish immigrant, Henry Gulick in 1890.  He married a local Indian woman and built a house, barns and an Indian Shaker church.  We noticed that the structures were held together with forged square nails and that many of the buildings were still fairly sound.
As we left The Dalles we stayed mostly on Rt. 30 which parallels I-84. Since we planned to make several stops at spots along the way, we wanted to stay on two lane roads.  Before we had gone too far we saw markers for a campsite that was used by the Lewis and Clark party near the Columbia River.  The steep cliffs offered a good view of the river as well as protection from any threats that may come by river. 

Our next stop was at the Columbia River Discovery Center where the excellent signage informed us about the unique vegetation of the Columbia Gorge.  The trails around the center were well marked and interesting.  We walked the trails and took some snapshots before the rain started in falling harder so we headed to the car and continued westward on Rt. 30.
We made several stops on Rt. 30 at scenic overlooks including one at the peak of the Cascade Range where there were great views of the Columbia Gorge.  There was also a nice wildlife area where we walked around and looked at the plants of the high desert of the Pacific Northwest.

Bridal Veil Falls
Along Rt. 30 in the Columbia Gorge near the Columbia River there are a number of breathtaking waterfalls.  Some of the waterfalls were we stopped were Horsetail Falls, Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Latourell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.  We only walked in to Horsetail Falls, Latourell Falls and Bridal Veil Falls since the rain was very heavy at times.  Horsetail Falls was an easy visit since it was right beside Rt. 30 and required no walk.  We waited in the car until the rain slacked a bit then ran over to look at the falls.  The 176 foot tall falls were flowing well with all of the rain that had been falling over the week.  We waited a while at Multnomah Falls hoping for a break in the rain, but the rain was so heavy that we moved on without walking the few hundred yards up to the falls. 
Latourell Falls
The next waterfall was Bridal Veil Falls which is a total of 160 feet for both segments of the waterfall.  We took a steep but well maintained gravel path of about 2/3 miles each way to the viewing area once the rain had slacked a bit.  Bridal Veil Falls were beautiful and well worth with the walk.  The last waterfall we visited was Latourell Falls which was was a nice stop, and the rain had slacked to a mist so we walked up the hill about two hundred yards to the viewpoint of the falls.  The Lower Latourell Falls is about 249 feet tall but another smaller Upper Latourell Falls adds another 100 feet of waterfall.  We didn’t hike up to the upper falls since the rain resumed, so we got back in the car. 

Mary & Stave at Latrouell Falls
We attempted to visit the Bonneville Dam area on the Columbia River.  However, since the dam is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, it was not open because of the government shutdown.  We were really irritated that we were unable to visit many of the National Parks and other sites that are otherwise available in the area.  Since most of the area is not staffed, we saw no savings to the government in closing them to the public.  It appeared to us that closing these sites was a vindictive move on the part of the federal government to make voters prod their legislators to bring an end to the impasse.  Although we were unable to visit the Bonneville Dam, we were able to visit a fish hatchery operated by the State of Oregon.  This hatchery captures wild salmon from the Columbia River as they travel upstream and extract the eggs to raise in the hatchery.  The hatchery raises several types of salmon as well as white sturgeon.  Rain fell in buckets while we were at the hatchery, but the visit was so interesting that we couldn’t bring ourselves to go back to the car.  Mark and I were amazed at the large salmon jumping high as they attempted to travel upstream at the walls of the hatchery catch basins.  We also spent a good deal of time at the viewing pond where large salmon and sturgeon are kept.  A window underwater allowed us to view the large fish swimming in the pond.  The star of the show is Herman the Sturgeon, a 70 year old ten foot long white sturgeon. We had lunch in the car as we sat in the rain and warmed up after getting soaked looking at all the fish.
Mark gets ready for a walk to a waterfall
We continued our westward drive along Rt. 30 to I-205 South to avoid much of the Portland traffic as we passed through the area around 3:30 in the afternoon.  We had a few slowdowns but had no problems and intersected with I-5 South passing through Salem and Corvallis.  We stopped at Albany for gas at the Costco.  We arrived back at Whittingtons by 5:30 and had a nice dinner of chicken with broccoli and pasta.  After dinner Mary and Cindy looked at Sarah and Greg’s photos of Italy while Mark and Michael watched television.  Robert worked until 8 pm at the Thurston McDonalds.

We hope to go to Cottage Grove tomorrow.  It is a nice small town with beautiful covered bridges.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Old McKenzie Pass

We left Whittingtons before 9 am headed for the Columbia Gorge by way of the McKenzie River.  We drove along the Old McKenzie Highway through the Cascade Mountains.  The Old McKenzie Pass follows a wagon trail dating back to 1860 through lava flows that cover 65 square miles.  The lava fields were pretty spectacular, but the thick fog and mist of rain limited visibility.  The area looked like something that would be expected in Hawaii but had some hardy trees struggling to survive in the harsh environment.  I can imagine the reaction of pioneers traveling through this area and coming across the expanse of lava and ash that offered no water, fruits, grain for horses or animals to hunt.  If they hadn’t already endured enough, the lava fields would present a formidable obstacle.

Our first stop at the Dee Wright Observatory in the lava fields was a cold one.  The air was very cold which felt even colder in the high winds at the observatory.  The cold was compounded by a brisk rain that had ice mixed in.  It was very uncomfortable up at the observatory.  The observatory was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is constructed of lava blocks.  The observatory has windows that look out to local mountains in the Cascade Range.  We would have liked to have stayed longer here, but the cold wind ran us back in to the car quickly.
By the time we got over the mountains, the weather had warmed considerably and rain slowed then eventually stopped.  In addition, the entire habitat changed.  On the east side of the Cascades we saw a change of trees to Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir and Incense Cedar.  The environment was definitely high desert.  This is a textbook lesson in the effect of mountains on the climate of an area.  Every middle school student learns about rain shadow deserts in science class.  This was a clear example of that with a near rain forest on the west side of the Cascades and a desert on the east side. We were happy to have warmer and dried weather than allowed us to get out and enjoy the scenery.
Our next stop was the headwaters of the Metolius River.  This river emerges from the side of a mountain and becomes a rushing river very quickly.  This river had beautiful blue water than was very pure and had a healthy fish community.  There was a short walk down to the place where the water boils out of the mountain and a flowing stream over stones and through beautiful mountain meadows.
The Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery was nearby that raises rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, brook trout and sturgeon.  We especially enjoyed the settling pond with the large brood stock.  There were some enormous fish in this pond.  We bought some food pellets from the hatchery and enjoyed watching the large fish compete for the pellets.  We especially enjoyed seeing the Dolly Varden come up and expose their bright red undersides as they swallowed the hatchery pellets.  They are beautiful fish.
We left the hatchery and drove to Smith Rock which is an interesting mountain with volcanic origin that is popular with hikers and rock climbers.  Since this is an Oregon State Park and not a National Park, it wasn’t closed due to the government shutdown.  There were a number of people using the area since the day was so beautiful.  The area reminded me a lot of Seneca Rocks back home.
We drove through the Crooked River National Grassland toward Antelope, Oregon.  The Crooked River National Grassland was a little disappointing.  The grassland was really just typical high desert with sagebrush and other low vegetation.  There was really very little grassland in the area.
Antelope is the town where the commune of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was located in the 1980s at a place called Rajneeshpuram.  This 64,000 acre ranch spanned Wasco and Jefferson Counties in Oregon.  In 1984, in an effort to sway a local election that could affect the Rajneeshpuram, followers of the Bhagwan launched a bioterror attack in which Salmonella was planted on salad bars in local restaurants and other sites in the community.  The thinking was that if potential voters were too ill to vote, the voters from Rajneeshpuram could have enough votes to implement changes favorable to the Bhagwan.  Needless to say, they perpetrators were caught and the plan was foiled.  The commune is now a church camp.
We drove from Antelope toward The Dalles, Oregon, where we would spend the night.  We checked in to the Shilo Inn then went to dinner at Casa El Mirador nearby.  The food was excellent and the servings were large.  Mary had pork with shreds of prickly pear cactus that was outstanding.  I had a very good shrimp enchilada.  Mark & Cindy both enjoyed their meals as well.

We got back to the hotel tired but having had a very good day.  We are looking forward to driving along the Columbia Gorge toward Portland tomorrow.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lookout Point Lake

We woke up at 5 am this morning which we thought was pretty good.  We had managed to stay awake until 10 pm last night allowing us to sleep in a bit this morning.  We read in bed until 7 am when we heard Mark & Cindy moving around.  Mark made an excellent coffee cake for breakfast which we all enjoyed. 
After cleaning up we all planned a little for a trip to the mountains on Monday and Tuesday then Mark & I drove to Lookout Point Lake near Dexter, OR to look for a series of geocaches along West Boundary Road.  The road was a beautiful drive along the backside of the lake opposite US 58 and is partly paved and partly gravel.  There were a lot of runners and dog walkers out on the road.  
Mark & I found 70 of the 73 geocaches along the road and saw several blacktail deer, many Stellar Jays, ground squirrels, geese and ducks.  The bigleaf maples were turning a beautiful yellow and the thick layer of ferns in the forest were starting to turn yellow as well.  Most of the trees in the area are firs and cedar but the sprinkling of maple and alder makes a pretty contrast of colors.  The lake was drawn down to winter pool which was much lower than the summer pool level.  Many of the stumps of trees that were in the canyon before the lake was constructed in 1953 were now visible. The Willamette River was flowing fast as it ran into the lake and trout were hidden in pools all along the river.

We got back from our geocache outing around 3 pm and watched a little of the football games on television this afternoon.  Mark barbecued some boneless ribs for dinner along with roasted potatoes and asparagus.  Everything was very good. We want to try to stay up until 10 pm this evening if we can.  We plan to leave tomorrow by 8 am or shortly thereafter to get in the Madras, Oregon area for some sightseeing.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Oakridge Boys

Despite our best efforts to sleep in, we awoke at 3 am this morning.  That is reasonable since 3 am is actually 6 am back home which is after our usual wake up time.  We checked email and read until around 7 am when we heard Mark & Cindy moving.  Mark fixed blueberry pancakes for breakfast that were very good.
Eugene;s Saturday Market
After breakfast we drove into Eugene to the Saturday Market which is very hippie Oregon.  Although the air was very cool, there was a lot of people walking around the market.  There were stands selling hand-made jewelry, natural fiber clothes, organic vegetables and food stands.  Groups across the street set up to protest one thing or another.  It is quite a spectacle  We bought a few fruits and vegetables then Cindy delivered payroll checks to some of the stores.  We got back to the house and had soup for lunch to warm us up after the cold morning at the market.
Mark's homemade beef and vegetable soup was excellent as was the ever popular chicken corn chowder.  We finished off with some Rice Crispy treats that Cindy got at a bagel bakery near the University of Oregon campus.  After lunch, Mary & I drove south through Oakridge to do some sightseeing. 
Salt Creek Falls
We visited for a few geocaches along the way but our first major stop was at Salt Creek Falls.  These falls were spectacular.  We didn’t expect anything of this magnitude in this area.  At 286 feet, Salt Creek Falls are the second highest waterfalls in the state.  We had to hike about a mile to get to the falls since the gate was locked to the area because of the federal government shutdown. There were patches of snow all along the trail as we walked to the falls, but the air temperature was comfortable since I was in shorts and a T-shirt.  We took a few snapshots of the falls and found a geocache near the walkway.  Mary spooked a garter snake as she was looking for the cache which surprised me that they would be active this late at that altitude. After seeing the falls and finding a cache we walked back to the car.  We are really enjoying the Hyundai Genesis.  It has a great stereo with XM, heated leather seats, plenty of room and a smooth ride.
We drove on to Odell Lake where we walked around and saw the Dolly Varden (not Dolly Parton) starting to go up the small streams to spawn.  Dolly Varden, also known as bull trout, are becoming more rare in the state and lakes in this area are among the few places where breeding populations exist.  The Dolly Varden were in breeding colors and their jaws were already very hooked.  Odell Lake was the subject of an early computer game by MECC for the Apple II in which players interacted with the ecosystem of the lake and monitored populations of fish species in the lake as well as water conditions.  The Odell Lake computer game with a good deal like the Oregon Trail game which was also made by MECC.
Oregon landscape with Diamond Peak in the background
We were amazed at how beautiful the leaves are up in the mountains over 5000 feet.  Since there is so much fog in the morning there was really no sun striking the leaves making them appear somewhat drab.  However, as we were driving back the evening sun was hitting the leaves making the otherwise dull yellows pop with color contrasting with the deep greens of the firs and pines.  The scenery was very beautiful up in the mountains.

We got back to Whittingtons at 6:30 and had a good dinner of grilled chicken, salad and organic corn on the cob from the hippie market.  Everything was very good.  We are hoping to stay up a little later this evening so we may be able to sleep a little later in the morning.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Go West Old Folks

We left home around 3 am for our 5:45 flight to Oregon.  At that time of day there was no traffic and the drive to Yeager Airport was easy.  No problems at check in our security and our short 90 minute flight departed for Chicago on time.  It is a good thing, since we had very little time to change planes at O’Hare.  We arrived at Concourse F, but our departing flight for San Francisco was out of Concourse C and was starting to board when we deplaned.  There was a 15 minute wait for a shuttle from our arrival gate to our departure gate.  The attendant estimated a 15 minute walk would be required to get between gates.  We made it in four and a half minutes!  We were racing through the airport.  When we got to our gate the priority passengers had boarded as were zones 1 and 2.  We got there just as zone 3, our seats, were starting to board.  We felt very fortunate to have made this flight.
The flight from Chicago from San Francisco was a good one although was over four hours long.  The in-flight movie, Now You See Me, was worth watching and had Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Woody Harrelson featured.  We got to San Francisco around 10 am Pacific Time and found a Chinese place for lunch.  I had orange chicken, and Mary had broccoli and beef.  We split some fried rice.  The flight to Eugene was delayed for nearly an hour because the Eugene airport was fogged in and nothing was coming or going from there.  We departed before noon and arrived in Eugene around 1 pm.  The air conditioning on the small regional jet was not functioning well. The cabin got really warm prior to takeoff making several of the passengers unruly, but once in the air the air cooled and so did the malcontents.
Mary waited on our checked bag while I picked up the rental car.  We had reserved a compact car but got a free upgrade to a Hyundai Genesis which is a very nice car.  We drove the short distance from the airport to Whittingtons and talked with Robert for a good while and enjoyed relaxing.  Cedar enjoyed seeing us as well.  The weather here is much cooler than we expected with temperatures in the 40s during the day.  We sat in the sunshine on the front porch and enjoyed the day.  Michael got in from school and was driving the big truck. After Mark & Cindy got in we had a great dinner of tri-tip and salad followed by some ice cream and Cindy’s banana bread.  After dinner some of us watched Shrek while Mary & Cindy played cribbage.  We were tired from our travels and the time change so we turned at 9 pm.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

We had a great time at the 2013 Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.  Of course, we always enjoy our visits to Cincinnati, especially at festivals like Oktoberfest. 

We picked up our friend, Rex Dillinger at 8 am and made the drive down the AA Highway to Cold Spring, Kentucky where we met up with Emily and Ian and made the short trip over to downtown Cincinnati. Since the Bengals were playing Green Bay at home, parking was more difficult than usual but we were able to find a spot on a lot fairly quickly.
We walked along the closed Fifth Street from Vine past Broadway and sampled the food and drinks from the many vendors from the Cincinnati area and around the world.  We all love goetta balls and the potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) but we also had goetta reuben, sausages, sauerkraut balls and strudel.
As every year, there were many music venues with bands from the Cincinnati area and even from Germany.  We spent time to sit and listen to most of the bands and to enjoy the variety of German music. 
We took off around 3 pm and made a stop at the Party Source in Newport, Kentucky on the way home.  We got back before 7 pm.  We are already looking forward to the 2014 Oktoberfest.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belle of Cincinnati

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with temperatures in the 80s with a light breeze and hardly a cloud in the sky.  It was a perfect day for a boat ride on the Ohio River.  Each year BB Riverboats of Newport, KY brings their flagship, Belle of Cincinnati, to Harris Riverfront Park to take guests on sightseeing cruises on the Ohio River. 
We picked Gran up around 2:30 pm and was in line by the time boarding began at 3 pm.  Since speedboat races had the upriver section of the Ohio occupied, the cruise headed down to Kenova and the confluence of the Big Sandy River.  While we waited for everyone to board we sat on the top deck and watched some of the boat races and enjoyed the beautiful weather.
The captain gave an informative description of the Belle of Cincinnati and the history of the sternwheeler.  He also discussed the Ohio River from the days when it varied from a shallow non navigable stream to a wild torrent that flooded towns along the length from origin at Pittsburgh to where it joins the Mississippi near Paducah.  We passed under the Sixth Street Bridge (Robert C. Byrd Bridge) and the 17th Street West Bridge (Nick Joe Rahall II Bridge).  At one point had to lower the stacks for fear of scraping the bottom of the 17th Street West Bridge because of high water from the rains of the previous week.
We had a nice afternoon and decided to have a dinner at El Ranchito which was a big meal but well prepared.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cincinnati Zoo & Krohn Conservatory

Rex, Natalie & Mary near the gorilla exhibit
We picked up our friends, Rex & Natalie Dillinger at 7 am to make the short drive to Cincinnati for a day trip. We arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo at 10 am for their opening for the day. There had been some mists of rain on the trip down but nothing to cause us to change our plans. 

Three toed sloth
The zoo was excellent as always. Since the weather was much cooler than it had been previously, many of the animals were more active. Each of us had our favorite animal exhibits whether the gorillas, tigers, manatees or Mary's red pandas. Neither of us had seen the new Africa exhibit which was very impressive.  When there was a popup shower we visited exhibits in one of the buildings.
We were fortunate to have cooperative weather until we were hit with a cloudburst around 2:30 as we were leaving the zoo and walking to the car.

Steve & Mary at the waterfall near the gorillas
We had a snack in the car as we drove to the Krohn Conservatory. By the time we arrived the rain had passed. In additional to the permanent displays of tropical plants, bonsai, orchids, cacti and succulents, there was an exhibit of aquaponics, aeroponics and hydroponics. Plants were raised in vertical gardens and in tower gardens where growing conditions were optimized in minimal space. It was an interesting and informative exhibit.  
We stopped in the Krohn's gift shop where we purchased some small houseplants and unique gifts for friends and family.
By the time we left the conservatory we were all hungry so we called Greg to drop off some items that Sarah wanted to use for an upcoming social engagement at her house.  Since Greg was available he joined us for dinner.  Since we all love barbecue, Walt's Barbecue seemed like a good choice.  Dillingers treated us to smoked turkey, pulled pork and, best of all, sliced brisket.  For sides, we had fried okra and some of the best beans you will ever taste.  The meal was excellent but we all ate far too much.
To walk off our dinner, we drove north to Jungle Jim's International Market where we picked up a few things from the German, Chinese and British sections.  Jungle Jim's is always an adventure.  We started home on I-71 and made a quick stop by the Party Source in Newport, Kentucky.  The quick stop turned out to take much longer than we anticipated since road construction closed the exit of I-471 at Newport so we had to take a longer route than we planned.
Once back on the road, we picked up the AA Highway and made our way home.  There was steady rain the whole trip back that was heavy at times but traffic was light and we entertained ourselves with conversation from the day's sights.
We will look forward to coming back to Cincinnati for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati on the third weekend in September.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Serpent Mound

We left home around 8 am to pick up our friends, Tammy & Steve Minor, for a day outing to Serpent Mound near Peebles, Ohio. As we traveled west on US Rt. 60 near Cabell Midland High School, we saw a large grey fox crossing the highway with a young rabbit in its mouth.  We knew it would be an interesting day.
We always enjoy spending time with the Minors and when Tammy suggested the trip we jumped at the chance to hang out with them. We thought that making a day visit to Adams County, Ohio would be a great way to spend the Saturday of the three day Memorial Day weekend.
The trip along US Rt. 52 was uneventful taking us to the Ohio Historical Society's facility at Serpent Mound before 11 am. We walked through the small visitor center then ascended the viewing tower to see the earthworks from above. Afterward, we were able to walk around the snake-shaped mound from the gaping mouth to the spiral tail.
Mary, Steve & Tammy at Serpent Mound
Archaeologists believe that Serpent Mound was constructed by the Fort Ancient culture around 1000 years ago. At nearly 1400 foot long, Serpent Mound is the world's largest snake effigy. In the area surrounding Serpent Mound there are a number of conical burial mounds but Serpent Mound is not believed to contain any human remains. Rather than a burial mound as once thought, researchers believe that Serpent Mound was constructed as a calendar/observatory for the stone age people of the area. The snake-shaped mound appears to be swallowing an oval ring of mound that may symbolize the sun that might have been inspired by a solar eclipse. In the 1980's it was discovered that undulations in the body of the snake align to lunar events such as moonrise at solstices and equinoxes.
After walking around the mound and exploring the museum, we enjoyed a picnic lunch at the large shelter nearby. Steve & I examined the well designed picnic tables in which the benches can tilt up under the tables. As usual, we had packed way too much food but we enjoyed the break and conversation.
Rattlesnake Master
From Serpent Mound, we drove to Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve near West Union. This 70 acre area is believed to be one of many remnants of tallgrass prairie ecosystems that were left behind then the glaciers retreated from the area over 200,000 years ago. 
Most of the small prairies in the glacial fringe areas have since been accessed for agricultural purposes, a few areas like Chaparral Prairie have been preserved for hikers and nature lovers. The 0.75 mile trail around the area took us through stands of plants that are uncommon in most of the Eastern US. We walked through the area's largest population of rattlesnake-master, lots of prairie dock, blue false indigo, and laitris. It was a pleasant walk and a very unique area.
Steve & Tammy at Chaparral Prairie
From Chaparral Prairie, we drove to Miller's Furniture, Bakery & Bulk Foods in an Amish community at Wheat Ridge. We love the cheddar cheese curd there as well as the jellies and jams in the store. We were all impressed with the beauty and quality of the furniture in the furniture store. The kitchen cabinets with beautiful inlays were quite striking but at a price nearly $40,000 it was out of reach for all but the most high budget homes. We all liked the pieces made from quarter sawn oak that were beautifully finished and carefully crafted. The construction of the furniture was high quality and everything was built from solid native hardwoods like oak, cherry and maple. We had a snack of kettle popcorn and looked at the pigs in the pens nearby before driving the short distance to the town of West Union, Ohio.

The courthouse at West Union has a historical marker to native son, Cowboy Copas. Lloyd Estil Copas was born in Blue Creek, Ohio near West Union on Moon Hollow Road. Copas was born on July 15, 1913 and became a popular Grand Old Opry star with his “Honky Tonk” sound and hits like Filipino Baby, Signed, Sealed and Delivered and his biggest hit, Tennessee Waltz. He was known as the Oklahoma Cowboy and Cowboy Copas before perishing in a plane crash on March 3, 1963 in Camden, Tennessee along with Patsy Cline and Huntington's Hawkshaw Hawkins.   
Amish pigs at Miller's Farm near Peebles, Ohio
We left West Union and drove toward US Rt. 52 and stopped in Portsmouth, Ohio to view the beautiful murals on the floodwall in the historic Boneyfiddle district of the city. We were amazed by the quality and quantity of the murals stretching along the floodwall. Scenes depicted historical events in the area from prehistoric natives that populated the region through early settlements and growth of the city and industries. Disasters such as floods and fires are also shown in the detailed art. Panels are dedicated to well known residents of the area like baseball's Branch Rickey who broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947. A panel of Roy Rogers and Trigger honors the star of B Westerns and the early days of television who was raised in the Portsmouth area and went on to become a cultural icon for children in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who grew up in that time can recall Roy and his wife, Dale Evans, signing Happy Trails at the end of their popular television show.
Car show at Wheelersburg, Ohio
We stopped for dinner at Bob Evans in East Portsmouth then drove the short distance to Wheelersburg, Ohio to walk around the car show sponsored by the Ohio River Street Rodders. Their car show on the last Saturday of each month attracts owners of vintage and modified cars as well as interested spectators from a wide area. Although we all had different automotive interests, there was something there that each of us enjoyed seeing. We stayed at the car show for about 90 minutes, leaving at 8 pm and headed for home. We dropped Minors off along the way and arrived home around 9:30 tired but pleased to have enjoyed such a nice day with great friends in interesting places.

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