Friday, December 8, 2017

Kentucky Bourbon Trail with Rex

I had some vacation days that I needed to use before the end of 2017 so I took off on the afternoon of Thursday, December 7 to drive to Central Kentucky to visit some nearby distilleries.  It was especially great that my friend of 40 years, Rex Dillinger, was able to make the visits with me. 

I picked up Rex at noon and we made the drive to Georgetown, Kentucky in a little over two hours.  Once there, we unloaded a few items at the house and walked around the property.  The weather was windy and cool but not uncomfortable in the sun.  We took a drive around the Georgetown area and stopped at the Royal Spring Park that was the site of Rev. Elijah Craig’s distillery.  The spring is now the source of city water for Georgetown residents.  The Bourbon 30 Distillery is across the street from the spring but since we were there after business hours, we were unable to visit and only looked into the windows. 
We drove around a bit more then met Emily at New Thai Garden in Georgetown.  Emily had her usual drunken noodle, I had my usual Pad Thai and Rex had yellow curry.  We all enjoyed our meals.  After dinner, Rex and I drove back to the Finnell Road house and chatted until around 9 pm before turning in.  Since there is no television or Internet at the house, we enjoyed talking and reading until we fell asleep.
We awoke early around 4 am and had a couple cups of tea and did a few things around the house.  Once the sun came up and we got hungry we grabbed a quick McDonald’s breakfast then stopped at Frank’s Donuts for a treat.  We drove south on I-75 then west on I-64 to the Four Roses Distillery.  Since the distillery was still under construction, we were unable to visit the operation but had a nice talk from a guide who shared the history of Four Roses with us and explained the 10 recipes that make up Four Roses bourbon.  We thought that it was especially interesting that Four Roses was one of the most popular bourbons in the 1930s and 1940s.  In fact, the iconic Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day shows a billboard for Four Roses in the background.  Because of the preference for Four Roses by American military personnel, the Japanese are a major market for Four Roses.
Since we didn’t take a full tour at Four Roses, we had some extra time so we drove the short distance to the Wild Turkey Distillery.  We were thrilled that Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell, in the visitor center.  I was able to chat with him for a good while and even took a few snapshots.  Jimmy is a legend in the bourbon industry and is such a great ambassador for bourbon.  We had been on a tour with his son, Eddie, in March 2015 but meeting Jimmy was a special treat.  We did the tour of the operations with our guide, Edwina, then came back to the visitor center for a tasting of several of Wild Turkey’s spirits.  The room with dozens of stainless steel fermentation tanks, each of which holds 30,000 gallons, was especially impressive.
From Wild Turkey we drove to the Old Taylor Distillery that was built in 1887.  The distillery is being refurbished to reopen as Castle and Key Distillery.  The building is an attractive structure modeled on castles that Col. Taylor saw while traveling in Europe.  We look forward to visiting the new distillery soon.  We also drove past the now closed Old Crow Distillery where Jim Beam Bourbon is now stored.  The historic rickhouses are still in good shape but the distillery building appears to be in ruins.
We made the short drive from Old Taylor to the Woodford Reserve Distillery.  We had scheduled a 1 pm tour but since we were running early, we were able to get a tour at 12:40.  The copper Scottish pot stills used at Woodford make a much lower volume of bourbon than the giant column stills at Wild Turkey.  We especially enjoyed the beautiful limestone rickhouses that date back to the 1830s.  Our guide took us through the fermentation room where cypress tanks holding 7,500 gallons convert corn, rye and malted barley into alcohol.  We visited the room with three copper pot stills that were imported from Scotland.  After our tour we sampled Woodford Distiller’s Select, Woodford Double Oaked and Woodford Rye.
After leaving Woodford, we drove to Town Branch Distillery and walked around the visitor center that is modeled on a street scene from Dublin, Ireland which was the home of Town Branch’s founder, Pearse Lyons.  We especially liked the highly lacquered finish on the storefronts.  We didn’t take a tour or do a tasting but chatted with a few people in the visitor center.
From Town Branch we drove to the Liquor Barn in Hamburg where we bought a few things including some Christmas presents.  We continued on to the nearby Woodcraft Store where Rex bought some screws for Kreg joints.  By then we were hungry and went to Zaxby’s for lunch.  We both had the 5 piece chicken meal which we both enjoyed.  After finishing our meal we make the two hour drive home.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Kentucky Bourbon Trail with Greg - Day 2

 As the morning before, we woke early and chatted in the kitchen of the Finnell Pike house as the sun came up. Sunrise and sunset are really pretty at the house. We packed our things and prepared the house for being empty for a few days. Since I would be back on Saturday I didn’t leave the furnace on. Our first distillery visit was at Barrel House which didn’t open until 11 am. We decided to make a stop at Liquor Barn to shop for gifts and to restock our bourbon shelves. I bought a few bottles of Buffalo Trace Bourbon as well as Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream as gifts. I picked up a bottle of Jack Daniels as a gift for a friend and a bottle of Old Granddad 114 for me. Greg got a 1.75 L bottle of 1792 at a great price. We still had a little time before our 11 am tour at Barrel House Distillery so Greg suggested that we find a bakery. We drove on Southland Drive and spotted Donut Days Bakery. Greg had another cream filled donut and I had an apple fritter. We both enjoyed our selections. 
We arrived at Barrel House a little before their 11 am opening. We were met by two of the distillery’s operators and Snuggie, the distillery cat. I had been there a couple of times before but the tour is interesting every time. The distillery is operating in the barrel house of the old Pepper Distillery in Lexington. The building was constructed in 1936 as used as a distillery until the late 1970s. The Barrel House distillery currently makes Devil John Moonshine, corn based vodka, rum, aged Oak Rum and Rockcastle Bourbon. They also sell a good selection of bitters, moonshine cherries and other gift items. The facility is small but the passion of the distillers is evident. We stopped at Zaxby’s for lunch since we were in the mood for chicken and we had never been to Zaxby’s. The chicken was fine and the restaurant was busy. The pop machine made a terrible racket that we feared would explode. After a while the machine settled down and conversation in the restaurant could resume. 
It wasn’t far to the Bluegrass Distillers facility in Lexington. We had purchased a Groupon for the tour which gave us both a tour for $9 which is less than half price. The distiller took us through the grain area where the ground blue corn is stored then to the mash tubs with IBCs of fermenting grain and water. The nearby cooker steamed with stewing ground blue corn that would be cooled and set to ferment with yeast. The fermentation room smelled great. The single copper still produces all of the distilled spirits made by Bluegrass Distillers. 
 We tasted some of the 160 proof distillate coming off the still and found it to be surprisingly drinkable. This smooth white dog would sneak up on you. Since it was not rough at all it would be tempting to drink more than advisable. We saw small five gallon barrels of aging whiskey some of which was made from blue corn. Bluegrass Distillers makes several mash bills including one with rye, one with wheat and one with blue corn. They also experiment with malted barley spirits and other recipes that may appeal to whiskey drinkers. 
After having a tasting of generous samples of each of Bluegrass Distiller’s products we were treated to a small bourbon cake to take home to our wives. We left Bluegrass Distiller’s around 1 pm and headed home. The return trip was far easier and faster than the drive to Central Kentucky. We arrived at Greg’s home around 3:30 pm. I went into work for a couple of hours including a meeting to revise the assessment tool for student teaching and other clinical experiences. We were both tired but pleased to have had another great trip.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kentucky Bourbon Trail with Greg - Day 1

After teaching my evening class on Monday night, I picked up my pal, Greg, and got on the road by 7 pm to head for Georgetown for our fall distillery visits in Central Kentucky.  We were stopped on I-64 at exit 181 westbound because of an accident around mile marker 177 that had all westbound lane blocked.  We wound around US 60 for 12 miles at around 10 miles per hour for nearly two hours behind semi-trucks before getting back on the interstate at Grayson.  The rest of the drive through steady rain was uneventful.  We stopped for a late dinner in Morehead and arrived at the Finnell Pike house a little after 10 pm.  We took advantage of an abatement in the rain to unload a few items from the van.  We didn’t turn in until nearly 11 pm.
Because he was fighting bronchitis, Greg didn’t sleep well and had to sip Nyquil throughout the night.  The air mattresses were comfortable and we arose around 6 am.  Because of the cold morning air, I got up around 4 am to turn the heat on.  This was the first time that we tried the geothermal heat from the Water Furnace.  We were pleased that the central heat worked fine and warmed us up nicely.  However, the dust in the air ducts caused the smoke detector to go off around 5 am.  That was our cue to get out of bed and get dressed.
We ran out to McDonald’s at the Cherry Blossom exit for a quick breakfast.  After a quick stop by the house, we drove to Paris to visit the Hartfield & Co. Distillery.  The distiller, Andrew Buchanan, met us at the door and shared his love of the spirits that are being made at his small facility in an old Paris building.  Although Paris is the county seat of Bourbon County, Kentucky, no legal whiskey has been made in Bourbon County since prohibition.  Andrew wanted to change that.  Unlike most craft distillers, Andrew did not attend Moonshine University or understudy with another master distiller.  Rather, he read up on every distilling resource he could find.  He watched and learned from countless online videos to find best practices in distilling.  Andrew wanted to have the ability to experiment and be responsible for his products.  He and his wife, Larissa, didn’t want to make distilled spirits like anyone else, he wanted the freedom to make the mistakes and to have the successes on his own terms. 
Because a movie was being filmed at the Hartfield & Co. distillery, we were unable to tour the complete distillery.  However, Andrew was very generous with his time and explained a great deal of his philosophies on making the very best spirits he can make.  At this time Hartfield & Co. makes high rye bourbon, wheated bourbon, American whiskey, white whiskey, rum and aged rum.  Because of the disruption from the filmmakers we were unable to have a tasting.  Besides, I don’t know if we would be too interested in sipping whiskey at 9 am.  We left Andrew to his work and drove back through the beautiful horse farms of Bourbon County to the Finnell Pike property.
I walked Greg around the property lines and checked on our work clearing the brush from the tree line on the north end of the property.  The burn pile on the back field is starting to dry and should be ready to burn in a couple of weeks.  The field looks much better since the vines and brush have been cleared away and the debris has been loaded for the Scott County landfill.
Our afternoon distillery appointment wasn’t until 1 pm so we had a little time.  We drove to the Royal Spring in Georgetown where Rev. Elijah Craig built the first distillery in the area.  Rev. Craig, a Baptist minister, is reputed to have made the first bourbon and shipped it to New Orleans for sale.  Most historians have disputed that he was the first person to make bourbon but there is no debate that Rev. Craig was instrumental in the history of bourbon and in the founding of Georgetown, Kentucky which he maned for then president, George Washington.  
Royal Spring which now supplies drinking water for residents of Georgetown was flowing well, no doubt due to the recent rains in the area.  Because of the cool rainy weekday weather there were few people out that morning so we were free to walk about the small park surrounding the historical spring.  We walked across the street to the Bourbon 30 distillery.  We learning that there was a problem with the distillery’s license that prohibited them from conducting tours and visits for a few weeks.  The distillery looked interesting from the outside and we plan to visit on another trip to the area.  Because the late October morning was unseasonably cool in the mid 30s, I ran to the nearby Walmart to buy a knit cap.  I was a lot more comfortable with the additional warmth.  We stopped at Frank’s Donuts for a mid-morning snack.  I had my usual bear claw and Greg enjoyed the cream filled donut.  We were both pleased with our choices.
The drive to our next distillery visit near Shelbyville was a little over an hour drive from Georgetown.  The Jeptha Creed Distillery is a beautiful new facility just off the Taylorsville exit of Interstate 64.  Since we were a little early for our tour, we walked around the building and admired the owner’s displays of antique cars.  The cars are beautifully restored and many of them run.  The visitor center is well stocked with glasses, flasks, clothing and spirits with Jeptha Creed advertising.  We had to laugh at one of the men’s shirts with “Bourbon Badass” on the front.  We wondered just where that would be an appropriate shirt.  The visitor center and gift shop are among the most attractive we have ever seen.  A nice bar features snacks and a number of mixed drinks made with Jeptha Creed spirits.  
The distillery is on a large tract of land that was settled by Squire Boone, brother of famed frontiersman, Daniel Boone.  He named the area Jeptha Knob after the Israeli judge in the Old Testament book of Judges.  Most of the grains and fruits used in making the products used in Jeptha Creed spirits originate on or near property in Shelbyville owned by the Nethery family.
We met our tour guide, Brittany, who was a former professional wrestling ring girl.  She was very knowledgeable about the whiskey made by Jeptha Creed.  The family owned distillery makes bourbon and American whiskey from a four grain mash bill of corn, wheat, rye and malted barley featuring locally grown Bloody Butcher red corn.  They also make vodka from Bloody Butcher corn that is available straight as well as infused with a variety of flavors.  At the end of the tour, Brittany treated us to five samples each of the products of the distillery.  Greg and I both enjoyed our samples before walking around the grounds and seeing the event center where parties and weddings are held and a venue for concerts and entertainment.
We left Jeptha Creed and drove to Millville to drive past the Castle & Key Distillery at the site of the Old Taylor Distillery.  The structure, built in 1887, was designed by Col. E. H. Taylor inspired by historical castles that he saw on his travels through Europe.  The distillery has been shuttered and in a continued state of decay since ceasing production in 1972.  However, a group of investors bought the property in 2014 to turn into a state of the art distillery and event center.  The first female master distiller of a major distillery was found in Marianne Barnes and preparations were made to resume production.  The grounds are being given a major facelift to prepare the parklike distillery campus for hosting parties, weddings and corporate events.  We were pleased to see that the gardens are taking shape and much of the masonry is being repaired.  It was also exciting to see smoke coming from the distillery and to smell the scent of mash in the air.  We understand that the distillery is making white spirits to sell until bourbon can begin the long aging process.  The huge rickhouse appeared to be in good shape at least from the outside giving hope that bourbon will be again aging there.
After taking photos at Castle & Key, we drove the short distance to the former Old Crow Distillery.  The distillery and most buildings are in disrepair with weeds and vines growing on the limestone exterior walls.  One of the Old Crow rickhouses is being used to age Jim Beam bourbon.  We stopped briefly and savored the smell of the again whiskey coming from the barrels in the rickhouse.
We drove from the distilleries in Millville, Kentucky to Georgetown where we met Ian for dinner at Mi Casita, a Mexican restaurant across Rt. 25 from Ian and Emily’s home.  Since Emily was in Atlanta for a conference with the CDC, Ian was happy to have company for dinner. I had a pollo poblano which is strips of grilled chicken and poblano peppers covered in cheese sauce.  Ian had a chimichanga and Greg had a vegetarian platter.  We all enjoyed our meals.  We returned to the Finnell Pike house and chatted while Greg scanned for interesting channels on the shortwave radio.  Because we were so tired, we went to bed around 9 pm.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2017

Because Sarah had a conference in Columbus and Greg was visiting friends in Colorado, we were able to spend a day with Peter in Cincinnati.  We were fortunate that it was also Oktoberfest weekend.  We never miss Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.
We ate a quick dinner at home then drove to the Finnell Pike property to spend the night.  We inflated our air mattresses and turned in.  Since we needed to be in Cincinnati by 7:30 am, we woke early.  I was surprised to learn that I hadn’t secured the valve on my air mattress and I had been sleeping on a flat mattress with no air.
We made a quick stop at McDonalds for a biscuit breakfast and arrived to see Peter a little after 7 and Mary drove Sarah to where she was to meet her car pool by 7:30.  Peter & I stayed home and romped.  We rough-housed most of the morning then left for Oktoberfest a little before 11 where we met up with Emily & Ian.
Ian & I had beers from the Weihenstephaner tent.  Ian had a Fest Bier which is the Oktoberfest special and I had a Kristallweißbier, the light wheat beer.  We both enjoyed our selections.  As we walked we had schnitzel sandwiches, goetta balls, Kartoffelpuffer and reuben sandwiches.  We never remember that our favorite booth for most food items is Izzy’s.  Their reuben sandwiches and Kartoffelpuffer are outstanding.  By early afternoon the crowd was larger and the music was pretty loud so we thought it may be best to leave with Peter.  He had been really good but we didn’t want to over stay his patience so we left for the playground on Ridge Avenue near Peter’s home.
He played on the ladders and slides for quite a while.  There were several children there but it wasn’t crowded.  He is a daring little guy and has no fear of climbing and sliding.
We god back to the house around 2 pm got Peter down for a nap by 2:30.  He slept for over two hours, almost until Sarah got home at 5.  Since Sarah and Peter were leaving for St. Louis by way of Indianapolis we didn’t stay so they could get on the road.
We stopped at Babe’s Barbecue in Scott County although neither of us was very hungry.  We split a cup of brisket and had a small cup of baked beans then went to Finnell Pike to sleep.

Since I secured the air valve better my air mattress held up well on Saturday night and we awoke at 5 am feeling rested and ready for a day of work.  We started working at the lagoon before 9 am clearing more brush.  I cut most of the willow trees that had overgrown the perimeter of the lagoon and Mary piled them up along the ditch for burning at a later time.  The hardest part was sawing the stumps off near ground level since the weather had heated up to near 90 degrees.  We stopped working around 3 pm when Emily stopped by for a visit.  We got our showers, made a quick stop by the Post Office and came back to Milton to get ready for the week ahead.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

50th Anniversary Concert - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Our 36th anniversary gift to each other this year was concert tickets.  We have been fans of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band nearly since their formation in 1967.  Mary has seen them in concert three times and I have seen them five times.  They put on a fun show and bridge so many musical genre from one number to the next.  They may do a straight up rock and roll song like "Baby's Got A Hold On Me" then change up to bluegrass "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", Cajun "Diggy Liggy Lo", County "Long Hard Road" and many others. 
John McEuan on banjo
They are credited with bringing an entirely new audience to bluegrass music with their 1972 album, "Will the Circle be Unbroken" that brought traditional folk, country and bluegrass musicians together with popular rock and roll acts of the time.  This concept was repeated in 1989 and 2002 with Circle II and Circle III.  In their 50 years, they had had a number of members come and go notably Jackson Browne, Bernie Leadon, Steve Martin, Bruce Kunkel and Jimmy Ibbitson.  The artists who have recorded with them is a huge list that includes some of the most recognized names in all genre of music.
NGDB front man, Jeff Hanna
This 50th Anniversary Tour, Circlin' Back, has four long time band members.   Lead guitarist, Jeff Hanna and drummer, Jimmy Fadden have been with the band for all or most of the 50 years.  John McEuen was a member near the beginning but left for a number of years before returning 15 years ago.  Keyboardist, Bob Carpenter joined 40 years ago.  The only person playing with them last night who was not a long time member was bassist Jim Photoglo who co-wrote "Fishing in the Dark" for them in the late 1980s.
John McEuan on banjo and Bob Carpenter on keyboard
The band opened with Bob Dylan's "You Aint's Goin' Nowhere" from their Circle II album which featured Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman from the Byrds.  The show continued for two solid hours of some of their favorite songs.  The only breaks in the music were to introduce members of the band.  The band looked good, sounded good and seemed to still enjoy the music.  John McEuen is such an amazing instrumentalist playing guitar, fiddle, mandolin, lap steel and banjo.  For a bunch of 70 year old guys they were pretty darn good.
They returned for an encore of a medley of Will the Circle Be Unbroken and The Band's The Weight inviting a local gospel musician to join them on stage.  
It was great seeing the band doing so well after a half century together.  We would see them again any time.  The only negatives for the show were that the sound mix wasn't the best.  There was way too much bass and featured vocals and instrumentals weren't always brought up in time. The lighting crew didn't always respond in time.  I was a little surprised at how many covers they included in the show.  Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has so many hits so it confused me why they opened with a cover of Dylan and closed with a song by The Band.  It is true that these were popular songs from Circle II album but I would have liked to have heard more music from their many albums from the past five decades.  
We will order the DVD/CD 50th Anniversary concert from PBS that was recorded at the Ryman Auditorium and included many past members and collaborators like John Prine, Jackson Browne, Vince Gill and Allison Krauss.  
Since the only way I had to take snapshots was with my telephone, I have pulled photos in from the local newspaper.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse – Hopkinsville, Kentucky

We have always wanted to see a total solar eclipse and this was the year to do it.  The zone of totality stretched from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.  However, the spot with the greatest duration of totality of any place on Earth (2 minutes, 40 seconds) is Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
We had made our lodging reservations at the Days Inn Elizabethtown many months ago so we would be certain to have a room.  Because we made lodging arrangements so early before rooms were booked up we were able to get a room with two double beds for $80.  We also arranged for a viewing spot at the Greater Cumberland Baptist Church so we would be sure to have a place to park and a grassy area to put lawn chairs and to view the eclipse.  Our parking spot and a 15X15 grassy area cost $20.
Mary using a pinhole viewer
We left on Sunday morning at 6 am and drove to Finnell Pike to do some outside chores.  We chopped small trees and ran the trimmer with the saw blade to clear brush around the lagoon.  The temperature was miserable in the mid-90s and not much breeze but we were able to clear over a fourth of the area in a couple of hours of intense work.  Because there was so much poison ivy in the brush we had to wear long clothes which made the heat even worse.  By noon we were tired and ready for a shower and lunch.
Ian using eclipse glasses
After a quick McDonalds meal we picked up Emily & Ian to head to Hopkinsville.  From Georgetown, the drive was only a few hours but we made a short side trip to outlet malls near Shelbyville.  Mary & Emily were able to get shoes for $10-$15 each and Ian picked up a Columbia shirt for $6 and a Fossil wallet for $19.  We were at the Day’s Inn in Elizabethtown a little before 6 pm.  Our room was clean and quiet although pretty minimal.  We were there only long enough to go online to find the best eateries in the area.  Among the top picks was Mark’s Feed Store specializing in some great barbecue.  Mary had a brisket salad, Ian and I had brisket sandwiches and Emily had a lemon pepper chicken meal.  While we were all happy with our meals, everyone thought that Em’s fish was the pick of the evening.  We split some buttermilk pie which was quite tasty.  We returned to the room for cribbage before turning in for the night.
Our group at watching as totality approaches
We were awake early on Monday and went to the Day’s Inn office for coffee and tea then checked out to get on the road.  We stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds in Leitchfield, Kentucky then continued on to Hopkinsville.  When we arrived the town was buzzing but wasn’t overly crowded so you couldn’t get around.  There were a lot of street vendors for food, water and souvenirs but there was still parking and a good flow of traffic through the streets.  We went by Kelly Station Park for a brief event cache then went to the Greater Cumberland Baptist Church to set up for the eclipse viewing.
About 50% eclipse
We were greeted by many volunteers from the church who directed us to parking and where we could set up lawn chairs.  A group of amateur astronomers were set up near us and had some serious solar telescopes.  We were able to look at the sun and see tremendous detail before and during the eclipse.  We had pinhole viewers and eclipse glasses but these scopes were great.  A little after noon a tiny bit of the sun was becoming obscured because of the moon and over the next hour the sun got more and more blocked.  There were some odd things that started happening as totality approached.  Colors didn’t render to the eye as they do on most days.  It is impossible to describe but it was almost like looking at old photos where the colors were not quite right.  
As the light dimmed we felt like it was dusk but our shadows weren’t long.  Birds began to roost and the dog day cicadas were singing.  Emily made the most accurate comment when she said that the sky looked like a 360 degree sunset.  Totality was something completely unique.  The sun was completely blacked out by the moon but the corona was exposed.  We were able to safely remove the eclipse glasses and look at the eclipse for over two minutes.  The temperature noticeably dropped from the mid-90s only a few minutes earlier.  There was a stillness as everyone stared upward.  When the moon began to move away and the sun was no longer in totality there were fireworks and people cheering.  Birds flew from their roosts and people put their eclipse glasses back on.  As the sun returned to normal we, like most others, began to pack up and prepare for a tip home.
We remarked at how well prepared Hopkinsville was for the huge influx of the at least 150,000 visitors who came to the town of 30,000.  There were plenty of bathrooms and Porta-Pottys in town.  Many food trucks were there to feed people and the police were out to direct traffic out of town to make sure that visitors got safely on their way.  We were surprised that while heavy, traffic moved quite well. . . until we got out of town on the Pennyrile Parkway.  We traveled about 10 miles per hour for much of our time on the Pennyrile and Western Kentucky Parkways.  At one point we took 6 hours to go 60 miles.  We were hot, tired and frustrated.  There were few places along the rural drive to get off and buy food, use a bathroom or get fuel.  Even if there were places, we would have been reluctant to get off the highway.  Dinner was gas station food near Central City, Kentucky.  The available offerings were very limited but we made the best of it and got back underway.  We were past Elizabethtown before we were able to drive much more than 20 miles per hour on the expressway.  It was around 2 am when we dropped Emily & Ian off in Georgetown and nearly 5 am when we got home ourselves.  We went straight to bed for a quick power nap, awaking around 6:20 to shower, dress for work and return the rental car to the Barboursville Enterprise. 
Even though the drive back home was miserable, the experience was unbelievable.  Seeing a total solar eclipse was indescribable.  We agreed that we would happily do it all over again.  With another eclipse coming through Central Ohio in 2024 we may get our chance to see another eclipse.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Returning Home from Southern Arizona

Our alarms went off at 5 am so we could shower and leave for the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.  We checked the rental Camry back in to Enterprise then checked our bag at the Allegiant desk.  We ate a breakfast of oranges and cold cereal before we went through security.  For some reason we didn’t have the TSA PreCheck status but security at the small Gateway airport wasn’t terribly busy.  While we were sitting at the gate waiting area a fellow struck up a conversation with us.  It turns out that his in-laws are from Frazier’s Bottom, West Virginia.  He had grown up in central Kentucky but has lived in the Phoenix area for a number of years.  It was nice chatting with him.
Mary & I were seated about 10 rows apart.  Since selecting seats carries a significant extra charge with Allegiant we typically opt to sit wherever we end up.  Sitting in row 9 I was in the baby section.  My seatmates, an older couple from Cincinnati, remarked that they had never seen so many young babies on a flight.  We were fortunate that none of the infants was much of a crier and the trip was fairly quiet.  We arrived at CVG in northern Kentucky on time a little after 1:30 pm.
Because we were confused regarding the place where hotel shuttles pick up passengers we missed a couple of opportunities to get back to our car at the Hilton parking area.  We arrived at the correct pickup point as the shuttle was just pulling out so we had a bit of a wait.  We got back to the car and drove home on the AA Highway.  When we arrived in Barboursville we stopped at Walmart so we could have something for meals in the coming week.  We decided to pick up dinner so we stopped at the Arby’s in Ona for sandwiches.  Mary got a reuben and I had a brisket sandwich and we split an order of fries.
We got the water and crucial appliances turned on and started preparing for work and the week ahead.  We estimate that the expenses for the week came to about $1000 which was quite a bargain.  Our expenses were much less since Whittingtons split the house and car rentals as well as fuel and food items for breakfast and lunch.  Because we share a lot of interests with Mark and Cindy we would gladly go on another trip with them.  Like us, they enjoy going out into the desert and walking around.  In the evenings and in the car Mary and Cindy enjoy playing games and chatting.  Mark and I enjoyed irritating them and catching up.  We look forward to another trip together.

The map below shows places that we visited on our trip.  You can zoom in to see additional detail or click on any of the tagged places to see more information on that attraction.  We drove a total of 1355 miles in the week that we were in southern Arizona.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mission San Xavier del Bac & Kitt Peak

Interior of San Mission Xavier del Bac
We got up around 5 am after sleeping well and started packing up for leaving the Copper Casa AirBnB.  We have been very pleased with our stay here.  The house was very clean and comfortable.  It was convenient to the area attractions that we visited and our host, Laurie, couldn’t be most pleasant.  In addition, the rates were quite fair.  We will be using AirBnB again for our travel plans.
While at the Old Tucson Studio, we heard that the Mission at San Xavier del Bac was a “must see” attraction near Tucson.  We made the one hour drive from our rental arriving at the mission as the morning service was concluding around 10 am.  We sat in the chapel for a bit and admired the beautiful interior décor.  There was a small but informative museum with artifacts from the mission’s over 300 year history.  We watched a short video narrated by Linda Ronstadt showing the efforts by restoration teams to stabilize the structure and art of the church.  We walked up on grotto hill to see the Moorish exterior architecture with the domes and to see the mission’s Latin cross shape.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Most of the church’s parishioners are members of the Tohono O’odham nation who are believed by many to have descended from the Hohokam culture.  These are the people who built Casa Grande just southeast of Phoenix.  The name Tohono O’odham means “Desert People” in the Tohono O’odham language.
View of Mission San Xavier del Bac from Grotto Hill
By the time we finished touring we were starting to get hungry so we went to the ramadas in front of the mission where Tohono O’odham families sell food.  There were perhaps a dozen of the pole structures providing some shade from the desert sun for the native families preparing food for exiting worshipers and tourists.  Mary, Cindy and Mark had fry bread with either honey or cinnamon and sugar.  I had an Indian taco on fry bread.  It had been a long time since any of us had eaten fry bread.  We all enjoyed our snacks before heading southwest toward the Kitt Peak National Observatory. 
Ramadas with fry bread prepared by Tohono O'odham families
We took Arizona 86 for about an hour going from an elevation of about 2300 feet to Kitt Peak at 7000 feet above sea level.  The air temperature dropped significantly as we drove up the mountain to around 36 degrees.  The blowing wind and icy rain made the day feel even worse.  When we arrived at Kitt Peak National Observatory a tour of the 2.1 meter telescope had just started.  The scientist explained the importance of the research that is done at Kitt Peak and the variety of telescopes on the property.  We learned that the site was selected because the altitude between 7000 and 8000 feet was ideal and that the dry desert air consistently made observations of distant objects very clear.  The Tohono O’odham agreed to permit the observatory to be placed on their land when the observatory was built in the early 1960s.  After learning about the observatory we drove a short distance to the 2.1 meter telescope.  This scope has been updated and used for all sorts of research by a number of agencies.  Our guide told us how the mirror was made and the procedure for recoating the reflective aluminum layer of the surface of the large curved mirror.  We returned through the cold to the visitor center and waited for our 1 pm tour of the Mayall 4 meter telescope.
Mayall 4 meter telescope
The volunteer guide came in and told us that the tour may be cancelled.  It is the observatory’s policy to not visit the 4 meter telescope if the wind is over 50 miles per hour.  He said that the wind is currently at 40 mph and had been gusting to nearly 100 mph earlier in the day.  The guide decided to attempt to visit the telescope since the wind didn’t appear to be strengthening.  We were amazed at the size of the telescope whose mirror was over 16 feet in diameter.  The surface of the mirror is so precise that if it were 3000 miles across there would be less than one inch of irregularity in the surface. 
There is normally a great view from the windows around the Mayall 4 meter telescope but the fog was so thick that we could scarcely see each other in the dense fog.  We walked around the telescope for a bit then drove back down to the visitor center to prepare for our drive back north toward Phoenix.
As we drove down the mountain the air cleared and the temperature warmed.  Within a few minutes we were out of the fog and back into more typical southern Arizona weather.  As we drove northeast of Rt. 86 we were stopped by the US Border Patrol who checked to determine that we were all US citizens.  We picked up Interstate 10 north and continued toward Phoenix.
By the time we were at Casa Grande we were feeling hungry so we stopped at Sho-ga Japanese Restaurant.  Mary, Cindy and I had tempura and Mark had teriyaki beef.  We all enjoyed our meals.
We continued north on I-10 to Sky Harbor Airport, the largest airport in Phoenix.  We dropped Mark & Cindy off at the Avis Car Rental area so they could pick up a rental car for a couple of days.  Although we had to fly home on Monday morning, the Whittingtons were going to visit with friends in Phoenix on Monday then fly home on Tuesday.
We drove back to Chandler and checked into our motel, the Super 8 Chandler Phoenix.  The motel was only $54 and was clean enough but was not a great place to stay.  Mary was unable to print our boarding passes at the lobby computers but was able to get the front desk to print them for her after a good deal of effort.  The motel was fairly noisy until around 11 pm but that wasn’t surprising since a NFL playoff game was in progress.  Later in the night the place quieted down and we were able to get some sleep.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Old Tucson Studio and Saguaro National Park East

We arrived at the entrance to Old Tucson Studios when they opened at 10 am.  This area was the site where scenes from many well-known Western movies were filmed.  Some of the movies that had scenes filmed there include: Joe Kidd, Outlaw Josey Wales, Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma (the 1957 version), The Bells of St. Marys, The Three Amigos, Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Frisco Kid and many more. Several John Wayne movies were filmed here including El Dorado, Rio Lobo, Rio Bravo, McLintock and Stagecoach.  In addition, a number of television shows were recoded here including most episodes of The High Chaparral, a few Bonanza, Highway to Heaven, Little House on the Prairie, Kung Fu, Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, The Big Valley and the Rifleman.  We had a two-for-one coupon in the booklet that the rental owner left for us that got both of us admitted for $20.
We took a quick guided walking tour of the property that gave us some background of the movies that were filmed here.  Our guide had a good presentation style and a lot of knowledge of the movies filmed there.  The studio was built in 1939 but wasn’t used between 1941 and 1945 due to the war.  Many of the original buildings were made of adobe and built to resemble structures that may have been found in a typical Old West town.  Over the years, there have been buildings added and torn down.  Another location in the Tucson area provides additional options for filming locations in an Old West town.  There have been few movies filmed here since the 1970s since the Western film genre isn’t experiencing the popularity that it enjoyed in the 1960s and 70s. 
We saw the train that Clint Eastwood drove through the saloon in Joe Kid.  The same train was used in Tombstone, Rawhide and the Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.  The blacksmith shop is there where Dean Martin as Dude had his head dunked in the water trough in the 1959 movie, Rio Bravo.  The old mission has been used in a number of films.  The hotel and several street scenes from McLintock were shot in Old Tucson Movie Studios.  We were most amused that the Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short movie, The Three Amigos was filmed at Old Tucson Studios.  The El Toro Cantina was covered with a stucco finish to make it look more like a Central Mexican bar. 
We watched a short film in Rosa’s Cantina about John Wayne’s time at Old Tucson.  A number of people who worked at the location spoke very well of Wayne’s personality and positive attitude.  We went through the museum where we saw costumes and artifacts that were used in many movies and television shows that were filmed there. 
As we were leaving the sky started to cloud up and it appeared that rain was threatening.  We have had rain in the forecast for the past couple of days but so far there had been no rain.  The temperature was in the low 70s but a light breeze made it feel cooler.  Since it was nearly 1 pm we were hungry and made a quick stop at a nearby Wendy’s Restaurant. 
We drove East across Tucson to the part of Saguaro National Park that we didn’t visit on Wednesday.  The park is in two sections on the eastern and western sides of Tucson.  We were at the western part on Wednesday to we wanted to visit the eastern part today. 
There was a great deal of traffic in to the area.  We didn’t know whether the larger crowd was because the east side is more popular or whether it was because today was Saturday.  Once we got past the visitor center, however, we really didn’t see a huge number of people.  We drove the loop road to the Mica View Trailhead where we hiked back to the Pink Hill Trail then followed the Javelina Wash Trail back to near the parking area.  It was a nice walk.  We noticed that the area was very different from the west side of the park.  There were fewer palo verde trees and more mesquite.  There were prickly pear, jojoba and chollo but they seemed to less dense that on the east side.  There was a definite difference in the number of saguaro cacti with the frequency much lower on the east side.  As we walked along the trail a thunderstorm blew up.  It wasn’t a concerned since the rainfall was only .01 inches.  We saw a coyote on the road and a few hawks flying that we were unable to identify.  We also saw gila woodpeckers and acorn woodpeckers, cactus wrens, towhees and one roadrunner.  We spotted many jackrabbits and a few cottontails.  We were hoping to spot a javelina but never spotted one.  We did see where they had been digging in the bottom of a wash.
When we got back to the car we continued around the loop road to the trailhead for the route to the site of the Freeman Cabin, the home of early settlers to the area.  The trail was only about a half mile and was a nice walk to the location that once held an adobe cabin.  Over the years, the adobe has been eroded to leave only a pile of clay.
On our way toward the Freeman Cabin Trailhead we spotted a beautiful rainbow so we stopped and had to take snapshots.  The area is very photogenic and it is easy to take attractive photos in this scenic area.

We went to dinner at Paco’s Mexican Restaurant on Grant Avenue, not far from our rental.  The restaurant isn’t large with only about 10 tables but the food was very good and inexpensive to we all enjoyed our meal. We returned to our rental home and crashed.  Mary & Cindy played cribbage while Mark & I watched the New England-Houston playoff game. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fort Bowie and Chiricahua National Monument

For the first time since we have arrived in the West, we were able to sleep in a bit.  I awoke a little before 5 am and came out to the living room to catch up on the day’s emails.  We had breakfast and packed a lunch before heading out to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  This military installation was named for George Washington Bowie (he pronounced it “Boo-ee”) when it opened in opened in 1862 as a means to assure that the Arizona Territory became a union, not a Confederate state.  As the Indian Wars heated up in the area, Fort Bowie became important in the quest to control the local Chiricahua Apache tribe, led by Cochise. 
One of the main ways that the fort was to assure control was by securing access to the nearby spring.  The water was not only used by the soldiers at the fort but by civilians in the area surrounding the fort.  In addition, having the fort there, the Apaches could not access the water without going through the fort.  There is no known family connection between General George Washington Bowie and Jim Bowie of Alamo (and Bowie knife) fame. After the Apaches were banished to the Southeastern US, Fort Bowie was abandoned in 1894.  Many of the wood beams and other materials were scavenged by people from the town of Bowie since wood was scarce in the area.  At this time only the stone and adobe foundations remain.
We walked around the ruins of structures at the fort including the barracks for the infantry and cavalry, officers’ quarters, a hospital, school, blacksmith, mess hall, cistern and other necessary structures.   We walked down to the spring and heard a great deal of history from the volunteers and rangers at the visitor center.
From Fort Bowie we drove to Chiricahua National Monument and checked in at the visitor center.  The area is known for tall spires of rock which gives the Chiricahua their name since Chiricahua is Apache for “standing rock.”  We checked in at the visitor center at the bottom of the mountain and learned that they are awarding pins to hikers who complete at least a five mile hike during a visit to the park.  She suggested a .75 mile walk around the Massai Trail at the top of the mountain that includes a number of interpretive signs and a good overview of the area.  She then suggested that we walk the .3 miles to the Echo Canyon Trail which is 1.6 miles, the Hailstone Trail which is 1.3 miles and the Ed Riggs Trail which is 1.6 miles.  That sounded good to us so we headed off.  The first loop, the Massai Trail was very easy walking around a loop that shows many of the types of formations in the area.  Signage told how a volcanic explosion about 27 million years ago caused hot volcanic dust to settle in the area.  This dust fused to form a resistant layer of tuff as a cap over the existing sedimentary rock layers. 
We moved the car a short distance to the Echo Canyon parking pot, grabbed some water and snacks and headed down the longer trails.  All of the trails were well maintained and fairly easy walking although there was a good deal of elevation change.  We saw a number of other hikers on the trail including several groups on hikes.  The area had burned in 2005 and many dead trees were standing and some had fallen over the trail but the park service had done a good job of clearing a path.  There was a nice mixture of smells on the trail including cedar and freshly cut pine from the cleared tree trunks.  
The views of the rock formations were breathtaking.  There were too many balanced rocks, window rocks and slots to count.  Mark commented that any one of these formations back in the East would have an entire state park for that formation.  Here there are thousands of interesting rock figures in one place.  Some of the rocks had weathered to resemble faces or objects with a little imagination.  
After we connected to the Hailstone Trail from the Echo Canyon Trail we saw a formation of white volcanic pellets that were about a half inch in diameter that looked like hailstones.  These ash pebbles had fused into a white mat that was along the trail.  The Ed Riggs Trail brought us past many more rock features and eventually back to the parking area.  We had a drink and drove down the mountain to the visitor center to report that we had completed the five mile “Rock the Rhyolite” challenge and to claim out award pins.  Although we arrived after the 4:30 closing time, the friendly ranger still gave us our pins.
On the way out of the park we stopped at Faraway Ranch which included the cabin of the Riggs family.  Ed Riggs had married one of the Erickson daughters, Lillian, when he returned to Cochise County after World War I.  Ed made a home of the Erickson property where his in-laws had settled in the 1880s.  We also walked out to the cabin of the Stafford family which was about a half mile from the Erickson and Riggs cabins.  It was the Staffords who owned a horse that was stolen by a Chiricahua Apache named Massai or Big Foot.  Massai was chased into the mountains that are now part of the Chiricahua National Monument where he disappeared never to be seen again.  Folklore holds that Massai walks the mountains to this day.
We made a quick stop by the cemetery where the Erickson family is buried then started the two hour drive back to our rental.  It was too dark for Mary and Cindy to play cribbage so they read some ebooks as we drove back.  If we had time available, I would have liked to have spent a little time in Wilcox, Arizona which was home to cowboy actor and singer, Rex Allen.  Allen was known as “The Arizona Cowboy” and was probably best known for his work as a narrator on many films including Disney nature movies. 
We got back to Copper Casa around 7:30 and warmed up leftovers from our Mexican and Italian meals as well as the tamales.  We ate well and enjoyed the meal.