Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Trip into Illinois

John and I are waiting on some tires for our motorhome to come in from Kansas, otherwise we certainly would have been out of Missouri by now.  This past week we have had a couple of nights where the temperatures dropped below freezing.  It is time for us to head south, which we will do after we get our new  wheels.  We just heard that the tires have arrived and plan to have them installed tomorrow.  Usually we make a trip over into Calhoun County of Illinois during late August or early September to pick up peaches and apples.  So it did seem a bit strange for us to make a trip over there after the harvest season.  We did not quite know what we were going to do when we got there, but figured that at least the drive over there and up the River Road should be enjoyable.  Our first stop was in the small town of Elsah.  It is hard to think of Elsah as once being a bustling river town of the nineteenth century.  Farmers from the surrounding areas would come into town for their wheat to be milled and shipped out on either barges or on the two railroads which once served this town.  There were also hotels, stores and restaurants.  Speaking of the latter, many years ago we liked to visit Elsah just to eat at a certain  restaurant/bakery ( it is not there anymore).  They sure had some delicious pies!  Now the town is just a bedroom community, with  one inn as well as a couple of bed and breakfast establishments.  Population is around 673 people.  On Monday our first stop along the River Road was in Elsah.  We started out thinking we would just take a look at the Methodist church, but then decided it would be interesting to take a closer look at some of the town's older homes   Some of them date back to the time when the town was first established, which was 1856.
The flood of 1993 severely damaged many of the town's homes, but the residents have done a fantastic job in the restoration of many of its older buildings, which include Farley's Music Hall as well as the old schoolhouse.  Surrounding the town are the high river bluffs of the Mississippi River.  From the town we hiked up a narrow winding road  to the top of one of those bluffs.  We were not sure what we were going to see at the top, but our doubts about that were answered by a friendly Ameren Union Electric worker who stopped his truck to talk to us as we were starting out on our trek.  He encouraged us to walk all the way up the top, telling us that not only would we get a good view of the river, but also that there were ruins at the end of the road of  buildings which once belonged to Principia College.  He was right on both counts, and it was a beautiful hike.  Many trees along the road  are still dressed in their autumnal finery.
Our last stop of the day, before we took two ferries across the Mississippi River for our return trip home to St.Charles County, was outside of the town of Grafton.  We thought that no trip to Calhoun County  is complete without a stop at our favorite restaurant, the Finn Inn.  The eating establishment has several large aquariums filled with fish and snapping turtles.  It is quite a unique experience to be eating a fish dinner while large aquatic animals are staring somberly at you!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn in Missouri

John and I have not been in Missouri this late into the fall season since we started traveling three years ago.  The whole point of selling our home was to avoid spending any more time in cold weather.  So we were a little leery about coming here this late in the season. It was our daughter's wedding in Florida which put us a bit off schedule and landed us in Missouri when it is starting to get cold.  We have had some cool nights since arriving here, but we also have had some very warm days.  And the fall colors have been stunning!
 Saturday morning John and I joined my sisters Linda and Julia- as well as Julia's husband Cal, on a volksmarch in Winghaven, Missouri.  As you may notice, we started out with jackets but we soon shed  them.  It started out cool and overcast but eventually the sun came out to highlight the fall colors.
 Volksmarches were begun in Europe in the 1960s.  My sisters Linda and Julia participated in them, with their families, when they were living in Germany.  Upon returning to the states they found one similar walking club in the St.Louis area.  Through the years John and I, as well as some of our children, have joined them on the walks.  It is a non competitive fitness walk, typically 6.2 miles in length on an outdoor path.  We have enjoyed volksmarches in the past which have taken us into various St.Louis neighborhoods.  It was a wonderful way to learn about the diverse areas of St.Louis, I think my favorite walk was in the hill or Italian neighborhood of St. Louis.  Our walk Saturday was not as interesting as previous volksmarches, but our path did take us on a boardwalk through a picturesque park which had a small pond. 
As you can see, our cat KC is still alive.  In Florida we really thought that his days were coming to an end.  He did a lot of sleeping and stopped climbing into my lap for attention.  Once the weather became cooler he suddenly came alive and became his old self.  He now climbs into my lap several times of a evening, it used to be only once when he would do that.  He is over twenty years of age and his back legs are giving out, but he still jumps up on the dash to gaze on the world outside.  He continues to surprise us, our traveling cat.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dismals Canyon

In some respects the forest in this canyon is similar to what we saw Natural Bridge park.  It is a very moist area with many moss-covered boulders and trees.  Ferns and mushrooms as well as swamp-type trees are in abundance.  The picture below should give you a good idea of the green environment of the canyon.
However, it is different from Natural Bridge and, for that matter, any other park open to the public, in that its forest has been untouched by either axe or fire.  Consequently it has many ancient trees and exotic plant life.  The canyon is named after the Dismalites- wow, when I heard that name I sure thought that they were some religious sect,  but I was very wrong!  Past twilight the canyon is lit up by bioluminescent creatures or "glowworms".  They are the larvae stage of a unique species of insects which emits a bright blue-green glow to attract its food (their food being other insects).  Using our trail map we found the area of the canyon, called the witches cavern, where the Dismalities are usually in residence.  It is a strange labyrinth of moss and fern covered boulders.  Night tours of the canyon are available to see the glow of the insects.
The canyon has some very interesting history.  There is an area of smooth rock called the Dance Hall.  It is a well-camouflaged area protected from the elements used by the Chickasaw Indians for their secret rituals.  It is the only place where the rock has been worn smooth by centuries of human use.
In another part of the canyon some say they can see the head of an Indian Maiden.  Green moss growing on  the bluff where she is located is said to be tears shed by the canyon for the loss of its only true friends, the Chickasaw Indians.  In 1838 U.S. Troops rounded up the Indians and held them under guard for two weeks in the canyon before herding them out to begin their journey on the Trail of Tears.  Most of the Chickasaw Indian Nation perished on that trail.  In another part of the canyon is thought to be the site of Aaron Burr's hideout after he killed Alexander Hamilton.  A cot and an old musket that were found here years later are thought to have belonged to him.  I have just mentioned only a few highlights of the canyon, there are many more interesting features which I have not covered.  Hiking through this canyon at times was not easy, some rock scrambling was needed. However, it was still an incredible experience, and we would rate it as one of the more memorable canyons which we have seen.  I will end this posting with one more picture showing the rugged beauty of Dismals Canyon. We have one more stop before we reach our final destination in Missouri.  That stop will be Memphis, John has not yet seen Graceland.  I have seen it already and will pass on touring it again.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Traveling North to Missouri from Florida

From Florida  our return home to Missouri has taken us through Georgia into Alabama.  Wednesday evening we crossed over the border of Georgia into the town of Eufaula.  As we drove through the town we saw many antebellum homes and one large Civil War Monument honoring the Confederacy. As our Triple A Tour Book notes: “the South does not get any deeper than Alabama”.    Jefferson Davis’ birthday is still a holiday in Alabama.  Wednesday evening we parked our home by Lake Eufaula. The lake was formed by the  Walter F.George Lock and Dam on the Chattahoochee River. This was probably are last time for awhile to see moss-draped oaks.
 We felt it would be interesting to break up our trip back to Missouri by stopping for a day in some area which we had never explored before.  I noticed that in the northwestern corner of our road map there was a notation of a natural bridge.  The town of Jasper is near that area so that determined our stop for Thursday evening.  Friday we took a day off from traveling and took our little tow car out for some local sightseeing.  Natural Bridge was our first stop of the day.  It is the longest stone arch east of the Rockies.  The sandstone arch spans 148 feet long and is 60 feet high. 
The bridge was formed by an underwater river many years ago. Artesian water still flows through this area and it seems like water is flowing everywhere here, dripping off the rocks and flowing in little rivulets around the large rock formations  The scenic forest reminded me of other rain forests which we have visited before,  covered with lush foliage.  There are 27 varieties of ferns here as well as a number of Canadian hemlocks dating to the Ice Age.  Another ancient tree here is the large leaf magnolia.  Looking up at the canopy of the forest I noticed that the large leaves of the magnolia seemed to dominate in the lofty heights of the forest.  I mentioned the lushness of this forest, everything seems so green and grows so big- how about the caterpillar pictured below, he was very busy feeding on the green foliage growing on a rock wall.  This is very much a Garden of Eden for plants and animals!  There was no drought here this past summer!
 Large sandstone formations, besides the Natural Bridge, provided an interesting walk through this forest.  Coming into this park we met up with another couple who informed us that their next stop was Dismal Canyons.  We were uncertain as to where our next destination was going to be, possibly the Sipsey Wilderness area of the Bankhead National Forest.  However, they highly recommended the canyons which are not within the National Forest.  Our next stop was Dismals Canyons - it was a good choice!  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Florida Botanical Gardens

We took our son Mike to the Tampa Airport very early Monday morning.  Consequently I was a bit tired and grumpy once we returned home.  Maybe it was a bit of a let-down to have everyone gone and the wedding festivities over with.  We called John's sister Carolyn to check out their plans for the day.  She and her husband Jim were not returning to Missouri until Wednesday.  As luck would have it, they missed their exit north after leaving the airport and were heading south on interstate 75 to Largo, Florida.  I remembered that the botanical gardens were there so John suggested we meet up with Carolyn and Jim for lunch and go to the gardens from there.  Suddenly getting outside and seeing more of Florida's natural beauty sounded like a wonderful idea to me!  And Florida Botanical Gardens did not disappoint me at all.  The gardens have a blend of Florida native plants as well as exotic ornamentals from around the world.  Outside of the entry building for the garden is a native garden where we noticed a fig tree with fruit on it (pictured below).  How unusual to see the figs growing coming out of the trunk!
Later on in the afternoon we found another fig tree with its fruit hanging from short stems, however the fruit still came out of the trunk and branches.  Speaking of trees, we discovered a citrus fruit tree which is called a "fruit salad tree".  It produces three different kinds of fruit: a Valencia Orange, Naval Orange and a Meyer Lemon.   Currently all the fruit on the tree is green,  all the different kinds of fruit can probably be seen in a few more weeks.  Another interesting tree in the gardens is the tropical pink dogwood, which is unlike any dogwood that I have seen! 
Of course any botanical garden in Florida is bound to have some wetlands.   It was at McKay Creek, which flows through the gardens, where we saw a small alligator and a moor hen.
I really enjoyed the vinery area of the gardens where many of the plants are currently in bloom.   Most fascinating to me is the bleeding heart vine, pictured below.  There is also an allamanda vine which currently has brilliant yellow and pink blooms.
There was so much beauty in the garden which lifted my spirits considerably!  It is very much a tropical paradise. The weather has turned cooler now and I do not have the desire I had last week to leave Florida, which we did on Tuesday.  My last gem of a picture taken in the garden is that of an angel wing begonia.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Melissa and Spencer's Wedding

Pre-wedding activities started on Thursday, two days before the wedding.  The groom had arranged a boar hunt for the men.  Stories of that hunt sounded quite horrible to me.  Feral hog were rounded up and set loose on a ranch.  Cur dogs were then sent out to find  them up for spear wielding hunters.  Spencer and four other men of the wedding party killed 5 boar.  I know that our son Daniel and his cousin Adam had a great time!  The meat of the boar has since been processed and is now sitting in Spencer's grandfather's freezer.  I think what the women of the wedding party did was a bit more enjoyable.  We took a luncheon cruise on the Calypso Queen, which sailed out of the harbor at Clearwater Beach. We were served a buffet lunch,  the waiter kept us hydrated with rum punch and other drinks of our choosing.  Members of the party were given an opportunity to steer the boat under the direction of the captain.  We had a great relaxing time.
Friday morning found us setting up the wedding hall for the reception.  For the table settings Melissa had built and painted wooden boxes which were to hold sand, candles, and sea shells.  The total effect turned out to be quite beautiful.  And I think that some of us had fun playing in the sand boxes!
Friday evening, after the wedding rehearsal, Spencer's Mom hosted a dinner at the Dunedin Smokehouse.  It was a great barbeque meal.  Pictured below is a very happy couple, Spencer and Melissa.
We had a very warm and humid week, but amazingly we were not at all uncomfortable sitting outside for the dinner.  Rain came later in the evening.  After the meal most of the party moved next door to an Irish pub where a Scottish band was playing.  On Saturday, before the wedding, some of us got more beach time in.  The wedding itself amazingly came together at the last minute.  There were last minute details to be completed in the wedding hall and Melissa had some issues with getting her dressed zipped up.  Fortunately some of us came early and there always seemed to be many ready hands to help out.  It was a beautiful wedding made even more awesome by some great musicians in our families.  Our son Dan played the guitar,  niece Heather helped out with her violin and her sister Katie on the flute.  John's brother-in-law Jim played several hymns on the keyboard and Spencer's step-sister Einav performed a vocal solo.  Pictured below are the bride and groom.  They are surrounded by the bridesmaids Amanda, Heather and Rachel.
We had a wonderful time at the wedding reception.  Music was provided by the Afterwhile band, whom we would recommend to anyone looking for a folksy/bluesy musical group.  Quite a few of the guests were out on the dance floor until closing time.  Our son Mike was Master of Ceremonies and, as he had done at his brother Dan's wedding, did a great job keeping events of the evening smoothly running There were many items to clear out of the hall before we left but, again, many hands made the task simple and fast. 

Clearwater Florida Area

I am sorry that I have not kept up with this blog site during the past week.  It has been a busy week with our daughter's wedding activities.  We also have had many family and friends to catch up with, people who have come from a distance and whom we have not seen for some time.  In my next post I will report on the wedding itself, which was this past Saturday.  For right now I will only say that all went well and the happy couple are off now on their honeymoon.  Last Tuesday we moved our unit from northern Florida to the Clearwater area.  Our little tow car had picked up a nail in one of its tires so we needed to spend some time in a repair shop before moving on.  We did not get out of the shop until early afternoon and once we hit highway 19 down the coast it was very slow going.  Traffic was heavy and many stops lights also dashed any hopes we had of moving rapidly to our final destination, which was Palm Harbor.  Palm Harbor, where our daughter's wedding was held, is a small town just outside of Clearwater.  Both towns are on the west coast of Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico.   In some ways it would be great to continue our stay here.  We have loved seeing the lush blooming tropical plants and water birds seem to wander around everywhere.
I believe it was when we were driving around the town of Dunedin that we happened to glance down a street and see the egret pictured above.  In the park, were our rig is presently sitting, I also chanced to see a wood stork sitting in front of someone's trailer home.
It has been very warm and humid this past week, showers have popped up almost daily (except for Saturday, the day of the wedding).  This past Wednesday it rained on and off all day.  Locals claim that until November 1 (when the tourist season begins here) rain showers are common.  They also apologize for the very warm weather, which is not the norm for this time of the year.  The weather, however, has not stopped us from getting our beach time in.  Clearwater has a wonderful public beach with beautiful white sand.  We have also spent time on Honeymoon Island State Park, which is close to where we are here in Palm Harbor.  It is located at the top of Florida's barrier island chain.  On Sunday we drove to that park and from there we took a ferry to Caladesi Island.  On that ride we saw dolphins swimming near the boat.  The island itself is just one big beach which offers abundant shelling and wildlife.  It is very different from Clearwater Beach where there is a lot of hotels, shops and restaurants.  Caladesi Island is rated the 5th best beach in the nation.  Many sea shells were used in decorating the table settings for the wedding dinner.
There are signs around the island warning not to take shells home with live creatures in them.  I found a beautiful fighting conch shell which had one little wiggling foot hanging outside of it.  Park signage regarding shells informed us that when the creature inside the shells dies, the shell is washed ashore.  This creature looked very alive to us, so we returned him to his watery home.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lake Kanapaha Botanical Garden

After our experience Monday we should in the future try to avoid touring museums and parks on that day.  Between rain showers and park closings some of our plans went awry.   Our first stop was in the small town of Micanopy, the state's oldest inland town.  In the early 1800s it was an Indian trading post and a peaceful place where settlers from New York built their homes and farms.   Also living here were descendants of runaway slaves.  In 1835 and 1836 Seminole Wars created a lot of destruction in the town and the town's name became Fort Defiance.  Intentionally the U.S. army finally burned the fort, after first evacuating the people living there.  In 1837 the town was rebuilt and its name restored.  The town has kept many of its older buildings- now antique and curio shops occupy many of them.
Our next stop was Paynes Prairie Preserve.  We wanted to do some hiking there, but rain prevented that.  John was looking forward to seeing a large sinkhole at Devil's Millhopper State Park in Gainsville, which was our next destination.  It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.   It was late afternoon by the time we stopped at Lake Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.  The garden is named for its close proximity to the lake, however it does sit on what the park signs describe as "ephemeral wetland".  It has pockets of water which dry and refill from time to time.  The printed park guide states that June to September are the months of maximum color.  However, we were satisfied with the many blooming plants which we saw yesterday.
What a striking blue color on this ginger plant!  It is not truly a ginger plant but part of the "wandering Jew" family.  The park also has an azalea-camellia garden which provides color for the park during the winter months.  However, we did find some of those plants already in bloom or in the late stages of flowering.
We had never been in a botanical garden before with so many varieties of bamboo!  Kanapaha has the state's largest public collection of the plant.  We have been in some private gardens where it is considered an invasive and not a very desirable plant to have around.  When its shoots emerge the plant grows at the rate of two inches an hour.  Pictured below is the stripestem bamboo plant.
We only had an hour and a half to cover the garden, and some of that time was spent looking for shelter because of rain.  We would have like to have had more time there as Kanapaha is different than most gardens we have toured.  It has a wide variety of many tropical plants.