Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage, September 2019

It goes without saying – Cruising is fun! While talking to our daughter, Elisabeth, She suggested that we do a cruise to Alaska while we were in Washington. “Sure,” we said and we began to plan. After searching multiple websites we decided on a 7-Day cruise on the Norwegian Joy. While we were still in the Great Lakes area and on the drive west to Washington we spent a lot of time researching and on the phone to agree upon and reserve shore excursions. As with most cruises, we had a mix of ship-based shore excursions and touring on our own.

Sailing out of Seattle made the beginning and end very simple. We packed everything in Elisabeth’s car and her brother, Scott, drove us to the Bell Cruise Ship Terminal and picked us up at the end. We had a relatively short wait to board the ship. We had to wait for our cabin to be ready and our luggage to be delivered, but there was plenty to do. We had lunch in one of the ship’s dining rooms, toured the ship, and relaxed on the pool deck. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has an app for your smart phone that keeps you up to date on all of the activities on board and your selected shore excursions. This app became our “go to” source for ship board information. There are also touch screens near every staircase with more information and where you can make reservations for shows.

As we set sail from the Port of Seattle we viewed the Seattle skyline.

Our first day was at sea as we sailed north up the Inside Passage of southeastern Alaska. We relaxed, checked the ship, made plans and spent time in the Observation Lounge.

Our first port of call was Alaska’s First City – Ketchikan. While we were at sea on the first day Pat and Elisabeth attended some presentations on shopping opportunities and had their stores all picked out. Consequently we descended on the jewelry shops. Actually all three of us had a lot of fun and the ladies walked away with all kinds of freebies for their charm bracelets.

While they were returning their purchases to the ship I walked to Creek Street to the original business district of Ketchikan. This is along the Ketchikan Creek. Here there was a ready source of fresh water and a good current to operate the mills. There is little flat land here and the shops were built on platforms extending over the river. While walking through the shops I discovered that the early city leadership had rounded up all of the prostitutes that were operating in the residential areas and consolidated them in the business district. One of these “houses of ill repute,” Dolly’s House, is available to tour. As the sign says, ”Dolly’s House – Where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn.”

Our big excursion was the Alaska Lodge Adventure & Seafeast. We took a boat cruise around the Grant Island State Marine Park. We were only a short distance from the dock when we saw an eagle’s nest that had a couple of eaglets. Our guide tossed a fish into the water and we watched as the eagle swooped down on the water to grab it. My finger was quick on the shutter and I got the perfect shot.

As we continued on we saw where the U.S. Navy does underwater sound tests on its nuclear submarines. There was a submarine in port for testing but we never saw it. As we cruised we saw sea lions and seals sunning themselves, and Sitka black-tailed deer. At the end of our boat tour we arrived at the Silver King Lodge. There we were guided on a short tour of the rain forest. The moist conditions of temperate rain forests generally support an understory of mosses, ferns and some shrubs. This rain forest was a mix of coniferous and  broadleaf  forest. The finale was a fish boil that included Dungeness crab. There were seven of us at our table. The server dumped a big pot of food (crab, shrimp, clams, mussels, potatoes, onions, garlic, corn and sausage) in the middle of our table that was covered in newspaper and we all dug in. It was delicious! Being a meat and potatoes guy I had never eaten crab before and now I think it will be one of my seafood favorites.

We returned to the port and did some final souvenir shopping near the pier. We boarded in time to get cleaned up and enjoy another dinner. After dinner we enjoyed a presentation of the musical Footloose in the Deck 7 theater.

Our next port of call was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. As many of the cities in southeastern Alaska it is only accessible by plane or boat. We opted to not sign up for any of the cruise excursions, but to tour on our own. We took a cab to the Mendenhall Glacier. Our driver, Mac, had lived in Juneau his whole life and was a good tour guide. He kept a running commentary on sites that we passed and what it was like to live there as a native.

The Mendenhall Glacier extends from the Juneau Icefield and is about 13.6 miles long and hundreds of feet deep. Even though we viewed it from across Mendenhall Lake it is huge. The catabatic wind coming off the glacier is definitely chilling, it felt about ten degrees cooler that at the Visitor Center. In the Visitor Center we saw time-lapsed photos of the glacier showing how it extends and retreats due to the amount of snow that falls on it every winter. Mac came back to pick us up and dropped us off at the Mount Roberts Tramway. We had purchased tickets through the ship and rode the tram to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day (Welcome to the temperate rain forest!) and our view was not very good. We took the opportunity to hike on some trails near the mountain top and we were not able to see much below, even as we descended on the tram.

The last part of the day was to cruise in the Endicott Arm and view the Dawes Glacier. The Captain allowed passengers to go onto the forward part of the ship that was normally off limits. We were there, with our binoculars and cameras, but the fog was too thick and the Captain, citing safety concerns, choose not to risk the ship under such poor visibility and we headed back to the main channel.

Our third port of call was Icy Strait Point on Chichagof Island. This was originally the site of the Hoonah Packing Company, a salmon packing cannery that was established in 1912. In 1953 the cannery operations ended and the facility was converted into a maintenance facility for the Hoonah fishing fleet in 1954. The facility was converted into a tourism center and welcomed its first cruise ship as Icy Strait Point in 2004.

We chose to do the combination of the Whale Watching & Zip Rider excursion. The Zip Rider is a pure adrenalin rush. We took a 45-minute bus ride to get to the top of the mountain. Here we were briefed on the ride and climbed into our harnesses. The Zip Rider descends 1300 feet and lasts about 90 seconds. What a ride!

After the wild ride we walked to the cannery docks and boarded our boat for the whale watching. Needless to say, everyone was dressed in layers for a chilly afternoon. We spend the whole time on the exposed upper deck to insure we had a good view. As we headed out our captain got a radio call advising him that a pod of Orca whales had been spotted. Orcas are not seen here on a regular basis, so he altered course to check it out. We were not disappointed. We circled this pod for quite awhile until we had to move on to other sites.

About halfway back to the port we came upon several humpback whales. Unlike Orcas, humpbacks do not jump out of the water. However, they will raise their huge tails out of the water and use that weight to drive them deep in the water as they dive. This “tail flip” is the hole in one of whale watching. One after another the whales would come up to “sound,” blowing water out of their air hole and breathing before diving again. At one point we spotted three of them traveling as a group. We watched and I took pictures for so long that I had filled my camera’s memory card and had to resort to my cell phone camera for the remainder of my shots.

All good things must come to an end and we headed back to board the Norwegian Joy for our next leg.

Our next day was spent at sea. We took advantage of this by sleeping in and relaxing. There are always things to do on board – musical performers, workshops, gambling, or just practicing the fine art of doing nothing. That evening we enjoyed watching Elements – a dazzling show incorporating the four elements of earth, air, water and fire. This was an incredible show. It was dynamic and I never knew what was going to come next.

Our final port of call was Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island. We took advantage of the shore excursion – Victoria by Bike to see Victoria up close and personal. We met our guides and picked up our bikes and helmets near the ship and rode out of the port.

Victoria is known as the cycling capital of Canada and offers great cycling routes throughout the city. Our guide led us on a leisurely circular route through quiet neighborhoods, tree-lined streets to see some of the highlights of the city. Our first stop was Beacon Hill Park where we saw the World’s Largest Totem Pole made from a single tree. We made several other stops along the way – Chinatown, the Royal Parliament Buildings, and Fisherman’s Wharf. From Fisherman’s Wharf we made the short ride to the bike shop. Some of our group turned in their bikes and headed back to the ship, but we rented ours for a while longer and rode to some more attractions. One point we felt was a “must see” was the Mile Zero marker for the TransCanada Highway. Now we have pictures of us at Mile Zero in Key West and Mile Zero in Canada.

We dropped off the bikes at The Peddler  bike shop and started to walk back to the ship. On the way we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf to get a better look at the floating houses and enjoy an ice cream cone. Enroute to the ship I was able to pick up two more geocaches. That was the icing on the cake.

Back onboard we began organizing our stuff and packing. We hit one of our favorite restaurants for dinner and, after dinner, listened to the great piano player who entertained in the Atrium.

Because we didn’t have to connect with an airline flight we were able to have a relaxing breakfast before they called for our group to disembark. We had no problems with our luggage or U.S. Customs, Scott was waiting for us where we had agreed to meet, and we were on our way home.

It was a great trip. We were able to see parts of Alaska that we had not seen before. We are looking forward to possibly revisiting Vancouver Island on another trip in the future.

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Hiking Mount Rainer – August 2019

You can’t be in the Seattle/Tacoma area and not know about Mount Rainer. On a clear day it is visible from almost everywhere. In my opinion it is one of the best attractions in the area.

We were able to take the twins, Clarissa and Sierra, for a day trip to Mount Rainer. We had taken all three granddaughters with us three years ago and the twins had visited there with a group earlier, but all of those trips had been to the Paradise area at the southern end of the park. This year we decided to go to the northern end and visit the Sunrise Visitor Center and hike in that area.

It is about an hour and a half drive to Sunrise and we could see the clouds surrounding the mountain in the distance. The curving road afforded some great views (for those who were not driving!).

The history of these mountains goes back to the early Indian tribes. They have several stories that describe their origins. Visiting these mountains and bringing our kids continues to keep this history alive.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we got our Junior Ranger workbooks (yes, I did too). As I have said before, I hope whoever developed this got a raise, because this is a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about the park. I have a friend (my age) who has a Junior Ranger badge from every National Park they have visited. While we learned a lot in the Visitor Center, the display that impressed me the most was the plaque memorializing five employees who died in the line of duty. That’s something we never consider, the sacrifices that are made by the people that work in the parks.

We participated in a Ranger presentation on volcanoes (including an eruption with lava). After that we ate lunch at the picnic area where we planned our route and worked on our Junior Ranger workbooks. We laid out a hike of about four miles that would be fun and not too challenging.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike; sunny, with mild temperatures so we weren’t too hot or too cold. The skies around the mountain cleared and we were treated to awesome views of the mountain and the glaciers on its slopes.

Our first stop overlooked some sub-alpine meadows that reminded me of those we had seen in Germany.

We continued our climb and looked back at the Visitor Center seeing how high we had climbed.

We climbed into the Alpine Zone above the tree line and couldn’t help but see the difference.

We had some company while we took a break near Frozen Lake.

The downhill side of the hike brought us into some meadows and a hike-in campground near Shadow Lake. On the last leg of the hike we had the best view of the Emmons Glacier.

Back at the Visitor Center we turned in our workbooks and all three of us were sworn in as Junior Rangers of Mount Rainer. The drive back was an anti-climax but an easy drive.

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Mount St. Helens – August 2019

For weeks U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey volcanologist David Johnston had been giving warnings that the volcano of Mount St. Helens was unstable and showing signs that it could erupt at any time. In his words, “The fuse has been lit. We just don’t know how long the fuse is.”

Nearby residents had been evacuated, but the mountain became quiet. Everyone thought the danger had passed. On May 17, 1980 a convoy of residents was escorted back to their homes by police to recover more belongings, and another convoy was planned for the next day.

On May 18th David Johnston was on duty monitoring the volcanic activity from an observation post on nearby Coldwater Ridge. A huge bulge had formed on the north face of the mountain as gases pushed up and became trapped by the surface crust. An earthquake, measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale occurred and the bulge started to slide. Johnston radioed his headquarters in Vancouver, WA “Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it!” That the last anyone heard from Johnston and his body was never recovered. He had been killed by the magma in St. Helens that burst in a large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened vegetation and buildings over 230 square miles

Being from Michigan we had heard of the eruption, but it wasn’t a big impact on our lives. That wasn’t the case in Washington. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed.

The collapse of the bulge mixed with ice, snow, and water to create lahars (volcanic mudflows). The lahars flowed many miles down the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, destroying bridges and lumber camps. A total of 3,900,000 cubic yards of material was transported 17 miles south into the Columbia River by the mudflows. So much mud flowed into the Columbia River that ocean going vessels that traveled the river were going aground and the Columbia River had to be blocked to such vessels until it could be dredged. For more than nine hours, a plume of ash erupted, eventually reaching 12 to 16 miles above sea level. The plume moved eastward at an average speed of 60 miles per hour with ash reaching Idaho by noon and blocking the sun, turning the day into night. We had ash fall in Michigan and weeks later some of the ash landed again on Mount St. Helens, having been carried by the winds completely around the world.

On August 10th and 11th, Scott and his family, Elisabeth, Pat and I all drove to spend the weekend touring Mount St. Helens. We started at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. This center is operated by the State of Washington.

The most informative part of our visit was the Ranger Talk that described the series of events that led up to the 1980 eruption and the resulting damage to the area.

The girls were awarded their Junior Geologist badges after completing their workbooks.

We set up camp at the Kid Valley RV Park and then went to visit the North Fork Survivors Gift Shop and A-Frame House. The A-Frame House was within days of being completed when the 1980 eruption took place. The mud slide caused by the melting of the Mount St Helens glacier and landslide altered the landscape and destroyed many of the structures in the area. Today you can see how the entire first floor was completely filled with mud and debris. The focus of the North Fork Survivors was on Mount St Helens and on the Sasquatch or “Big Foot.” I must have expressed too much interest in the Sasquatch because the woman at the cash register asked me if I was a “believer.”

For dinner we hiked over to the Fire Mountain Grill for a good meal and even better view of the river. The place was packed with both visitors and locals.

On Sunday we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (named after volcanologist David Johnston) where we watched a couple of videos and Ranger Talks about volcanoes and Mount St. Helens. I am always surprised, no matter how much you know about a subject, how much you can learn from these presentations. As we hiked around the ½ mile Eruption Trail we saw where trees were sheared off by the initial blast and boulders that were hurled miles by the force of the eruption. Wow! Talk about the power of nature.

Weyerhaeuser and other lumber companies have done much to renew the forested areas that were destroyed in 1980. The National Park Service has allowed the land under its control to renew itself without human intervention or assistance. It’s quite impressive to see how much the land has rebounded without assistance. It is an example of how resilient nature is and how it can renew itself.

There are a lot of things to do in the greater Seattle/Tacoma area, but make sure you include a trip to Mount St. Helens. It’s well worth your time.





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Whidbey Island, WA – July 2019

We arrived in Washington in early June, and most of the first month was spent helping our daughter rehab her new condominium. Wow, what a lot of work! We removed a floor to ceiling mirror that covered one of her living room walls, removed old florescent fixtures and replaced them with LED lights, replaced a bathroom sink, and painted almost every room. After all of that we were ready for a vacation!

On July 10th we headed up to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and their Cliffside RV Park. Cliffside is, in our opinion, the prettiest military RV park in the country. In 2012 they rebuilt the entire park from one circle of twenty sites to sixty sites in concentric arcs that are terraced so every site has an unobstructed view of Puget Sound. If that wasn’t enough Ken, the camp host and an avid gardener, has transplanted flowers from other locations to the campground. He keeps fresh flowers in the office and laundry rooms.

We walked or rode our bikes around the base every morning and generally kicked back and relaxed.  We shared the walking path with Whidbey Island rabbits that are everywhere.

We were here three years ago and did a lot of sightseeing then, so we didn’t feel we were missing out on too much by just relaxing. I did some geocaching in the local area and picked up a few more caches for my log. My favorite was at the local VFW and I took some time to admire their well-done veteran’s memorial.

Most of the time we did a lot of just kicking back and watching Puget Sound. Occasionally we were fortunate enough to see some grey whales right off shore from the campground.

Walking along the beach was amazing! Huge logs of driftwood are scattered along the shore. At various points kids had built shelters and forts. I couldn’t resist trying one of them out.

The weather was pleasant during most of our stay, but one day we had a heckofa blow and the surf showed it.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, joined us for a long weekend. We took the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We had thought about taking Elisabeth’s car on the ferry, but all of the reservations for the morning were taken, so we opted for Plan B. Plan B was to walk on the ferry and take the hop on, hop off Trolley around the island. The only problem with this is that once you hop off it’s another hour before the next trolley come along to hop back on.

The ferry ride was interesting and, as always, I was fascinated by the loading and unloading of the vehicles. There was comfortable seating, a snack bar with ridiculous prices, and great views of the islands of the Strait of Juan DeFuca.

We got our tickets for the Trolley and checked out the local wine shop, appropriately named the Island Wine Company. We sampled the wine, and bought a souvenir wine glass. We wandered around the area a bit and then hopped on the Trolley. Our first stop was Roche Harbor where we toured the Sculpture Park and the downtown area. This was initially the main British port for the island, but eventually turned into a huge tourist resort.

After that we stopped at the English Camp. There was a major dispute over the ownership of San Juan Island. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 identified the 49th Parallel as the border between Canada and the United States, but the border in the Straits of Juan DeFuca was unclear. While the dispute was being settled by a neutral international arbitration commission the British and U.S. jointly occupied the island. The English Camp and American Camp were on opposite sides of the island. The British allocated large amounts of resources to make life comfortable for their soldiers, sadly the same could not be said for the Americans who made do with minimal support and went through 15 commanders in 12 years. In 1872 the three-man commission led by German emperor Wilhelm I decided in favor of the U.S. The British forces withdrew in November of 1872 and the U.S. Army withdrew in July, 1874.

Our last stop was the Lime Kiln Point State Park (AKA Whale Watch Park) where we listened to a Ranger Talk on whales. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but we did check out the nearby lighthouse.

Back in Friday Harbor we had dinner at the Cask & Schooner Public House & Restaurant overlooking the harbor before we boarded the ferry for the trip back to Anacortes.

Later in the weekend our son, Scott, and his twin daughters came up and camped in the nearby Deception Pass State Park. We all hiked up to and across the bridge over Deception Pass. The bridge is a tourist destination. The traffic slows as people gaze down at Deception Pass as they drive onto the island. We enjoyed meals together, the twins swam in the Sound, and Scott and I did some kayaking on nearby Cranberry Lake. What a great weekend.

On Wednesday, we packed up and headed back to Lakewood and finishing up Elisabeth’s condo.

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Westward Bound for Washington, May 2019

Many times family is the primary factor in our planning on where to travel. Our oldest son, Scott, and his family (which includes our three granddaughters) have been living in University Place, near Tacoma, WA for several years. Last year our daughter, Elisabeth, moved from North Carolina to join them and now lives in nearby Lakewood. With most of the rest of our family back in Michigan we are trying to split our summers between Washington and Michigan.

After leaving Brian and Leah’s wedding in Michigan, we dropped our trailer in Milwaukee and flew to Tampa, FL for the graduation of Robin’s (our niece) daughter, Destiny from high school. It was like a mini family reunion and everyone had a wonderful time.

We spend Memorial Day in Milwaukee and my sister-in-law, Mary Lee, told us the traveling Vietnam Memorial was in a nearby town. We visited it to honor those servicemen and women who died defending freedom around the world. 1LT Ralph Miller, a former member of a National Guard unit that I commanded, was Killed in Action in Vietnam and I always locate his name whenever I visit the wall in his memory.

We stopped in Box Elder, SD and stayed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in their FAMCAMP (Family Camp/RV Park). It’s a nice place to stay with full hookups and FREE laundry. We drove over to Americas Mailbox to pick up our mail, but generally just relaxed On our way to Ellsworth we took a detour to drive through the Badlands National Park. It’s amazing to me to look out over this huge basin and realize this was once a huge inland sea until the Rocky Mountains erupted and caused this sea to drain into the Pacific Ocean. They have found fossils of all sorts of aquatic life in the area, but today we saw bison.

Our drive across the northern states was essentially a sprint in that we didn’t stay long at any stop and our sightseeing was kept to a minimum. Several times we crossed the route that Lewis and Clark took as they explored the new territory acquired as a part of Louisiana Purchase. It’s always s special to see places where significant historical events took place. For anyone interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, I recommend the book, Undaunted Courage. It’s a great description of leadership and discipline in an extremely challenging situation.

As we drove into eastern Washington we noticed the huge irrigation booms irrigating the fields. Eastern Washington is normally dry as the Cascade Mountain Range forces rainfall in the west leaving no moisture left in the clouds for the east and is especially so this year. Western Washington is also having a very dry spring. This was in sharp contrast to the flooding we saw in so many areas between Florida and Washington. We saw streams and rivers flooding over their banks, ponds and lakes instead of puddles in farm fields, and wooded areas along shorelines inundated from flooding.

You know you’re getting close to the Pacific Northwest when you see mountain ranges appear in your windshield. We’ll be staying in the Seattle/Tacoma area for the rest of the summer.

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Friends, Family, Doctors, Awards, and Weddings – May 2019

Our first stop in Michigan was the Woodchip Campground. This is our “go to” campground for the Grand Rapids area. It’s like an outdoor oasis in the middle of a suburban area. Whenever we are in the area we try to meet up with two of Pat’s friends from high school. This time they introduced us to a new eatery. It’s always fun to meet up with Kay and Lynn whether it is in Florida or Michigan.

My sister, Susan, and I arranged to meet our Uncle Jack at his new place in Spring Lake. Ever since our father passed away in 2010 we have tried to stay in touch with his brothers. Jack recently moved into a retirement home and is dealing with the change in living arrangements. His daughter, Barb, joined us and we were able to have lunch together and walk around his new community.

After that Pat and I drove down to Holland to see my other uncle, Norm. He is in the process of moving to a retirement home near Cleveland where he can be close to one of his two daughters and they can help him when he needs it.

From Woodchip we made the short drive to Lansing to stay at our local favorite, Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Here we saw our dentist and I had my final checkup on my knee surgery from the summer (All was good there!). Some of our Lansing friends have gotten into ukulele playing and this weekend was Mighty Uke Day (MUD). Our friends were participating in a ukulele flash mob in downtown Lansing and we enjoyed watching their performance.

Even though we were only in town for a short time I was able to play at Open Mic Nights at Moriarity’s Pub and the Blue Owl Coffee.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, flew in from Tacoma, WA to be with us for a wedding later in our stay. She was able to do some shopping with Pat and see some of her friends. She and our son, Dave, treated Pat to dinner for Mother’s Day.

Last year Elisabeth had nominated me to be inducted into the Central Michigan University ROTC Hall of Fame. Around Christmas time we were informed that I was to be the 2019 Inductee. Pat, Elisabeth, my sister, and I drove to CMU on Tuesday, May 14th where I received my plaque from the Professor of Military Science. I was thrilled to be honored for my service to my nation and community in this way.

Later that week we drove to Saint Joseph, MI for the wedding of our nephew, Brian, to his fiancée, Leah. The wedding was in a pavilion on the beach at the local county park. Everyone was holding their breath about the weather and they couldn’t have been any luckier. The weather was cold and rainy until the day before this 3:00 PM ceremony. Then the skies cleared, the temperature rose, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The wedding couple was pushing their luck with the reception in an open air patio, but their luck continued through the reception.

On Sunday Dave drove Elisabeth to the airport on his way back to Lansing and the next morning we were on our way to Milwaukee.

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Mammoth Cave and Notre Dame – April, 2019

The United States is blessed with some of the most amazing natural wonders. One of these is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is mammoth in that it is the longest cave in the world – a total of 412 miles of underground passageways. It was one of the first tourist attractions in the United States. Mammoth Cave was designated as a National Park on July 1, 1941 but the cave has been explored for some 4,000 years. Yes, there is evidence of exploration from that long ago. When the cave was designated as a National Park there were only 40 miles of surveyed passages. Today there are 396 miles of surveyed passages and the number is growing.

There are a number of Ranger-Led tours of the cave. Some are short and on paved pathways with handicapped accessibility. Some are unique, such as lantern tours where your only light source are candle lanterns like those used by the early explorers. There is even the Wild Cave Tour where you have to get down on your belly and slither through openings in the rock that are extremely tight (way too much for this claustrophobia sufferer!). We chose to take the Grand Avenue Tour, four miles in about four and a half hours. This tour began at the Carmichael Entrance and ended at the Frozen Niagara Entrance. This was a physically demanding tour with tough climbs and lots of geological variety. There was no flash photography allowed in the cave, so please excuse me if some pictures are slightly out of focus.

The Carmichael Entrance

An outlet from the Wild Cave Tour – pretty tight!

Some of the early explorers left their names and messages behind with the soot from the candle and carbide lamps.

At one point in the cave’s history there was an underground cafeteria where tourists could stop, relax, and have lunch.

The flowstone of the Frozen Niagara is aptly named

From Mammoth Cave we drove to Granger, IN to visit one of Pat’s high school classmates. We had a great visit, but, alas, I forgot to take any pictures 😦

We were very close to South Bend and we rode our bikes into the campus of Notre Dame. This is probably the prettiest college campus I have ever visited. As we rode through campus we saw students engaged in club activities or just relaxing on the lawns, enjoying a warm, sunny day.

The University of Notre Dame was founded in November 1842 by Rev. Edward F. Sorin, a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, a French missionary order. Notre Dame has grown from the vision of Father Sorin. Notre Dame has been a place where the Catholic Church could do its organizational thinking.

We walked into one building that we thought was a cathedral, only to discover it was the main administrative building, how appropriate for a private Catholic university. The view of the dome from inside the building was amazing. All of the buildings reflect this same European religious architecture.

We did find the chapel but there was a mass in progress and we could only view the outside of the building.

Of course you can’t visit Notre Dame without seeing the football stadium where the gates are named for some if its more famous coaches.

On April 29th we crossed into Michigan. It’s always good to come home!

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Huntsville, AL and the Redstone Arsenal – April, 2019

When people think about the United States Space Program most have images of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. A smaller number will think about the Houston Space Center in Texas. Only a few will think about the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL. At the end of World War II, Wernher von Braun and the team of scientists who headed up the German rocket program for the Third Reich surrendered to the U.S. Army in Peenemunde, Germany. These scientists and the captured V-1 and V-2 rockets were shipped to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico for testing and research. On June 1, 1949 the Army designated the Redstone Arsenal as the Ordnance Rocket Center. Von Braun and his team of over 130 scientists were transferred there to Redstone White Sands in 1950.

Today the Arsenal is still active in rocket engine development and tactical rocket systems. It is also the home to the Marshall Space Flight Center that developed the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo Moon Program.

Visitors can tour the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Visitor Center for both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Marshall Space Flight Center. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is housed in two buildings, the Space and Rocket Center and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, and display more than 1,500 artifacts of America’s achievements in space exploration. One of the first programs we viewed was about the International Space Station (ISS). We were able to see live videos being broadcast from the ISS and learned how to find out when it would fly over close to our location. You can also go online to view video of the earth from the ISS.

Walking through the main building exhibits we saw President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University announcing the Moon program. We also saw the wide variety of devices that were invented at the Space Center, many of which we use in our day to day lives. I’m sure a few of you remember this invention.

In the Davidson Center for Space Exploration we watched the 3D movie, “Space Next.” Space Next offers a glimpse into tomorrow, and the possibilities of what is to come through private space developments and national space programs. The central focus of the Davidson Center is the full size model of the Saturn V rocket. There we were able to trace the history of the Space Program from the German V-2 rocket to the present. A secondary focus is on the Apollo Program with models of the Lunar Rover, the actual Apollo 16 Capsule, a model of Skylab (the first space station), and the remains of Skylab that survived its fall from orbit. An interesting feature of the Davidson Center is the team of retired rocket scientists that volunteer as docents and guides.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is also the home to Space Camp, founded in 1982 as an educational camp program for children using the United States space program as the basis to promote math and science to children. The camp provides residential and educational programs for both children and adults.

The Huntsville Visitor and Tourist Bureau give walking tours every Saturday. The Saturday we were there we had a light drizzly rain, but we had a big crowd for it any way. Our guide led us to a variety of houses in the historic area. Some of the homes were owned by Northern sympathizers during the Civil War, some were rented to Wernher von Braun and his team, and some that were supposedly haunted. It was a very interesting way to learn about the history of the city.

Huntsville has an impressive Veterans Memorial Park. The statues on the main memorial were inspiring. The “Patriot Trail” gave a personal touch to history with stories of actual Huntsville area veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present. It was one of the best memorials I have seen around the country.

During this visit we stayed at the military RV park at the Redstone Arsenal. This is the newer of two campgrounds at Redstone. It has huge pull-through sites and is a short walk/bike ride to the Post Exchange and Commissary. The Arsenal is a quiet post in regards to traffic and easy to get around. I used the Hobby Shop to make some repairs to my guitar case and prepare our camp sign for refinishing. The volunteer staff was great and couldn’t have been more helpful.

On April 23rd, we hooked up and headed north to Mammoth Cave, KY.

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Return to Fort Benning, April 2019

In past years we usually stopped in Raleigh, NC as we left Florida. Our daughter lived there and we would camp host at the Falls Lake State Recreation Area for the month of April. Last year Elisabeth moved to the Tacoma, WA area so this year we decided to spend some time at Fort Benning near Columbus, GA.

The Uchee Creek Campground at Fort Benning is one of the nicest RV parks run by the Army. It is on Fort Benning property but outside the security perimeter so you don’t have to go through security checkpoints to get there. It’s actually across the Chattahoochee River in Alabama. Uchee Creek is laid out more like a campground, as opposed to many RV parks, with lots of room between sites, campfire rings at each site and plenty of mature trees.

Fort Benning holds a special place in my heart. As an Infantry officer I spent a lot of time there – Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Basic Airborne Course, Ranger School, and the Battalion/Brigade Pre-Command Course. I am a graduate of the “Fort Benning School for Boys!”

On this visit our activities focused on the surrounding area, instead of locations on the Army post. One of the first things we did was to ride the Chattahoochee Riverwalk. This is a fifteen mile trail that runs from Fort Benning along the river to north of Columbus. We didn’t ride the entire trail, but part of the northern portion. We drove to the National Civil War Naval Museum, unloaded our bikes, and rode north from there. This stretch took us along the portion of the trail bordering the City of Columbus. Further down the trail we saw an old mill and watched fishermen and white water kayakers enjoying the fast water. Farther upstream we saw white water rafts taking their guests down to the rapids.

On our way back we left the trail to ride into parts of Columbus and stopped for lunch at the Country on Broad Barbecue. This is an old bus station, converted into a restaurant. The food was very good and the setting entertaining. There is even an old bus that has been converted into a dining area.

A “must do” activity is a visit to the National Infantry Museum. I can remember touring the Museum when it was housed in the old Post Hospital and was mainly a collection of artifacts. Today the Museum is in its own, state of the art, facility. The Museum displays the history of Fort Benning and Columbus in a grand style. As Pat and I wandered the collections I relived the history of the Infantry from the days of the Pre-Revolutionary War militia to current times and the War Against Terror. For me the best part of the Museum is the first exhibit – “The Last 100 Yards.” After the Air Force and Army Aviation have bombed the objectives, and the Field Artillery and Armor have fired explosive rounds into it, it is the job of the Infantry to close with the enemy by fire and maneuver, come face to face with the enemy in the last 100 yards and defeat them.

Dioramas depict these last 100 yards from Alexander Hamilton leading the charge on Redoubt Ten at Yorktown, Lew Millet leading the first bayonet charge since the Civil War in Korea, and today’s soldiers engaged in hand to hand combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Uchee Creek Campground is near Fort Mitchell, AL. The Fort Mitchell Historic Site tells the history of the area from the early 1800’s.

One of the sad parts of Fort Mitchell’s history is that it was a gathering place for the Seminole Indians for the beginning of the Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Indians from their ancestral lands to the frontier, west of the Mississippi River. As we read the story of this, I couldn’t help but think the United States has plenty to be proud of, but also has reasons to be ashamed. The day was overcast with drizzling rain. Perfect, somber weather for such a visit. The metal flame sculpture honors the memory of the Indians who were driven from their lands.

Uchee Creek is a short drive or bike ride from Fryar Drop Zone (DZ), the largest parachute drop zone at Fort Benning. One day I discovered a jump was scheduled and drove out to watch members of the 1st Ranger Battalion jumping from Marine Corps V-22 Ospreys. It was fun to watch. While I was there a First Sergeant from the Airborne School came out to observe. When I mentioned to him that the last time I jumped on Fryar DZ was in 1977, he told me he was two years old then. I won’t say I felt old, but I did feel I was more experienced!

It was fun spending time at the Home of the Infantry and Uchee Creek is a pleasant place to just hang out and enjoy the outdoors. On April 10th we packed up and headed north to Huntsville, AL and the Redstone Arsenal.

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Pensacola – Home of Naval Aviation, March 2019

I’m afraid this title is a little misleading. Yes, Pensacola is the primary training site for Naval aviators and home of the Blue Angels, the Navy’s Demonstration Team. We had hoped to watch the team practice as their Tuesday and Wednesday practice sessions are open to the public, but they had been away doing performances and there were no practices scheduled while we were there.

Our primary purpose was to have some repairs done on our trailer. In the last eight years of fulltime RVing we have had good and bad experiences with RV dealer service departments. One of our favorite dealers is Carpenter’s Campers in Pensacola. They have given us consistently good service. We had to replace the awning fabric and the seals on our refrigerator doors. After eight years of constant use and, in the case of the awning exposure to the sun, they were just worn out. We also had a problem with our gas furnace that they fixed. I know many RV owners complain about RV service departments having their rigs in the shop for months getting things done. We try to avoid that in two ways. First, we let them know we are fulltime RVers and live in the rig, so we can’t just drop it off. Second, we work with the shop to agree on the date when the repairs will actually be done. We insure all of the parts are ordered ahead of time and on hand in the shop. Carpenter’s Campers was very good about working with us in this manner. Another repair that needed to be done was to replace the “D” seals on our slide outs. Eight years in the sun had dried them out. The cost of having the service department do this was way too much as it is very labor intensive. I purchased the seals from them and installed them myself. It took me three days (about five hours a day) to get them done.

It wasn’t all work and no play. We stayed at the Blue Angel Recreation Area, part of Naval Air Station Pensacola and our neighbors hosted a happy hour on a couple of the days we were there and we got to meet some of the other campers in the park. The campground is right on the shore of Perdido Bay and we could enjoy of view of the water and sunsets right from our campsite.

Some friends of ours from Michigan, Roger and Darcy, spend the winter in nearby Orange Beach, AL and we met them for dinner one night shortly before they headed back north. No matter where you are it’s always nice to meet up with good friends.

One day we went kayaking along the shore in the bay. It was a beautiful day, warm, sunny, and light winds. They had done a “controlled burn” in the neighboring county park and we could see there were some fires still burning. I was concerned about this until I saw a maintenance truck patrolling through the area putting out these small spot fires.

The real treat of the day was seeing many sting rays swimming in the shallow water. There had to be at least fifty of them! I have never seen this many sting rays in one area before and wished I had come prepared to snorkel while kayaking. It was difficult to get some good pictures, but I gave it my best shot!

Roger and Darcy had told us about Joe Patti’s fish shop and the Palafox Market and we didn’t want to leave without checking them out. Joe Patti had started a small operation catching shrimp and selling them from the back of his house. Over the decades it has grown into a major operation selling local catch and importing fish from all over the globe. Here you can buy fish within minutes of it coming off the boat. I could see people cleaning and preparing the fish in the back work areas.

Every Saturday the Palafox Street is turned into a street market with vendors of all kinds of goods and food as well as street musicians. It’s a great location to pick up local produce and unique gifts and we did take time to enjoy a Nutella and strawberry crepe.

At the north end of the market the Christ Episcopal Church was open for visitors. It reminded us of the many churches we visited on our tour of Germany in 2017. The stained glass windows and domed ceiling were impressive and learning of the history of the church made it special.

Our last stop of the day was the Oar House restaurant. Located right on the river, we could watch the boats as we enjoyed fish and shrimp. The food and service was great and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

On Sunday, March 31st, we continued our journey north. Next stop – Fort Benning, GA and the Uchee Creek Campground.

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