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Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mammoth Cave NP

Day 30, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

I was excited to visit Mammoth Cave National Park!  I drove down from Louisville for the day and entered the Park on the Flint Ridge Road.  Note: the Park’s website warns visitors to disregard GPS directions, which can take you the wrong way.  My GPS took me this alternate way, but still managed to get me to where I needed to go, with a bonus of seeing a section of the park that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

The drawback was that I either somehow missed the entrance sign or there wasn’t one.  I saw a sign on the main road on the way out, but it wasn’t like the typical National Park entrance sign – it left a lot to be desired.  I guess that’s just a reason to go back!

This was the only sign I found!

The Flint Ridge Road takes you by the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery.  The original church was built in 1827; the current building is from 1927.  It is in rough shape, with a hole in the back door, no electricity or other conveniences, and a very old, rustic outhouse in back.  It was very remote, just a few miles from the main Visitor’s Center for the park. I got out and checked it out; the door to the church is not locked, so anyone can go inside.  It was so eerily quiet there, it made me a little nervous…

I wandered the cemetery and read some of the headstones as well.  Floyd Collins is buried in the cemetery.  He died in 1925 after a rock collapse trapped him in Sand Cave, a newly discovered cave nearby; attempts to rescue him made the national news and kept people waiting for word for over two weeks, but ultimately he had died of starvation by the time rescuers reached him.

Sadly the church was vandalized with orange spray paint in September, about a month after my visit.  The trail to go see the entrance to Sand Cave is here too, but I didn’t take the opportunity to hike it.  I’m kicking myself now!

When I got to the Visitor’s Center, I chose to do the Historic Tour.  It was interesting, and explored the long history of cave use.  Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of explored cave passages.

Native Americans used the cave for thousands of years and then stopped.  In the late 1700s, Americans in the area began to use the cave for saltpeter mining; saltpeter is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  They couldn’t get it anymore from the British due to the Revolutionary War, so local suppliers could make a good profit!

After the war the need for saltpeter dried up so they opened the caves up for commercial tours.  They had used slaves to mine the saltpeter; the slaves learned how to navigate in the caves, which was helpful in their later work as tour guides.  The tour takes you by some of the old saltpeter mining equipment, which was left in the cave after the commercial viability of the venture dried up.

Mammoth Cave was also used for a brief period as a tuberculosis sanitarium – unfortunately it proved ineffective at helping people with tuberculosis.  Total darkness experiments in the cave were also short-lived.

Unfortunately for me, the “Historic” section of the cave isn’t really all that pretty.  This section of the cave has the largest rooms, but there aren’t a lot of beautiful “cave features” that you see in other caves. And you will certainly be disappointed in my photos; it is very dim inside and they don’t let you use flash…  I did enjoy seeing the “graffiti” from the early 1800s; I saw one signature from 1839!

On my next visit I want to do the “Domes and Dripstones Tour”; this tour shows visitors the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a huge dripstone section called Frozen Niagara, named because it looks like Niagara Falls when it is frozen in the winter.  The Extended Historic Tour is also on my list, because you get to see the stone huts that remain from the period when Mammoth Cave was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.  That would be cool!

I really enjoyed my visit, but would also love to do more hiking there.  Temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity the day that I visited so I opted not to hike.  It would be fun to stay and camp there too!  You can also float the river, or kayak there!

I stayed that night at the Glendale Campground in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a convenient jumping off point for my explorations the next day!  This family owned campground was only $20, and my campsite was right near a pond where a Green Heron was fishing!

Arizona Getaway 2019: Chiracahua National Monument

Day 3, Saturday, March 16, 2019

The last day of our Arizona trip, Mom and I went to Chiracahua National Monument.  It is located in the Chiracahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.  We had been planning to visit the day before, because I really, really wanted to go, but it had been closed due to an unusual cold front and snow the day before.  When I found out it was scheduled to reopen the next day, I made sure we took the opportunity!  I was so excited!  However, when we got there, we learned that although the monument was technically open (The Visitor’s Center at least), the road was closed past the Visitor’s Center; basically, the scenic drive up the mountain.

Chiracahua National Monument

Chiracahua National monument is a rugged section of land, of which approximately 85% is designated as wilderness.  It protects the hoodoos and balancing rocks of a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago, when the Turkey Creek Caldera exploded and spewed white hot ash all over the area.  The ash has, over time, eroded away and created the hoodoos and rock formations that exist there today.  Chiracahua is high-elevation, ranging from 5,124 feet at the entrance station to 7,310 feet at the summit of its tallest mountain.  In addition to the volcanic eruptions, they get the effects of seasons, and a lot of erosion from the winter rain and winds.  The area was designated as a National Monument on April 18, 1924, by President Calvin Coolidge.

Chiracahua is known as the Wonderland of Rocks for its beautiful rock formations.  Apparently though, people in general are less impressed by rocks than I am, as it is one of the lesser visited monuments with annual visitation in 2018 of 60,577.

Faraway Ranch windmill

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, got my passport stamps, and did a bit of shopping.  There was a tour starting at the historic Faraway Ranch, so we headed over there to catch it.  The Faraway Ranch started as a cattle ranch in 1886, owned and operated by Neil and Emma Erickson, Swedish immigrants who met and married in the United States.  They ran the ranch as a cattle ranch from 1886 to 1917, when Neil accepted a job with the new National Park Service and had to relocate.  At that point, his oldest daughter Lillian took over the operation of the ranch and began renting it out to tourists as a guest ranch.

The house at the Faraway Ranch

The guest ranch was quite popular, and many people visited over the years; even though it was remote, you got all your meals provided, a chance to relax, and later on there was even a swimming pool!  After running the ranch for many years, Lillian died in 1977 and the family decided to sell it to the National Park Service to be added to the monument.  It was a fitting end of the ranch of the family who for so long had been a part of protecting and advocating for this beautiful area.

The home is very well preserved to its time as a guest ranch and had many artifacts belonging to the family and stretching back to the late 1880s.  It was fun seeing products and items that were used there over time.  An antique butter churn!  Vintage cleaning products!  One of the lamps in the living room was fascinating, with a beautiful hand painted shade painted by one of the women in the Erickson family.  Lillian went blind as she got older, and although she still managed the ranch with help from her staff, she did need accommodations.  One of the items on display are her Braille playing cards!

A quarter mile away, there is a rustic cabin that once belonged to a neighbor of the Erickson family.  Mom and I walked down there to check it out, despite the cold.  It would have been tough to live in such a remote area during a cold, Arizona winter.  And yes, in case you were wondering, parts of Arizona get very cold.

The cabin at the Faraway Ranch

 

Mom and me, in the cold

Interestingly, it was near here that Park Ranger Paul Fugate disappeared without a trace in 1980, so there’s a cold case for you amateur sleuths to research.  Hopefully one day they find out what happened to him, so his family can have closure.

After we visited the ranch, we ate lunch at a picnic table and got word from a park employee that the road up the mountain had reopened!  We got to drive up and see the beautiful scenery!  Chiracahua is known for its hoodoos, narrow canyons and rock formations.  Unfortunately, there was a thick layer of fog blanketing the higher elevations of the monument.  We drove to the top of the road, but our views were non-existent once we got very high.  We did get to see some gorgeous rock formations at the lower elevations though, which were still above 5,000 feet!

I still enjoyed visiting, but definitely want to return when it is warm enough to do some hiking and see the view.  I bet it is spectacular!

 

Arizona Getaway 2019: More of Tombstone

Day 2, Friday, March 15, 2019

After we checked out the OK Corral site, we still had plenty to see in Tombstone!  Mom and I had lunch at a BBQ place just off one of the main streets; Puny John’s BBQ – it was delicious!

After lunch we visited the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park to get some of the less sensationalized history of Tombstone. The Cochise County Courthouse was built in 1882, after Cochise County became its own county and needed a county seat.  The Courthouse is filled with some fantastic exhibits, a few on the Earps and the OK Corral, but mostly on the other parts of Tombstone history.

There is old mining equipment, and an antique bar from one of the local saloons from the Old West era.  There is furniture and other artifacts from late 19th century homes to show what life would have been like in Tombstone at the time.  You can see the historic courtroom too!  And then, there is the gallows.  Four men were hanged at the gallows behind the courthouse; this one is a reconstruction.  It is interesting to see it as it looked then though.

We checked out the newspaper printing office where the Tombstone Epitaph as published back in the 1880s.  It was free to visit and you could wander around and look at the old printing press that was used to run the paper.  We picked up our souvenir copy of the paper from the day in 1881 when the story of the OK Corral ran; it was complimentary with our ticket to the corral from earlier.

We also sampled some wine from the Silver Strike Winery, which sadly was a big disappointment and the service was incredibly slow.  Oh well, I guess not everything can be wonderful in life.  I did keep my souvenir tasting glass, and pull it out from time to time when I just want a small glass of wine or juice.

Silver Strike Winery

A short distance down the street we visited the Bird Cage Theatre.  The Bird Cage was opened in 1881 and was intended to be a theatre for the for the “respectable women” of Tombstone, featuring appropriate entertainment and free ladies’ nights.  Unfortunately for the respectable women of Tombstone, “appropriate” doesn’t sell so the owners soon began featuring more bawdy entertainment and gambling for the miners.

The Bird Cage was the home of the longest poker game in history.  It cost $1,000 to buy in, and then it ran for eight years, going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Players included Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, among other famous gamblers of the time.  It is estimated that $10 million dollars changed hands over those eight years, with the Bird Cage getting 10% of the winnings.  Not bad, considering that would have been on top of the drinks that the men bought!

We didn’t take the tour of the Bird Cage, but instead checked out the front room and exhibits.  Perhaps one day!

We enjoyed our day in Tombstone and were both tired by the time we wandered back to the car for the drive back to Tucson.  That evening we found a Pho restaurant for dinner and mom got to try this delicious noodle soup for the first time.  What a good day!

Pho!

Mammoth Cave NP History

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky.  It is named for its huge size; it is the largest cave system known in the world, at over 400 miles of explored passageways.  Cave exploration continues today, and new passages are found and mapped each year, so it really is anyone’s guess who large the cave system really is.  The whole area has many caves, so it is likely that some of these other caves are really just part of this one giant cave system!  The park was created on July 1, 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the cave at that point had close to 150 years of exploration and commercial exploitation by then.

Mammoth Cave was first discovered by white settlers in 1797; the owners of the land discovered this and several other caves nearby.  It has been known to Native Americans for thousands of years; they were known to enter the cave to extract the gypsum deposits here.  Native Americans also buried some of their dead in the cave, the cool, dry conditions of certain areas in the cave were perfect for mummification; several Native American mummies were discovered in the cave during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the mummified remains of a man who was crushed by a boulder while mining in the cave.

Mammoth Cave first became a commercial venture during the War of 1812, when British supplies of saltpeter were unavailable; saltpeter is a component in the manufacture of gunpowder – pretty important when we were at war with the British!  Slaves were brought in to mine the saltpeter deposits, but after the war, the demand dried up.  Enterprising owners decided to try their hand at the tourist trade and Mammoth Cave was opened up to tours by the 1830s.  Slaves guided many of the tours, and even after the Civil War, African American guides played an important role in the tourism industry and the exploration of the cave.

In the early 1900s, interest began mounting for the creation of a National Park; however, like many of the parks in the East, the land here was already long settled with thriving communities.  The process of buying these settlers out of their land and seizing other parcels through eminent domain created lots of bitter feelings that lasted years after the park’s creation.  As a result, Mammoth Cave still has the remnants of these communities, including old churches and cemeteries.

The cave system is a limestone cave, with many different features; parts of the cave are very dry – so dry in fact that one of the commercial ventures that was attempted in the 1800s was a tuberculosis sanitarium (it was short lived).  Other sections are wet areas, and the Green River even runs through a portion of the cave.  The cave is home to several species of bats (which are struggling with white nose syndrome, a fungal infection), eyeless fish, and a cave specific species of eyeless shrimp.  I know you are wondering, and no, there have been no woolly mammoths discovered in mammoth cave; it really is named for its giant size.  Caves are so interesting!

Mammoth Cave has several types of tours, from the Historic tour where you can see the original entrance to the cave and see the old evidence of saltpeter mining, to lantern tours and caving tours.  There is also camping and hiking on the surface as well!

Despite its easily accessible location, Mammoth Cave only receives about a half million visitors each year (approximately 533,000 in 2018).  I’m not sure why, but it was busy the day that I was there.  I will tell you about my visit in an upcoming post!

 

Book Review: The Pioneers

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCullough

I’m a big fan of David McCullough’s books; he always does such a great job of making his history topics interesting and relatable.  This book is no different.

The book covers the period from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, and the settlement of what was then the far west of the United States, and what is now Ohio.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

Manasseh Cutler was a clergyman who was born in Connecticut, and served as a chaplain during the Revolutionary War.  He became an agent of the Ohio Company, which he helped form in order to develop land in the Western territories.  He was responsible for ensuring that Congress financially backed the venture, and was a part of the original group created to explore and establish the new colony in present day Ohio.  Cutler also pushed for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created the Ohio territory and ensured that there would be no slavery in territories formed from that land mass.  It was controversial at the time, and required him to assert his strong will and influence to ensure it passed.

It is a story that is told in generalities in middle and high schools across the nation, but without the specific names of men who played a part.  It is often glossed over in favor of the stories of later westward expansion through the Plains States, so it is nice to see this story told in more detail.

The book is about Cutler and a small number of white men who played a role in establishing the territory; it tells the stories of their efforts and trials along the way.  Some critics have pointed out that McCullough does not tell the stories of the Native Americans who were already living there, and were killed or pushed off the land by the white men who settled there.  I understand their criticism, but also believe that the book would be overly long and broad if McCullough tried to tell the story of everyone who played a role.  As it is, he worked from primary source documents and journals left by Cutler and the other men who founded the colony, and the view of the Native Americans clearly comes as a product of their time.  That said, it would be nice if there were a companion book that told the other half of the story.

There is some repetitiveness in the story, and times when it felt like the action moved very slowly.  But overall, it was well written and well researched, as all of David McCullough’s books are.

3 stars.

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Churchill Downs

Day 29, Monday, August 13, 2018

Louisville, Kentucky

Most years, I sit in my living room on the first Saturday in May and watch the Kentucky Derby on TV.  Live from Churchill Downs, the field of colts and a few fillies attempt to become the winner of the Derby and have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, a title which has become the most prestigious in horse racing.  The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, which also contains the Preakness and the Belmont, raced at other tracks around the country over a five week stretch.

I have always wanted to visit Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day, to see the crazy hats and feel the excitement of race day!  I spent a few days in Louisville and had a chance to visit the racetrack, although there wasn’t any racing going on that day.  For $15, you can visit the track’s museum and get a tour of the track.  Considering that pre-sale event prices to the infield for the Kentucky Derby start at $65 and $85 on the day of the race, $15 is pretty good!  Of course, other racing days at Churchill Downs aren’t so expensive, so a typical day at the track can be pretty affordable if you aren’t betting and losing!  One day, I will be there on Derby Day!

Churchill Downs opened in 1875; after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (William Clark’s grandson) leased the land from his uncles John and Henry Churchill, a prominent Louisville family for many years.  Clark sold subscriptions to the racing club, and used the money to develop the track.  Racing has occurred here since that time, with a number of changes to the track over the years.  The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, which means that 2020’s Derby will be the 146th running!

The iconic twin spires on the grandstands weren’t placed until 1895, but have survived weather events since that time, including a tornado that damaged the stables.  The grandstands seat about 50,000, but it is standing room only on the infield on Derby Day and the crowds can grow to almost 170,000 people!

My tour ticket included an interesting movie on the history of the track.  They usher you into a large oval shaped room, and you sit on swivel stools to watch the film, which is projected on the wall above you all around the oval room.  You can swivel on your stool to get a better view of the scenes, and because it is above you, nobody’s head is in the way!  Then the docent took us out to the track – you get to see the grandstands, the saddling area, the track, the winner’s circle and the other views you see on television when you watch the Derby on TV.  They have plaques showing all of the names of the Kentucky Derby winners over the years, and marking the names of those who won the Triple Crown.  Of the 146 winners of the Derby, only thirteen of them have also won the Triple Crown.  Three of the Derby winners have been fillies.

The tour was a bit canned; they clearly have memorized a script and move the tour groups along pretty quickly, but it was really interesting to see the track!  The museum was cool too, with exhibits on the history of the track and the horses that have raced there.  They had a display of hats and the tradition of crazy hats at the Derby, a display of the horseshoes that race horses wear, and an exhibit on the history of African Americans in the Churchill Downs racing industry.  Thirteen of the fifteen horses in the first Kentucky Derby were ridden by African American jockeys, and fifteen of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by black jockeys.  Of course, it took a long time for them to be recognized for these accomplishments.

One of the Derby’s three winning fillies

After the tour, I did enjoy the restaurant at the track.  They had a special where you could try a Mint Julep and keep the commemorative glass (which actually turned out to be a Kentucky Oaks stemless wine glass, rather than a traditional mint julep cup, but I liked that too).  I use it all the time!  I learned that I’m not a fan of Mint Juleps – I don’t think I’ll ever be a Bourbon girl…  I did learn that I love Louisville Hot Brown though!  It was a very messy sandwich, with Texas toast, turkey, bacon, tomato, cheeses and herbs all cooked together in a casserole dish, and it was so delicious!  The one at Churchill Downs was so full of gooey goodness I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a sandwich until I looked up the recipe.  I haven’t had it since, but maybe I should try to make it at home sometime!

Louisville Hot Brown and a Mint Julep

After my visit to the track, I drove around Louisville to check out some of the historic homes, and then went back to my campground to relax at the pool.  It was a fun day!

The pool at the Louisville KOA