Tag Archive | tourist

Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP

Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, Missouri

In my last post, I explained the history of Gateway Arch National Park, but I was so excited to visit again!  My first visit had been in 2006 with friends, but this would be my first visit by myself.

My first order of business was to purchase my ticket to go up to the top of the arch in their little pod unit.  There is always a bit of a wait for tickets, but going solo means they can fit you in more easily!

While I waited, I checked out the Westward Expansion museum in the basement of the arch.  It is a great museum dedicated to telling the story of the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the West Coast, and the stories of the later pioneers.  It was definitely worth a return visit!

In short order, it was my turn to get into the pod.  I climbed in, and to be honest it is a little bit claustrophobia inducing.  It’s really tight in there, but it helps to look out the window in the pod to see the inside wall of the arch and the machinery that moves the pods up and down through the arch.

Soon I was at the top, and I got to see the incredible view!  The windows in the Arch are very small, but they give a great view of the buildings down below, and the river nearby.  I found the small windows to be good for not making my fear of heights flare up!  There are also some displays that give you some interesting facts about the arch.  Did you know that the Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall, and also 630 feet wide at the base?  You can stay up in the Arch for as long as you want, and then you just line up to catch the next pod going down.  

Afterwards, I headed over to the Old Courthouse, to check it out once again.  It was built between 1839 and 1864, and was the place where the Dred Scott trial first started.  So this courthouse was one of the pivotal places leading up to the Civil War.  The building has been renovated to stabilize it, but many of the historical features are still intact, and it is an incredible building.  I wandered around for a while, checking out the architecture of this amazing courthouse.

There was a lot to see and do here, even though it is a small park.  Soon enough though, it was time to get on the road; I had more I wanted to see nearby!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP History

Gateway Arch National Park
St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch is a fascinating park with a unique history.  Located in St. Louis, Missouri, it was first established as a National Memorial on December 21, 1935, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  It commemorates three things: The Louisiana Purchase and subsequent westward migration, the first American civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the Dred Scott decision, the monumental Supreme Court decision on slavery that contributed to the fiery debate on slavery and was one of the pivotal events leading up to the Civil War.

Sadly, in the 1940s when they were clearing the land where the arch would eventually be built, they razed several historically significant buildings, including the 1818 home of fur trader Manuel Lisa and the 1819 home of St. Louis pioneer Jean Pierre Chouteau.  I guess those guys didn’t seem as important.  I wish they would have left those homes, or at least moved them to elsewhere on the property!  I guess I’m one who likes as much history as I can get.

The Gateway Arch itself was constructed between 1963 and 1965, and is 630 feet tall, and interestingly, also 630 feet wide at the base.  There is a tram that takes visitors to the top, where you can get a birds-eye view of the river, the park, and the government buildings below.  The basement has an exhibit about Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean from 1804 to 1806, and the later migrations of the pioneers.

But one of the best parts of Gateway Arch National Park is the Old Courthouse, which was built between 1839 and 1864.  The Dred Scott case originated here and was tried in 1846, with enslaved Dred Scott suing his master for freedom, because he had been moved to a free state.  You can see the actual courtroom where the case was argued, although the room has been altered to preserve the integrity of the building.

On February 22, 2018, Gateway Arch was made a National Park by President Donald Trump.  It is the nation’s smallest national park, covering only 91 acres.  It contains the Gateway Arch, the park surrounding it, and the Old Courthouse.  Annual visitation in 2019 was 2,055,309.  That’s a lot of people for such a small park.  There is just so much to see and do here.  I’ll share about my visit next!

Circus Trip 2018: Alexandria, Virginia

Day 63, Sunday, September 16, 2018
In and around Alexandria, Virginia

My last day in D.C. was a relaxing day with friends.  In the morning, I went horseback riding with a friend of mine in Silver Springs, Maryland.  Alexis rides at a stable there and was able to use two horses for the morning!  Mine was a 16.1 hand mare named Rosie.  She was very sweet and we had a great trail ride. 

Later in the afternoon Alexis, Jason and I went to a place called Vola’s in Alexandria for drinks and appetizers.  The day was warm and the outdoor seating was lovely.  I had a Whiskey drink and it was soooo good!  It was fun just catching up with friends.

On the way home, Jason and I stopped to check out the George Washington Masonic Memorial.  It is such an impressive memorial!  Construction was started in 1922, and it was dedicated in 1932.  However, the interior was not completed until 1970!  It is designed to look like the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt.

It is such a beautiful building!  We were there in the evening, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside, but maybe one day.  The interior is supposed to be pretty interesting, with murals and displays honoring George Washington.  We did get to walk up the stairs, so at least we got some exercise!  It was a nice, relaxing final day in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Circus Trip 2018: Gadby’s Tavern, Alexandria, VA

Day 59, Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Gadby’s Tavern, Alexandria, Virginia

After I left the Boston area, I had plans to visit a friend of mine who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.  I was going to spend a few days there, and use that as my jumping off point for visiting Washington, D.C.  I had left Quincy, Massachusetts, and embarked on a long drive through multiple states to get to Alexandria.  I split it over two days, as it is a total of about eight hours driving, through a lot of traffic.  Heading from Massachusetts to Alexandria meant I had to skip some great locations, but you can’t possibly see everything on a trip, I suppose.  It was tough to drive through so many great places and just pass them by!  Connecticut, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware, and more!  I so very much want to go back and see all these places!

All that said, I rolled into Alexandria about 4 in the afternoon, and headed to Jason’s house.  He had planned a surprise for my visit! He knows how much I love history, so he made reservations at Gadsby’s Tavern!

Gadsby’s Tavern was originally built in 1785 by Marylander John Wise, and opened the building next door as the Federal City Tavern in 1792.  There was another tavern on the site before the current building though, which reportedly was in business from around 1770.  An Englishman named Gadsby leased the tavern in 1796; the current name is a nod to him. 

Back in the late 1700s, several notable guests frequented the tavern, including Founding Fathers and Presidents!  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette were all known visitors to the taverns here.  A banquet was even held in Washington’s honor here in 1801; how cool to be in the same place where these men talked politics. 

Gadsby operated the tavern until 1815, and then passed through various hands and it was various businesses, until it fell into disrepair and abandonment.  In 1917, in this sad state, some of the ballroom woodwork was sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, where it apparently remains today.  However, this was the catalyst for the historic preservation.  Gadsby’s Tavern was restored to the period of the late 1700s, and reopened as a restaurant in 1976.

There is a fine dining atmosphere, with delicious food and ambiance.  I had the herb encrusted grill salmon, finished with a balsamic glaze, and served with jasmine rice and sauteed spinach, and a glass of white wine.  To add to its charm, period actors make their way around the room, reciting the words of our Founding Fathers and engaging restaurant patrons in discussions on the governance of our young, budding country!

It was so much fun getting to see Jason and watch the actors engage with people!  An amazing experience for a history nerd like me!  

After dinner we wandered around Alexandria and got ice cream nearby, just chatting and catching up.  I certainly want to go back and see more of this fascinating and historic city!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Day 54, Friday, September 7, 2018
Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, Maine

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory is an impressive bridge, with a tower observation deck, that is operated by the State of Maine.  Your ticket to visit Fort Knox also includes the observatory and it is a must see!

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was opened in 2006, built in an impressive 42 months after it was discovered that its predecessor, the Waldo-Hancock bridge, was close to failing.  The new cable-stayed bridge is 2,120 feet, extending over the Penobscot River from Prospect to Verona Island, Maine.  Its support towers are 447 feet tall.

In addition to the state of the art technology of the bridge, the bridge also has an observatory in one of its towers.  Visitors can take the tallest and faster elevator in Maine up to the observation deck at 420 feet.

The views at the top were spectacular – it was amazing seeing the 360 degree views!  The highway, the river and Fort Knox are all visible.  When you go, depending on how busy it is, you might have to wait a little while, since they have capacity limits in the observatory, but it is worth taking the time to see it.

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Knox

Day 54, Friday, September 7, 2018
Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, Maine

First off, I just want to say that this is the “other” Fort Knox, and it is actually the original Fort Knox.  The one that most people think of when they hear Fort Knox is the one in Kentucky, which is adjacent to the United States Bullion Depository, which holds about half of the United States’ gold reserves. So now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on!

This Fort Knox was built between 1844 and 1869. After the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, there was some considerable anti-British sentiment lingering.  The Aroostook War in 1838-1839 revived that sentiment when military troops and civilians in Maine clashed with the British troops and subjects in New Brunswick; it was essentially a border dispute fueled by valuable lumber.  Never heard of the Aroostook War, you say?  Well, you may know it as the Pork and Beans War – because of course the mainstay of a lumberjack diet was said to be pork and beans (stay with me here, it gets better!)…  So apparently there were disputes over timber when some Canadians cut some trees on land that the Americans considered their land.

Then a hapless black bear wandered along and just wanted the lumberjacks to leave, or was looking for a meal; the bear was not interviewed about his side of the story….  So the bear comes along and attacks three Canadian lumberjacks and badly injures two; the Canadians then shoot and kill the bear.  The American lumberjacks nearby hear the gunfire and think the Canadians are shooting at them, so they shoot back. Thankfully no one was injured (by the gunfire at least).

Obviously, tensions are pretty high at this point and both sides start mustering militiamen in the area…  Diplomats got involved and saved the day, negotiating a treaty that would set the border in Maine, mostly along the St. John River, but also throwing in some border clarifications in New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota too.  And you thought these insane omnibus bills that Congress passes were a new thing, but nooo… This treaty also created a joint naval system between the Americans and the British to suppress the African slave trade off the coast of Africa.  Because, of course that seems related!

Tensions remained though, and a few years later the Americans started building Fort Knox along the Penobscot River.  Fort Knox was the first fort to be built entirely of granite and is nearly unchanged from the time that it was built.  It was never totally completed, and although it never saw battle, it was manned by regiments during the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  When the U.S. Government declared it excess property in 1923 and sold it, the State of Maine picked it up for a song, paying only $2,121!

These days it is operated as a State Historic Site and nearly the entire fort is open to the public!   I enjoyed wandering around and checking out all the rooms.  There is even a hot shot oven, designed to heat up cannon shots to fire at ironclads.

In 2018 when I visited, an $8 ticket got you access to Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  What a deal!  And one final side note – I ate lunch that day in the picnic area at the park, and this adorable little guy was really, really hoping to grab a snack!  Don’t worry, I didn’t feed him, but I did get some photos of his antics!

Circus Trip 2018: Acadia NP, Day 2

Day 53, Thursday, September 6, 2018
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

I had another full day in Acadia National Park, and it happened to be my birthday!

I started out by checking out the Bass Harbor Head Light.  You might not know this lighthouse by name, but I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize it.  The Bass Harbor Head Light was built in 1858 and sits 56 feet above the mean high water mark.  In 1876, they added a fog bell and the tower.  The light was originally fitted with a 5th Order Fresnel lens, but a 4th Order Fresnel lens was installed in 1901 to give it more light. It had a range of 13 nautical miles (15 miles).

You can descend a wooden staircase to access the rocks below the lighthouse.  This is the best view of the light, so make sure you make the extra effort!  The rocks have plenty of tide pools to explore as well.  I love seeing all the little sea creatures in their natural habitat.  I spoke with a local man who was doing the stairs for exercise, and he gave me a great recommendation for where to get a delicious lobster roll – I tucked that tidbit away for lunchtime…

I went for a short hike on the Ship Harbor Trail to a small secluded cove, and saw only a few other hikers along the way. The view was nothing amazing, but it was nice to get a hike in the woods.  I did see a cute woodpecker and took approximately 927 terrible pictures of him!  The photo I included was my best bad bird pic of the day…  Then I headed over to the Seawall to explore the area.  It is a beautiful rocky beach, with picnic tables and plenty of space to stay away from the crowds.

By this point, I was hungry, so I headed over to Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound to try out their lobster roll!  I ordered a lobster roll ($19.95) and a blueberry soda float ($5.95).  They were both delicious!  I hung around and talked to the owner for a bit because it was raining – he was very friendly and even tried to convince me to move to Maine.  Believe me, I’m tempted!

Behind Charlotte’s are some goats that the kids will love, and an old family cemetery.  One of the tombstones said that the teenager died at the Connecticut State Hospital in 1872, and it made me wonder why the family chose to place that on his stone.  The owners of the restaurant have an appreciation for the history of the area, and maintain the small plot.  I found some deer munching on fallen apples too!

 

My last stop for the afternoon was at a lakeside swimming area.  It was too chilly to consider jumping in, but there were some hardier souls than me!

Acadia National Park really impressed me.  I loved the gorgeous shoreline and the natural diversity within the park.  I can’t wait to visit again!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mount Desert Island

Day 53, Wednesday & Thursday, September 5 & 6, 2018
Mount Desert Island, Maine

Much of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, which also has several towns and communities that are not within the boundaries of the National Park.  In my travels to and from the park each day, I stumbled upon places that were fascinating and worth taking the time to tell you about.  Here are just a few!

While driving through the village of Somesville, I had to stop at the Somesville Selectman’s Building.  This little building was built in the 1780’s by John Somes, son of Abraham Somes, who had settled the village in 1761.  Over the years it has served as a cobbler’s shop, post office, town office and museum.  The bridge in front was built in 1981, and the two together make for a truly picturesque landscape!

The Mount Desert Island Historical Society, which includes the Somesville Selectman’s Building, was closed that day, but perhaps one day I will get to see inside this beautiful building!

I also decided to stop by the Wendell Gilley Museum one afternoon because it was raining.

Gilley was widely known for his career in decorative bird carving.  The small museum had many examples of his carved birds and other bird artwork.  It was interesting because you got to see the progression of his work over time.  I was impressed by the art!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything in the gift shop that was affordable, so I left empty handed.

This area had so much to see and do, and I would have loved to have more time there to explore.  I definitely want to get back to Maine soon!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Birthday Lobster

Day 52, Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Beal’s Lobster Pier, SW Harbor, Maine

When you are alone, holidays can be hard…  So I wasn’t sure what to expect from my road trip birthday.  Did I want to mark it in any way, or just let it slide by unnoticed?

Being in Maine at my birthday was fortuitous.  I had always wanted to try whole lobster, and what better place to experience it for the first time than Maine, where I could have fresh whole Maine lobster right at the source!

I asked around that morning and learned that Beal’s Lobster Pier was recommended as the place to be for Maine lobster.  It was near Acadia National Park, so when I finished my days’ touristing, I headed over to check it out.  I arrived fairly early; if I remember correctly it was just before 5, and it wasn’t too busy yet.  I let the man at the counter know I had never had whole Maine lobster, and he set to work picking out a good one for me.  And the sides, you can’t forget the sides…  Coleslaw, corn on the cob, and cornbread…

After I paid, I wandered out to find a table with my glass of Vinho Verde, and had the most incredible view of the harbor from my seat.  It was a warm evening, and I felt so at peace on the water, seeing the occasional boat come in.

My lobster came with instructions on how to crack and eat it, and I was so grateful!  I made sure to take a photo so I could have it in case one day I needed them.

My meal was amazing!  So fresh, and so simple, and easily one of the best meals I have ever had.  It was delicious, and I felt like it was a birthday dinner done right!

Note: For those of you in the know, this was the day before my actual birthday.  It still counts!

Circus Trip 2018: Acadia NP, Day 1

Day 52, Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

I was so excited to have two days in the park!

I drove in that morning and stopped first at the Visitor’s Center to get the lay of the land.  I watched the movie about the park, got some postcards and of course got my passport stamped!

I decided to spend the day checking out the Park Loop Road, which runs for 27 miles through the park.  I drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the east coast of North America.  It is also known as the place that is first in the United States to see the sunrise, although that is only true from October 7 to March 6 of each year.  That makes me feel better about the fact that I did not drag my butt up there in time for the sunrise, but I was there in early September!

Cadillac Mountain was still amazing, even during mid-morning when I was there.  The views are incredible and you can see in so many directions!  The barrier islands are beautiful!  The day that I was there they were doing a raptor count, although the gentle breeze was going in the wrong direction so most of the birds weren’t flying.  It was still interesting to hear them talk about their migration patterns and other raptor statistics!  It was neat to see the Cadillac Mountain granite, formed approximately 420 million years ago.  These are some very old stones!

The Park Loop Road is definitely a must do drive in the park; it takes you through the woodlands, by ponds, wildlife and the coast!  I enjoyed driving the scenic drive and not rushing it.  I stopped at a pond alongside the route and found a cute frog among the lily pads!

 

I found Sand Beach, which is, you guessed it!, a Sand Beach!  Being from Washington, where most beaches are rocky, I can appreciate the novelty of a sand beach.  I spent some time exploring it and wandering by the water.  There were several interesting jellyfish washed up, and some beautiful views!

I also stopped by Thunder Hole, but it wasn’t thundering.  It is a hole in the coastline, where the surf rushes in and apparently provides quite a show as it sprays high in the air!  You have to see it at high tide though, and it wasn’t high tide when I was there.  I was entertained by the two young men at the gift shop making the predictable inappropriate comments about Thunder Hole, but you could tell the cashier was not amused!

There is a trail that goes along the coastline for a while, and I enjoyed checking out the views of the water along the trail.  Even with the crowds, there is something peaceful about being close to the water.

My last official stop was at the Jordan Pond and to see the Jordan Pond House and The Bubbles.  The Bubbles are hills that someone, sometime in history, obviously thought looked like bubbles.  I wasn’t convinced, but it is probably as good a name as any.  When I get back to Acadia I want to hike to the tops of The Bubbles, which have some gorgeous views. That’s the trouble with these beautiful parks; there just isn’t enough time to do everything!  The Jordan Pond House is a restaurant that is famed for its popovers, another spot I will have to check out on a future trip!

 

That evening I had my early birthday dinner – that deserves its own post!