We’ve been living here on the desert for over three months. The time has gone by so quickly. We are now starting to plan our spring and summer travel; it is almost time to leave.
We’ve come to love it here on the desert. At our own choosing, we can be quiet or busy—with friends or on our own. And, with apologies to all our family and friends still in the colder climes, the weather hasn’t been too bad, either!
Last week, we went with some friends to Palm Canyon, in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. According to this, it is the last place in Arizona that California palm trees grow in their native environment. A nice one-mile in-and-out walk, it was our first time up actually near the mountains that surround us.
A comment I had read on the net said that the viewing point was a half mile up the trail, but that the palms themselves could be reached in an additional third of a mile “up a fairly steep trail.”
Yeah. Got rope?
The desert is greening up. We’ve apparently had an unusually large amount of rain this winter. A person we met on the trail said that in a normal year, this scenery would be brown.
And we’re starting to see some flowers blooming. We hope to see more of the “desert bloom” when we go to Joshua Tree National Park in California for a few days this week.
We had been warned that for a few weeks in January Quartzsite is an overcrowded madhouse with long lines, terrible traffic in town and so on due to multiple rock and gem shows, and a big RV show. Additionally, the population on the LTVA (BLM’s Long Term Visitors Area), where we are living, swells. We wanted to avoid all that humanity if we could.
Fortunately in addition to the LTVA, the BLM has six “fourteen day” camping locations in the Quartzsite area. These sites have no services whatsoever, but are free to camp in for 14 days. After that you have to leave for at least fourteen days. If you want to continue to use free BLM land in that time period, you must move at least 25 miles away.
We were fortunate that we had two back-to-back events at a fourteen day area three miles farther out of town than we normally reside: a (yes, another) Grand Design RV owners’ rally, and a ham radio gathering, “Quartzfest.” These allowed us to avoid the worst of the Q-crush. Just to experience the big RV show in town we did ride our bikes there one afternoon; no way we were going to try to drive in and find a parking space. For all the hype surrounding the “big tent” show, we were unimpressed.
We had fun helping with the Quartzsite Quilt Show put on by the local quilting group Kathe is part of! I helped set up (and tear down) the exhibit space, and Kathe was busy before, during, and after the show. The quilts were quite impressive.
Road Trip: Yuma
We spent a week in the Yuma area, staying at BLM’s Imperial Dam LTVA in California with “blast from the past” friends, Henk and Mary.
Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912; Yuma had Arizona’s first prison, in use from 1876 to 1909. A portion of the prison, now called the “Territorial Prison,” is preserved as a state park (part was long ago demolished to make way for a railroad line). There is a museum with many displays about prison life. One showed interesting information about the prisoner demographics; some that stuck out to me were that most of the prisoners were considered to be literate, and virtually all used tobacco of one form or another.
The territorial prison had enlightened leadership. From one of the museum displays:
The Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in Yuma, and Yumans resented that.
Sanitation, including two bathtubs and three showers
A library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time
Enlightened, progressive administration
Even a Prison Band!
Some of the cells are open to enter, and, of course, pretend to lock your friend in!
From Yuma, Kathe went to Corning to play Grandma Lobster, giving Mike and Laurelyn the opportunity to travel during school vacation week. While Kathe was gone, I went to another ham radio gathering in Yuma.
By the time we got back to Quartzsite it was obvious that the exodus had begun. The desert is emptier again; so is the town. People have started heading north preparing the way for us.
Sunrises and Sunsets
One of the advantages of living on the desert is the essentially unrestricted view of the horizon, especially compared to New England. We have been (usually!) waking up before sunrise, and have gotten in the habit of looking for the sunrise, and again for the sunset every day.
Click on any of the pictures below to see them all as a slideshow of larger versions, and remember you can always right click on any picture in our blog and choose “open image in new tab” or similar, to see the largest resolution that we uploaded..
One other thing…
Drum roll please! When we set out on our adventure, we told ourselves that we would try RV “full-timing” for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island.
Well, it hasn’t been a year, but we’ve made the decision! We want to continue this adventure for the foreseeable future, so we will be putting the house on the market this summer. We’ll fly back to MDI to take care of all that has to be done to get a house ready for new occupants.
That’s about it for now. Life has been fairly quiet so we haven’t been posting frequently. Rest assured that as we start to travel again we’ll be keeping you up to date with the activities of your favorite lobsters!
Now that we’re pretty much settled, we have time to play with toys (repeat after me: “Toys are good!”) and take day trips.
Not too far from here are the Blythe Intaglios. If you don’t want to click the link, briefly these large desert drawings were created by early indigenous people by scraping aside the dark stone layer at the top of the desert floor, exposing the lighter colored earth below. Also called geoglyphs, these are very hard to date. However scientists believe they appear to be between 2000 and 500 years old.
They’re very hard to see from ground level, so our drone whispered in my ear…
The intaglios were first “discovered” by modern man in 1932 by a pilot flying from Las Vegas to Blythe (CA). The intaglios were fenced in in 1974, after it became clear that off-road vehicles would destroy them. There are visible tire tracks in both pictures above. There are several theories about their original purpose and of course what set of theories wouldn’t be complete without one or more about aliens!
We are constantly in awe of the scenery here. I know that the desert landscapes don’t appeal to everyone, but they really strike a chord in me. See if you can spot the Colorado River.
We’ll go back in the new year (we’ll be camping in another location closer to them), to try to find the remainder of the intaglios.
Back at the ranch (OK, camper), I’m enjoying getting familiar with the drone, and with video editing at which I am a COMPLETE newcomer. Here is a quick view of our current location. We are in the camper near the bottom, just to the left of center.
At some point I’ll post a video with audio, or with multiple scenes composited. I’m not good enough at that yet!
Early on in our trip planning, White Sands National Monument was on our list. But then we decided that we’d like to see some of Utah “before it got too cold,” so we planned to go west on I-40 all the way into Flagstaff and then north. We decided that we’d do White Sands, NM some other time.
Well, “too cold” seemed to be following us all the way across the country (local temperatures were often 15° to 20° below normal—we started to think that it was our fault!). We decided that we would drop down to a more southerly, i.e., warmer, route—I-10—after Bosque del Apache. Yea! White Sands was back on the route!
We knew that there are basically two “White Sands” things. There is White Sands National Monument, and also White Sands Missile Range, the largest military base in the country in terms of area. The Missile Range is closed to the public (of course), so we focused our imaginations on the Monument, which we thought was completely separate.
It turns out, it isn’t so separate. The Monument is completely inside the missile range; it closes to public access any time the military launches a missile. Phew!
The other thing we didn’t know was that the missile range has a museum open to the public! Did I mention in a previous post that I like space-oriented things?
White Sands Missile Range Museum
The first day, we went to the museum. Since you’re entering a military base (by all of about 100 yards), you must present ID, and they run a quick check with the FBI to see if you’re a baddie. (Sorry, no pics of the entrance station where we had to register. That is apparently a serious no-no.)
We spent most of the time at the museum outside at the rocket display. It was neat to actually see some of the rockets whose names I knew from the ’60s.
The rockets on display here were almost all developed for the military, but they also enabled our manned space program. Until the Apollo program’s use of the Saturn V booster, all of the rockets used for our manned space flights were repurposed military rockets—Redstone, Atlas, and Titan. The Redstone held a special place in my memory because it was used for Alan Shepard’s and Gus Grissom’s sub-orbital flights at the start of Project Mercury, the beginning of the US manned space program.
I didn’t know that the Redstone was designed to be “transportable.” From the information sign in front of the rocket:
As a field-artillery missile, Redstone was mobile and transportable by plane, truck, or train. However, when on the move, it needed a convoy eighteen miles long, with 200 vehicles carrying approximately 10,000 individual pieces of equipment and more than 600 men. The Redstone itself was carried on three trucks—its nose section (warhead), midsection (power plant and fuel tanks), and tail section—to be assembled in the field.
Transportable? Maybe. Stealthy? No way!
There was also a nice indoor portion of the museum. Part of it covered the computing resources used in the early days of the missile age. Here is a “patch panel” used to program a computer in the days before software. This is from a computer used into the ’70s!
One way of gathering data about test flights is to track the rockets visually, with “cinetheodolites.” Each of these required two operators, and many were used around the range.
There are moments that change the course of history forever; one happened here. On June 16, 1945, the world’s first atomic explosion happened on White Sands Missile Range, at the Trinity Site. The Trinity Site is only open to visitors twice a year so we weren’t able to see it first hand, but a good portion of the museum’s indoors display space is devoted to it.
The Trinity bomb was the same design as the second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War II.
White Sands National Monument
On the second day, we went to the National Monument. Mile after mile of white “sand,” actually gypsum. After having seen the delicate gypsum florets in Mammoth Cave, it was amazing to see this much gypsum, literally piled up. Kathe thought it looked like we were on the moon!
It was interesting to walk on the dunes. I have lived near the water all my life except for our time in New Hampshire, and am used to walking on sand—including the sand dunes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The gypsum packs much more tightly than sand, and is very easy to walk on in comparison.
We went sledding down the dunes on a plastic saucer (like would be used on snow). Despite waxing the bottom of the saucer, other than the color of the dune’s surface, it wasn’t anything like sledding on snow! It was quite sticky, but once you got going, it was fun riding down the dune. Kathe got some good rides, but I fell out of the saucer each time! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good video of me tumbling down the dune. (Sand-sky-sand-sky-sand-sky…)
The dunes are always moving, driven by the wind. Keeping the tourist area road open is a constant problem.
We had a really good day there, walking some trails and seeing the scenery. Al finished with a ranger-led walk just before sunset. The guide is an astronomer by training, working as a paleo-geologist. He described some of the research going on at the whole White Sands site, much of it outside the bounds of the Monument.
On the desert floor (where there isn’t currently a dune), the water table is only a foot or two below the surface. The geology of the area depends on this.
The yucca plant below may be 30 or more feet tall. It is rooted on the desert floor, and as a dune comes along it grows to keep its leaves and flowers above the level of the dune. Unfortunately, when the dune passes, the yucca can’t support its long stem. It collapses and dies.
You didn’t think I’d leave without a sunset shot, did you?
If you get a chance, do plan to go. White Sands National Monument is other-worldly. (Lunar?)
I admit it. I’ve been thinking about this post for several weeks and needed time to let it percolate.
Truthfully, I’ve been procrastinating. I’m not sure I can do this experience the justice it deserves but I’ll try.
While exploring what to see in Memphis, we learned that it is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is actually on the site of the the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. This destination jumped to the top of our list for our Memphis stay.
We had no idea.
The NCRM has two large buildings— the Lorraine Building (the motel) and the Legacy Building across the street, which was the boarding house from where the assassin James Early Ray took aim. The path of the bullet is depicted in the pavement that runs between the two buildings.
From the moment we stepped inside the museum, it was very clear that it had been designed with incredible precision and purpose.
The museum was incredibly text rich—it took us several hours to read our way through the museum and I’m sure we didn’t read all that was posted. (It did make me wonder how someone who isn’t able to read English well would experience the museum.)
The expanse of coverage was overwhelming both in size and scope—the museum’s floor-to-high-ceiling exhibits span the Civil Rights Movement in the United States beginning in the 1700s with resistance to slavery and continuing into the current day with worldwide events that not only conjure inequality but also call us to work for equality—for all.
We were overwhelmed by the impact the exhibits had on us. I felt a combination of breathlessness, anxiety, regret, and anger. There was so much to take in. So much to learn.
The powerful introductory movie concluded with shadows of people marching across the screen. As the theater was dimly relighted, we were asked to exit by climbing a few stairs onto the stage and exiting behind the screen. We became part of the march. Chills.
It was difficult to witness some of the bone-chilling exhibits. In a large room focused on slavery, an alcove depicted the innards of a slave ship where life-sized bronze statues wrapped in chains were crowded together on the floor. Their agonizing screams and groans played on a continuous loop. It felt disrespectful to even consider taking a photograph. We were there to learn. And we were humbled.
As we tried to take it all in, the displays continued to draw us into each scene as if we were present. The story of school desegregation was displayed in a courtroom and a classroom. Martin Luther King Jr.’s experience in the Birmingham Jail was told in a jail cell.
We agreed that our own public education had been tremendously lacking in U.S. history past the Civil War. The school curriculum in Stamford, CT in the 1960’s did not include anything past the beginning of the Reconstruction era. Current events were glossed over and never put into an historical context.
I felt ashamed as I realized how little I knew. We should all know this history. Why weren’t we taught this?
I won’t presume to be the one to teach others this history that is so new to me; hopefully you already know much of it yourself.
The Rise of Jim Crow began in the late 1800’s and continued well into the 20th century. The 15th amendment and legislation were passed to guarantee rights to African Americans and were then destroyed by a series of new laws and Supreme Court decisions that made “Separate but Equal” the law of the land. Segregated schools. Separate water fountains. Separate. Separate. But never Equal.
The Jim Crow era led to. . .
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Student Sit-ins
The Freedom Riders of 1961
The Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Memphis
Civil Rights Marches
In the afternoon we visited the three-story Legacy Building across the street. On the 3rd floor, a timeline tells the story of the American Civil Right Movement up to the time of MLK’s assassination. The entire second floor is dedicated to the investigation of the crime: the conspiracy theories, extensive evidence , and the actual spot where James Earl Ray took aim.
I felt unsettled. Is this where the museum leaves us? I was glad when the tour ended on the first floor. Here we learned more about how the Civil Rights Movement here in the US has impacted human rights and civil rights throughout the world. We were left with the voices of many who have been called into action and who are making huge impacts globally to work toward equality for all. In the dimly lit room, a mural of silhouetted men, women, and children led us out; again, we became part of the story.
When we were looking for a campground near Memphis, several folks suggested the Tom Sawyer RV Park (actually in W. Memphis, Arkansas). We learned that it is RIGHT on the banks of the Mississippi and this totally intrigued us. The park’s website includes information about the importance of monitoring the Mississippi Riveras your camping time approaches; they’re closed when the river overflows its banks. Yikes! We checked and it looked like we’d be just fine; it takes a couple of weeks for rain far north to really affect the height of the river. We knew we didn’t want to approach when THIS was happening!
Here’s our site where it would be during a flood!
During our first hour at the campground, we were drawn to the river (actually only about 50 yards from our site) as a huge collection of barges (all attached, 7 barges long, and 3 across) was pushed along by ONE boat (that looked quite a bit like an oversized tugboat).
One of the best parts of moving around the country is how much we love being so close to different forms of transportation. In Indiana, we camped very close to a very active train track — it ran all day and night (never kept us awake) and reminded us of how much our nation’s commerce depends on different modes of transport. Then, of course, there are the thousands and thousands of tractor trailers (some pulling two or even THREE trailers!) that we share the road with as we move along the nation’s interstates. And while on the Mississippi for several days, a low rumble accompanied us much of the time — we could look out the bedroom window and watch the barges moving through as we fell asleep—and then again, when we woke up the next morning. Sometimes we could tell what they were hauling, and other times, hmmm… They were mesmerizing. It’s fun to watch our nation’s commerce on the go!
So, why Memphis? Graceland, of course! We’ve learned to take others’ recommendations, whether positive or negative, with a grain of salt. We like to experience what we can and draw our own conclusions—sometimes a place that someone else told us to not waste our time with, is a favorite of ours!
So we drove to Graceland our first morning there—and spent hours poring over building after building of memorabilia not just about Elvis but also about many other musicians. We started with a tour of the mansion—and were quite impressed by all that we were able to see. I’ll let the pictures tell the story:
But Graceland comprises much more than the house! There were a number of buildings that featured everything from Elvis’ car and motorcycle collections, gold records, a gallery featuring dozens of musicians who were/are influenced by Elvis, a huge archive of all things Elvis including items related to his military service, and, oh yes, an incredible array of bedazzled jumpsuits!
It took us at least a couple of hours to get through all of the extra buildings. We were pretty impressed and Elvis’ music serenaded us throughout the entire complex. Not having ever been huge Elvis fans, we had a lot of fun and found ourselves humming Elvis tunes for several days!
We were giddy when we realized we could spend the better part of a week in Washington, D.C. We’d only ever been with kids or as kids ourselves. We were long overdue for an opportunity to experience our nation’s capital as adults with no real responsibilities for anyone else!
We camped at the Cherry Hill Park Campground, in College Park MD. If you’re coming this way in an RV, we highly recommend it. It’s the nicest place we’ve stayed so far, and by no means the most expensive. The Metro bus comes right to the campground and it’s a quick ride to the train station. And then just a 20-25 minute ride into the heart of D.C. It was SO easy to navigate.
And… the campground has single-stream recycling!
Each day at 4 PM, the campground offers a great orientation to the D.C. transportation system and an intro to two tours—we signed up for both. Terrific.
A week in Washington Is not nearly enough! We didn’t have even that much time, but we had a wonderful time. We went into the city four times; twice on our own and twice as part of the tours organized by the campground.
The first day we were there, we went into the city on our own and split up. I (Al) went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum near Dulles Airport. If you are into the history of aviation and space exploration at all, this is a must see.
The museum is in a huge hangar, and has a wide range of planes and space craft from very early days to recent history. Main displays include a Concorde SST, an SR-71 (the fastest—2000 MPH—and highest flying—80,000 ft—jet ever built — 32 were built in all), the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay. Beside those four, there are aircraft and space craft densely packed in the hanger, in three layers: one on the hangar floor and two layers creatively suspended in the air from the ceiling. I spent over three hours there and only scratched the surface. The density actually is a problem in trying to get good pictures of the craft because of the visual clutter in the background.
The SR-71 is very difficult to photograph in its entirety in this setting. It is huge. It is jet black (get it?). It is crowded by other craft. Here is the port engine, a marvel of slide rule engineering—it was designed in the late 50’s—early 60’s— with NO computers!
The A-6 was one of the key bombers of the Vietnam era.
The Discovery has a prime place on the display floor.
If I had to have an Airstream instead of our current trailer, this is the one I would want!
(Actually, it wasn’t made by Airstream. Sure looks like one, though!)
One of the most famous airplanes in history:
The Boeing 307 was one of the, if not the, first commercial airliners. It was based on the B-17C bomber from World War II.
I wonder whether or when we’ll have another supersonic passenger plane.
The Global Flyer accomplished the first solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world. Sixty seven hours and one minute.
A sampling of the planes suspended from the ceiling.
The museum is quite a distance from downtown area, but is well worth the trip!
Kathe: While Al was at the museum, I visited several museums on and near the National Mall. Within just a couple of blocks of wandering, I came upon a very long queue of folks waiting to get into the Newseum. As it turned out, it was FREE MUSEUM day in D.C. I hopped into line and immediately started chatting with a couple of women. Before long I realized that even though it was a free entry day (usually $25), I still needed a ticket. One of the women I was in line with graciously offered me a second free ticket that she had. Score!
I stayed at the Newseum for two solid hours and thought my head would explode! This museum focuses on the world of journalism and promotes first amendment rights through exhibits that include (among many others): 9/11, the Berlin Wall, a special FBI exhibit, a daily display of 80 first pages of newspapers from around the US and the world, a wide range of films documenting important world events, and an extraordinary gallery of decades of Pulitzer Prize winning photos.
What is striking is that each of the exhibits includes a range of short videos by journalists who covered the story. It is without a doubt the most current, dynamic, compelling, and thought-provoking museum I’ve visited; I considered suggesting that they hand out Kleenex as you come through the main door — and yes, I took Al back to it later in the week! I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Just in! The Newseum set its all-time single-day visitor record on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, with 11,815 people visiting the one-of-a-kind institution. (Guess it helped that I was there!)
I also visited (somewhat briefly) the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. It was a whirlwind and honestly, I could have spent days upon days visiting so many more museums — alas, I needed to meet Al and we needed to figure out where we would eat dinner.
Never underestimate the power of Google! We searched “Restaurants near Me” and found an Indian restaurant nearby — what a find! It turns out that Rasika is a restaurant which has won a James Beard award and we can see why. It was amazing!
On the second day we took a day-long guided tour of the city with a very knowledgeable guide. We visited the Air Force Memorial and the Marine War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima memorial). Then we took a water taxi ride from the wharf near the Lincoln Memorial to Georgetown.
We stopped at the Pentagon City Mall for lunch, and found a stand offering a wide variety of baklava squares that were imported directly from Lebanon. They were incredibly delicious and oh, so sweet. We got several and were able to make them last for several days, but it was tough. It would have been so easy to eat all of them before the end of the tour!
After lunch we went to Arlington National Cemetery, and took their tram tour. We hadn’t known that Arlington was originally the estate of Robert E. Lee, which was confiscated after the Civil War. The very first graves (Union soldiers) had been interred in Mrs. Lee’s garden (making a clear statement to Lee). We stopped at the grave of President Kennedy, where Jackie Kennedy Onassis and two of their children are also buried. The site is directly below Lee’s house, and was actually selected by the president when he visited the cemetery. Admiring the view, he was heard to say, “I could stay here forever.”
Next we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a very sobering place. We had both been to this site before but it was good to revisit it. We were present for the changing of the guard ceremony. The guard has been present 24/7/365 since it was initiated on April 6, 1948. The markings of so many years of the sentries’ precise steps were visible in the dark orange on the granite platform. It is an incredible honor to be chosen for this highly competitive post.
There are graves for one soldier each from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The crypt for the Vietnam War unknown soldier is now empty, as the entombed soldier was identified in 1998 as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie through mitochondrial DNA.
Here is Kathe’s video of the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Since the rain had picked up and no one really wanted to get off the trolley, the tour of Arlington was a bit shorter than usual. Our tour guide asked if we would like to visit the Pentagon Memorial. Yes! Several others on the tour had already seen the NYC 9/11 Memorial and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA and were eager to see this 9/11 memorial as well.
The Pentagon Memorial is breathtaking — and a feat of imagination. There is a stainless steel cantilevered bench inlaid with granite for each of the 184 victims with their name engraved on it. The bench has a lighted pool of water underneath which reflects light onto the gravel field at night. Each bench resembles an airplane wing and points one of two ways depending on if the victim worked at the Pentagon or was fated plane that crashed into the building. All of the benches for people born in the same year are arranged in a line going diagonally across the large area.
The third day we took a night tour to several memorials including the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War memorials. While we had been to several of those before, those visits had not been at night nor in the rain. Washington looks different at night!
Two of the memorials that really struck us were the Korean War Memorial and the FDR Memorial. The nineteen statues of soldiers in the Korean War Memorial were all facing in different directions, on guard, each wearing a rain poncho, and some in full combat gear. It was fitting that we visited the memorial at night and in the rain. The statues were surrounded by low shrubs that gave the sense that they were standing in rice patties. It was striking.
The FDR Memorial was huge—it’s the largest memorial on the National Mall. There was a large open air room that depicted each of FDR’s four terms as President. The pathway through the memorial was meandering and featured bronze statues, water installations, stirring wall art, and FDR quotes. Near the end of the walkway was a beautiful statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It was hard to take it all in; we’ll certainly visit it again. You can learn more about this monument here.
The World War II Memorial was impressive and particularly beautiful lit up at night.
Our last day in the city we visited two keystones in the federal government, and then re-visited the Newseum so that Al could see several of the exhibits that wowed Kathe on the first day.
We first visited the Capitol, which requires a guided tour unless you contact your Representative or Senator. The guided tour was slightly disappointing to Al. It covers just the crypt below the Rotunda, the Rotunda itself, and the Statuary Hall. All of these were very crowded and we were not allowed to separate at all from the tour group, so that good photography was not possible.
Walking from the mall to the Capitol, you have to go to the far side to reach the visitors’ center. When you get to approximately the front side of the Capitol, the sign says “Average walking time: 8 minutes.”
Walking past the building you get several views of the Capitol.
On the side away from the mall, you pass the main (ceremonial?) entrance to the Senate building, which is a wing added to the original Capitol building.
Here is the original Capitol building. Until Reagan, presidents were inaugurated on these stairs. Starting with Reagan, the inaugurations switched to the other side because the crowds could overflow onto the National Mall.
Every state can send two statues depicting important (dead) people from the state. Most are in Statuary Hall, but some are in the main hall of the visitors’ center. Here is King Kamehameha I from Hawaii, the largest of the 100 state statues.
After an introductory film, we began the tour in the crypt, just below the Rotunda. The crypt is so named because it was intended to be the burial place for George Washington. Washington’s express wishes in his will were to be buried in his Mount Vernon estate, which eventually were acceded to. In the center of the crypt is a marker which is the geographic center of the original extents of the District of Columbia. If it were not roped off, here you could stand simultaneously in Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast DC!.
The Rotunda has eight murals depicting historic moments. It also has a circular mural around the dome opening showing 400 years of American history.
The ceiling of the Rotunda has a painting named “The Apotheosis of Washington.” Apotheosis means to elevate someone to the status of a god. Washington, who twice voluntarily relinquished power, would have hated it.
The Statuary Hall was originally the House Chamber until the members could no longer fit, at which point the separate House building was added.
The spherical shape of the ceiling caused the room to have terrible acoustics, making it very difficult to conduct business. The solution? Build a new House chamber!
We then walked through the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress, specifically the original Jefferson building. The Library currently comprises four buildings: three adjacent ones in the Capitol district, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, and one at Fort Meade.
The Jefferson building’s interior is overwhelmingly beautiful. Whereas the Capitol required one to take a guided tour, here we opted for one which was leaving as we emerged from the tunnel. We’re glad that we did.
Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was so engaging and knowledgeable. He was overwhelmingly proud to be able to share the LOC with us. His main message to us was that there is no happenstance about ANYTHING in the LOC — every ceiling, wall, mural, stairway, statue, inscription, etc. tells a story about the pursuit of knowledge and the importance of reading and learning.
It is an inspirational place and yet one more place in D.C. that you couldn’t possible take in in just one visit.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world (in terms of its collection), the official research arm of Congress, and also home of the U.S. Copyright Office. It comprises more than 167 million items, and adds 12,000 items to its collection each working day. It is considered our national library. It has more than 838 miles of bookshelves!
We left our nation’s capital with such a sense of awe and deep reverence and appreciation, especially for those who have served our country in the military and in service to our country. Perhaps it’s being a bit “older” that helped us to appreciate this beautiful city in a humbling way. We will certainly visit again!
Al: I never served in the military; I know that I don’t have a soldier’s “headset,” for lack of a better word. I have high respect and admiration for those who have.
I considered not writing about Gettysburg. The scope is too large. Being on the battleground is completely overwhelming; I don’t know really where to begin.
One way could be to look at the sobering statistics. In three days of fighting, July 1 – 3, 1863, approximately 7000 soldiers were killed. There were approximately 51,000 casualties (soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing). There are many estimates of the casualty count; we have seen higher and lower estimates. Some units lost two thirds or more of the men who were present at the start of the battle. 158,000 were engaged in the battle across the three days.
Amazingly for a battle that surrounded a city, there was only one civilian casualty; a twenty-year-old woman named Jenny Wade was killed by a stray shot. How times have changed.
The civilian structures were damaged, though, and some still bear the scars.
Occasionally we’ll include a reference, “(NPS)”. This indicates that a particular statistic or comment came from the National Park Service’s Gettysburg FAQ web page.
Kathe: I’ve been to Gettysburg in recent years but Al had never been; I couldn’t wait to share it with him.
When we entered the visitors’ center, we headed right for the ticket booth and decided to purchase the three-way pass that comprises the Cyclorama, the museum, and a two-hour bus tour of the battlefields. As we always do with every National Park we visit, we started with the orientation film. It gave an overview of the three days in July 1863 — narrated by Morgan Freeman — and I was already in tears.
From the overview film, we were shepherded upstairs to the Cyclorama. It’s breathtaking – a 360-degree painting of the Gettysburg Battlefield that was painted in 1883 (it’s one of four that have been created – this one was acquired and restored a few decades ago). It is 42 feet tall and 377 feet around. We all stood on a raised platform in the middle of the room and were surrounded by images, lights, sounds, and narration that made it all come to life. We were in the midst of the battle. It was sobering. More tears.
Us:Later while on the battlefield, one of the things that surprised us was the terrain. This is open, mostly flat, land. In 1863 it was even more open; many of the trees now present were not there. Then it was agricultural fields. The National Park Service has an ongoing program to restore the area to the conditions at the time of the battle, removing trees, planting orchards, and restoring walls and fencing. Local farmers have access to the land to plant crops.
According to our tour guide, the tactics had not changed much from the days of the Revolutionary War, with the soldiers often marching in a line across an open field toward the opposing side. A rise of only 100 feet (sometimes less) could give a dominant position.
The key high point was Little Round Top, at 150 feet above the fields. The higher rise next to it, Big Round Top, was not useful militarily because it was (and remains) completely wooded.
Shortly after the war, various groups began placing bronze and stone (mostly granite and marble) monuments on the battlefield honoring regiments, divisions, corps, and armies. Now there are approximately 1328 (NPS) monuments within the park. They range in size from gargantuan (Pennsylvania and New York) to diminutive and hidden in the woods (Maine 20th). The brigade monuments had either round (Confederate) or square bases (Union).
Detail of the New York monument
There were also many markers across the battlefield that indicated the midpoint of each regiment and their right and left flanks (ends). You can see how closely the units were deployed.
We walked the range that the Maine 20th Regiment had spread across on Little Round Top; it was amazingly short. Due to where they were deployed, their monument is a short walk into the woods. The inscriptions on the sides of the monument list the soldiers who were killed or died of their wounds inflicted during the defense of Little Round Top.
We took advantage of a free Ranger Program in the park on our last morning there: a tour of the National Soldiers’ Cemetery on Cemetery Hill. This area was known as Cemetery Hill at the time of the battle and was one of the contested regions. The Soldiers’ Cemetery is adjacent to a pre-existing public cemetery which gave the hill its name.
Soldiers were originally buried in shallow graves on the battlefield. They were then re-interred with great effort at the Soldiers’ Cemetery.
Originally set aside by the state of Pennsylvania, it was for the Union dead only. Most of the Confederate dead were interred in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA, in a special section set aside for Gettysburg casualties (NPS). Now it is a national cemetery and is still in active use.
Initially the plan was to bury soldiers without regard to rank or unit. However it was decided to bury them in sections, according to the state they were from—still without regard to rank. Remarkably, most of the graves have names. Each state section has some graves marked “Unknown.”
Each state had a marker indicating the number of soldiers buried here.
Additionally, there are many simple numbered marble markers for soldiers for whom their state was unable to be determined.
All of the soldiers are arranged in a semicircle around the Soldiers Monument that is the focus of the cemetery. The way they are buried seemed unusual; they are buried behind their headstone with their heads toward the center. In this way should they rise they will be facing outward, ready to defend Cemetery Hill again.
The cemetery is still in use; here are some graves from the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. Still newer graves are in an adjacent annex.
Being on the battlefields of Gettysburg gave us a deeper understanding and reverence for the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is an awe-inspiring and humbling place that we hope each of you will have an opportunity to experience.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln. November 19, 1863.
Delivered at the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
In my post about our recent biking, I promised a separate post about the Ohio and Erie Canal per se. True to my word…
I’m not going to try to regurgitate all that has been written about the canal and its history. Use the link above for a Google search page of sites about the canal. Instead, I want to offer what I saw of it and my impressions. I learned any history that I include here from Interpretative Rangers or the various informational signs posted throughout the park.
The name Ohio and Erie Canal stems from the two ends of the canal: Lake Erie and the Ohio River. By connecting the two, commerce was enabled between Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico. It turned Ohio into the third wealthiest state.
The canal was a huge undertaking! It was dug entirely by hand in the 1820s and completed in 1832. It was specified to be a minimum of 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet wide at the bottom, with a minimum depth of 4 feet. The canal was used for cargo until 1861 when rail transport took over. From the 1870s it gradually degraded until 1913 when massive storms damaged much of what was left, and lock #1 had to be dynamited to allow flood waters drain.
We rode along 25 miles of the tow path, from the southern end of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the northern end. In the southern end it is hard (for me, impossible) at times to discern the path of the canal. Gradually, the outline of the canal becomes visible as a large dry trench. Much of the tow path is between the canal and the Cuyahoga River. Toward the northern end, the canal still holds water, although probably no longer four feet. I was told that some industrial sites still draw water from the canal.
I don’t know how many locks were originally in the region we biked, but we saw many—again, mostly in the northern half. Canal barges were specified to be a maximum beam (width) of 14 feet and length of 85 feet. Although the canal trench was specified to be 40 feet wide to allow boats to pass each other, the locks were much narrower averaging only 15 feet wide and 90 feet long, thus fitting only one boat at a time.
The lock gates were massive wooden structures, some operated by hand, others by horses or mules. The average lift capability of the locks was 9 feet, with the largest (called the “Deep Lock”) being 17 feet.
I wasn’t able to find any sign of the pumping equipment they would have needed to manage the water levels in the locks.
Near the north end of the park is the Canal Exploration Center, a CVNP visitor center. The exhibits are very well done! Stop in, if you’re in the area.
At the CEC is a restored lock with the gates in place.
In this era of GPS location accurate to a few feet and laser transits, it was sobering to think back about the tools available when the canal was built.
At the Canal Exploration Center I found this modern flood control device; it had valves that would send canal water into a side arm of the Cuyahoga River.