Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Biking the Phenomenon Trail

After hiking at Providence Canyon, we were ready to finish the outdoor trifecta with some biking and kayaking. Lucky for us, there is a wonderful biking trail called "The Phenomenon Trail" just a few miles from our camping spot. So we drove three miles to George T. Bagby State Park, using our new Georgia State Pass to park there while be biked. It's a paved path that starts in the forest . . .

and ends at the reservoir dam.

From the dam we could get a close up of the unusual pink grasses we had seen blooming beside the road.

Also from the dam we could look down on the lake, as well as a smaller pond that we now will call the alligator pond. On the left hand side was a 6-foot gator sunning himself.

Now just a single gator, he would be joined by a second, smaller gator by the time we rode our bikes back.

At the end of the dam, we parked our bikes by the Walter F. George Lock. We had no idea it was even there, but of course we were curious and started looking around. Then we asked questions of the engineer that came out to greet us. He told us that this is one of a series of locks used by recreational boaters moving their big boats all the way from the Gulf of Mexico up the Chattahoochee River. Normally, a boater would contact the engineer, and those one-hundred-foot-tall doors would open so the boat on the river far below could enter.

Once inside this huge box, gravity brings water in from the lake to float the boat up 88 feet higher in just 23 minutes. That would bring it to the level of the lake on the other side of the lock. Then the set of gates at the other end of the box would open to allow the boat to continue its journey north on the Chattahoochee. What a great ride for the boater, and we were surprised to find that it is free at this government-run lock. But as of August of last year, the lock was closed because of problems with those huge doors shown above. So instead, a temporary dam was built to replace the lake side door of the lock.

This little lock problem could be fixed with just $3.5 million dollars. But they are waiting to hear about national appropriations, biding time talking to curious bikers that randomly appear. 

Also along our bike path were expansive groups of these delightful white blooming plants. When we asked at the visitor center, we were told they were wild blackberries. So this trail could be a delicious experience in a month or two. But two different sources also told us that rattlesnakes love to hide in blackberry bushes, also enjoying the summer berry treat.

As we rode our bikes back through the forest, we have to ponder this wonderful life we are leading on the road. Again, we learned about things that we had no prior knowledge, just because we were curious and have the time explore. We also got some good exercise as we got to the end of our ten mile bike ride. We love this retirement life!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Moving to "Georgia on My Mind"

After hanging out near urban areas of Alabama like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Montgomery, we were ready for some time far from the city. So we landed at a Corps of Engineers park along the Chattahoochee River--as far as one can be from anything urban. We also crossed the state line when we crossed the Chattahoochee river, so this is our first stop in Georgia.

Our campsite at Cotton Hill Campground is along a reservoir made by damming the Chattahoochee river. (Typing Chattahoochee is almost as much fun as saying it, so Denisa is looking for reasons to use the word.) We are sitting under some very tall trees here, with a view of the lake out of our side window.

You know the trees are big when their pine cones are as big as a loaf of bread.

Being here in the spring, we are enjoying the blooming azaleas. We often see bushes in yards that are around three feet tall, but this massive wild azalea bush by our campground is closer to ten feet. As Denisa stands besides these blooms she can hear the constant buzz of an army of bees gathering pollen.

There are different colors of the azaleas, but Denisa's favorites are the bright fuchsia.

It's amazing that these flowers grow wild here. We are also enjoying the spring-blooming dogwood trees. Being from Oklahoma, we have never seen these trees before.

They seem to be at peak bloom right now, and they give bright white flashes of light against the dark green trees around them.

One of our neighbors taught us that dogwood trees always bloom around Easter. Their four-petal flowers form the shape of a cross, with the nail imprints at the end of each blossom.

We are also enjoying the wild wisteria that is blooming now.

These purple flowers are just beginning to bloom, draped over trees and growing wild in the forest.

So we are enjoying seeing blossoms new to us in our first spring east of the Mississippi. We are also enjoying our camp site in the forest next to the Chattahoochee. Mark is relaxing with a book after he worked at splitting enough wood for our stay here.

We had a bratwurst supper cooked over the campfire, finished with an 8-marshmallow smore. Mark found that those huge pine cones turn into luminescent cones when he added them to the camp fire.

So we are settling into our camp site at Cotton Hill campground, enjoying a look at a new area of the country on the Chattahoochee River in spring time.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Georgia's Little Grand Canyon

Our campground in Cotton Hill is a great place for relaxing. It was also a great place to get back to the things we love--hiking, kayaking, and biking. Hiking took us to Providence Canyon State Park the day after we arrived.

Called "Georgia's Little Grand Canyon," there are grand views from the rim trail at the top. The colors and canyon structures reminded us a little of Bryce Canyon in Utah.

We even got a picture together at the rim. We didn't mean to wear matching outfits today, but the two of us certainly color-coordinated with the canyon.

As we looked down, we could see hikers on the trails below.

So of course we are going to hike down to the bottom as well. The trail at the bottom literally meanders in a stream bed that leads to the openings of nine different canyons.

Our favorite canyon was #4. You can see Mark half-way up the white canyon, blending nicely with the wall. This is our first Georgia State Park, and after today we plan to visit many more.

A great hike on a glorious blue-sky day, we really love wandering His wonders!

Now it was our turn to look up at the people on the rim trail. We hiked over six miles up and down the canyon today.

We plan to spend several weeks in this state so we purchased a state park pass. It's always interesting to learn the idiosyncrasies of each state's park system. In Georgia they don't call it a day-use fee--it's a parking fee. So you must have an annual pass in your front window or buy the daily $5 parking pass each time you visit a state park. Even when you are camping at the state park, you must pay the $5 fee. So we bought the annual family pass from the Friends of Georgia State Parks, which will also give us two free nights of camping. In addition, we joined the Georgia State Park RV club, which will give a free night camping after we pay for nine nights.

Welcome to a new state and another new state park system--with "Georgia on my Mind."

Exploring Central Alabama

While we are camping in one spot, we like to explore the big cities (like Montgomery). But we also really like the smaller towns too. So we spent some time looking around towns like Prattville, Alabama. After visiting their little museum, we walked down the historic Main Street to the park at the end of the street. The falls over Autauga Creek made a very industrial view of what was once Pratt Industries. Home to the leading manufacturer of cotton gins below the Mason-Dixon line, there were several other factories here in the 1800's.

We finished our walk through Prattville on the Creek Trail, then headed down the road to Wetumpka. The Coosa River flows through this town, and we walked the trail beside the water. We thought it was interesting that the Coosa River bridge separated the beautiful white church on the right from the town's first jail on the left. Denisa was a little disappointed at the side of the river that Mark landed on.

Another road trip in the opposite direction took us to Selma, Alabama. Since the movie entitled, "Selma" came out last year, there has been more awareness of the group that made the 54-mile walk from this little town to the state capitol in 1965. We stopped by the National Interpretive Center between the two towns to watch the video and learn from the historical displays about the march.

The Edmund Pettus bridge was made famous from the first attempt of a march that ended when the group met the county sheriff as they reached the top of the bridge on March 7, 1965. This day became known as "Bloody Sunday" because of the sheriff and patrol's attempts to turn the crowd back with night sticks and tear gas.

Today we saw a prettier side of the bridge, framed by the wildflowers along the river front.

Another landmark in town is the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Built among the low-income housing funded by the George Washington Carver Foundation in the 1950's, it was here that the march was planned and where the walking began.

The second attempt at making the 54-mile march to Montgomery was successful, due to the protection of 2,000 national guardsmen accompanying the group out of Selma. The march to Montgomery took four days, and the group swelled to 25,000 by the time they reached the Alabama capitol steps. After the national attention brought by the march, President Johnson signed National Voting Rights legislation. We heard a tour guide explain that they changed Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote from "I Had a Dream" to "I Have a Dream" to bring his ideas into the present.

We found the town of Selma to be a dichotomy, with very sad areas just blocks away from fine antebellum homes. In the middle of town we discovered the Old Live Oak Cemetery. Filled with tombstones from the 1800's shaded by spanish moss draped trees, it was a beautiful place to take pictures.

As we meandered around the cemetery, we found a group assembling close to the confederate soldier memorial. There is a large number of confederate soldiers buried here in Selma.

We found the group was readying for the ghost walks scheduled for this evening. Actually members of the local Daughters of the Confederacy, they were two of the "ghosts" that would be hiding by the tomb stones. The ghost walk is a fundraiser in which ticket holders would be escorted through this old cemetery to hear stories from re-enactors about the person buried there.

We got some private tour information from the man that designed the memorial area where we were standing. He pointed out the grave of Elodie Todd Breck. The wife of a Confederate officer, she was also the sister-in-law of Abraham Lincoln. She was allowed to travel to see her family in the north, and used that as an opportunity to smuggle medicine back to the south for the confederate soldiers.

We visited other parts of the cemetery, reading headstones like the one below of a 23-year-old Mother from the 1800's that was memorialized by her loving husband.

With all this history, we also got to do some very modern touring. South of Montgomery there is a Hyundai manufacturing plant that produces a new vehicle every 48 seconds. 

When we checked for tour openings, we found they were booked up for a month. But when the woman at the visitor center checked, she happened to find two vacancies for us. She commented that she had checked the web site for many people, but this was the first time she had actually found an opening. We must live a charmed life!

They produce two different cars here in Alabama--the Elantra (above) and the Sonata (below). Again, we were a little disappointed that no free factory tour samples were given at the end of the tour.

No photos were allowed inside the manufacturing plant, but Denisa did take some pictures of the pictures in the visitor center. This one is of the automated paint process. Denisa thinks the robots looks like a team of huge headless football players spraying on the paint.

One of the main things we learned from our tour is the correct pronunciation of the word Hyundai. Because we had lived at the Hyundai Foreigner's compound in South Korea in October, and toured the Hyundai Heavy Industries plant there, we should have already known this. But now we know for sure that the word "Hyundai" rhymes with "Sunday."

So we continue to learn every day!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Our Private Tour of the Alabama Capitol

Several weeks ago, when we were walking the trails around Red Bay, Alabama, we met Johnny Mack Morrow. One of the friendliest of all the friendly Alabama citizens we have met, Representative Morrow gave us his phone number to call when we made our way to Montgomery. We think he might have been a little surprised when we did just that.

He actually had us meet him in his office, which is in the state house just behind the capitol.

Unlike other capitols that we have toured on our journey, both the senate and representative offices are in a separate building from the capitol. Johnny took us into the house chambers in the state house before the session started that morning. He introduced us to many of his colleagues as his "new best friends from Oklahoma."

Johnny has served in the state legislation for 26 years, and he seems to be known by everyone we passed in the hallways. He next took us to the Alabama Public Television office in the state house, where he introduced us to the director of the state's system. That would include a tour through their studio, including the place where they film most of their state legislator interviews.

Next, he whisked us to the capitol building through an underground tunnel available only to persons with magical keys. When we came into the capitol, we were near the winding staircase that led us from the first to the third floor. An engineering marvel, it has no visible supports as it winds its way up three flights.

Johnny Mack took us into the House chambers in the capitol, where we crossed the velvet ropes to stand where the early legislators once conducted business. Now a symbolic room used only for formal occasions such as state of the union addresses, it is devoid of the computers and modern technology necessary for doing business today.

He also pointed out the walls of that room. Because adding crown molding to such a large room would be expensive and would have to be made by hand when this building was built, the ornamental moldings were painted on. This wall is actually flat, skillfully painted to look like it had three dimensional molding added.

We zipped around groups of school children taking the formal capitol tour, and got a picture of the dome overhead.

Then he took us to meet Alabama's Secretary of State--John Merrill. Perhaps we'll see John (on the left) as a future governor, and we pledged to vote for him.

We appreciated all the time that Johnny Mack spent with us this morning! He is obviously a well-liked legislator, and we got to experience his southern charm first-hand. As he hurried off to today's legislative session, he encouraged us to watch from the visitor's gallery upstairs. Looking quite different from the empty chambers we had been in earlier this morning, there was lots of business going on now.

But then the wheels of legislation came to a grinding halt, as one of the representatives came to the podium on the left in a political maneuver to waste time. He talked for ten minutes about nothing in particular. Then another representative asked one question, so that our first politician could start another ten minutes of time-wasting banter. By the time we saw him take the microphone for the fourth time, we could hardly stand it any longer. Not a fan of the political process before, we certainly aren't after today.

A trip up two flights of stairs brought us to a similar scenario in the senate.

So it was a great morning on capitol hill, made especially informative by our private tour guide from Alabama. Thanks Representative Morrow! We can see why he has been representing his district for 26 years. If he makes all of his constituents feel as welcome as a couple from Oklahoma, they will surely re-elect him another 26 years!

We are enjoying our time in Montgomery. We also spent time at the river front park, where a tour boat was docked. This port on the Alabama River has loaded thousands of cotton bales to be used down river in Mobile.

There is also a wonderful Court Square Fountain in the middle of a busy downtown intersection. An artesian spring, the fountain has been adorning this area since 1885.

Since we were both raised on ranches, we also stopped in at the Alabama Cattleman Association headquarters in Montgomery. Their lobby houses the "Moo-seum" about all things cattle. Mark is standing with the picture of the cow's four-part stomach, which explains why cattle chew their cud.

Mark talked Denisa and her two twin sisters into posing in the cowboy photo board.

Besides this moo-seum, we also visited the Museum of Alabama. A great collection of historical displays, we also enjoyed the audio and video presentations. As we watched the credits at the end of one of the videos, we thought it was interesting to see "special thanks to Johnny Mack Morrow" roll across the screen. At the end of our day exploring the great state capitol of Alabama we'd have to say the same--"Special Thanks to Johnny Mack Morrow."