Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We're in Ohio!

It usually takes us about a month to wander through one state into another. So we are obviously in full-speed gear to be crossing another state line after only spending 3 nights in West Virginia. We approached the big blue bridge that took us over the wide Ohio River into the state bearing the same name.

It was another smooth moving day, and Mark is a happy camper behind the wheel of the motor home.

We got settled into our camping spot at Lancaster Campground in Lancaster, Ohio. A little public campground with only 24 sites, we have good electricity and water, but no sewer hookups. This is the first park we've ever experienced that has free pump-out service twice a week, so it's almost as good as a full-hook-up site. We always like to explore our newest home town, and so we drove a loop around Lancaster. With 40,000 residents, they have a mall and all the big name box stores. But more importantly, they have a bakery just down the street, that offers half-price on everything after 6 p.m. The first evening we bought a cinnamon roll and a bavarian creme long john. At first glance, you would assume they are both fitting on a saucer. But that is actually one of the biggest cinnamon rolls we have ever eaten, almost covering a full-size dinner plate. Not a bad deal for $1.75 total for the two pastries. We made an unhealthy number of trips to that bakery before we left town.

In the center of town we found Rising Park, and saw that many of Lancaster's citizens were out exercising on a beautiful evening. This is obviously a very old city park, as trees don't grow this big overnight. You can barely see Denisa, standing under one of the park's trees.

There are walking trails and ponds and playgrounds, and we were surprised at the number of people outside on a weekday evening. We took the up-hill hike through the woods, filled with tall trees and vines that would make Tarzan proud.

Our hike's destination is to the top of Mt. Pleasant. A 300-foot rock in the middle of town, it has a sheer drop-off from the view point at the top. That's probably why there are guard rails for people to stay behind. Mark just assumes that those were placed there for other people.

The view from the top helped get us oriented to our new surroundings, as we could see most of the city of Lancaster from the top.

We drove to the county fair grounds to get a view of Mt. Pleasant from the bottom. Just minutes before we had been standing on that rocky outcrop at the top. There is a horse race track at the fair grounds, and we found more people getting exercise walking the track this evening.

We were actually at the fair grounds hunting for a covered bridge that was on a tourist map. There are 18 original covered bridges in Fairfield County, more than anywhere else in Ohio. Of course, we plan to go searching for some of them. We found this one not far from the high school.

Not far from the bridge was a wide grassy area, where a doe and her two fawns were resting.  We like everything we've seen (and tasted) in our new little town of Lancaster, Ohio. We think we'll stay for a while!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Charleston, West Virginia--Chalk up Another State Capitol

We made the drive into the city of Charleston, West Virginia, mainly so we could add another state capitol to our growing list this year. But we also found a pleasant city situated on the Kanawha River. We walked over the bridge this morning, on our way to a unique hiking experience.

Right in the center of town is the one-mile Carriage Trail that spirals to the top of the bluffs overlooking the river. We found the Sunrise Mansion and other elegant old homes at the top of the hike. We liked the entry signs of the public Carriage Trail, as we were welcomed to the "neighborwood."

While the neighborwood side of the river is predominately residential, we could see the business side of the river as we crossed back over the bridge.

In the center of the picture above, we could see the Haddad River Park. We walked to the park on this beautiful day, and you can barely see Denisa standing in front of the stage. If we were staying here through the weekend, we would definitely be back for one of their summer concerts. Every Saturday they host free "Music on the Levee" here at the river park.

Our next stop was Capitol Market. This farmer's market is open every day of the week, and features some beautifully-colored fresh vegetables.

We have been blessed with gifts of fresh tomatoes this summer, so we didn't need to buy any here. But it seems to us that this part of the country is known for growing great tomatoes. We were told about some thick-sliced bacon sold in the fresh meat counter of a local grocery store. Now Denisa's favorite breakfast is that smoky bacon with fresh tomatoes every morning.

Our next stop was the West Virginia Capitol building. That golden dome can be seen for miles, as we caught our first glimpse of it from the interstate when we drove in. It is even more beautiful up close.

This is one of the grandest of all the state capitols we have visited, with its tall ceilings and white marble hallways. This hall leads into one of the state legislative chambers, and you can barely see Mark standing in its doorway to give scale to its grandeur.

We liked the fixtures that were lighting up those long hallways. The bottom stands were made of black marble. But the tops were beautifully carved out of white alabaster. It's hard to photograph the detail of those stone globes that are lit up from the inside.

We thought it was interesting that they have two legislative groups--the usual Senate, and the House of Delegates. Unlike a lot of state capitols that have moved their legislators to another building, there is plenty of room here for them all to be under one roof.

Denisa is standing on the first floor, looking up at the dome. She can see Mark, peeking over the marble rail on the second floor. She can also see the top of the dome where the 4,000-pound chandelier is hanging. It's hard to picture its size and beauty so far away, but the chandelier is made entirely of beveled crystal.

We found an old friend hanging out at the capitol building. This is Robert C. Byrd, a long-time federal senator from the state of West Virginia. We consider him a friend because both our sons received the Robert C. Byrd scholarship to help pay for their college educations. No longer available, it was the only federally-funded academic scholarship in the country.

We also stopped in at the West Virginia Governor's office. Mark looks very governly as he stands at the podium where press conferences are filmed at the capitol.

Like most state capitols, the grounds around it are covered with statues of people that are the most important to the state. Front and center is Abraham Lincoln, who signed the state of West Virginia into existence in 1863 to join the Union. This happened when this section of the original state of Virginia decided to become part of the Union cause.

We thought it was interesting to see a statue on one corner of the capitol, memorializing the thousands of West Virginians that became Union soldiers during the Civil War. On the opposite corner of the capitol grounds is a statue of Thomas L. Jackson. More commonly known as Stonewall Jackson, the famous Confederate General, he was born in Clarksburg, Virginia--now part of the state of West Virginia.

Also on the capitol grounds is the West Virginia Museum and Cultural Center. We found that the museum was closed on the day we were touring, but the foyer was still open to the public. The three-story foyer was lined with beautiful hand-made quilts from all over the state.

The picture below is of the quilt that had the most ribbons and awards--2016 West Virginia Juried Quilt Best of Show, Mixed/Other First Place, and Quilt Purchase Award. Denisa assumed that these beautiful art pieces would be hand-quilted. But she was surprised to see that these top intricate quilts were machine quilted.

Since Denisa has pieced (and hand-quilted) a scrap quilt, she was particularly interested in this one. We include a picture of just a small corner to show the intricate detail. These pieces are less than an inch in size, and it took over 12,000 pieces to make this quilt entitled, "Pineapple Crazy." It received a first place ribbon in the "Pieced Quilt Division."

Also in the foyer was an interesting display of the ball gowns worn by West Virginia's First Ladies. There was a doll-size figurine of each of the governor's wives, adorned with the dress she wore when her husband was inaugurated. According to the actual portraits, the doll-maker that made these figurines did a fine job or capturing the likeness of these early governor's wives.
But the most recent First Ladies were very life-like, and their dresses were very close replicas of the actual dresses that are hanging in the display.

Sorry for the distractions of the reflections in the glass windows. But the current First Lady was pictured with her figurine, and the likeness and detail was striking!

Denisa was so interested in the quilts and the dolls, that we lost all track of time. When we noticed what time it was, we realized we only had two minutes to get back to our car before our parking meter would be out of time. After our jog back to the car, we were tired and ready to go home. But it had been another great day--exploring free things to do in yet another interesting capitol city.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Moving to West Virginia

After four days of rain, we weren't surprised that it was raining again when we drove to our next campground. We are in the Appalachian mountains, so we appreciated the fact that they have several highway tunnels that saved us much of the ups and downs of mountain driving.

But we didn't appreciate the fact that the only way to get through this two-hour section of highway was on a toll road. The minute we hit the West Virginia border, the turnpike started, with three toll booths before we got to our destination today. This was our first experience of paying the higher tolls of a motor home driver.

We also noticed that some of the trees at higher elevations are showing hints of fall foliage color to come. We are on the fast track north right now, trying to get north for the earlier autumn leaves.

Our destination today is in the west-central section of West Virginia at a little campground named, "Ripplin' Waters." We lucked into a lake-side spot, and this was our view from the motor home's dining table window. With the little white chapel mirrored in the rippling waters, it was a very serene place to be.

We were also introduced to the local fowl early in our stay. This is Lucy, a black swan and commander-in-chief of the lake. She is aided in her water patrol duties by a plethora of white and brown ducks. But in order to keep the messy Canadian Geese away, a group of Chinese geese were hatched and brought to live at the lake.

This campground is owned by the Church of God, and they hosted their last summer camp in their cabins just two weeks ago. We walked in this park-like setting, and scared up turkeys, a deer, and a hedge hog.

There was also a very nice swimming pool that we intended to use. But we were just too busy for a swim during our stay. We were so excited to have full-hook-ups, that we got to catch up with laundry at this park as well.

We are on the edge of the mountains in this section of West Virginia, so there were less hiking options for us. But one day we made the drive to Kanawha State Forest. We were glad to see that West Virginia doesn't charge admission to their state parks, even though they are facing severe budget cuts in this state. We took off on a nicely-shaded 7-mile loop hike this morning.

We have gotten out of the habit of applying sun screen because our hikes seem to always be in the shade now. We love to see other things that grow abundantly in this rich shade--like lime green moss and bright yellow fungus on a fallen log.

We are enjoying the glimpses of fall that we are beginning to see. If these few red leaves are any indication, this is going to be a stunning place to hike this autumn.

We hiked on the ridge, and we could see that West Virginia's budget cut-backs are probably limiting some much-needed trail maintenance. We lost the trail more than once because trees have fallen over the trail and haven't been moved. The ranger had warned us to bring hiking poles, because our descent from the ridge would be steep on the Alligator Trail. We wondered why an in-land trail would have such a curious name. But we figured it out shortly, as we got this picture of Mark inside the alligator's mouth.

As we traveled down a winding West Virginia highway, we were certainly glad we were in the car instead of the motor home today. Coming upon this one-lane short underpass is the kind of thing that gives motor home drivers nightmares.

Our next stop was the J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works company. They give factory tours of America's oldest working salt farm. Again, we were confused about where this inland operation would get the salt to farm. But on the tour we were shown the well and the tanks where the salt water is pumped.

The well goes down to 300 feet, where it taps into an ancient salt water ocean. The well water is a higher concentration of salt than usual ocean water, and it is put into shallow troughs inside a very hot green house to begin the evaporation process. It makes an interesting picture to see the green house trusses reflected in the black trays filled with salt water.

Now using the natural power of the summer's heat and sunshine, the serious water evaporation begins. This process almost stops during the winter months. But in August, they are enjoying record heat and record salt production. Once the water evaporates enough to become a 10% saline solution, it is moved to another green house with more shallow troughs. In a matter of days, salt crystals begin forming in the water.

Every morning (before the sun heats up the green houses to 150 degrees) they use wooden rakes to move the formed salt crystals to the edge of the trough so it can be gathered into wooden pans. We were surprised at the size and purity of the salt they were raking off this water.

After the water drains from the crystals, the salt comes indoors for the final drying and cleaning process. Wrapped in white towels, it spends days allowing the final moisture to dry out. The last step is cleaning the salt and then packaging it. After spending days drying out, they can't use water to clean the salt. Instead, the pure white salt is laid out on white towels where any dark impurities are obvious and can be plucked away with tweezers.

The dried salt is then sifted through various size screens to size it appropriately. The biggest crystals will be packaged into salt grinders. The medium pieces become finishing salt, and the finest powder will become products like popcorn salt. All of the packaging and labeling are done by hand here at the store. At the end of the tour we got to taste different products such as their smoked salt, their ramp salt (combined with a local wild onion plant), and their salted caramel. Who knew that salt sampling could be so delicious?

When we stopped at the West Virginia visitor's center along the interstate, we asked about good ideas of things to see while we would be camped at Ripplin' Waters. They pointed out that the eastern and southern parts of the state had the most travel brochures and points of interest. We hope to be traveling in that part of the state on our trip south, but for now we are happy with the things we are finding in this western section of West Virginia too.