Friday, February 3, 2023

Blessed by the creatures on this kayak day

We are way behind in getting travel posts published this summer because we're having too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

October 6, 2022

We were camped at a Corp of Engineer campground right on Shelbyville Lake. We could have put our kayak on the lake that is just 10 yards from our front door. But instead, we decided on a different option. Instead of kayaking in the wide section of a big lake, we much prefer to put our little boat on the narrow ends of the lake that trail off into rivers and creeks. So we drove twenty miles and inflated our Sea Eagle at Strickland boat launch. From our boat dock, we could see a white line in the distance.

That thin white line is actually a very large group of migrating American white pelicans.

We paddled towards them, trying to count the flock. Our best guess was around 300-400 birds.

These aren't small birds, as the average wing span is nine feet. A white pelican is one of the largest birds in North America. So if you put hundreds of them together in one place, they can be seen a long ways away.

We had a front row seat to this amazing sight. While we kept our distance, at times something would spook them and some would fly. The sound of those nine-foot wings overhead was awesome.

Even though they look totally white while they are standing around preening . . .

when they unfurl their wings to fly, their black wing tips show. We talked to a photographer from Chicago who was taking pictures from the shore. When we circled back by our launch spot, he said he took pictures of us in our kayak with the pelicans flying over our heads. We were excited that he wanted our information so he could send the picture to us. . . But we never got it. We're guessing that it was such a good picture so he would be selling it for a huge profit, and he didn't want to share the royalty with us. So imagine us in our kayak with the rush of those big wings just over our heads. It's a good picture, huh?

We watched as a large group of pelicans suddenly started sticking their beaks into the water and bobbing up and down excitedly. It looked like they had found a large school of fish, and the pelican feast started. More and more pelicans flew to this special spot. We watched as they scooped up the fish in their pouch, then lifted their beaks, and swallowed down fish after fish. We read that they often do this cooperative fishing where they line up and drive the fish to shallow water for easier fishing. Sorry Shelbyville Lake fishermen, but hundreds of pelicans can eat thousands of fish in a hurry!

In case you think this is only a pelican trip, we also took pictures of other critters in this stretch of the river. We found the usual red-neck turtles . . .

enjoying the sunshine and posing for pictures.

But then we spotted some weird looking, flat turtles laying in the mud at the edge of the river.

These are soft shell turtles, and it's the first time we've seen them. They have curious pointy noses, and each one slid into the muddy water as we approached.

We had paddled a couple miles when we caught site of the railroad bridge that crossed the water up ahead.

Denisa grabbed the camera when we saw movement up on the train bridge. What is that?

The crows were circling and raising a racket because they saw the bobcat first.

So this is the way that a bobcat can move from one side of the river to the other! We're finding all sorts of interesting critters on our trip down the river today!

After all the great animal sightings of the day, seeing a great white heron is hardly worth the effort of snapping another picture.

It's a perfect weather day with blue skies and no wind. We have wandered into another of God's wonders today!

Just past the railroad bridge we came to the next boat dock, and the lake got noticeably narrower. It was a good place to turn around and head back to our pickup. As we paddled back, we had to go through the pelican flocks again. Denisa couldn't resist taking more pictures with the fall foliage in the background.

This river has been a good stop on their migration flight, and the pelicans should be filled with fish for the next step of their journey. These birds migrate from their summer breeding home in Canada. They fly over this area on their way to their winter home along the Gulf coast. So we will see them again when we head south for our winter as well.

We watched as a group of white pelicans took flight on their black-tipped-9-foot wings. The whisper of their wings on the air right above our heads is magical. It was even better because not one of them pooped on us in this fly-over.

We have certainly had a good time floating in the kayak on this narrow end of Shelbyville Lake. But we've been especially blessed by the creatures on this kayak day.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Welcome to Illinois!

We are way behind in getting travel posts published this summer because we're having too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

October 5, 2022

We stayed in our Boondockers Welcome site in Terra Haute until noon, because the check-in time at our next campground isn't until a very late 4:00. Once we were finally on the road, we soon crossed the Illinois state line--the land of Lincoln. We have noticed that every state wants to claim Abraham Lincoln. Kentucky claims his birthplace, Indiana claims his childhood home, and now Illinois claims his adult years and his final resting place. Once we crossed that state line, we also entered the Central Time zone for the first time since May.

The fall harvest is in full swing in Illinois in October. We see combines on the roads and in the fields harvesting corn and soy beans. We also see long lines of trucks waiting to unload at the grain elevators. We love to see agriculture in action!

We arrived at our camp site at Lithia Springs Campground Corp of Engineer campground. We really prefer these Corp of Engineer parks that are usually situated right on a lake. Our camp site was a little unlevel, but it had great views of the lake.

It also had well-spaced trees for hanging up the hammock.

Mark climbed on top of the motor home to get a bird's eye view of Denisa resting this afternoon.

We'll love these Corp of Engineer parks even more in April when Mark turns 62 and we will get the half-price senior citizen rate! Our campsite was surrounded by the shade of the tall trees all around us.

We usually love the trees, but these happen to have seed pods on them that are just right for harvesting right now. When they drop from those tall branches, it sounds like a bomb exploding on the roof of the motor home.

We took a 2.5-mile walk around some of the trails close to our campground. We counted over 20 deer on our walk this lovely evening.

On another day, we ventured out into the surrounding country-side. It was interesting to see the large tractors at work on the same road used by horses and buggies. We met a local at the lake, riding his Amish-made-two-seat-surrey-bicycle. He told us about the nearby town of Arthur, with the largest Amish community in the state. Since we are trying to clean out our refrigerator, we are trying not to buy too many baked goods. But we took his advice to eat a meal at Yoder's Kitchen in Arthur, Illinois. We had a tasty plate of braised chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. But the crowning touch was the fresh yeast bread, served with a sweetened peanut butter or special apple butter jam. We topped off the meal with fresh-made coconut cream pie. That was some great dinner advice!

Our surrey-bicycle rider also told us about the town of Shelbyville. So we decided to make a trip to this town that also lays claim to Lincoln. It was in the court house in Shelbyville that Abraham Lincoln debated Anthony Thorton in 1856. Our new friend played the part of Lincoln in the fundraiser to make money for this sculpture in front of the court house.

He also told us that the woman that patented the first automatic dishwasher was from Shelbyville. Her famous quote was, "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine I'll do it myself." In 1893 she unveiled her invention at the World's Fair, where she won the highest award. Likewise, the inventor of the first successful mechanical hay baler was from Shelbyville. Who knew that such a little town in Illinois would have so many famous people!?! Our new friend also encouraged us to visit the Shelbyville Chautauqua. In the early 1900's, Chautauquas hosted speakers, musicians, and troupes of actors that brought traveling entertainment to small communities. This large circular building was built in 1903, and has hosted countless events through the years.

Built with no support poles, the information sign out front says that it's the largest structure in the world with this building technique. It has recently been refurbished and strengthened and looks ready for another century of events here in Shelbyville.

Back at our campground, we can see the lake from the motor home. We watched as one of the resident deer walked along the lake shore.

The water looked like glass as we watched the sunset turn the sky to pink. We feel very welcomed to Illinois!



Tuesday, January 31, 2023

There's nothing to do in Terra Haute

We are way behind in getting travel posts published this summer because we're having too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

October 4, 2022

After our day at Indiana's state capitol city, we drove southeast on I-70 to the smaller city of Terra Haute. We're staying at another Boondockers Welcome host, taking up most of their front driveway. We are amazed at hosts like this that inconvenience themselves to make this parking option available to complete strangers like us. Our hostess also brought us home-made chocolate chip cookies that were delicious. Her husband had left that morning for Florida, where they own a winter home. Their home was still standing after Hurricane Ian made land-fall. But he was taking a pickup load of repair supplies to help their Florida neighbors. This summer has certainly renewed our faith in the goodness of people across the country.

Even though our hostess has lived her entire life in this area, she didn't have any great ideas for something to do here. We certainly didn't know of any big-name attractions here either. Maybe there's nothing to do in Terra Haute?!? But we did find a couple bike trails to get a little exercise. The first was the Wabashiki Trail, that started at the Dewey Point County Park. This 6.8-mile loop winds its way through the trees of the wildlife management area.

It also leads to the kayak launch area. It looks like a first-rate kayak ramp and dock. The only problem is that there is no water in sight right now. The weeds have taken over the lake bottom that used to be a good kayaking site. This is more evidence of the drought that is affecting much of the United States.

As we looped back to the parking lot, the last mile was on a first-class just-finished causeway. We shudder to think how much it cost to build this mile of trail with overhead lights, water-proof decking, and wooden rails. It was very nice!

The only problem was its proximity to the highway. When Denisa panned the camera to the right, we could show how close all that traffic is to the bikers and hikers.

We loaded up our bikes, and drove the pickup ten miles to our second bike trail of the day. The trail head for the Jones National Road Heritage Trail was in East Glenn, Indiana. We found some nice fall foliage along the way.

The Heritage Trail is flat and paved--two of Denisa's favorite adjectives when describing bike trails. It was a six-mile ride to the campus of Indiana State University. We parked the bikes and walked around this compact campus. We found some six-foot-tall coke bottles, and had to do some research to find out why. In 1915, the Coca-Cola company sent out a challenge to glass companies to design a "bottle so distinct that you could recognize it by feeling it in the dark or lying broken on the ground." The Root Glass Company created the winning design, making Terra Haute the birthplace of this iconic shape. There are 39 of these painted bottles scattered around the city.

That bottle is painted blue, with sycamore leaves. That's because the unusual mascot of Indiana State is "Sycamore." We had no idea, but both our sons knew it when I sent the picture of the college football stadium and asked for the mascot name. They are both well-versed in sports trivia.

We made a 1.2-mile walking loop around Indiana State's campus, including eating lunch in the student union. The students here are lucky to have a local Greek cafe in the union. Then we started back on our bikes for the return ride to the pickup. Our bike ride took us by another football stadium. The crowds are smaller at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology stadium.

We had a few more miles in our pedaling legs, so we took the additional Maple Avenue Lake loop. Some of the maples are turning lovely fall colors.

We saw the lake . . .

and then headed back through the forest. This additional loop was hilly and rocky--two adjectives that Denisa does NOT like when describing a bike trail. But we rejoined the paved Heritage Trail and got back to the pickup about the time our legs wore out.

We biked 22.2 miles today, and hiked another couple miles. We had great weather and it was good exercise. While we started the day thinking that there was nothing to do in Terra Haute, we managed to keep ourselves busy and learned a little local history and trivia. It looks we found something to do in Terra Haute, after all.


Monday, January 30, 2023

Welcome to Indiana

We are way behind in getting travel posts published this summer because we're having too much fun traveling! So we won't be confused about when each "wandering" happened, we'll start each blog with its actual date.

October 2 and 3, 2022

After attending church in Celina, Ohio, we weren't in a big hurry to leave our comfortable camping site at the fairgrounds. This is one of the few campgrounds that doesn't have a check-out time, and they encouraged us to stay as long as we wanted. So we enjoyed the electric hook-ups until 4:30 in the afternoon before we hit the road. That's because we are headed to an overnight spot with no electricity about 80 miles away. But first, we crossed yet another state line into Indiana--the crossroads of America. Their welcoming sign also pointed out that this is the home state of President Benjamin Harrison, as well as Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home. Welcome to Indiana!

The drive was flat and uneventful--just the way we like it. We met some big-wheeled agricultural vehicles . . .

as well as some narrow-wheeled buggies on our drive into Indiana.

We arrived at Harrah's Hoosier Casino not too long before dark.  This is our first casino boondocking stay for the entire summer. We walked from the RV parking lot to the casino to let them know that we were spending the night, and to see if they had any freebies for new members. We got player's cards, and spun the wheel to see if we would win up to $1,000 in free play money. For both of us, the wheel stopped on the minimum prize--$5 in food credit. So we left the casino with two free pieces of pizza and no great gambling winnings. We did win a quiet night in the parking lot, and spent the rest of the evening making reservations for the remainder of our path to our oldest son's home near Kansas City. Speaking of which, we also got a phone call from that household this evening. Our almost two-year-old grandson requested a call to Doo-Dude (his way of saying Grand-dude). The facetime call ended with him holding his arms up for us to pick him up, and then he kissed the telephone screen to tell us good-bye. That's one of the reasons we are picking up speed as we are nearing the end of our summer's journey.

The next morning we left the casino parking lot, and made the 43 mile trip to a Walmart in Indianapolis. We wanted to avoid rush hour because we had heard that I-70 going through Indy is closed, so everyone must take the outside loop. We were in heavy traffic even at 10:30, when we parked the motor home at Walmart and then drove the pickup into the city center. We drove by the stadium where the NFL Indianapolis Colts play their home football games.

We got to downtown, which is an interesting mix of modern tall buildings that mirror the old green domes of historic buildings nearby.

We were lucky to find a good parking spot on the street near our destination--the Indiana State House.

It's hard to get far enough away to get a picture of this impressive building, made of Indiana limestone.

We got a private tour of the interior of this state house that was built in 1888. It's one of the few state capitols that still hosts all three branches of state government under one roof.

The Senate chamber looks more like a hotel atrium. But instead of hotel rooms ringing the chamber, behind the windows are the offices of the Senators.

When viewed from the upper gallery, the most impressive part of the House chamber is the giant chandelier that hangs precariously overhead.

While the legislative chambers have been updated over the years, the Supreme Court still looks just like it did when the building opened in 1888. Even the chairs inside the court are original. When this state house was built, it used gas for lighting. It was wired for electricity because the architect knew that option would be available soon. If you look closely at the light fixtures on the wall, you can see upward facing gas light fixtures, that are coupled with more down-ward facing electric bulbs.

The third member of the government branch trifecta is the governor. He still does business in this large office in the state house.

Old pay phones are long gone from the state house, but their private cubicles are still available for a more private cell phone conversation too.

While the state house was lovely, the crowning jewel had to be the stained glass window in the dome.

Before 1980, visitors would have looked up into dome to see a blackened ceiling. Because of the steam heat and the gas lights that had been used for almost 100 years, the German stained glass had turned to black. So a very careful cleaning process started in 1980 that cleaned every single piece of glass to its original glory. What a beautiful dome!

While the interior of this state house included its share of impressive statues and paintings, our favorite piece was this bronze copy of the state of Indiana poem. We encourage you to read about "Ain't God good to Indiana?"

After we finished our private state house tour, we wanted to do a little exploring in downtown Indy. The center point of interest has to be the Soldier and Sailor Memorial in the busy central traffic circle. It was beautiful against the perfectly blue sky, ringed by the downtown skyscrapers. If you look carefully, you can see Mark standing at the base to give a little bit of the scale of size to this tall memorial.

The elevator that takes visitors to the top was not running today. So we were limited to views from the bottom of the memorial. Indianapolis has one of the most impressive veterans memorials we have ever seen, taking up prime real estate among the big buildings.

We found another memorial nearby--the 9/11 memorial that features two 11,000-pound beams from the World Trade Center.

We had planned to move the pickup to the nearby White River State Park, but we found that our metered parking spot near the capitol was cheaper than the park's. So we unloaded the bikes and set off to explore Indianapolis on two wheels.

We rode the 3.4-mile canal loop, plus part of the White River Trail. 

The canal trail took us to the museum zone, and a photo op to become the "I" in Indy with a back drop of downtown.

In front of the state museum was this unusual steam-powered clock. We waited around to hear its steam-powered chimes.

We rode our bikes by this tall tower of colored tiles named "The Tent" (we don't know why), as well as the NCAA Museum, the children's museum, and the art museum.

The bike trail also took us beside the White River on our right, and the tall walls of the Indianapolis Zoo on our left. There are no cracks in that tall wall that allow a peek into the zoo--ask us how we know.

It was a lovely weather day to enjoy a very nice urban bike ride. We're pretty impressed with Indiana's capitol city--except for a big homeless camp we found when we tried to bike away from the tourist section of the trail.  

We also found that Indianapolis doesn't have any good camping options. So we loaded our bikes back onto the pickup, and drove back to the Walmart where we had left the motor home parked. Then it was an 82-mile drive on to our next camping spot--but that's a story for the next blog.