Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Born in Babylonia, Moved to Arizona

I think I'm getting closer to going to a Tut exhibit without making logistical mistakes.

In the 1970s, I and a bunch of college buddies jumped in the car and drove to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit. "We don't need no stinking
advance tickets!" we said with the confidence and foolhardiness of youth.

When we got there, the line was so long it rivaled a Beatle's concert. "Look, a really short line over there!" we said, again
with the confidence and foolhardiness of youth, "let's get in that one!"

The line we got in was for the bus tours. Buses came, people got off, people went in. More busses came, more people got off, more people went in.
We waited. By the time we realized what we had done, the very very long line at the main entrance was a huge, gross, seemingly eternal line.

But the the busses stopped! And they let the line in! We made it! We had made a stupid blunder, but it turned out okay in the end.

So last night I decided that today was the day to visit the current Tut exhibit! Determined not to repeat history, I checked the website for the
Franklin Institute Science Center, and discovered that there were usually some tickets available each day, but only for really late
entrance times. Some days they were all sold out.

So I checked ticketmaster and found tickets! I ordered my "will call" ticket for 11 a.m., complete with "discounted" parking!

I drove to Philly this morning, and thanks to the GPS had no trouble finding the Franklin Institute or the garage. I took my parking
ticket (which has to be presented at the Institute for stamping for the discount) and drove in. It was a tight fit with a large truck, and before I got to the turn
to go to the second floor, a parking worker flagged me down and told me he'd park me outside because I was driving a truck. This involved exiting the garage and parking just past the cashier booth. So I had
to pay for a all day parking ($15) and then drive up and over a curb to park with along with three other trucks. This was good and bad -- good that the truck was
very visible, so I didn't have to worry about someone breaking in, but bad because it was now in the sun and the temp was to be in the 90s. And
bad because I no longer had a parking ticket to be validated so I was stuck with the full charge.

When I got to the Institute, it appeared that there were tickets available today, and the tickets sold at the counter were half what I paid, and
they included the audio tour and the IMAX movie which were not included in my ticket. So I made a stupid blunder again, but it turned out
okay in the end. I'm just charging this one off to "insurance" that I would get in.

For the Tut-obsessed, this was not "Nothin' But Tut." It was "The World of King Tut" and included a lot of artifacts from other rulers, especially
those related to Tut. The exhibits were very high quality, and I found the emphasis on the family and daily life to be fascinating. Tut's
tomb was not included, but there were several rooms of items that had been found in his tomb.

As I was reading one of the exhibits, two relatively elderly women seemed to be in a quiet, but heated discussion about the exhibit. One
said, "See? See?" as she excitedly pointed to the text that described the Eqyptian symbol for "Life." I thought, "How nice -- they are engaged
in an intellectual discussion about the exhibit." Of course I was wrong. She then went on to say, "Look at that! I CAN TOO use A-N-K-H in Scrabble!"

Painted steps leading up to the Museum

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lancaster County: Farm, Fowl, and Fuzzy Visitor

I didn't actually do much today other than drive to Lancaster County, get set up, and take a nap. The campground is next to this rather idyllic farm and cornfield.

On my way through Lancaster, I followed, for a bit, this truck packed with live chickens. They didn't say where they were going, and I didn't ask. You just don't see this in Columbia.

And lastly, this spider seemed a bit annoyed that I took over her water spigot. I just couldn't help humming "the itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout," but I did make her move so I could connect my water hose!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Heading North

My interim time in Maryland is over, and tomorrow I will be on my way to Pennsylvania. The current plan is to spend some time by Lancaster, then Rickett's Glen, and then the Mason-Dixon Star Party.

While I was in MD, my truck was almost ruined by an oil change gone horribly wrong. As you can see in the image, oil kept leaking out -- fortunately, it had only been driven a very short distance -- around a quarter mile -- so even though more than a third of the oil was gone, the dealer assures me that enough was left in the engine to avoid permanent damage.

If I made a vehicle in such a way that a small screw could, if not tightened, cause distruction to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, I would accept the criticism that I had a design flaw. Does the auto industry?

Meet my new addition to the "yard" -- thanks to Val, my RV is now decorated by a very cool pink flamingo:

Cute, isn't he?

Well, that's about it for now. Check back soon for tales from Pennsylvania!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Goodbye to Assateague

This is my final day on Assateague. Tomorrow I will go back to Central Maryland to take care of some business, and then I'll be off to... Pennsylvania, I think, to the Amish country near Lancaster.

Except for the mosquitoes and the ticks, Assateague is a fantastic place to spend a few lazy summer weeks. There is peacefulness and serenity here, but activity and action just down the road in Ocean City if you want a more "cosmopolitan" adventure. The environment here will fill you with wonder and awe -- from the sea birds and crabs in the salt marsh to the indescribable grandeur of the surf and sand at the beach. I have seen Whitetail Deer, Sika Deer, wild horses, rabbits, ibis, heron, Diamondback Terrapin (and their newly hatched babies), snapping turtles, crabs, and dolphin. What an amazing show from Mother Nature!

Thanks to everyone who made this possible. I have loved it all*.

* FYI, the term "all" does NOT include ticks and mosquitoes. Period.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Skeeters and Waves

Remember the "how many can you find" games you played as a kid? Today's game is, "how many mosquitos can you find in this picture?" (click for larger image)

I found 35 -- can you find them all?

The mosquitos are certainly bad now that they have hatched, but to balance things somewhat, the beach is wonderful and there are no mosquitos there.

I sat in the surf for quite a while today, enjoying the experience of feeling an
enormous undercurrent from the last wave pulling underneath me as it moved back to the sea, while at the same time the rush of the
oncoming wave breaking over me.
Standing tended to be a bit disorienting -- water was going in at least two directions (and sometimes sideways, too) and it became dizzying -- but a fine way to get away from the skeeters for a bit.

I saw four dolphins playing in the surf, and they came to within 50 feet of the beach. They had quite a cheering section!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Mid-June Assateague Tale

The morning broke like so many others near the water -- a gray, even sky, seagulls circling in large, purposeful loops, and the smell of the ocean wafting gently across the marsh.

She made the day’s first coffee and sipped it absentmindedly as she made the bed, got dressed, and ate breakfast. Soon it was time to head out to the dunes.

She had her choice of parking places in the lot as the only other people up and about were fishermen getting ready to drive into the “Over Sand Vehicle Use” area. Their fishing gear tied to the back of their 4x4 SUVs and trucks, they lined up along the side of the road to let the air pressure in their tires down to the required 15 psi before driving into the rutted sand to find “their” spot on the beach.

She parked, grabbed her gear, and began walking towards the dunes.

All of a sudden, she stopped and listened intently. What had she heard? The only sound now was the pounding of surf and the occasional call of a gull or willet. “Must be my imagination,” she thought as she began walking again.

There it was again! “What IS that sound?” she said to herself. Now it was closer. She thought she could almost make out the source of what was now a sort of humming noise, but then the sound was lost to the breeze blowing gently over the dunes. “Creepy,” she thought.

She started off again, this time picking up her pace and glancing over her shoulder every few steps. The sound was definitely getting louder, she thought. She walked faster, but the sound grew and grew until she knew it was gaining on her.

It was so loud now, she could hardly think. Should she run? Should she turn and fight? How much time did she have to decide, really? Seconds? Certainly not even a minute. It was loud and raucous now, and sounded more and more like a buzz saw. Various horror movies moved through her mind, but she willed them away. It was moving towards her fast. Too fast. And with a purpose.

She turned to face the inevitable. “Oh My GAWD!!!” she screamed as she came face to face with…

The Hatching.

After waiting patiently for the wetter weather to arrive, their time had come. They’re here. They’re real. And they want blood.

Soon to be a major motion picture.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Off Roading Towards Virginia

Richard visited Assateague on Monday and Tuesday. He showed me some of the ponds and insect areas that are off the beaten path, and provided sound advice about avoiding ticks and mosquitos (he has lots of experience there!).

If you look at a map of Assateague, you will see a circular drive, which is normally the southern-most place you can take a car. You can, however, get a permit to drive the off-road section (ORV) which leads, after many kilometers, to the Virginia fence.

To drive the off-road section, you must have a four-wheel-drive vehicle; you must reduce your tire pressure to 15 pounds; you must carry boards, ropes, and a shovel; and, as I discovered, you must have nerves of steel.

The park rangers were willing to give me the training I would need to drive on the ORV part of the park, but Richard has done it many times and offered to take me. This, as it turns out, was a MUCH better option. I doubt I would have gotten very far on my own!

We got a truck at the park service and drove to the beginning of the ORV segment. The deep, rutted sand began almost immediately. There really is no road -- only markers on the right that provide the western edge of the drivable part of the beach, and the surf on the left. Surf fishermen (and women) have chosen their spots on the beach so they are widely separated from their neighbors. These are "hard core" fisherpeople -- some had upwards of six lines in the water. They, and the researchers/rangers are the only ones to drive here. Backpackers can hike in to this part of Assateague, but they use the beach rather than hiking through the deep sand. Flat stretches of nothing but sand are set aside as camp sites for the backpackers.

Driving in the ruts isn't really driving as much as giving the car gas and wrestling it in, out, and through the ruts. In the really deep ruts the car can only continue to go where the ruts go. Where the ruts are somewhat less, it is possible to steer, to some degree, to avoid obstacles like boards, horseshoe crabs, or detritis washed up from the sea.

That's it. Rutted sand, the occassional fisherman, sea birds, more sand, and a beautiful, rugged view of the sea. And buzzards enjoying a dinner of horse. Ex-horse, rather.

There were a few "roads" that led westward towards the salt marsh, and we eventually took one. It soon changed from a sand covered road in the dunes to a forest trail. One lane, but easily drivable. It led to a house on the marsh that used to be a private residence, but is now owned by the park service. It isn't exactly unoccupied -- a black racer lives under the house, and mosquitos live outside. I'm assuming the previous human occupants got there by boat -- or horse!

It was a very special experience, and I thank Richard for taking me along.

As I write this, I'm watching the rain come down. It has gotten "sweatshirt" cold, and the wind gusts frequently, shaking the RV and making odd things go "bump" in the night. Still, it's nice to wake up to a whinny and look outside to see horses wandering by -- even if they haven't figured out the directional signs on the pavement.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ponies To The Right, Ponies to the Left

I left the RV around 5:30 this afternoon to go for a walk. As I started down the road that goes through the campground, I was stopped in my tracks by five ponies entering the campground.

Now we are not allowed to "approach" any wildlife, especially ponies. They were blocking the road, and I couldn't get around them without approaching them. So I waited, and soon they ambled on to the campsite in the center of the loop.
The people at this site did nothing to encourage them and did not feed them, but they sure had a lot of horse visitors!

After they passed through the campsites, I walked down the road to the beach, less than a quarter mile away. When I got to the place where the road intersects the walkway to the beach, I saw that there was a herd of ten ponies blocking the way there! Cars were stopped as the ponies strolled across the road. This time I managed to get around them without "approaching" them.

The walk on the beach was very nice, and as I started home I discovered that my way was once again blocked by three ponies! I managed to get by them, and now I know a prime pony-viewing time at Assateague.

(I also did laundry and grocery shopping today. Laundromats are everything I remember them being)

Friday, June 08, 2007


Hot, hazy day today, with temps in the mid-90s. It was also a day for terrapin sightings -- three Diamondback Terrapins, two with barnacles attached. The first two were at a campsite a few down from mine. They were just finishing laying (and covering) their eggs (did they arrive together in some sort of terrapin maternity club?). Then, for one, it was time for her closeup! Isn't she lovely?

The third terrapin was on a path by the salt marsh. I really have no way of knowing if this was a boy terrapin or a girl terrapin -- the fact of egg laying was really the only clue for the first two.

I went down to the beach tonight in the hopes of seeing the space shuttle as it followed the coast on the way to meet with the Space Station. The launch was scheduled for 7:38, and at 7:05 it was still iffy. The problem was the two emergency landing sites in Europe -- they were inaccessible due to weather, and that would scrub the launch.

At launch time, I called Jerry to see if the launch had taken place and it had! I shared the news with a family on the beach, and we all waited the five minutes to see how much of the shuttle flight we could see. It was still light out, and the horizon was very hazy. We did manage to glimpse a flash here and there at the right time, but I can't be sure we really saw it. I came back to the campsite and found a deer grazing just behind the RV.

The beach here is very lovely and perfect for long walks. Not a lot seems to wash up, though. A small shell here and there, but so far nothing of note. And no pelicans! Guess I need to go a bit further south for to see them.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dunes, Forest, and Marsh

Assateague is such a diverse place! The dune area is, obviously, very sandy and beachy. It is hot, desolate, and scrubby. When you get away from the crowds, it feels like you are treking alone across the desert. Even the ponies don't seem to stop here very often -- they use it as a "highway" on the way to somewhere else.

The forest area is just that -- typical forest with pine and deciduous trees and a bit of poison ivy growing almost everywhere. Oddly, there are Prickly Pear cactus just at the edge of the forest area, and the cactus is now in bloom. Each bloom comes with its own contingent of ants for some reason. Maybe cacti are like peonies?

Lastly is the marsh area. There are lots of birds, fish, and grasses here. Very lovely, and my favorite spot. A great bird watching spot. I met some people who were crabbing yesterday, but they said all the crabs were too small to keep. You can sometimes see some crab claws left on the walks by birds who don't need to throw the small ones back.

On the downside, I have fed some fauna -- no, not deer or ponies. Mosquitos! Ticks are also quite bad here, but I do several tick checks a day (and have found some before they began their dinner). Regular old house flies are also a nuisance -- for the first time in years, I bought a fly swatter. I now have little fly corpses littering my floor. But it feels really good to whack 'em!

Monday, June 04, 2007

On The Road Again

I decided to take a deep breath and brave the Bay Bridge while pulling the RV. The weather was cooperating nicely -- rain earlier, but totally dry as I pulled up to the toll booth.

By the time I hit mid-span, the rain was coming down so hard I could barely see the vehicle in front of me. Fortunately, there wasn't much wind because that would have really freaked me out. It was nerve wracking enough with the rain! I just watched the road in front of me, went slowly, and tried not to look at the malestrom around me. Pretty soon I was on the other side and, predictably, the rain had almost stopped. (Murphy must also love RVs)

I am now in Assateague. About five minutes after I got to my campsite, the ponies came! They spent a couple minutes making hot pony love, but then wandered off to find their campsites. I'm in Loop A -- apparently the ponies camp in Loop B (at least these guys seemed interested in the Loop B sites)!

So far, the Undesirable Insect count has been mosquitos, one; ticks, three. Plus a few flies of the house variety. Tomorrow I'll go hunting -- with the camera, of course. In the meantime, I'm worn out and ready for a hot shower and an early bedtime.