Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Biking on Federal Hill

It's "Restaurant Week " week in Baltimore -- and I had the great pleasure to visit the Bicycle Bistro in Federal Hill last night. In addition to the regular menu, they have a three-course prix fixe meal for $30.07 (the 07 indicates this is the price for Restaurant Week in 2007; better go now because next year it will be $30.08).

If you select from the prix fixe menu, you get your choice of appetizer, main course and dessert. The wine list includes "Eighteen for Eighteen," or eighteen bottles for an affordable eighteen dollars each.

My choices were the Sashimi Tuna and Avocado Tartare as an appetizer, Bicycle Vegetarian Nirvana for the main course, and Bread Pudding with fruit for dessert. All I can say is this was an amazingly excellent meal! The presentation was so artistic it was almost a shame to eat it -- but I overcame that obstacle easily when I took the first bite! Everything tasted as good as it looked -- or maybe better.

I will be here in the Baltimore area for a few days, and then will be back on the road. I think food may play a large part in this visit -- I already have a few additional dinner plans in the works. Guess I better get the walking shoes on and try to mitigate the damages!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Falling or White?

The Ohiopyle Area is known for two things -- Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the Youghiogheny River (yah-kuh-GAIN-ee or the Yough, pronounced YOCK) and its rapids. Lets start with Frank --

Arguably, one of his best known designs is that of Fallingwater just outside Ohiopyle. The house was commissioned by Edgar Kaufmann, who loved the waterfall on the property and assumed that the view from the house would show the falls. Instead, FLW put the house ON the falls. This visit, I took the "in depth" tour which was for two hours and included some areas (such as the servant quarters) that are not part of the regular tour. While Fallingwater is the famous house here, nearby, on a hill on the other side of Ohiopyle, sits another FLW house named Kentuck Knob. This is a beautiful example of FLW's Usonian architecture, built with the " common " people in mind -- but the house is anything but common! At first glance, the house appears to be built in the shape of a "U" with one side the entrance, one the carport, and one the utility space. In reality, there are no right angles in the house. None. Anywhere. It is a complex arrangement of triangles and parallelograms and other assorted shapes that aren't square. The interior is red cypress and field stone, cut, of course, on angles. The house is still privately owned. It is a real find, and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The other thing Ohiopyle is known for is white water rafting -- and I did it! There are three distinct portions of the Yough: Upper, Middle,and Lower. The Middle has no fast rapids and is a gentle float only. The Upper is only for the experienced or stupid -- it drops 115 feet in one mile, and is rated class IV and V. The Lower Yough, which I did, is somewhere in-between, rated class III. Since I am not yet totally out of my head, I signed up for a guided trip. There are 4 outfitters that do rafting trips from Ohiopyle, and they all operate in about the same way, and use the same put-in and take-out spots. Each group of people who go out (we had 64 people) keep somewhat together throughout the trip, and have 2 to 6 per raft. Everyone is pulled aside before the large rapids, and given instructions for navigating them. The guides travel on the river in their rafts or kayaks to help people who get stuck on rocks or go overboard. They also locate themselves at strategic points in and around the rapids to provide directional help (go RIGHT! Not that right, your OTHER RIGHT!) and rescue if need be.

Since I was on a guided tour, I was paired up with a guide named Mike who was the "sweep" guide -- staying at the back to be sure no one was stuck and left behind. However, when we got to a rapids and the main group was off to the side for instructions, Mike and I went first as he needed to station himself for possible rescue. After he navigated the rapids, he would get our raft safely on a rock where I had a good view, and then go stand somewhere strategic and either throw a rope to people who fell in, or help get rafts unstuck from known trouble spots (this usually involved getting in the water and wrestling the raft off the rock, or thowing his entire body at it to shake it loose -- while standing, barefoot, in the middle of the whitewater). I had a great view of all the rafts as they came though the rapids (and all the spills) from a safe vantage point. Once, I was positioned in the middle of two whitewater cascades, one to the right, and one to the left with a big rock directly in front of me that was separating the two flows. It was really impressive to be in the middle of all that energy! We also pulled one person from the water, and "taxied" a couple others from the rocks they were stranded on back to the boats they had fallen out of.

The weather around here has pretty much been the same each day -- sunny and hot until late afternoon, then some thunderstorms, then clearing. Only one day has this pattern not held -- the day I went rafting! It began raining when we got on the bus to go to the take-in. It rained for over half the trip, sometimes quite hard with even a little lightning and thunder (we didn't stop -- we were about as low in altitude as we could get, surrounded by trees and mountains and the lightning never got severe). In the beginning, I actually liked it -- there was a lovely mist on the water, and all the trees were that deep, vibrant green that foliage takes on in the rain. And once you are wet, it really doesn't matter much if you stay in the rain because you aren't getting any wetter! Eventually it started to get chilly, but the sun came out shortly thereafter and the rest of the trip was bright and warm.

The outfitters I chose were Laurel Highlands River Tours, and they were very conscientious about taking care of their customers and watching out for them. It was a marvelously fun experience, and Mike was so good at steering the raft that I never felt we were going to tip over (although I probably could have been arrested for giving him a beer -- he seemed very young, and said he's starting his Junior year in college this fall). Some of the other folks in our group really should have opted for the guided tour -- they had a lot of trouble on rocks, people fell out, and in some cases they tipped the entire raft. Some of them learned early that help would come when they were stuck, so they never even tried to get loose from a rock -- they just sat there until Mike, or one of the other guides came by to help. A videographer kayaked with us, and I did buy the video -- the picture below is a still from that video.

So why is this titled Falling or White? Just add "water" of course!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Johnstown Flood and Inclined Plane

In the latter part of the 19th century, 14 miles north of Johnstown the Conemaugh River was dammed to provide consistent water flow for a canal. Just like the C & O Canal, this one was also obsolete almost before it was put in service -- and, like the C&O Canal, the spoiler was the railroad. The dammed river was no longer needed; the property was sold to a developer who made the lake into a posh get-away location for the rich fleeing the summer heat in Pittsburgh.

The new owner did not see the need for outlet pipes in a lake, so he removed them and sold them for scrap. The dam was too narrow for two wagons to pass, so he removed a few feet from the top in the middle. He did occasionally dump more dirt and rocks on spots that were seeping, but the lack of outlet pipes meant there was no longer a way to drain the lake to make repairs -- or to remove pressure buildup.

In May 1889, torrential rains fell for days. With no other outlet, the water eventually broke through the weakened middle of the dam and began to race south towards Johnstown. Some said the torrent was as swift as the water falling over the Niagara Falls. The storm had taken down the telegraph wires -- there was no way to warn Johnstown of the impending deluge.

When the flood reached Johnstown, it was a wall of water and debris that was 40 feet high and half a mile wide. It entered Johnstown through the gap seen at the top of the photo above, rushed through the town, and sloshed up the hill where the Incline Plane tracks are (bottom center). The water exited the valley to the left of this photo, but the huge pile of debris was halted by a bridge. Because it had picked up flammable fuels along the way, the debris caught on fire and burned for days. 2209 people died. One-third of all the bodies found were never identified. Clara Barton, president of the Red Cross, was one of the first to arrive to provide aid.

Some people opted to move out, and some decided to rebuild. Financial aid was made available, and those who qualified were given the option of using $250 of their aid to purchase an "Oklahoma House," a one room wooden house that often sheltered multiple families in the aftermath of the flood. A wood-burning stove, a table, cots and a chair were all that could be fitted into the small space.

Many decided to rebuild, but to do so on higher ground -- higher and harder to get to. The Johnstown Inclined Plane was built in response to the need for cars and people to ascend to the top of the hill. The two cars are attached to a single set of cables -- when one goes up, the other goes down (the elevators in the Eiffel Tower are similarly connected). It costs $4.00 for a round-trip ticket. It is still possible to drive an automobile on the Inclined Plane car ($6.00 one way, and you must make the sure the attendant remembers to chock your wheels), but everyone on my trip down and up were on foot. The grade is 70.9% (and I thought the 18% grade at Rickett's Glen was bad!), and it is billed as "The World's Steepest Vehicular Inclined Plane." It was designed by Samuel Diescher, who also designed the mechanism for the first Ferris Wheel, unveiled at the Chicago World's Colombian Exposition in 1893.

In addition to riding the Inclined Plane, I visited the Johnstown Flood Museum. I entered the theater to watch the ubiquitous movie, often a chance for a quick nap, and discovered a true gem. The film was made by George Guggenheim, and it won an Academy Award in the documentary category. It was easily the best "museum" film I have ever seen. Vintage footage and pictures were seamlessly integrated with contemporary recreations, and the effect was "being there." Well worth a visit if you find yourself in Johnstown.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Let's Roll

The Pennsylvania countryside near Shanksville is very similar to the country-side of Michigan in the fifties when I grew up -- except the bottom half of the lower peninsula of Michigan where I lived has the contour of a pancake -- unless that pancake has a bubble to give it some elevation and then my home in the Saginaw Valley would be flatter (please don't ask why it's a valley if it's so flat -- no one knows). Pennsylvania has so many hills there are sections that trucks are gently advised to go elsewhere because they might have a VERY bad day if they continue on the road they are on. But I digress.

This part of Pennsylvania is a throw back to a simpler time. Farmland stretches for miles, and it smells of hay, grass and fertilizer. There are farm houses with penned ducks and geese in the front yard, railroad crossings that have no electronic gates or flashing lights or even a stop sign (I did remember to stop and look both ways!), and one lane dirt roads that lead to covered bridges that still function as bridges, and once over them the dirt road leads to more farmland and more dirt roads.

There are also a surprising number of American flags flying in yards, and there is no holiday in sight.

The reason for the flags is simple: it was here in the hills of Somerset County that Flight 93 impacted on September 11, 2001.

There are references on some maps to the impact site and chapel, and there are discreet, almost reverent signs that point you in the right direction if you are looking for them, but they don't shout at you, or advertise themselves in any promotional way. You have to seek them out.

I followed a notation on a local map of Somerset's covered bridges to the Chapel. The Chapel hugs the corner of two back roads, and a small portion of the land behind it has been given to a memorial to the Flight 93 crew and passengers. A large granite cone is the centerpiece, and the names and faces of the captain and crew are chiseled on the monument. Most of the space contains small offerings, such as painted rocks or plaques. The Chapel is not open every day, but you are welcome to go in on other days if you "get lucky" and someone is there. Today was not an open day, but I did get lucky and was able to visit the inside. The man who was working in the chapel gave me a map and directions to the impact site, which is about 5 miles from the chapel.

The Memorial sits on a small road off a country road. I was the only one visiting the chapel, but there were a number of people at the impact site. The site is run by the National Park Service, and it is a temporary memorial. There is a small walk-through building staffed by a volunteer, some port-a-potties, and the remarkable memorial that the visitors to the site have created. Like Ground Zero, a "wall" has been created where people have hung an amazing array of things that hold meaning to them, or in some cases to the victims. Dolls, clothing, license plates, coins, buttons, rosary beads, painted stones, plastic flowers, and flags, flags, and more flags.

Around the wall, other small memorials have been build -- a flag made of tiles, a huge star topped by an eagle grasping a plane in his talons, a wooden "avatar" for each of the victims (complete with beads and decorations and for at least one, a Japanese flag), a granite slab placed by motorcyclists, a wooden cross painted with angels. Even the car railings around the parking lot have been painted and stickered in remembrance.

The plans are to tear this all down and build a permanent memorial, with roads, a granite wall with the victims names on it, and a Visitor Center. It is supposed to be done for the 10th Anniversary, but the Park Service has no money and they have not yet broken ground. It would be fine to add a Visitor Center -- a real toilet is always welcome, and I guess I'd buy a refrigerator magnet if there was a gift shop. But leave the personal memorials alone. The real memorial is there now. The heartfelt thanks from those who have visited is so clear that no wall with names on it could say it any better.

More Images of the Chapel and the Memorial (Site uses Flash, and may load slowly for slow connections)

Monday, July 23, 2007

On The Road Again, Again

I am on my way to Western PA, in the vicinity of Ohiopyle and Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. I have been a FLW fan ever since I visited the Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When I was detailed by by SSA to Chicago for 13 weeks, I had the opportunity to go to Oak Park, Il, where FLW had a home and studio, and also designed most of his neighbor's houses. You can walk down the street and see one FLW after another (with real people still living in them!)

If you have never been inside a FLW house, I highly recommend it. It's not so much about the furniture or the fixtures as the feeling you get when you are there. One-with-nature sort of thing.

FLW designed homes to blend with their natural surroundings. In the case of Falling Water, the owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann, expected his new summer home to have the traditional picture window view of the waterfall on his property. Instead, FLW put the house ON the waterfall and created an American icon. While much of the exterior of Falling Water looks somewhat modern to us, it was built in 1934. As with most other FLW buildings, there was nothing quite like it in the neighborhood!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Star Party is Over

The Mason-Dixon Star Party is over for 2007! Saturday night was an amazingly clear and lovely night -- at least for the normally light polluted skies near Harrisburg and York. The milky way was blazing, and the dew stayed away.

The photo above is a 41-second exposure of Matt Orsie's 26 inch Dob. Some light painting with a red LED flashlight added the color to the top of the scope. The brightest object in the sky is the planet Jupiter, just to the left of the top of the telescope.

To end the star party, Saturday afternoon we had a group picnic, complete with swimming, watermelon, and lots of folks leaving to grab a nap before the evening prize give-away. The main door prize was a Coronado Personal Solar Telescope (PST) and I was just sure I was going to win it! Of course, I didn't. I did win a red fanny pack, though. I'm not going to try watching the sun through that!

I am now taking a few days away from the road to take care of some business in Maryland -- so the blog postings may be sporadic until I hit the road again (you really don't want to know what I bought at Target, or how my hair cut turned out, do you?). Stay tuned!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Mason-Dixon Star Party

If you look at a map of Pennsylvania, you will find the location of the Mason-Dixon Star Party by looking due north from Westminster, MD. The site is at a small airport, with one grass landing strip and a somewhat run-down camp called, of all things, The Florida Keys. It is available for weddings and company picnics and "huts" are on site if you like primitive sleeping quarters. Be warned -- my first thought on seeing them was, "this looks like the place they found the Heaven's Gate people!" The surrounding towns are Dillsburg, Franklintown, and Wellsville, and the closest "big town" is Harrisburg.

I went for a walk yesterday morning. There is one cross street near here, and I have no idea in which direction I walked or really where I was. After a few
minutes, a car pulled over and the driver rolled down his window. "Am I on the road to Wellsville?" he asked. I had no idea, so I told him so and he drove
off. It was only then that I realized what a spectacular moment I had missed -- why, oh, why didn't I say, "Only if you don't smoke, be sure to exercise regularly, and watch your cholesterol!" Of course, he might have backed up and run me over.

This morning we were all sitting around doing mostly nothing except finishing our coffee and watching a very small ultralight aircraft circling overhead. I had been hoping to see a landing, and sure enough he did! He pulled to the end of the runway, and from our vantage point we could only see that he got out of the plane and then talked to some folks for a bit. We lost track of the happenings at that end of the runway until we heard him start the engines a few minutes later. He taxied to the end of the runway, turned the plane, started down the runway, and took off. Later I discovered he had no connection with the star party as we had thought -- he had seen the star party from the air, and only stopped to use the porta-potty set up at the end of the runway!

We have had one mostly decent night of observing, but the weather is currently rainy and fog is expected later. I did get a really good look at Comet Linear C/2006 VZ13 last night. It was quite large, with a bright core, but no tail was visible. Tomorrow is the final day (and night) of the star party, complete with picnic and prize drawings. The weather forecast is calling for clear skies!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Shhh...Don't Tell, But the Magic Words Are "Houdini Lives"

Remember the entry from last month about the oil change fiasco? It's back. The leak itself hasn't returned, but my punishment for going to that one particular dealer certainly has (I won't mention the dealer, but they are the Chevrolet dealer in Ow*ng* M*l*s, MD).

I checked my oil level the other day, and while it wasn't down enough to need more oil, it was down a bit. So I decided it would be prudent to carry some oil with me. I know, I should have been doing that all along, but I haven't been. So I checked the manual and wrote down the type of oil I needed: quality rating of CJ4 and grade of 15W40. Then I looked at the window reminder sticker the dealer had put on (you know the one that shows the date and mileage of your next oil change), and saw that it said 5W30. So I go to the auto parts store, but I can't find anything that matches up. So I asked for help. The clerk said he never heard of 5W30 being used in a diesel, and it didn't come in CJ4. He has only known people to use 15W40. But he wasn't sure, and said a Chevrolet dealer was two doors down, why didn't I go check with them? So I did.

The dealer told me 5W30 was only for extreme cold temperatures. He said, "Get it out of there as soon as you can."

So I took it to a Jiffy Lube. GPS has become my BFF when traveling -- try finding a Jiffy Lube easily without it when you don't have an Internet connection handy and you are in a strange city and are having an Oil Change Emergency (OCE).

I explained to the very nice man at Jiffy Lube that I might have 5W30 in the car (I'm not sure because I don't really know what they put in after all the oil leaked out), and he said, "You can't do that!"

So my poor truck has just over 8000 miles on it, and just had its third oil change (fourth if you count the oil leak as two).

FYI, oil changes for a diesel are EXPENSIVE.

So what does that have to do with the "Magic Word"? Nothing really, except it all happened as I was on my way to the Houdini Museum in Scranton when it happened, and "Houdini Lives" IS the magic word there. Despite my OCE, I did manage to get there, and found the museum was in an old, small house crowded into an already densely packed block of houses. Parking was "in the rear" but the lot was so small that cars had to block in those who were already there, or only four cars would be able to park. They put a helpful sign there that told you to do just that because everyone would be leaving at the same time. Of course it didn't really work out that way, because a lot of people didn't know there was a certain time they should be there, so they were late and wanted to stay after the rest of us were done. But they were very nice about moving their cars.

They do a three hour tour and magic show, and will probably be filmed for any TV shows you see about Houdini as they are a prime source of Houdini material. The magicians were Bravo the Great and Dorothy Dietrich. Dorothy Dietrich's claim to fame is doing the Bullet Catch and escaping from a straight jacket while suspended upside down from a burning rope. No, she didn't do either of those today!

The magic show was really geared towards kids, and most of the illusions were "oldies but goodies." Scarves and coins disappearing and reappearing, card tricks, and illusions involving animal assistants were plentiful. One levitation, and one wayward bird that insisted on walking along a wire from the front of the room to the back, despite its ability to fly. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and I got to see a lot of very well preserved Houdini artifacts. Worth an afternoon if you're ever in Scranton.

Paranoia in Pennsylvania - First the Swans, then the Blues

I will be leaving Moyers tomorrow morning to head off to the Mason-Dixon Star Party, always a good time. Moyers has been a wonderful place to spend some time. The stream and the setting is beautiful, with waterfowl aplenty. The swans don't care much for the Canada Geese, however -- they chase them out of the pond, and they mean business! One swan will literally chase an entire flock of geese out of the water and then stand guard so they can't sneek back in. You can see my RV (marked with the red arrow) in this picture. The ducks, Mom, Dad,
and several chicks march through my campsite daily.

Sometimes you just get lucky -- I discovered that this weekend the two-day Briggs Farm Blues Festival was being held less than five miles from here! The headliners were mostly imported from Mississippi and included The Cornlickers, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, Paul Mark and the Van Dorens, Terry "Big T" Williams, and Big Jack Johnson. There were crafts, BBQ, roasted corn, Turtle Lattes, and really, really, cool blues all day long. What a fabulous find!

The only problem was one member of the staff at Briggs. I had been wandering around taking photos, and was in the midst of talking to a guy who was a glass blower. A woman approached me, identified herself as a staff member, and asked if I was taking pictures for myself or if I was working for someone. I told her I was taking pictures for myself. Thinking perhaps I needed a permit of some sort, I asked her why she was asking. She said that because I was in the crafts area, I might be taking pictures of the crafts that are for sale so I could replicate them on my own! She then asked me who I was working for. I told her (again) that I was not working for anyone, and asked her if she was asking everyone with a camera these questions. She said, no, only people with "professional cameras." She then asked, and not pleasantly, "Who are you working for?" Paranoia seems to have struck Pennsylvania! I finally said that I had already answered that question twice, and did not see the point in answering a third time, and walked away.

So I'm left with the impression that she can tell a "professional" camera from an "amateur camera" (my P4 point-and-shoot has more megapixels than my D70 -- but I bet that would have slipped right under this camera expert's radar!), and also thinks that I'm the type who will run home and fire up my acetylene torch (no, I don't have one or have idea how to actually use one) to create an exact copy of a small blob of glowing glass that I then won't know what to do with because I never saw the finished item because of HER.

On my way back from the festival, I was driving on a ridge overlooking a valley. This was Saturday night, and as I looked down the valley I could see two different fireworks displays going on. The bursts were just a bit higher than I was on the ridge. There were no cars so I was able to stop for a few minutes and watch. Lovely.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Ricketts Glen

A short "housekeeping" item before I go on -- there will occasionally be lapses in the blog (as there have been while I have been in Ricketts
Glen, PA). This is because I did not had any way to connect to the Internet there. My connection is a Verizon USB device, which works very well
as long as I am in a Verizon service area. When I am not (and no one in the neighborhood helpfully sets up an unsecured wireless router),
I have no way to post or get email.

If you get tired of checking for updates, you can always sign up for the Atom feed (see the end of the page). That way, you'll know when I've
updated the Blog. I have done this for a couple blogs I follow, and the updates are posted on my iGoogle portal page.

Ricketts Glen is in the north-eastern part of Pennsylvania, just west of Wilkes-Barre. It has an upper end, and a lower end,
and the part in the middle is waterfall after waterfall. The campground is at the top end. My first "uh oh" feeling was when I was
on the road up to the park and discovered that the grade was 18%. My truck did a fine job! It was hard to pull, and we didn't go fast,
but we made it, and the temperature gauges never got anywhere near red. When you register with the Park Rangers, they give you a map
of the campground. The map helpfully tells you that you might want to enter from the north, not the south as I did, if you are pulling
a heavy rig because the southern route is steep. Really! That would really have been more helpful if I knew it before I got there!

My next "uh oh" moment was when I pulled into the campground. This is a very lovely campground, and the sites are roomy and large-- if you have a tent.
They are roomy enough for a small RV if you have experience backing into tight spaces. My RV is small, but so is my backing experience. However -- I did it!
Now it wasn't a smooth graceful turn in, but it wasn't so bad that the neighbors pulled up lawn chairs to watch (my fear is a repeat of Robin Williams' "first
dump" in the movie RV). (Get that scatological idea out of your head--this was a dump of his holding tanks.) It took me maybe three tries to back in, and several
"getting out to see where I am" expeditions.

We have had several violent thunderstorms while I've been here. The type I always dreaded in a tent. But my RV came through without a glitch. Because of the
storms, I only got to hike the waterfall trails twice, and I didn't get to see them all.

When I came down to go into town for groceries, gas, and whatnots, I could choose between Benton and Lopez. Benton is to the south, back down the
18% grade, and Lopez (home of
the Lopez Winery) is north. I checked them both out. I think I managed to capture the essence of both towns in the photo below:

(If you can't clearly see the images, Lopez has the town named spelled out in ordnance. Why? And I don't even want to know about the hula bears! As always, click for a larger image)

I left Ricketts Glen this morning, but didn't go far. I am outside Wilkes-Barre in a little town called Hobbie. I had to, again, back into the
campsite, this time threading the RV between a tree on one side; a rock, a pole, AND a picnic table on the other; and a stream to fall into behind
the site. Plus no way to pull completely forward without taking out a neighbor's pop-up.

It took many failed attempts, but I finally got it in more or less. I am further to the right of the site than I was aiming for so I can't put my awning all the way out because of the pole. But I can get the truck on the left side of the RV, so it almost looks like I planned it this way. Unless, of course, you were one of the people chuckling at the newbie from the comfort of their RV living room who KNOW the truth.

This is a lovely place, with very tame ducks that came by as soon as I got out of the truck to see if I had any goodies for them. There are two lakes
with swans, and I saw some Ebony Jewelwings flutter by on the stream. The water level is fairly low, so I won't be able to open my window and hear
the creek. I might hear the ducks, though. Would waking to the sounds of ducks be better described as "quacking up"?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Buggies That Don't Bite (or What a Change from Assateague!)

This has been a great spot to stop for a few nights and just enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the area. My original plan was to
return to Philadelphia this weekend to see Independence Hall. Their website says the timed entry tickets are usually gone by early afternoon,
so I planned to get there early. The weekend seemed like a good idea to avoid the rush hour traffic. Good plan, right?

Of course not! One little wrinkle I forgot... a holiday weekend, and the one holiday that is the most connected to Independence Hall. Fortunately I had the foresight to check the ticket availability
on Friday, and they were TOTALLY sold out for the entire weekend. Plan B, here we come!

So I have toured Amish country, including the
Ephrata Cloisters (pronounced EFF-rata, not ef-FRAID-a).
The Cloisters were the 18th Century living quarters
for a group of followers of Conrad Biessel, who believed that emulating the deity to the best of his ability was his ticket to heaven. He and his
followers practiced celibacy, worked hard, prayed hard, and ate little (he could find no references to God eating). A typical day was: rise
at 5, pray until 6, work until 9, pray until 10, work until 12, pray until 1, work until 6, eat (vegetarian food and water, their single meal of the day), work at crafts until 9, sleep until 12, group pray service
until 2, sleep until 5. Repeat.
Six hours of sleep, interrupted by two hours of prayer. Why prayer from midnight until 2? Conrad believed the "Second Coming" would
happen during that time frame, and he didn't want to miss it.

I have also done a bit of driving around the countryside, enjoying the area. This is covered-bridge land, and there is something almost
magical about seeing a buggy go through one. An Amish family came by our campground selling pies from their buggy. My neighbor's dog
went a little berserk at the site of a horse in "his" campground, but the horse was totally calm (I think they are used to dealing with a lot, at least from a horse point-of-view).

This is the part of the world where cities are named Intercourse, Paradise, and Blue Ball, and businesses are Paradise Pre-Owned (a used car lot with three cars for sale), the Pair-A-Dice Tattoo parlor (in, of course, Paradise), the Almost Paradise Shop (just outside Paradise), the Scenic View Wrecking Company, and the Shivery Funeral Home.

The Fourth of July began early here in Lancaster. It was essentially the same event that will be repeated all over America during the coming week. Lawn
chairs spread out to hear a local orchestra play patriotic songs, kids complaining about the wait until the moment the fireworks start, and food, food, food then oohs and ahhs. In Lancaster, the food was BBQ sandwiches, lemonade, ice cream, and huge, soft pretzels. What a great tradition. Have a great Fourth of July, everyone.