Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I'm going to Graceland

For reasons I cannot explain

There's some part of me wants to see


-- Paul Simon

Click for Larger Image of the Mississippi RiverI began the day at my campsite, and this image was taken at first light. One of the many barges that ply the Mississippi River was slowly passing by just as the sun came out from behind a cloud. Watching the barges and following the killdeer that frequent the river are fun, but as it turns out I am twenty minutes from Graceland. How could I not go?

Click for Larger Image of of Young ElvisGraceland is, of course, the home of Elvis Presley, now turned into a living memorial to faux fur, shag carpeting, odd color schemes, and all those other things that we, and Elvis, thought were so cool about 40 years ago. I was surprised at how relatively normal, at least for the time, Graceland was. I had expected an house worthy of Liberace, and instead found one that, while obviously owned by a wealthy person who could afford whatever gizmos and thingamabobs caught his eye, was missing the Ultra Mega Bling Bling I had expected. Colors, lots of them, were there -- but the 1970s were like that (I had both lime green shag carpeting and an orange car once -- but thankfully, not at the same time). Graceland did have olive green shag carpeting on the walls and ceiling, stained glass peacocks, colorful fabric covering every inch of a room with a pool table, and a bright yellow and black room with silhouettes of guitars on the wall.

Click for Larger Image of the Living Room
Click for Larger Image of the Yellow and Black Room
Click for Larger Image of the Pool Room

Love of color didn't stop in the house -- in addition to the the infamous 1955 pink Cadillac, Elvis also had a 1956 purple Cadillac convertible. When we got to the outside, the extravagances that were missing in the house began to accumulate. Elvis owned some very pricey cars such as a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk and a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, plus numerous Harley Davidson motorcycles and race cars. His private jet, which we could tour, had a bedroom in the back -- and the bed, to comply with regulations, actually had a seat belt! Elvis had, however, replaced all the regular seatbelts in the jet with ones made of gold.
Click for Larger Image of the Pink Caddy
click for Larger Image of Purple Caddy

Elvis' grave site is on the grounds of Graceland, next to his parents and grandmother. Elvis had a twin brother who died at birth, and there
is also a memorial there to Jessie Garon Presley, who died January 8, 1935. Jessie's body lies elsewhere.
Click for Larger Image of of Elvis' Gravesite

In death, Elvis has become bigger than life. His awards, and his gold and platinum records were displayed everywhere. They lined halls and filled trophy cases. There were literally rooms of intricately designed white jumpsuits, all hand beaded and embroidered. There were amazing works of original art, mostly featuring Elvis and his family. Everywhere there were things to look at and stories to hear. I am glad I listened to that part of me, like Paul Simon, that wanted to see Graceland.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Location: Richmond KY to West Memphis, AR

Click for a Larger Image of Ken and Pam's ViewWhile I am now actually sitting in Arkansas, I need to go back a couple days to let you know about the fantastic part of Kentucky I saw while visiting Ken and Pam, who live near Richmond. Ken and Pam's back yard is a forest that slopes down to the Kentucky River. They had some interesting visitors while I was there -- hawks, deer, fox, and wild turkeys all came visiting. This image was taken on the last morning before I left -- there had been a frost the night before, and the morning mist filled the river's valley until the sun began to burn it off.

Click for Larger View of Car Ferry

Most of our adventures took place on the other side of the Kentucky River, and the easiest way to get across it was to take a free car ferry -- and that has to be a rarity! The Valley View Ferry is the oldest continuous business in Kentucky, and has been in existence 1785. Cars pull up to the waterline; when the ferry gets to that side of the river up to three cars drive on the ferry; the ferry goes to the other side where the cars pull off. Repeat with cars on that side. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat... This is apparently cheaper than building a bridge, and it sure was a lot more fun!

Click for Larger View of Sky BridgeThen we were off to the Daniel Boone National Forest, famed for several natural bridges, or sandstone arches, and we played on two of them. The first one was named Sky Bridge, and it was on a park loop that started with a trip through a tunnel that was very roughly chopped out of rock and very narrow, originally cut for transporting logs.When we got to the bridge, we were able to walk across it, and then hiked down a path to the bottom. The day was gray and rainy, but a lot of other people were milling about. Once Pam thought I might have fallen over the side when she looked back to where I had just been, and instead saw a group of people staring over the edge. No fear, I had just wandered off to photograph something or other!

Click for Larger View of Chair LiftThe second sandstone arch we visited was named "Natural Bridge" and the best way to get to it was by a sky lift -- fabulous view, pleasant trip, and a long, long way down! This was my first time on a chair lift, but I somehow managed to get on and off without embarrassing myself too badly. It was a spectacular view, and the best $8 (round trip) I ever spent!

Other Kentucky Fun:

  • We drove through Boonsborough State Park, where the RV park was filled with ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, and Halloween decorations of amazing excess. They have a huge Halloween party each year that is so popular they are already fully booked for next year.
  • We played a Parcheesi-like game called "Pollyanna" at which I, ahem, excelled to almost brilliancy.
  • We played Four Cards Down, a card game that depends largely on Chance to determine the winner, but Chance is fickle and only allows Pam to win (me: Whine, whine, whine).
  • We visited the Boonsboro Fort, where we petted a very nice horse, watched 18th century craftspeople do their crafts, learned that Celtic music spawned Bluegrass, took in the park's introductory movie in which every Native American looked like a white guy dressed up for Halloween, and found out that Daniel Boone once lived with the Native Americans and was suspected to be a traitor when he returned to the fort.
  • I learned that Ken has an obsession with finding the exact location of far off lights he can see from home, and that Pam can gobble well enough to fool a wild turkey.

The visit was wonderful, and it was over way too soon. I have now moved on to West Memphis, Arkansas, and am sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River watching huge barges chug up the river. It would be nice to see a wild turkey here, but somehow I don't really expect it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello From Kentucky

Location: Richmond, KY

Pam, Ken and ZoAnn at Raven's Run
I am currently in Daniel Boone country, visiting my friends Pam and Ken. A kind passerby took this photo of us in a nearby park named Raven's Run. The river in the background is the Kentucky River.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Smoky Mountains

Location: Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

The weather has not been sunny and bright, but I did manage to get into the mountains for a while. I started at a lower elevation and hiked to Laurel Falls, a little over a mile one way. Like so many places, water has been scarce here lately, so the volume of water in the falls was not great. The weather was mostly cloudy, but the sun came out every so often.

Click for Larger Image of Laurel Falls

I then started up the mountain towards Clingman's Dome, a 20 mile trip on a mountain road. It started to lightly rain, and it was actually very beautiful. The green in the pine trees was very dark, and the red, gold, and orange leaves almost glowed.

When I passed the 12 mile mark, the rain was really pouring down, and the visibility was a few feet. It didn't seem worth continuing if the only view I would get was fog, so I turned back at that point. The rain was only at the higher elevation -- as I descended, it tapered off until it finally stopped. If the weather cooperates, I'll try again to get to Clingman's Dome before I leave for Kentucky.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) Lifecycle

Location: Rainy day in Pigeon Forge, TN

At the beginning of October, I picked up a small caterpillar that was crawling past my RV. I took a couple pictures of it, but ran out of time. So I popped it into a container, intending to take more photos the next day. Richard identified the caterpillar as a the larva stage of a Buckeye Butterfly.

Click for Larger Image of Buckeye Caterpillar

When I put the caterpillar in the container, it curled up into a spiral ball which I didn't think anything of at the time. However, the next morning it became apparent why, and also that the caterpillar photo session was over -- overnight it had transformed into a pupa, or chrysalis. I decided to keep it, and see what would happen next.

Fast forward to yesterday. I checked the container and found I had a butterfly emerging! It was slowly, bit by bit, uncurling and unfurling.

Click for Larger Image of Buckeye Pupa

Soon I had a butterfly livng in my RV! Before long, its wings had dried, and and now it looked like this:

Click for Larger Image of Buckeye Butterfly
It is so "tame" it willingly sits on my fingers:

Click for Larger Image of Buckeye on My Fingers

Being out of Butterfly Chow, I'm trying to give it some sugar water to nectar on, but I don't know if that will work.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Williamsburg to Pigeon Forge, And A Stop Along The Way

Location: Pigeon Forge, TN

I discovered one of the great benefits of being a nomad -- stopping spontaneously at interesting places.

click for larger view of MonticelloTwo of my recent destinations have been Williamsburg, Virginia and Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Because campgrounds in both Williamsburg and Pigeon Forge are filled up on the weekends, and I did not do a good job of planning before that happened, I was limited to weekday visits. This left the entire weekend for traveling. I left Williamsburg on Friday and did not have to be in Pigeon Forge until Sunday. That made for a very leisurely trip through some gorgeous mountain scenery, most of it somewhere near peak color.

As I was driving through Virginia on Friday, I noticed I was about to pass Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. I've never been there, and I had lots of time. It was raining off and on, but that's why I have rain garb (my Frogg Togg poncho covers everything worth covering), and last I knew I didn't melt. So exited the expressway and followed the signs to Monticello.

Click for larger view of Monticello GardenI bought my ticket and noticed that it included a shuttle ride to the house. Having been cramped up in the car all day, I asked if it could be walked, and was told it was "way too far." It turned out to be 3/5 of a mile. Not knowing that at the time, I boarded the shuttle and arrived at the house a few minutes later. This is when I found out that the tickets were timed, and I had forty five minutes to wander the gardens before the tour. The gardens were actually quite pretty in the mist, the time passed quickly. We were not allowed to take photos inside, and some of the rooms were so small that we had to take turns at each wall to see the furniture -- but it was a fabulous residence, full of clever devices, nooks and crannies, and lovely art.

Click for larger view of Thomas Jefferson's Grave When I left, I did take the walking path back, and found that it goes past Jefferson's grave.

On Sunday I got to Pigeon Forge, and discovered two disturbing problems. First, there are so many people here it is like Ocean City on a Saturday in August, except the traffic flows better in Ocean City (yes, really). "The Strip" is bumper to bumper cars passing by Pigeon Forge's shops, restaurants, and amusements designed to separate a parent and their money. Gatlinburg is even worse, if that's possible. The shops and attractions look cuter but there are only two lanes for the traffic, so it just crawls.

The second problem is that the weather station is calling for rain beginning tomorrow and continuing through the rest of my stay. Yes, I know everyone needs it, but couldn't I have a day or two of sunshine?

I did get a quick drive through part of the Smokey Mountain National Park this afternoon, but again the traffic was a nightmare. Even Yosemite's traffic was better managed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Am Both an Ignorant Woman and a Young, Black House Servant Named William

Location: Colonial Williamsburg, VA

Click for Larger Image of the ActorsI have been at Colonial Williamsburg. The main thing I learned is that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the American Revolution. Sure, I knew "one if by land, two if by sea" and that "taxation without representation" was the catalyst for the revolution. I knew Patrick Henry said "give me liberty or give me death" and I had a fleeting idea that Philadelphia was where "it" all happened. I knew that the 13 states were more like nation-states, attempting to protect their own position and power. To my credit, I have read Bill of Rights, and consider it to be the single most important document that safeguards our freedoms. I support the ACLU because their sole purpose is to protect those rights -- even if I hate, with every fiber of my being, the person they are defending.

Click for Larger Image of the Fife PlayersBut Williamsburg teaches that those events were real, the people were real, and the things they did took courage, cunning, and bravery. They put you in the middle of it. There are many actors dressed in period costumes who stay in character most of the time (infrequently, one could heard saying modern phrases like, "no way!" that I seriously doubt was a common 18th Century phrasing). Even the music is period -- a fife and drum parade in the village green was a fine way to end the day.

Some tidbits of information that I'm pretty sure escaped my fifth grade textbook --

Did you know Michigan was once considered part of Virginia?

Did you know Patrick Henry became the Governor of Williamsburg after the Revolution?

Did you know the people of 1775 had free speech, a free press, the right to assemble peacefully, and to petition the government? What is missing from this list? The missing element is freedom of religion. The Church of England WAS the same as the government -- there was no separation of church and state. What do you think was the most common misdemeanor at that time? It was failure to attend church at least once a month. The punishment was a fine, but lashes were given if the miscreant was unable to pay (on the bare back, man or woman).

Voting was a requirement for any man who was of age, white, protestant, and owned property of a set value (e.g., qualified amounts of property included 50 acres if unimproved, 25 acres if planted, or a house itself was enough if it was in town). There were no excuses for not voting. If you had to walk a day to get into town, then that's what you did, on the day before the election. You voted; then the next day you walked home.

In the 18th Century, slave ownership was commonplace, and there were more black faces than white on the streets of Williamsburg.

Click for Larger Image of WilliamI took a tour of the Peyton Randolph house. As we entered, we were given the identity of someone who had lived in the house, and we could follow "our" self through the tour. The identities included the Randolphs and their slaves -- his butler and her assistant, the waiters and waitresses, the cooks and kitchen help, and other workers and servants. I was the last in line, and by then they had run out of "girls," so I was the slave William, the "Young House Servant." They told me I could think of myself as "Willimena" if I wanted.

As we moved from room to room we found out that this particular couple was well to do, and treated their 27 slaves well, at least as these things go. The slaves had food, clothes, and slept indoors on pallets. They were not horribly mistreated, and some were close to being members of the family.

This household was a rebel home. Did you know the British freed slaves of rebel homes? There was a catch -- you had to be able to fight with the British against the revolutionaries. How would you feel if you were the slave in a loyalist house, and were not included?

Click for Larger Image of a Man and His HorseOne night the British stormed into Williamsburg, and with them were a thousand slaves they had freed as they moved through the countryside. The newly freed slaves were running through the streets, looting buildings for the British. As a slave in the Randolph household, all you had to do is look out the window to see them. This is your chance to leave, perhaps the only one you will ever have. You can go with them, and no one can stop you. You will be free, but may very likely starve or be killed in battle. Or you can stay in bondage, knowing that you will at least have food and basic necessities. What do you do?

At the end of the tour we found out which of our alter egos had stayed and which had gone. The slaves closest to the family, the one in positions of trust, who had been confidants and travelling companions and were the best cared for, were primarily the ones who left. William, who was never more than a "house servant" in the story of the Randolphs, stayed. He was later sold at auction when Mrs. Randolph passed away.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Roxy Discovers History; Twins Punished; A Brownie To Remember

Location: Colonial Williamsburg, VA

I'm sure, from the front, you were a very proper 18th century lady.
click for larger image

What are you gonna wear to the public humiliation? I dunno, maybe my black and white outfit and some rings... they said we'd get lashes, but maybe we should wear our own, just in case. Click for larger image

One brownie. One. I think the horse really wants it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Assateague Lighthouse

Assatague Lighthouse
Location: Chincoteague and Assateague, Virginia

I visited my friend Aydin and his son, Erol who were weekending on Chincoteague. Chincoteague, a barrier island like Assateague, is somewhat famous for being the location of "Misty of Chincoteague," a book by Marguerite Henry ("A Wild, ringing neigh shrilled up from the hold of the Spanish galleon..."), that tells the story of a feral pony and her foal, Misty.

There are two separate pony herds on Assateague, one in Maryland, and one in Virginia. Each herd is managed by their respective rangers. I have seen many ponies here on Assateague Island in Maryland, but we were quite "ponyless" on the Virginia side!

Sea PorkBesides walking the beach and along the shore of the cove -- and finding large, pinky-orange blobs of play-doh-like organisms washed up on the shore that turned out to be, of all things, "Sea Pork" -- we visited Assateague Lighthouse.

The following paragraph is a fictional recreation based on historical facts:
Imagine yourself in Congress in 1830. You can plainly understand that seafaring is a dangerous business, and running aground on barrier islands should be avoided. So you authorize a lighthouse to be built on Assateague. The builders come, the builders build, and you anxiously await the day when you can proudly dedicate this brand-spanking-new lighthouse and save untold numbers of registered voters from the heartbreak of death on the shoals. In 1833 it's finally ready. You stand on the shore at sunset, waiting for the piercing light to cut through the twilight as it searches for ships that would otherwise be lost in the night. You wait. You wait some more. Finally you shout, "TURN ON THE LIGHT!" And you hear the yelled reply, "ITS BEEN ON FOR HALF AN HOUR!" -- but since this new wonder of illumination is only 42 feet high, its light, from 11 candles with reflectors, can't exactly reach you, let alone the ships that are in danger of being ripped to shreds. For comparison, maple trees grow 30-130 feet. So much for THAT $55,000 of taxpayer money.

The Lighthouse StairsBack to Congress we go, and another appropriation is made in 1859, this time for a 142 foot light house. Work began again, paused briefly during the Civil War, and finally was finished 1867. The new lighthouse was made of natural orange bricks and had a powerful Fresnel lens that successfully magnified the flame from a four-wick fish oil lamp so the beam shone far into the ocean. It was not until 1933 that the oil lamp was replaced by an electric light.

View From The TopIn 1963, the lighthouse was painted alternating stripes of red and white. Salt, water, and time have caused the paint to peal, orange brick showing through and giving the lighthouse a weathered patina. But it is a beautiful structure nonetheless, and we climbed the circular stairway all the way to the top. The original orange brick is still visible on the inside. The omni-directional Fresnel lens has been replaced by two rotating lights, but the climb and the view are identical to that experienced by the lighthouse keepers on a daily basis for decades and decades.

I'm glad Congress got it right the second time.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth (Agrius cingulatus)

Moths On ShedWhat would cause lots and lots of huge, brown-marbled moths with bright pink markings to come to rest near a light on a shed in Assateague? The light drew them to the shed, of course, but no one knows why they chose this shed as a gathering place. They have been seen here before, but are not particularly abundant. The moths, looking like a collection of triangular aircraft waiting on a tarmac, covered the ranger's shed earlier this week. They were there day and night and never seemed to leave to find food. Did they came to this shed to die? Who knows. More information about the species can be found here.

Hawkmoth  Hawkmoth detail

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mustang Parking ONLY

Assateague pony standing in parking spot
And please remember to stay between the lines!

Monday, October 08, 2007

New "Neigh"bors

Location: Assateague Island, MD

I am back in Assateague for a lovely fall visit -- but the 90 degree temps don't make one think "fall." It was so hot yesterday, I was forced -- forced I say -- to take a mid-day nap!

The trip here was uneventful until I got to Berlin where a bicycle event called the "Seagull Century" was in full swing.

The 100 mile ride started in Salisbury, snaked through the countryside, passed through Berlin, stopped for rest at Assateague Island, then returned by a different route to Salisbury, again passing through Berlin. So this route took them through Berlin twice, once from each direction, and to and from Assateague on the only road that goes there.

So can you guess when I got to Berlin?

If you have never been there, Berlin is a quaint, trendy little town with boutiques and eateries and narrow streets. Big enough for an RV to get through, but not a lot of room to spare. I had to make a left turn in Berlin, which I did, and then stopped almost immediately -- from a side street to the left came HUNDREDS of bicyclists, and their path would take them directly in front of me pulling the RV. So I stopped and waited, and the cars behind me stopped and waited, and pretty soon the riders passed, many of them politely thanking me for not killing them.

Once they passed I heaved a sigh of relief -- premature as it turned out -- and continued on to Assateague.

As hectic as Berlin was, it was nothing compared to the road to Assateague. Now there were cyclists on BOTH sides of the road, and cars going in both directions. The only way to pass the cyclists was to cheat to the center because many of them chose to hug the line on the side of the road or even to ride IN the road instead of in the bike lane. The cars coming the other way had the same problem, so we took turns using the center of the road to pass.

Eventually I got through it all without killing, maiming, or scuffing a single cyclist.

Assateague Pony with Mouth Open
I got settled in my spot, and was sitting at my picnic table taking it all in, when the ponies came sauntering down the road! Now there are numerous signs posted that you are not allowed to "approach, touch, or feed" wildlife in Assateague, but apparently that rule doesn't work both ways -- two of the ponies walked right to me as I sat at the table. I thought at first they wanted food, but they totally ignored me, and kept walking until they had joined three other ponies who were munching grass in my "backyard." As they passed, one provided this proof that Mom was right when she said not to talk with your mouth full!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nine Ponies

This Saturday, I will make my way back to Assateague Island where I will spend about a week enjoying the surf, the ponies, the lack of mosquitoes (in summer they can be so thick that they sound like a low flying Piper Cub), and the tranquility of a post-Labor Day trip to the shore.
c1958 Ballet Class-Photographer Unknown
So until I can share some new pony photos with you, I thought I'd share a very old one. This photo is circa 1958, and was the class photo from my first ballet class. The pony costume was a stretchy white leotard decorated with a shiny cellophane tail and a headpiece that was a silver glittered Styrofoam ball with a big red feather stuck in the top. Frau Bl├╝cher would have cringed in terror!