Are you a Coastie? Ever heard of the radio show Coast to Coast? It’s on in the wee hours of the morning – 1:00 to 5:00 am – so you’re pretty much a night owl if you listen to George Noory’s broadcast. Or, like us, you can listen online at a more sensible time of day.
Coast to Coast fans tune in to hear the far-out alternative news. Want to learn how to read tarot cards, talk to angels, or build a time machine? Or maybe you’ve got a Bigfoot or UFO story you want to share? You can hear it all on Coast to Coast. Each night there’s a couple of experts who talk about their (wacky) fields. It’s mighty entertaining and some folks take it really seriously. George Noory is a pleasant radio host and hardly ever laughs at his guests, bless his heart. A couple times a year he puts on a live stage show, which is what brought us to Columbus, Ohio.
Once in a while I like to get off the interstate and take the low and slow way. If the roads are good it’s a lot more pleasant driving the RV along the byways instead of highways. So instead of slogging through the choking traffic in Cincinnati, we headed up north via Maysville, Kentucky. There’s a splendid new bridge in Maysville that crosses the Ohio River and we breezed right over with hardly any traffic at all.
Just across the river the tiny town of Ripley, Ohio was our destination for lunch. While downtown Ripley is going through some changes, the historic mansions lining Front Street are in wonderful condition. You can just imagine the riverboat captains of yore stepping off a steamboat to walk home for supper. We stepped off the RV to lunch at the historic Cohearts River House.
That evening found us camped at a pretty lake in Rocky Fork State Park. We arrived in a downpour so fierce that even Tim thought we might have to pull over and wait it out. If it hadn’t been for that wrong turn at Mt. Orab we would have been happily tucked in our campsite by the time the storm hit. Well, that’s what you get sometimes when you take the back roads…a little lost!
Rocky Fork State Park
Our next stop was to see the ancient Indian Mounds at Chillicothe. There’s groups of mounds all over this part of central Ohio, but the Hopewell Culture Center are the best preserved. It’s part of the National Park Service, free to get in, and can be filled with buses of school kids like the day we visited.
The Indian mounds at Hopewell are located in a large field. They are big earthen mounds without any tunnels or caverns or graves inside. The mounds are solid dirt, big humps in the grass, oddly placed and perfectly rounded. There’s not too much to see other than the mounds themselves, and since it was raining again we did a quick tour around and then ducked into the museum to learn more about these strange artifacts.
The mounds around Chillicothe and Hopewell are a mystery. They’re about as old as the pyramids in Egypt, and like the pyramids nobody knows who built them or why. Archaeologists will tell you that the sparse native Indian population built these giant earthen mounds one basket full of dirt at time, over a period of many years. But back then the natives didn’t grow crops and had no permanent villages. They were nomadic, following game from season to season. So why would primitive Indians take precious time away from hunting and gathering to feed their families in order to build hundreds of perfectly aligned giant dirt humps all around the region? It doesn’t make sense to me.
I’m going to agree with the Coast to Coast folks and say that aliens built them. In fact, that’s what I said when I saw Stonehenge in England – it looked like a giant Jiffylube shop for UFOs. A place to change the oil and refresh the dilithium crystals in the warp core.
Ya know, I always tease that when archaeologists are stumped they label the thing a “ceremonial place.” That means they really have no clue what the purpose was or how it was built. And sure enough, that’s what the sign said at Hopewell Mounds.
Columbus was an easy ride from the mounds. Like Indianapolis, Columbus lacks any campgrounds close enough to the city to be useful. So we were happy to learn that the state fairgrounds (Ohio Expo Center) right in the middle of the city offers camping with full hook-ups. Their website said reservations weren’t needed as long as the state fair isn’t going on – just show up and there’d be plenty of campsites available. So we were surprised to see a huge crowd of RVs and trailers parked there.
Ohio Expo Center Campground
Turns out there was a big youth horse show event that weekend. The dog and I wandered around to watch the kids practice and perform. There must have been a couple of thousands kids and horses milling around, but the Expo Center is so humongous they didn’t come close to filling up the place.
That evening we found the German Village section of town and had a great supper at Hofbrauhaus. We’d been to the original in Munich where Tim fell in love with Bavarian Dunkel beer. Here in Columbus they’ll fill a glass jug, called a growler, with the same draft beer so you can take it home. Or you can have the beer canned in a “crowler” where they pour from the tap into a can and slap a top on it. Tim was in heaven.
Saturday we wandered around Columbus and by chance stumbled across the Topiary Garden. This is a city park where ambitious gardeners have trimmed bushes into shapes and figures. But the amazing part is they have mimicked the famous painting by George Seurat – A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – in topiary bushes. Simply astounding!
The Topiary Garden
All this adventure led up to our main event on Saturday night – the Coast to Coast Live Show in the historic Lincoln Theater in Columbus. It was a great show with a band and three experts who George Noory interviewed on stage. The big star was Stanton Friedman who is considered the father of ufology. I’ll say it again – Ufology. It’s the study of UFOs.
Friedman has written many books taking a scientific look at people’s encounters with aliens, space ships, and other strange events. Tim had Friedman sign a copy of one of his first books called Captured. It’s an account of Betty and Barney Hill who claimed to have been abducted by aliens in New Hampshire back in the 1960’s. This is a famous case considered to be authentic, as both Betty and Barney passed many lie detector tests, as well as police interrogations and psychiatric exams.
We enjoyed the Coast to Coast show and were amused by the interesting and mixed audience. There’s lots of Coasties out there, some of them look as normal as you and me, and others…well, they might sleep with a tin foil hat. Lots of fun and I recommended you listen to the show one night on AM radio. Beam me up, Scotty!
I love a good ass. Jacks, jennys, and mules that is!
There’s something poetic about a trained team of mules – how they move in perfect harmony, each in step with the other and synchronized to their driver’s command. I love how the bridles and buckles flash in the sunlight as the teams bend to the task.
Plow Days was the perfect venue to see horse-drawn farming in action. Homeplace on Green River hosts the Plow Days festival each spring on a big 220 acre farm. The property was donated to the state of Kentucky for use as an outdoor classroom and many a local youngster has visited here.
We spent a fine spring day enjoying the festivities at Plow Days. In addition to the horse teams demonstrating old-time tilling and plowing methods, there was a lot going on around the farm. Live music was playing in a cool and shady barn, a petting zoo of farm animals fascinated the crowd of children, and tractor rides pulled visitors all around the farm.
A sheep sheering demonstration was held in the stall of another big barn. Up in the loft, I found the sweetest family of Mennonite kids slurping on shaved ice. Their mother kindly gave me permission to photograph them, and they seemed amused at my big camera and unkempt hair.
Plow Days also featured dozens of local arts and crafts, and I chatted up all the photographers. But the best craft I saw was a make-your-own marbleized scarf. The vendor had a long trough filled with water and carrageenan. To make the scarf you dabbed different color paints in the water and swirled the blobs around with a bamboo stick to make marbling patterns. Then a length of silk was laid carefully on the water to absorb the paint. A wonderful marbleized scarf emerged. It was the best craft I’d done in a long time and well worth the $25 charge.
Marbleized Scarf Craft
I really enjoy these small town festivals. There’s something unique to be found at each one. And Plow Days with its wonderful teams of mules and draft horses was pretty special. I’m glad some folks still remember how to work these old-time techniques. We can be grateful for the internal combustion engine and modern tractors that spare the farmer from back-breaking labors, but a John Deere tractor cannot match the beauty and pageantry of a well-trained team tilling up the warm spring soil. It’s a piece of history worth keeping alive, and mighty entertaining to watch.
“Get off the phone and drive!”
So next time you see a great ass, remember how a team of mules plowed the fields back in your great-grandpappy’s day. Gee and Haw!
We met up with friends in Frankfort on a lovely spring afternoon to tour Buffalo Trace Distillery. But first we stopped by to visit Daniel Boone.
It’s seems kind of weird to start an outing at a cemetery, but that’s what we did. In fact, the Frankfort Cemetery was highly recommended by the manager of another historic graveyard. I’ve met the most interesting people in cemeteries – I’m dead serious!
View from Boone’s Grave
Frankfort Cemetery is, oddly enough, worth a visit. Legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone and his wife are resting on a high bluff of the palisades where there’s a wonderful view overlooking the Kentucky River, the state capitol, and the historic part of Frankfort. This is an old cemetery with markers going back to the early 1800’s, great statuary, and spring blooming trees.
Two memorials in Frankfort Cemetery really captured my attention. The central one atop the crest of the main drive honors Kentuckians who served in every war, battle or conflict from 1812 up to the Gulf Wars. Historic flags that would have been flown at each war, including the confederate Stars and Bars, are displayed above granite markers describing the conflicts. I learned of the infamous River Raisin Battle, where Kentucky troops tried to win back Detroit from the British with little success. “Remember the Raisin!” was a popular motto well before the Alamo.
The Stars and Bars, which we recently learned at Perryville, was the official flag of the Confederacy. It’s flown at a section of Frankfort Cemetery dedicated to soldiers of the CSA. I know it’s controversial these days, but I have no problem with confederate monuments – those boys died fighting for their country the same as any other soldier. We can argue whether The Cause was worth fighting for, or Vietnam, or the River Raisin, or any of a hundred other places where Americans have fought and died. Debate the politics of any war all you want, but honor the soldier who did what his country asked of him.
After all that cemetery stuff it was time for a drink. Or at least a bourbon tasting. We trotted over to Buffalo Trace Distillery, just a few blocks from downtown Frankfort, to meet up with friends and take a distillery tour.
Buffalo Trace has been producing bourbon whiskey continuously for 200 years which earned it a National Historic Place designation. Even during Prohibition, Buffalo Trace was allowed to make whiskey for “medicinal purposes.” You needed a prescription to buy a bottle – but every man, woman, and child in the household was permitted a doctor’s note for alcohol. During Prohibition six million whiskey prescriptions were written every year in Kentucky – about twice the population of the state at the time!
Original Bonded Warehouse
The highlight of any distillery tour are the free samples handed out in the Tasting Room. A small amount of bourbon is poured into a shot glass and the samples are lined up on the bar. You start with the cheapest or strongest, and work your way up to the super premium bourbons. Turns out I like the expensive ones – aged 10 years or more. Eagle Rare was my favorite offering from Buffalo Trace.
After a whole bunch of bourbon samples, we tumbled over to Jim’s Seafood Restaurant for a late lunch and more cocktails. The guys all agreed we need to make this a monthly meetup. There’s about 25 more distilleries we can visit within a short drive of the Louisville-Lexington-Bardstown triangle, or The Bourbon Trail as it’s called.
So just like Daniel Boone, this summer we’ll be blazing a trail through Kentucky. A Bourbon Trail, that is.
“I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee Regiment during the war, and I do not remember of a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville. If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a “dog fall.” Both sides claim victory—both whipped.”
A deep drought fell over Kentucky in the fall of 1862. Rivers and creeks dried up, livestock suffered, and the Confederate and Union armies were desperate for water. The only reliable source of water in Central Kentucky was Doctor’s Creek just outside the little town of Perryville. Here 72,000 soldiers from the two armies bivouacked and clashed in a one-day battle that raged over the rolling countryside.
The State Historic Site pamphlet tells us that “This Kentucky battlefield is one of the most unaltered Civil War sites in the nation; vistas visible today are virtually those soldiers saw on that fateful day in 1862.”
Union Position at Bottom’s Farm
At Perryville 16,000 Confederates skirmished with 20,000 Union soldiers all around the hills. The countryside is so deeply carved and hilly that regiments couldn’t locate each other and often didn’t know the enemy was on the next rise. Adding to the confusion, the peculiarities of the landscape created a sound inversion where the noise of cannon and musket was deadened and unable to be heard even from a short distance.
Just two miles away, 35,000 resting Union soldiers didn’t even know the battle was on. That gave the Confederates an even fight, facing a force of about equal numbers. But by nightfall word of the true size of the Union troop strength reached the Confederate command and they left the area before morning, leaving the battle a draw with neither side successful.
Ultimately history has declared the Battle of Perryville a Union victory only because the Confederacy never regained control of Kentucky again. But really it was a dog fall – a tie.
Gen. Braxton Bragg, CSA
42 Indiana Infantry, USA
We visited the Perryville Battlefield Museum and learned all about Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle. The museum presented a well balanced story honoring both the USA and CSA, although there seemed to be slight favoritism toward the Rebel side. There is a big Confederate monument here, after all.
A map of the battlefield was provided and you can drive a three mile loop to survey the grounds. Much of the drive is a gravel road that dips and rolls among the hillsides, giving you a good feel for just how deceptive this terrain is. Add in a few cornfields for cover and it’d be impossible to locate the enemy.
At Perryville we also learned that the Star & Bars is the true flag of the Confederacy. That other flag you see flying from pickup trucks and redneck porches was actually the rebel battle flag adopted later in the war.
The Stars and Bars
So next time you’re in a dead even heat with somebody, think of Perryville and the dog fall battle. And realize the other guy may claim victory, even if it’s really a tie.
Fe Fi Fo Fum! There’s a family of Giants living in Bernheim Forest!
Bernheim Forest is a nature preserve and arboretum just south of Louisville. The park has over 16,000 acres donated by German immigrant Isaac Bernheim in 1929, and dedicated to the enjoyment of nature.
This spring Danish artist Thomas Dambo created a family of three Forest Giants at Bernheim. All the materials were locally sourced and the Giants will live here for several years.
Mama Loumari is the matriarch of the Giant Clan and she resides in a lair deep within the forest. Her kitchen includes big baskets of pine cones and sweet gum balls, a throne made of logs, and an ancient dragon skull.
We found daughter Little Elina across the prairie grass field where she was constructing a stone play house. Little Elina wore a rock bracelet and daisy chain necklace and seemed ready for a party.
Big Brother Little Nis was fishing down by the pond, or maybe just staring at his reflection. He seemed preoccupied and undisturbed by all the people gathered around him.
We picked a sunny day on a random Thursday to visit the Giants at Bernheim, not realizing that it was spring break for the elementary schools. Seemed like all the kids within two counties were there, and we ambled along with the crowds to see the Forest Giants.
Even before the giants took up residence, Bernheim has been one of our favorite parks to visit. There’s multiple ponds, shady trails, and sculptures hidden along the many walking paths.
You’ve got some time to visit the Giants at Bernheim. They’ve settled nicely into their new home and will be lollygagging in the forest for a good while.
If a tree falls in the woods … why does it always land on the neighbor’s fence?
It’s said that good fences make good neighbors. That’s because you don’t want your neighbor’s cattle herd trampling all over your soybean crop. Which happens a lot on our farm because eventually a tree limb will fall and bust open a fence line and the cows will come through the hole thinking the grass is greener on the other side.
Some mornings I wake up to find half a dozen steers staring in my window. That means a fence is down somewhere and I’ve got to call the neighbor to come fetch his livestock again.
Cows on the lawn
If good fences make good neighbors then it’s also true that good neighbors make fences good.
Assessing the damage
And being a good neighbor means that when a 50 foot double-trunk oak tree falls into the horse pasture next door you’ve got to clean it up and fix the guy’s fence. So that’s what we did this week.
Tim’s mighty handy with a chainsaw but this huge oak was quite the challenge. A widow maker as the old-timers would say. It fell from our side, got hung up in some other trees, and the giant crown was leaning precariously across the neighbor’s fence. It was a dangerous situation to try to remedy with a chainsaw, and as I found out, you can’t waltz into a hardware store and buy a stick of dynamite anymore. So Tim carefully cut off as much as he could and we left the rest of the huge trunk dangling on our side of the fence.
It was a rare warm day in March and we worked all afternoon cleaning up the mess. Gotta mend fences, ya know. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
We’ve done this kind of work many times before and have figured out a good division of labor. While Tim is busy with the chainsaw my job is to haul off the logs and limbs and stack them in a brush pile. Which gives me lots of time to tramp around the woods and look for stuff. Found an old whiskey bottle and an impressive rack of antlers this time.
We finished the job in one day but ended up with a lot of scratches and scrapes and were pretty sore by the time evening rolled around. Now, where’s that whiskey bottle?
It’s February, so that means it’s time to escape to the beach! This was our first visit to Gulf Shores and it was a great choice for a winter getaway. Their motto is Small Town, Big Beach and that really sums it up. Gulf Shores is the right size town with not a lot of traffic or crowds, especially in the off-season. But there’s plenty to see and do here.
As in past years, we traveled with our cousins Mark and Wanda and found a sweet little campground on the peninsula. Bay Breeze RV Park has only a couple dozen sites and folks usually stay here for the whole season. Live oak trees draped with Spanish moss decorate the main courtyard which opens to a lovely view of Mobile Bay. The regular group of campers were welcoming and generous to us interlopers on their little haven. Fresh baked coffee cake was delivered to our door and Coco had a dog biscuit waiting on the step every morning. Early evenings were spent around the campfire in the courtyard and Tim entertained with his guitar to appreciative applause.
Bay Breeze campground has a long pier and big viewing deck – an excellent lounging spot to watch the water. Sunsets on the pier were a good way to wind down at dusk.
The beach at Gulf Shores is every bit as pretty as the Florida Panhandle with its sugar-white sand and easy rolling waves. We caught a few sunny days and a few rainy ones. I found a dog-friendly beach near Fort Morgan where Coco and I spent an hour or so every morning.
At the far end of the peninsula from our camp was Fort Morgan. This fort protected Mobile Bay for about 100 years, starting with the War of 1812, all the way through to WWI. Cannons were mounted on the top of arched batteries to fire at enemy ships entering the bay. In modern times the projectiles weighed over 1000 lbs. and could be lobbed eight miles away.
Mobile Bay has a surprising number of oil drilling platforms and they’re quite close to shore. I got a good look at the oil rigs from the ferry to Dauphin Island. They’re pretty impressive even from a distance. So next time you’re at a Mobil gas station think of Mobile Bay on the gulf.
View from the Ferry
The rest of Golf Shores is a mix of pretty beach houses and cool little shops. This isn’t the big glitzy shopping destination like Destin, but more of a homey feel with great local restaurants on every little block.
Much of Gulf Shore’s beach is state park land. About 2-1/2 miles of prime beachfront property is still undeveloped and pristine thanks to the protection of Gulf Shores State Park. For a small charge we walked the park’s pier one afternoon when it was warm and almost sunny.
There’s a long promenade along the shoreline in the center of Gulf Shores. It was a good stroll and we stopped for lunch at the venerable beachside restaurant, The Pink Pony, which prides itself on surviving every hurricane since 1956.
We sure liked the small town feel of Gulf Shores and it will be worth another visit to explore the area again. See ya next winter!
In the cold chill of January, there’s no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than in a cozy nook at a library.
I took a long drive through the spitting snow to meet up with gal pal Rhonda in Frankfort. The Kentucky Historical Society was offering a beginners book binding class that looked like an interesting way to spend a winter day.
Along with the state capitol building, Frankfort is a town packed with museums and historic points of interest. I must admit I’m not too familiar with Frankfort. I went to the capitol once to protest an oil pipeline that would have come too close to our farm. It worked, by the way – there’s no pipeline!
The only other place I’ve visited in Frankfort is Rick’s White Light Diner. It’s a local legend located in an odd little building tucked next to the old bridge.
Rick’s White Light Diner
Rick serves traditional Cajun dishes, takes great pride in the quality of his seafood, and isn’t ashamed to charge a hefty price for a Po Boy sandwich. Rick is quite the character and will launch into a heated political debate as soon as you walk in the door.
The restaurant has been featured on the TV show Diners and Dives, and Rick will be the first to tell you, “We’re a dive.”
After an interesting lunch with Rick, we sauntered over to the Kentucky Historical Society for a quick look around before our class started. It’s a modern building that houses both a museum and a library of Kentucky artifacts that are used for genealogy and research.
Hall of Governors
Our class was invited to poke around the library’s archives at the Kentucky Historical Society. There’s a vast collection of antique books here, and we were asked to look for old methods of book binding as examples for the class.
Kentucky Historical Society
The Head Librarian showed us how her team is responsible for restoring old books in their collection. Not only do they need to know library arts, but they also have to be master conservators to preserve the archive. She demonstrated all the tools and methods used to recondition old books. I had no idea there were so many ways to bind a book – ancient, traditional, and modern techniques, each with their own set of tools and skills. I’ve got a new level of respect for librarians now!
About a dozen ladies signed up for the book binding class. It was well organized and led by a capable instructor who has a passion for the craft. All the supplies needed to bind a book were neatly organized, and we were allowed to create our own book cover design using a variety of materials, like maps, old magazines, and sheet music pages.
We learned the Coptic method of book binding, one of the oldest and “simplest” ways. But even this simple method was quite complicated and took a few hours to complete. You start with a stack of folded papers called a Signature, carefully line up and punch holes in each set of signatures, then sew it all together with embroidery thread using a series of stitches and knots.
If you do it right the finished product is sturdy bound book that lays flat when opened. My book binding effort turned out a little wobbly. I’d say this is a craft that needs some practice to achieve good results.
I plan to travel back to Frankfort when the weather warms up – to have another debate at Rick’s Diner over shrimp and grits and explore the rest of Kentucky’s lovely capitol city.
They say that getting there is half the fun. But when you hate driving your RV, it’s no fun at all.
Go ahead and put us in the Chicken Driver category – we’re not embarrassed. We tried valiantly for three years to get comfortable driving a Class A gasser, but it never happened.
Our Thor Ace was only 30 feet long, which is considered “entry level” in the Class A Motorhome world. And really, it wasn’t the length that ever bothered me. It was the high center of gravity that made the Ace pitch and roll uncontrollably.
I’ll say that Thor makes a fine product just so we don’t get sued, but really the Ace has some drivability issues. Even after we added expensive after-market stabilizers, the thing was a booger to keep on the road. You had to hold a death grip on the wheel to keep it from rocking and rolling. It got to the point where I’d get a stress headache as soon as the engine started and there’s a permanent knot between my shoulders from driving this beast.
But did I mention that Thor makes a fine product? Actually, the coach was great once we got to a destination and parked. But driving it anywhere was a big buzz kill. And we drive the RV a lot.
We’ve owned several RVs on different chassis types trying to find the perfect combination of form and function. Our two Coach House models were on the Ford E Series chassis, and we’d probably still own the last one if it didn’t have that pesky tire blow-out issue.
The Thor Ace was on a Ford F53 chassis, which was a quieter ride, but it yawed and pitched terribly on any uneven or curvy road. I think they got the height ratio wrong on that model because nothing would stop it from bobbing side to side like a boat on a stormy sea.
Thor Ace vs. Winnebago Via
Which led us to our latest purchase – a Winnebago Via. It’s built on the Mercedes Sprinter chassis and she’s a nimble and peppy ride. Just like driving a big car. I can actually relax behind the wheel now instead of having chest pains at the turn of every corner.
Our new Via
The Winnebago Via is a smaller motorhome but a big upgrade in quality from the Thor Ace. The Via’s cabinets and furniture are first quality and Winnebago has designed all the water and electric systems to be simple and convenient to operate. It’s a refreshing change from the cheaply made Thor, which, in case their lawyers are listening, is a fine product.
We had to give up some living space to downsize to the Via, and divest a few extra possessions, but so far it’s been well worth the trade. All that extra stuff we hauled around wasn’t used much anyway. I doubt we’ll miss that third barbecue grill or the set of giant hair curlers.
We drove all the way up to Iowa to buy the coach. There was a small window of good weather right before Christmas and I’d done all the trade-in negotiations over the phone. So we drove Old Roll-y up to Winnebago County, Iowa and made the trade.
In the last couple of weeks we’ve put about 1200 miles on our Via and every mile was a pleasure to drive. It’s a wonderful feeling to arrive relaxed and fresh after a whole day on the road. None of my fingernails are gnawed down and that knot between my shoulders is gone. The coach is cozy and comfortable to live in, and we’re pretty happy about going back to a smaller RV.
So the moral of this story is to buy what suits you. Drive whatever size RV you’re comfortable with. Tow the easiest trailer. Don’t worry about downsizing if it means it will handle better on the road.
Because it’s not the destination. It’s the journey.