31 May 2010

Vacation: Gettysburg, PA

We spent seven hours at the Gettysburg Battlefield. Touring the museum, which included a film and a cyclorama, took four hours.

The cyclorama was a painting from 1883 by Paul Philippoteaux. It measured 367 feet long and 42 feet high and featured the third day of the battle. Until we were told about the cyclorama, we had no idea we were looking at a painting that was more than a hundred years old.

The museum was very informative – there was a reason we spent so much time there. We learned lots of history and interesting tidbits about the town itself, the people involved and, of course, the battle.

Once we started driving around the battlefield, we saw the places we have only ever read about. Places like Little Round Top

and the Devil’s Den

and Pickett’s Charge.

We learned that one in four Confederate soldiers who died at Gettysburg were from North Carolina. And I saw a token someone had left for those soldiers.

Monuments rest all over the battlefield. My favorites were the ones honoring the soldiers from Virginia

and the one honoring Longstreet.

We drove past the Texas monument but didn’t get a chance to read it. It resembled the marker at Antietam – both made of pink Texas granite. I looked it up on the web and found what was written on the marker.

29 May 2010

Vacation: Hershey, PA

Our next stop was Hershey, otherwise known as “Chocolate Town.”

We took the chocolate tour and the trolley tour.

The trolley tour was great. We learned a lot about Milton Hershey, but we also learned a lot about the Milton Hershey School. The school was established for socially and financially underprivileged boys and girls. They stay in homes, beautiful homes, with house parents – a married couple who are paid by the trust that runs the school – to provide the children with a loving home. That would be a pretty sweet job.

I think it would also be fantastic to be the librarian at the school. Since the school is private and funded by a trust worth billions of dollars, you could almost have anything you wanted.

We also happened to see the creator of Reese’s Pieces while we were on the tour. That was pretty cool.

The street lights in downtown Hershey are kisses, both wrapped

and unwrapped.

We visited the Hotel Hershey, too.

Well … the lobby anyway. Quite nice. I would recommend staying if you can afford it. You apparently get your choice of a milk or dark chocolate upon your arrival.

From there, we drove to Gettysburg where we made a quick stop at Boyd’s Bear Country. I had to visit there because a friend of mine collects the bears.

The next day we went to the battlefield.

20 May 2010

Vacation: Valley Forge

A dreary, rainy, cold day greeted us for our drive into Pennsylvania. When we arrived at Valley Forge it had gotten even colder and was raining even harder.

Valley Forge has been transformed into a lovely park since it became an historic site.

The first thing Mom and I learned was that Valley Forge was not the worst winter the army spent during the war – that was in Morristown – but it is the most well-known.

The second thing we learned was the the “winter” in Valley Forge was actually from December of 1777 to June of 1778. We both always thought it was November to March.

The final thing we learned was that almost 2,000 wooden huts were built by the soldiers for use by the army during that winter. When George Washington was there during the American Revolution, the site would have been much more barren and less green. The trees in the area in 1777-78 would have been cut down for firewood and the huts.

The weather turned truly sour on us at Washington’s Headquarters. He leased the home from Isaac Potts and used it as the “Pentagon of its time.”

Most of the furniture is replicas, but the bannister is original. Imagine how much history that wood has seen? George Washington’s hand used that bannister … and Martha … and Alexander Hamilton.

And then I used it on my own way upstairs. Wow.

We left his headquarters and walked over to the “lifeguard huts.”

These were the cabins of the men whose job it was to protect George Washington – his life guard. The tradition of this unit continues as the soldiers who serve at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

By the time we returned to the car, Mom and I were soaked clean through and completely frozen. Imagining the soldiers in little wooden huts with one fireplace during the long winter of 1777-78 gave me a renewed appreciation for the men and women who fought in the American Revolution.

Vacation: Baltimore

We went to the National Aquarium the next day. This was a lot of fun. We saw a 4-D movie – 3-D glasses along with snow, bubbles and spritzes of water – and the dolphin show.

The exhibits were interesting. They even had month-old baby seahorses! They were so tiny. I have no idea how they survive in the wild.

The rainforest exhibit had a two-toed sloth who actually started moving while we were there. It was beautiful!

They also had a special exhibit about jellyfish which was fascinating. The purpose of the exhibit was to demonstrate how jellies have taken over locations where they are not native and how destructive that is to the environment. They even had some jellies there. They look so beautiful.

And the Australia exhibit was great, too. How some of those animals survive the weather extremes in Australia, I will never fully understand. They had a fish that spit water to knock bugs off low-hanging leaves! And even though we didn’t get to hear the kookaburra laugh, we did get to see one.

Our next stop of the day was Fort McHenry. Mom and I had been there before, but we didn’t really remember much of it.

When we got there, the Pride of Baltimore II was sailing in the harbor. Except for the cargo ships, other vessels and the bridge in the background, this could be a scene straight from the 1800s.

We also managed to be there to see the flag-changing ceremony.

The weirdest thing is the statue of Orpheus with the Awkward Foot on the grounds outside the fort. The statue was the winning submission in a contest to mark the centennial of the writing of “The Star-spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key.

What in the world does that have to do with the flag? Or the poem? So strange.

We spent the next day lazing around the hotel and going to the movies.

Vacation: The Preakness Stakes

Through pure luck, we found out we would be in Baltimore when the Preakness Stakes horse race was held. We called the box office and bought tickets before we left on vacation.

Thank goodness we took public transportation to the event because parking at the track cost $75! And the traffic afterward was a nightmare!

We arrived at Pimlico

in time to see the fifth race of the day. Mom bought a program, and we learned that the Preakness would be the twelfth race out of thirteen.

We wandered around a bit before finding our seats in the Grandstand. The weather was gorgeous – sunny but not hot – but we were still pleased our seats were under cover.

We bought a Black-eyed Susan, the traditional drink of the Preakness Stakes. I’m not much of a drinker, but it wasn’t a very strong drink. And it came in an honest-to-goodness glass (not hard plastic) that we got to keep.

We placed our bets – first time we had ever bet on a Triple Crown race – and waited. I even placed a bet for my grandmother and a friend of mine.

When the Preakness Stakes began

the crowd stood and screamed. I really wanted to yell like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but I restrained myself.

I have to admit, I was unhappy that Lookin At Lucky won because I do not like the trainer of that horse. However, I had placed a bet on First Dude,

the horse that came in second. Since he had long odds, I won $23. That’s the most I have ever won at a race track!

Being at the Preakness Stakes was a neat experience. I’ve always wanted to go to Churchill Downs to the Kentucky Derby – still do – but the Preakness is a fairly easy Triple Crown race to attend. And the atmosphere was great.

18 May 2010

Vacation: Washington, DC

We hit Washington, DC late in the afternoon during rush hour traffic. Ugh! I am so glad I don't have to drive in that mess every day.

Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery where we saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We also saw John F. Kennedy's grave with the eternal flame.

Along with two of the most famous sites in Arlington, we saw some lesser-known ones. Those included the Canadian Cross honoring Americans who served in the Canadian armed services,

the Columbia Memorial honoring those who died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia,

and the USS Maine Memorial honoring those who died aboard the USS Maine.

The next day we visited the National Zoo. We saw lions,


and gorillas.

Then we went to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I was really looking forward to this. When I was in graduate school, I worked on a federally-funded grant project called Four Directions. The purpose of the grant was to provide curriculum development through the use of technology on Indian reservations around the country. As part of the grant, I worked on the reading incentive project If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything. Another aspect of the grant was a virtual reality project with NMAI in New York City. I was able to travel there with a group of students from Marty Indian School in South Dakota. They took pictures of items in the collection and wrote brief reports about the objects. All of this was for an online exhibit at NMAI. That project is still online (note: you'll need Quicktime to view the collection).

When I worked with NMAI in 2000, the construction of the museum on the Mall in Washington had just begun. Finally, I was able to see the museum in all its glory! First, we ate at the Mitsitam Cafe. I had fry bread, of course. I also ate a fiddlehead fern salad with fiddlehead ferns, cucumbers, parsnips and golden beets. Quite tasty! I also had the broccoli with pumpkin seeds in lavender butter. Also good. In fact the fry bread was the worst part of the meal because it was too thick. But the drink I had! It was amazing! It was a Saskatoon berry maple agua fresca. So yummy! I had two of them. I still wish I had bought a third. It was just so good.

Then we took a brief stroll on the Mall past the Capitol

before going to see the Korean War Memorial.

My daddy was a Marine and fought in Korea. Part of the memorial is a wall etched with the faces of men and women who served in the conflict. One of those faces looked an awful lot like Daddy.

And then we visited the Wall.

Even though I don't really know anyone who served in Vietnam and was born after the war ended, the Wall always makes me cry. The mementoes,

the people remembering fallen comrades,

and all those names.

It's just devastating.

It rained on us while we were at the Wall. It even hailed for about ten seconds – mothball-sized hail! A loud crack of thunder hurried Mom and I back to the bus stop and on to our hotel.

16 May 2010

Vacation: Antietam Battlefield

Our second major stop was Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. Antietam is the bloodiest day in American history. One hundred thousand soldiers fought in a 12-hour battle at Antietam; 23,000 were killed, wounded or missing after the battle ended.

It's hard to imagine that much carnage.

The battlefield stretches over a large area. Some of the bloodiest fighting took place at Burnside's Bridge where 500 Confederate soldiers battled 5,200 Union troops. This part of the battle lasted about 3½ hours. At the end of the day, 120 Rebels and 500 Yankees were killed, wounded or missing.

During the battle on September 17, 1862, one tree survived the mayhem at Burnside's Bridge. It is called the witness tree, and it still stands today.

An even bloodier part of the battle took place along the Sunken Road, which is now called Bloody Lane. The fighting here lasted 3 ½ hours as well. Three thousand Confederate troops were positioned in the road. Ten thousand Union soldiers came over the rise and found the sunken farm lane and the Southerners posted there. At the end of the day, 2,900 Yankee troops and 2,500 Rebel soldiers were killed, wounded or missing.

This is the road today, still below the countryside around it.

The view a Southern soldier would have had looking over the rise. The Yankee troops would have come over that rise and straight into an ambush.

But the bloodiest place on the battlefield is simply called The Cornfield, because that is precisely what it was on that September day. In that field, 15,000 Union troops and 12,000 Confederate troops battled for 4 hours. When the fighting ended, 4,200 Yankees and 4,000 Rebels were killed, wounded or missing.

Some regiments and brigades were almost decimated in this field. One of those was the Texas Brigade. The monument, erected by the state in the 1960s, reads
Here in the cornfield early on the morning of September 17 the Texas Brigade helped blunt the attack of elements of Mansfield's Union Corps. Almost alone during this powerful federal onslaught the Texas Brigade sealed a threatening gap in the Confederate line. In so doing the 1st Texas Infantry Regiment suffered a casualty rate of 82.3 per cent, the greatest loss suffered by any infantry regiment, North or South, during the War. Of approximately 850 men engaged the Texas Brigade counted over 550 casualties.

According to the book I'll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey, one of the Confederate soldiers who died in The Cornfield was an unknown woman. She was discovered after the battle ended and was buried in a separate part of the field.

Vacation: Shenandoah National Park

We spent the first three days of our vacation driving to our first major touristy stop. Along the way, we spent a great evening with a friend of mine in Tennessee visiting with her and her children. Mom really wanted to take my friend's son home with her!

Our first destination stop on our vacation was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Mom and I had never been to this park before. It was established as an "Eastern park in the Western tradition" and features the Skyline Drive. The park's creation forced the people who lived in the area to be relocated, so the park is "still recovering" from human habitation.

The views of gaps and hollows along the drive are lovely … when the weather is nice.

The first full day we spent in the park began slightly overcast with a bit of a drizzle. And the day only got worse. Thick fog, freezing cold and rain. It even sleeted briefly!

But before the weather went downhill, we saw some beautiful sites.

Mountain laurel, which was planted in the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, was just beginning to bloom in the mountains.

But then the fog started rolling in,

and we had to be careful about deer on the side of the road.

Our second day in the park was gorgeous! The sun shone, and the skies were bright blue.

I hiked down to see the Dark Hollow Falls which was described as having "steep sections." The trip down was great, until I ran into another hiker who told me that the bear he saw at the "metal part" might still be there. "Great, thanks," I said with some trepidation. He reminded me that people were more dangerous than the bears. I agreed and walked on keeping my eyes and ears open for the bear. All the while I was thinking people may be more dangerous, but I can maybe outrun a person – or at least outfox one.

Fortunately, I didn't see a bear. Also unfortunately, I didn't see a bear. Even though I would have probably fainted if I came across a bear on the hiking trail, it would have been neat to see!

Nevertheless I continued on the hike until I got to Dark Hollow Falls.

And then I had to hike back up the trail to the parking lot. Straight up! Those steep sections? The entire trail!

And along the way I got a phone call from a friend. That was so odd. Right after I hung up the phone, I had no service.

But Mom and I continued on our way, and we did see a bear! It was calmly walking through the woods on the side of the road. I couldn't get a great picture of it, but here's what I got. Can you spot the bear?

Mom and I both hiked along the Limberlost Trail which was described as a gentle stroll. I'm pleased to report that it was a gentle stroll.

Although Mom still needed a break.

The wildlife we saw on this trail were squirrels, an Eastern Towhee

and a chipmunk.

More gorgeous views could be seen on the drive.

Our final hike was the Fox Hollow Trail which was named after a family that had lived there before the park's establishment. Evidence of the family's life in the hollow could still be seen in the rockpiles

and the cemetery.

While we were hiking this trail, a thunderstorm developed. We got caught in the rain and were drenched. Fortunately, we weren't struck by the lightning we saw.

Our next stop was Antietam National Battlefield.