December 14th, 2017 – Cumberland Island National Seashore – Georgia

Cumberland Island is one of the Sea Islands of the southeastern United States and at 17.5 miles long is the largest in terms of continuously exposed land.  It is located off the coast of Georgia and constitutes the westernmost point of shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean in the United States.   There is no bridge to the island so we took the Cumberland Ferry.

We took a 6 hour tour which is the only way to see everything on the island in one day. There is one main road which is hard packed sand with a lot of big bumps. The guide gave us a running narrative about the island, focusing mostly on the late 1800s and early 1900s when very rich people settled on the island.  We had no idea that so many rich people lived here and given how primitive the island is, it is hard to believe. What we found out is that unlimited money can make primitive nice (more on that later).

There are around 150 feral horses on the island (4th and 8th pictures) and we got to see a few of them. We also got extremely lucky and got to see one of the two white deer that live on the island. The guide says he sees one of them maybe 2 – 3 times a year.  We have no photographic evidence because he was in some bushes so the pictures are not good, but at least we got to see one.  We also got to see a very cute armadillo.

The tour took us to the church where John F Kennedy Jr. got married (11th and 12th picture). It was amazingly small and the guests had to travel 13 miles on a very rough road to get to the church and then travel the same road back to go to the reception. Hard to imagine.  The island is very beautiful and at the time most of it was not open to the public, so it was a good place for privacy.

Ok, for those people who do not want any more of a history lesson, you can stop reading now. For those who want to know how unlimited money can make a primitive place, not so primitive – read on.  We had probably 4 hours of history on the tour, one of the most interesting parts was about Lucy Carnegie.

After the Civil War, Union soldiers went back north and told everyone about how nice the winters are in the south. Lucy Carnegie, the wife of Thomas M. Carnegie (brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie) wanted to have a winter home in the South.  At the time, the Carnegies were the richest people in the world.  She wrote a letter to the Jekyll Island Club (the millionaire’s club) to request permission to build a house on the island.  She received a reply that her husband’s (who was a Scottish immigrant) blood was not blue enough for them. Not to be deterred, she heard about Cumberland Island which is a few miles south of Jekyll Island and after a trip there, she and her husband bought land on the southern part of the island.

In 1884, they began building a 59-room mansion designed as a Scottish castle.  After three winters there, Lucy decided to live on Cumberland Island permanently. She lured her nine children down to the island by building her married children $10,000 estates and creating a fun environment with hunting, polo, golf, tennis, squash, and pools.  Lucy ultimately created quite an estate with housing for the over 300 servants that it took to run the household and entertainment.  Lucy Carnegie had a yacht to take her to the mainland, a train that was at her beck and call to take her wherever she wanted to go and the power and money to bring just about anything to the island (she owned 90% of it).

Plum Orchard (pictures 5 – 8) was built in 1900 for her oldest son. His 19-year old wife felt the 10,000 square ft. house was too small, so her father gave her $50,000 to add on to the house.  It was expanded to 22,000 feet and was one of the first houses in the US to have indoor plumbing.  It had 11 bathrooms, an indoor pool, and a squash court.  Some of the stories about how these people lived were amazing.  At the turn of the century rich people ate cold food to prove they had the means to keep food cold.  Lucy Carnegie had a steam boat that she sent to Maine to get 2 ton ice blocks. They brought them down to Cumberland Island, put them in an ice house and then each estate had ice delivered to them every day to keep the food cold and allow for ice for drinks.  To quote our tour guide, if these people wanted iced tea, they did not care what had to be done to get it, it just better be there when they want it.

After Edison discovered DC electricity, Lucy Carnegie was one of the first people to get a generator.  She said she wanted the electricity to go to Plum Orchard, so they ran a 9 mile cable across the island for her.  It took coal to fuel the generators, so the steam boat spent a lot of time getting coal from Pennsylvania.  Because the boat was getting coal, they had to replace the ice, so they built the world’s first ice maker  at Plum Orchard.  It  took an entire room and several servants to run it.  We guess money and rich people’s desire can be the mother of invention.

Lucy Carnegie’s legacy is that she skipped her spoiled children in her will and left Cumberland Island to her grandchildren hoping they would keep it undeveloped.  (Do not feel bad for her children, they got everything else).  She was right to trust her grandchildren.  They gifted Cumberland Island to the National Park Service and the island has remained undeveloped.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

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December 13th, 2017 – Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Georgia

The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow, 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia-Florida line.  It is the largest “blackwater” swamp in North America.  The Okefenokee was formed over the past 6,500 years by the accumulation of peat in a shallow basin on the edge of an ancient Atlantic coastal terrace.  The St. Mary’s River and the Suwannee River (the one from the song) both originate in the swamp.  The Suwannee River originates as stream channels in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp and drains at least 90 percent of the swamp’s watershed southwest toward the Gulf of Mexico.

We took a boat ride out into the swamp.  It was just us and the tour guide, being as it is the middle of December and it was 50 degrees.  A private tool – pretty cool.  We had a cloudless sunny day, so the scenery was wonderful and there were lots of reflections.  We got to see alligators, an owl (look hard at the 6th picture), hawks, little blue herons, a great blue heron, an anhinga (looks like a cormorant) and a robin.

  

  

  

  

  

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November 10th, 2017 – Dove Mountain (Upper Javelina Trail) – Tucson – Arizona

We are trying to stick to our hiking resolution so we went on another hike today.  We went to the Tortolita Mountains with our friend and our puppies.   We started at the Wild Burro Trailhead, and then took the Upper Javelina Trail from 2,800 feet in the valley to 4,300 feet on the high slopes.  The landscape is absolutely beautiful with a wide variety of cactus and plants.  Another beautiful sunny warm day in Arizona.  Thank goodness that Merlin has become a good water drinker, since there is not much shade.  Crosby was camera shy, but he had a great time on the hike.

  

  

  

  

 

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November 5th, 2017 – All Souls Procession – Tucson – Arizona

The All Souls Procession is a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones and ancestors.   The Procession had its beginnings in Tucson, Arizona in 1990 with a ceremonial performance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson.  Johnson was grieving the passing of her father, and as an artist, she found solace in a creative, celebratory approach to memorializing him.  After that first year, many artists were inspired to continue, growing the Procession into its modern incarnation. Today over 100,000 participants create a human-powered procession that ends in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed.

Our daughter was visiting and this is something that Leslie and she have always wanted to do.  It was very moving and touching and we are so happy that we went.  There is a Dia de los Muertos flavor to the procession which is evident from the pictures.  There were incredible memorials that were carried, made into floats, put on strollers, etc. (many of these are worked on for months before the procession).  There is a Honor Wall where you can write the names of loved ones (last picture) and we  both wrote messages for the urn.  It was so nice to be a part of this event.

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

  

 

 

 

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October 26th, 2017 – Santa Catalina State Park (Romero Pools) – Tucson – Arizona

It took us a bit, but we did follow up on our resolution to hike when we got home.  We made this resolution when we were having so much fun hiking in the Rockies.  Our good friend Gwenn went with us to hike to Romero Pools in Santa Catalina State Park which is very near our house.  Spring is a better time for this hike, as the pools were pretty stagnant, but the hike was beautiful and we had a lot of fun.  It is amazing how we could see Oro Valley for a while and then it felt like we were in the middle of nature all by ourselves.   We also felt that after 4 hours of hiking, we had earned an In and Out burger.

  

  

    

  

  

  

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October 4th, 2017 – Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado

The first four pictures are actually from yesterday.  We had a technical problem with uploading from the camera and these did not get uploaded.  The first picture is Pinkerton Hot Springs.  The minerals in the water have turned the rocks all different colors.  The 4th picture shows the sign before you start on the highway toward Ouray.  Nice that they warn people.

Mesa Verde National Park protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States.  With more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwelling, it is the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S.  Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace (10th picture), thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650 AD, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico.

We have been here before (thus the older picture of Don and the sign) but not at this time of year.  The fall colors on the hills (last picture) were beautiful.  The color was all over the park, but once again there were no turnouts to get pictures.  Don really needs to work with people to put turnouts in the appropriate places.

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

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October 3rd, 2017 – San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway – Colorado

We had a glorious day to take the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway from Durango to Ouray which includes the Million Dollar Highway – a twelve mile stretch south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass.  We really do not know how it got its name.  It could be because the views are worth a million dollars or it could be because people would not take a million dollars to drive it.  The part through the gorge has steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and no guardrails and the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains.  That being said, we have been on scarier roads and the beauty of the scenery was well worth it.

To reward ourselves for making it one way on the highway (or to relax us knowing that we had to drive back on the outside lane) we spent some time in the Ouray Hot Springs.  We also stopped and did a little shopping in Silverton and had a trip down memory lane.  The next to the last picture is where we had a romantic meal on our first trip here.  The last picture is from that trip.  This drive is so amazing – no matter where you look the scenery is beautiful and so diverse.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

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October 2nd, 2017 – Durango – Colorado

We went east today to Durango.  It is another cute town in this area that exists because of mining in the 1880s.  The weather was a bit rainy, so we put off the scenic drive until tomorrow.  There was a wonderful trail along the Animas River, so we decided to take a long walk.  In addition to being by the river, part of the trail was right next to the railroad tracks for the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad.  We were not lucky enough to see the train, but Don (and other photographers) got to take pictures of the tracks.  New city, new brewery.  We went to Steamworks Brewing Company.  Don recommends this brewery if you are ever in Durango.

  

  

  

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October 1st, 2017 – Telluride – Colorado

We fled Gunnison a day early to avoid the snow that was supposed to fall all day today (is this fall or winter?) and drove further south toward the San Juan Mountains.  There are 28 peaks in this mountain range and 19 of them are more than 13,000 feet – 7 of them are over 14,000.  The first four pictures show the gorgeous views as we were driving.  The mountains in Colorado are breathtaking.

Something we have been looking forward to was going to Telluride and eating at Brown Dog Pizza.  Last year we ate Detroit style pizza for the first time at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit.  It is the best pizza we have had.  Don found that a relative of the owner had moved to Colorado and opened Brown Dog Pizza, so we have been looking forward to trying it.  In truth it is not quite as good as the original, but it was pretty close and a whole lot closer than Detroit.

We decided to take Merlin for a quick walk before we went on to Delores to spend the night.  We happened upon the Telluride gondola which is a one-of-a-kind transportation system – the first and only free public transportation system of its kind in the United States.  Lo and behold, dogs were allowed, so Merlin got to take his first gondola ride.  The views were very nice.  One of Leslie’s biggest fears on a gondola is having it stop while in-transit.  Evidently, they were trying to help her get over it as it stopped 5 times during the round trip (add to that the 25 mph winds and it was a lot of fun to be hanging there).   There was not a problem, someone was getting married at the mid-point, so they had to load equipment, etc. so it took longer to load some of the cars.  The last two pictures show the beautiful view while riding the gondola.

  

  

  

  

  

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September 30th, 2017 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Colorado

The weather in Gunnison was not nice today, so we decided to go to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (which is an hour away).  The Gunnison River drops an average of 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon, making it the 5th steepest mountain descent in North America.  By comparison, the Colorado River drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile through the Grand Canyon.  The Black Canyon is so named because its steepness makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate into its depths (certain parts only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day).   As a result, the canyon is often shrouded in shadow, causing the rocky walls to appear black.

This park is Merlin’s favorite national park because he was allowed to walk on all of the overlooks.  The next to the last picture is the river down in the canyon.  We can attest to how steep the canyon is.  We took a 4 mile windy road at a 16% grade to get there.  We have never been on a road that steep.  The ranger said to put the car in 1st gear the whole way down and we would be fine.  That’s what we did.  The good news is the road is paved and had some wide shoulders, so at least it wasn’t insane to drive down there.  The last picture is from our first visit to the canyon about 20 years ago.

  

 

  

  

  

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