Ocuppying nearly four square miles and located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, Mackinac Island was home to the Odawas, and the epicenter of Great Lakes fur trading before the British established a strategic fort on the island during the American Revolutionary War.
Native Americans referred to Mackinac Island as Mitchimakinak because of its likeness to a “Great Turtle.” The French fur traders preserved the Native American pronunciation, but spelled it as they heard it: Michilimackinac.
However, the British anglicized what they heard, spelling it Mackinaw. Regardless, the pronunciation for Mackinac and Mackinaw are the same, with an emphasis on aw.
Today, most tourists and vacationers take the ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island from May to November. Leah and I carried our own bikes aboard for an extra $10 a piece.
On the approach, the French colonial architecture was charming.
We recovered our bikes, and headed toward the water, dodging pedestrians and horse poop, but keeping pace with other cyclists and horse-drawn carriages.
It was a step back in time, and a peddler’s paradise.
Closing my eyes, I could focus on the sound of a world without machines, because motorized travel has been outlawed since 1898.
An 8-mile highway loops around the island, hugging the shore,
offering amazing views of Lake Huron’s crystal clarity,
and access to Arch Rock, a popular geologic limestone formation close to downtown.
Equally impressive is Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel,
opened in 1887,
and still operated by the Musser family through three generations.
The all-wood hotel boasts the longest porch in the world, at 660 ft. (200 m),
and overlooks a picturesque tea garden.
Nearby, the Little Stone Church,
constructed in 1904 with field stone offers local history through its colorful stained glass windows.
After a full afternoon of cycling and sightseeing, Leah and I were aboard Shepler’s ferry, heading back to Mackinaw City.
During the 20-minute return ride, I thought about the variant spelling and linguistics of Mackinac/Mackinaw, and its similarity to immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and emerged with new surnames, courtesy of disinterested immigration officials.
So what are the chances, a real Shlepper immigrated to America and his name was changed to Shepler? Imagine the public relations coup for his offspring today.
It’s been two weeks since crossing over into Canada, and it’s been mostly cloudy and wet so far. I don’t know if this is a cause and effect circumstance, but locals are approaching me with snorkels and flippers.
The weather has put a damper on our outdoor time while extending our Airstream time. The mosquitoes have been hungry and swarming around the clock, turning mosquito swatting into a cabin past-time.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t been completely bleak and dismal. We had agreeable weather during a brief stay at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, where we visited Georgian Bay National Park on an unusually clear day, and took a 15-minute ride on a Daytripper ferry…
to explore the network of trails on Beausoleil Island, guiding us to Honeymoon Bay,
and a keyhole to the many island cottages that dot Chimney Bay.
The weather also cooperated during a recent visit to Discovery Harbour, once a British naval and military base in Penetanguishene commissioned to secure back door access to Upper Canada after the War of 1812.
Of the two warships safeguarding the King’s Wharf at the time,
the H.M.S Tecumseth has been replicated to stand guard once again,
Yet the schooner has been deemed unseaworthy by authorities, and is destined to be a floating exhibit, much like the original.
Because the Rush-Bagot agreement between Britain and the United States restricted the number of active warships on the Great Lakes, the H.M.S. Tecomseth was decommissioned in 1817, and kept in a state of readiness until it eventually rotted and was reportedly scuttled in 1828.
However, its 1815 hull was raised from Penetanguishene Bay in 1953, and placed in a climate-controlled museum inaugurated in 2014.
As day turned to twilight, the clouds began to thicken,
providing a curtain call that few campers had seen in weeks.
Moving our location to Manitoulin Island did little to change a now-familiar weather pattern. We pondered whether sandbagging the Airstream might become necessary, but that thought slipped our minds soon after being preoccupied with scratching our mosquito bites.
Working around the rain was challenging. Under cloudy skies, we hiked the trail leading to Bridal Veil Falls’ 35-foot drop near the town of Kagawong.
And despite the threat of rain, we continued on, climbing the cliffs of M’Chigeeng on the Cup and Saucer Trail,
for splendid views of the North Channel.
But our luck ran out as we drove to Ten Mile Point for a stormy lookout of Georgian Bay…
and found similar blustery conditions at Providence Bay, on the edge of Lake Huron,
before returning to the sanctuary of our Airstream.
The following day, our four-hour travel time to Sault Ste. Marie was compromised by a tire mishap (see Blowout!). And then it rained…a lot!
By now, mosquito bashing had turned into a bloodsport. There were a few brief intermissions that allowed us to explore Sault Ste Marie’s famed boardwalk, which carried us past a whimsical sculpture in Roberta Bondar Park,
on our way along St. Mary’s River…
to Sault Ste. Marie Canal–transitioning between Lake Huron…
and Lake Superior…
before continuing across to Whitefish Island, where the convergence of Lake Huron and Lake Superior forms St. Mary’s rapids.
And then a ride through downtown Queen St. produced a completely different climate,
where traces of snow formed around a movie set,
looking much like fire foam…
to create a wintery look…
for a Hallmark Christmas production adapted from Kevin Major’s The House of Wooden Santas.
The weather always sets the tone for the trip. At the moment, rain amounts are up 30% over past years, and lake levels continue to rise above one meter.
This is a time for the birds…
the mosquitoes, and black flies.
And while there’s little we can do to control or avoid the weather, at least we are now prepared.
Leah and I are back on the road again, touring in our Airstream and excited to explore and record our impressions.
Before mothballing the trailer in North Carolina for the past 11 months, we had traveled 44,000 miles, crossing 33 states, 4 Canadian Provinces, and 2 Mexican States in one-year’s time (see Epilogue).
Unfortunately, there were glaring omissions in our route that never took us through the Rust-Belt, so for our second act, we are circumnavigating the Great Lakes–visiting 8 States and 1 Province.
Our summer journey begins with a visit to historic Jim Thorpe, PA in the Pocono Mountains– a famed destination for winter sports and whitewater rafting.
With water levels high, and water running fast, it was shoring up to be a high-water adventure.
Class II and III rapids would be the perfect way to jump-start this trip. However, I scratched the raft ride after learning that only family floats were running the Lehigh River, with the earliest dam release scheduled for the following weekend.
Nevertheless, Leah and I were content to take a leisurely, 26-mile cycling tour down the Lehigh Gorge Trail, where we followed an abandoned railroad grade-turned-trail, offering river view…
canal lock relics…
and several hillside trickles…
culminating in captivating waterfalls by the Rockport Access, with fast water cascading 50 feet over flat rock and flora at Buttermilk Falls;
and Luke’s Falls, featuring 50-foot water flowing over mossy ledges;
and occasional Lehigh spillovers on the side of the trail.
While in the White Haven neighborhood, we ventured to the Park Office at Lehigh Gorge State Park for information on hiking the fabled Glen Onoko Falls Trail, but were informed that effective May 1, the Game Commission had closed the trail indefinitely until all safety issues have been addressed.
Apparently, the risky behavior of many irresponsible and inexperienced hikers ended with far too many serious consequences, necessitating aggressive action. It was disappointing being unable to experience the Niagara of Pennsylvania, on a hike dubbed by Outdoor Magazine as “one of the 10 best waterfall hikes in the Northeast.”
Instead, the rangers diverted us to Hickory Run State Park, where we walked upstream along the Shades of Death Trail…
to Stametz Dam, culminating in a 25-foot splash.
While not a disappointing hike, it was anti-climatic and not what we came for, requiring some forward thinking.
When we eventually crossed into Canada at Niagara Falls, we were ready for sweeping views of gushing water…and we were not disappointed!
As a basis of comparison, we observed the falls from multiple vantage points…
varying focal lengths…
and different dayparts.
And we both came to the same conclusion: that Victoria Falls was more spectacular than all other waterfalls combined.
Now I fear that seeing the Holy Grail of waterfalls has tainted my impression of all other falls to come, and that’s okay for now.
Eventually, I will come around, and perhaps by that time the Glen Onoko Falls Trail will welcome us back in earnest.
The Republic of Botswana alarmed conservation watchdogs and environmentalists around the world when the government announced the end of a five-year prohibition on elephant trophy hunting. The ban was implemented in 2014 under then-President Ian Khama, an ardent conservationist, whose goal was to preserve the elephant population to increase Botswana’s eco-tourism industry, while conserving the species. The Great Elephant Census of 2016 concluded that Africa now has 352,271 savanna elephants –130,000 of which roam freely through Botswana. Of the 12 African nations surveyed, the elephant population dropped by at least 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, with approximately 8% of the herds now being lost every year to poaching. That’s equivalent to 27,000 elephants being slaughtered for ivory and other body parts. Khama implemented a ban on elephant hunting, and enacted an unwritten shoot-to-kill, anti-poaching policy, giving rangers and soldiers the right to shoot first, and ask questions later. As a result, during his term as president from 2008 to 2018, the elephant population stabilized. But elephants are nomadic, and know no borders. They routinely migrate between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, making it difficult to consider them residents from one specific country. The 2-year drought has expanded the elephants range considerably, driving them further south in search of fresh grass and water, while also bringing them closer to humans already occupying the territory. Consequently, human-elephant encounters have increased significantly, causing villagers to complain about elephants marauding through their fields, and destroying a season’s worth of crops in one night. Lawmakers and The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism acknowledged that local community reaction to wildlife conservation was shifting away from the ban, with farmer’s acting more concerned about their loss of income. Current president, Mokgweetsi Masisi immediately repealed the shoot-to-kill policy, and disarmed the rangers of their military-grade weapons. He tasked a coalition of national and local stakeholders to review the ban, and the committee returned in February with a recommendation to lift the ban. Outrage against Botswana’s decision has been swift and universal. Conservationists have expressed regret, concerned that targeting elephants will open the door for increased trading of illegal ivory. Additionally, experts say the move would be counterproductive, as hunting elephants will make them fearful of humans and provoke them, increasing the conflict with local communities. Ex-president Khama says that lifting the ban is both unwise and ineffectual. “Resorting to killing is a blood policy that should not be supported. This will not have an impact on human animal incidents. It is a political move.” As legal controversy rages between humane versus economic interests, African elephants will continue to fight for their own survival, provided they still have a leg to stand on.
Watch a primer on the elephant problem for added information…
“Prepare to get soaked,” warned Reason, our guide and driver for the day. In anticipation of the “rain”, Reason handed out rain parkas to each of us.
Leah rocked hers!
“These will come in handy. You’ll see. The rain will come from all directions,” he said.
We were in for a soaker. According to a park poster, May is considered one of the heaviest high water months.
All the rushing water will be amazing to see, if we can actually see it at all through the spray and mist, which can rise over 400 meters…
and be seen from a distance of 50 kilometers. Reason explained that the best viewing along the eastern rim was from numbers 1 through 8 on the path.
“From 8 to 15, you will get drenched. But if the water gets too much for you, there is a detour between 8 and 9, where you can walk inland and dry off.
“What about Niagra Falls? Isn’t that the largest?” asked one of the Canadians traveling with us.
“Sorry. Not even close. Victoria Falls is double the size of Niagra Falls. While it’s not the highest falls–that stat belongs to Angel Falls in Venezuela, dropping 985 meters; and it’s not the widest falls–that record belongs to Iguazu Falls, measuring 2700 meters across, and defining the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Parguay,” Reason clarified, “it’s the volume of falling water, and a combination of everything else that makes it number one…but you will see for yourself. The path is one mile from end to end, and you guys have two hours to experience it, so let’s get wet!”
Those panchos looked fine for keeping clothes dry, but my biggest concern was keeping my photo gear dry, so I opted out, and wore my own rain jacket, which was roomy enough to protect my camera from moisture…or so I thought.
From Points 1 through 5 on the walk, the wetness factor–on a scale from 1 to 10–was manageable at 3 for damp. Having a chamois helped to eliminate the mist from the lens hood and camera body between shots, so my shots were still sharp.
But things got dicey after Point 5. By now, water was dripping from the lens filter, and focusing became nearly impossible with water constantly blowing across my frame. That’s when I switched gears and opted for a more visceral interpretation of the falls, leaning towards a painterly impression.
The falls was a dynamic spectacle, that soon became a photographic nightmare. Weather conditions had pinned the needle on the wetness scale, guaranteeing that nothing about me was dry any longer: the plastic shopping bag protecting my camera had filled with water; the monsoon had penetrated my waterproof rain jacket, soaking my clothes from within; and my chamois was useless.
That’s when I turned to my Samsung Galaxy S8, almost too slippery to hold, and captured a few panoramas…
The rain had abated by the time I reached the Victoria Falls Bridge at the end of the trail.
The bridge spans the Second Gorge and connects Zimbabwe to Zambia.
Built in 1903, it was originally conceived as a railway bridge by Cecil Rhodes, an English industrialist, who left his name and colonized imprint on a country (Rhodesia, until 1979) rich in natural resources, and easily exploited for the benefit of the British Commonwealth.
The afternoon was reserved for a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi.
Cruising gently down the river, we drank, we ate, we partied. The captain rounded a bend in the river…
and behold, the omnipresent falls spray was there to greet us.
With the day losing light, the night lillies have unfolded…
and the hippos have gathered…
with all the celebrants aboard our neighboring vessels…
Our African safari vacation to South Africa and Botswana came with an elective, 2-day excursion to Victoria Falls. Traveling half-way around the planet and being this close to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it seemed foolish to pass on the offer–the same thinking held by the other 10 in our party.
After a brief bus ride from Kasane (our last stop in Botswana)…
to the border of Zimbabwe (where we acquired our $50 visa stamp),
we continued the 1-hr drive to Victoria Falls, where we checked into The Kingdom Hotel.
The rest of the day belonged to us–to shop, to rest, to sightsee.
Some of us considered a helicoptor ride over Victoria Falls, but also had to reconcile whether a 22-minute flyover was worth the $250 expense.
“It’s a lot of money,” Leah addressed.
“It is, but I’m all for it. When else will we ever get the chance to do this in our lifetime…unless we’re coming back here, because I would come back here in a heartbeat,” I asserted.
“We’re in,” stated Linda and Heather from Colorado.
“I guess I’ll do it too,” commited Nathan.
Five of us took the heli-tour, while others walked to Zambia to view the falls from the other side. Although $250 for the loop seemed overpriced, I was eager to see the falls by air, regardless of the price. Afterall, when would I ever see it again?
After our briefing at the Boisair Heliport, we boarded our helicopter, and we were aloft,
doing a couple of figure eights over the falls,
a circle around the Bakota Gorge,
and a turn up the Zambezi River…
before returning to the helipad.
“How was it, Leah? Do you regret spending the money now?” I asked.
“Worth every penny!” she exclaimed.
The vastness and grandeur of the falls is best appreciated by clicking on the video!
In the Animal Kingdom, animal magnetism has evolved over time–shifting between monogamy and polygamy, to cheating and outright promiscuity–something humans have been wrestling with since walking erect.
Every animal species is wired to adapt, survive, and pass along the blood line, no matter what, and the behavior dynamics are fascinating to observe.
For instance, the primary male lion roams with a harem of ladies in his pride, but will momentarily pledge himself to the lioness who bears his cubs.
However, a rival male to the pride will kill his predecessor’s offspring to force the pride’s females into ovulation.
Male and female Grevy’s zebras live apart until food and water are plentiful. Female Grevy’s zebras are polyandrous and will breed with many different males in succession.
Male Grevy’s zebras establish territories that lie along paths to water, often intercepting an ovulating female while passing through. And then it’s on to the next.
African wild dogs live as a monogamous breeding pair supported by a small pack.
The litter of pups is first cared for by the alpha female and guarded by the alpha male…
who doles out hunting and caretaking responsibilities to subserviant wild dogs within the pack.
A dominant impala ram will manage a harem of 10 ewes and their lambs, keeping them in line with his constant braying, biting and boasting. Young bucks continually challenge the ram in charge, insuring ewes will always deliver the strongest gene pool…
thus providing a defense perimeter of plebes to discover danger from every direction.
Baboons run in troops ruled by social dominance. When it comes to mating, any male of the troop will accept any female’s offer should she present her swollen rump to his face; however, the social rankings between males will often lead to aggressive fighting.
Females are the primary caretakers of the young, although males on occasion will babysit to win a female’s affection.
Hippo bulls are polygamous by nature and insecure creatures by design. When the cows of the pod are fertile, the bull whips up a piss and dung cocktail that he atomizes with his propeller-like tail to capture their attention.
He will repeat this process until all the cows have been serviced. Should any of the offspring be male, the cow will protect it by hiding it near the fringe of the herd, lest it be killed by the bull.
Consequently, the bull fears his mature son will someday challenge him for control of the pod, and mate with his mother, creating a Freudian nightmare of hippo proportions.
Rival bulls that follow a female tower of giraffes will often “neck” together (spar with their necks) for the attention of a fertile cow.
The victor will smell her urine to determine her readiness, and court her by resting his chin on her back.
The females and their calves remain loyal to the tower, while the males move on, in search of long legs and firm hind quarters.
Ostriches have seemingly taken their cue from the Mormons, where the dominant and polygamous cock will mate with many hens, while the hens remain monogamous.
The flock of hens have their own pecking order. As one female emerges as the dominant majority hen, she uses the minority females’ eggs to ring around her eggs as an extra layer of protection.
Dominant kudu rams will keep company with three to five kudu ewes within a herd of females and their calves.
Usually the ram comes a-knocking when it’s time to mate. Otherwise, the ram is a solitary creature that enjoys alone time.
Male warthogs are not very selective. They will mate with any of their female counterparts wherever and whenever they may be found.
Maybe that’s why they are considered pigs.
Several cow crocs may reside within the dominant bull croc’s territory, and each one is fair game for mating. The bull courts his cow in an elaborate and sensual dance that is certain to win her scales and tail.
It so happens that bull crocodiles are always ready! They keep their ever-erect penis tucked inside their body waiting for the right moment when both bodies are properly aligned under water.
Dominant cape buffalo are distinguished by the thickness of their horns. They set the rules of their herd–
deciding whether to tolerate an overt act of copulation by a defiant subordinate bull, or keeping the cows in heat to himself by staving off all rival advances.
According to Kimberly Yavorski in “How do Elephants Mate?”:
“Elephants are social creatures and live in complex hierarchical communities. Each herd has one female that is the matriarch. She dictates where the herd goes and helps to teach the younger elephants proper behavior. Female elephants, or cows, live in multigenerational family groups with other females. Males stay with the family until they reach 12 to 15 years of age, when they leave the herd and live alone or join up with other bulls. Male and female elephants live separately with bulls only visiting when some of the females are in their mating season, known as estrus.”
“Elephants mature later than many other animals. Females reach sexual maturity at 10 to 12 years of age, males at around 25. A male doesn’t generally start breeding until age 30, when it has reached a sufficient weight and size to compete with other breeding males. At that point, it will start to seek out females in estrus.”
“Bulls enter a state called musth once a year, and older bulls tend to stay in musth longer than younger bulls, up to six months. During this period, they have increased levels of testosterone. They secrete a fluid from their temporal gland between the eye and ear and will actively seek a mate. Dominant males, which are older, tend to come into musth when a large number of females are in estrus, and the males exhibit physical behaviors, such as flapping their ears and rubbing their head on trees and bushes to disperse the musth scent. They also have a particular rumble, a low frequency vocal call, used to attract females who are also ready to mate. Females sometimes respond with their own call, indicating interest. While a cow can mate with any male, those in musth may be more attractive to females in estrus.”
“When a male approaches, a female in estrus may at first show wariness, but if she is interested, she will then leave the family group, walking with her head up and turned sideways to watch the male as he follows behind. The male may chase the female if she retreats and will chase off any other males. Elephants may stroke each other with their trunks before the male mounts the female from behind, standing almost vertically as they mate. Elephant sex lasts for up to two minutes and afterward, he will stay near the female and guard her from other males. Females may mate with more than one bull in each estrus cycle, which lasts up to 18 weeks. While elephants do not mate for life, a female may repeatedly choose to mate with the same bull, and bulls are sometimes seen being protective of females.”
“At 22 months, elephants have the distinction of having the longest gestation period of all animals and give birth to live young. Pregnancy almost always results in a single birth; twins are rare. When it is time to give birth, female elephants move away from the herd and then return to introduce the new member, who is inspected by each other member of the family. At birth, babies weigh 90 to 120 kg (198 to 265 pounds) and are typically around 3 feet tall. Baby elephants tend to be hairy, with a long tail and a short trunk that grows as its diet changes. Offspring are weaned at two years, though some may continue to nurse up to age six and a half. Because of this long gestation and nursing period, estrus cycles are between four and six years apart. On average, a female elephant will give birth to seven offspring in her lifetime.”
KT, our guide at Kadizora Camp gently rapped on our tent door at 6:30 am to accompany us to the dining tent for a continental breakfast. It was still dark, hence the escort. We were following a verbal command from camp personnel requiring us to stay put during darkness due to a heightened risk of encountering wildlife in our area.
Only last night at 11:20 pm, an elephant known to the camp as Franklin startled me awake by rubbing against the outside of our tent.
“Do you hear that?” I whispered to Leah.
“What is it?” she yawned, seemingly annoyed that I had interrupted her sleep.
“I think it’s an elephant.”
“What?!” she snapped awake.
“Whatever it is, it’s right outside our tent,” I said in my softest library voice.
As if on cue, Franklin’s massive silhouette lumbered along our raised deck, grabbing and tearing tree leaves with his snaking trunk as he filled the zipped screening with his immensity, leaving us paralyzed in awe until he was gone.
Damn! Where was my camera?
Grabbing my arm, “Oh my God!” Leah gasped, “Did you see that?”
It was thrilling yet alarming to watch. Adrenalin pumped through our weary bodies, wiring every nerve and depriving us of much-needed sleep. Eventually, the continuing soft grunts of snoring warthogs under our tent provided the white noise we needed to lull us back to a peaceful slumber until our 6:00 am wake-up.
“Are you ready to see big cats today?” asked KT, his flashlight in hand.
“Absolutely,” I answered eagerly, as we followed him down the illuminated path to the safety of common ground.
“Did you have a visitor last night?” he wondered, already knowing the answer.
“We did,” I shared. “How’d you know?”
“An elephant bull-dozed the contractor’s tent last night. Turned it into a heap of broken sticks and canvas,” he said.
Once out in the bush…
cruising along rutted ribbons of sand separated by tall grass,
we came across a small herd of Cape buffalo grazing…
that appeared to be pulling closer together, adopting a defensive posture.
“Those buffalo are nervous,” asserted KT. “Do you see how they all stare in the same direction? Most likely, they have picked up the scent of a lion or leopard, and they are closing ranks for protection.”
“I think something may happen here, so we should stay for a bit and see what develops.”
KT repositioned the Toyota in the shade of a large ebony tree, and we patiently watched the herd from a distance, scanning the perimeter for predators in the hopes of encoutering a potential kill.
“There!” he exclaimed.
A young male had emerged from the bush to the right of the herd, and just as quickly disappeared into the thicket for a closer look at the buffalo and to assess the situation.
Wow! This was exactly what we came for, but it was a fleeting moment which left us somewhat deflated.
Undeterred, KT started up the Land Cruiser and cautiously followed the lion, who reemerged on the other side, and relocated on a shady slope upwind of the herd.
“This is where it will happen,” asserted KT, as he drove even closer to the resting young male.
No doubt, the lion was fully aware of us, as it turned in our direction.
“He knows we are here. Aren’t we intruding by being this close?” I asked KT.
“The lions really don’t see us; they only see this truck–not the people inside,” he replied. “They don’t sense the truck as threatening, and it doesn’t smell like food. From the time they were cubs they have grown up knowing this vehicle, and they have become desensitized to its presence in the savanna. So as long as we respect them and do not interfere in their business, we can get very close to them. However, you must always remain seated, and for obvious reasons keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.”
“Why can’t we stand?” I asked.
“The moment you stand, you change the dynamics and the lion no longer sees the truck as a familiar object, which may make him uncomfortable and put you at risk,” explained KT.
And then another lion materialized from the brush.
“Ahh…this makes complete sense to me now,” KT surmised. “They may be brothers, and they are working together to isolate one buffalo from the herd before the herd disappears into the brush.”
KT restarted the Toyota and pulled closer yet, thinking the timing was right and the attack was imminent. We pulled within a few feet of the new male, who made himself very comfortable beside us…
while the first lion remained vigilant on the mound.
By this time, the herd had keenly sensed the pair of lions around them, and moved into the protective thicket nearby, preempting the attack.
Realizing the chase was over, one beckoned the other…
to a family reunion.
OMG!!! We held our breath, wondering what was next for the brothers. It had been an exhausting morning of hunting without a victory.
Hence, it was time for a nap!
Just then, KT answered a dispatched call on the radio alerting him that a colleague had spotted fresh leopard tracks a few klicks away, so off we went in search of another adventure.
The day in St. Augustine started out dreary, with passing drizzle and smoky cloud cover, but with the polar vortex finally loosening its grip on the Midwest, and the California coastline bracing for epic rain and mud, the local weather seemed well within the bounds of “I can’t complain” conditions for a Florida weekend.
Nevertheless, taking a chance on an outdoor activity seemed risky. So Leah and I hedged our bets and we traveled to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, where $12.95 will buy a St. Johns County resident general admission for one year. We figured that we could always duck the rain…
by browsing the Keeper’s house,
and following the marble tiles to the landing anchorage.
Then it’s 219 steps to the top.
Congress authorized new construction in 1870 to replace the fading “Old Spanish Watchtower” by the shoreline, that’s evolved since the late 1500’s.
$100,000 funded three years of construction.
Tourists have been climbing the corkscrew stairs since 1910. The Philadelphia iron works…
hug the walls of the 165 foot Alabama brick structure,
occasionally interrupted by keyhole glimpses of life…
until the stairs reach an opening…
to a 360-degree lookout…
that’s capped by 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.
The original lens was restored in 1992 because of vandals,
and re-lit by a 1000-watt bulb the following year.
Today, the tower represents the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and shines a bright light on a community that preserves its heritage, protects through its presence, and invests in its future.
It was a bad day for Col. Charles Olmstead and the Confederate Army on April 10, 1862, when Capt. Quincy Gillmore’s Union artillery attacked Fort Pulaski from the northwest beachhead of Tybee Island, forcing its surrender thirty hours later,
and proving that a seemingly invincible coastal fortification that required 25 million bricks, 18 years, and $1 million to build could never catch up to evolving weapons technology.
Even 7½-inch-thick mortar walls were insufficient to protect the Fort’s garrison from the explosive bombardment of Gillmore’s experimental rifled cannon fire from one mile away.
Construction on Fort Pulaski began in 1829 as part of the Third System–in defense of Savannah’s 20,000 citizens and dynamic seaport–adopted by President Madison in response to the War of 1812.
With Fort Sumter under Confederate control by Christmas, 1860, Gov. Joseph Brown ordered state militia to seize Fort Pulaski–still unoccupied by Federal troops–on January 3, 1861…
…and transferred ownership to the Confederacy following Georgia’s succession on January 19, 1861.
It was a controversial gambit that ultimately escalated into eleven States joining the Confederacy–spiraling the South into Civil War by April 12, 1861.
It’s been one year since our visit to Mt. Rushmore, and what could be more American than re-posting this episode on Independence Day…
There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.
It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.
Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.
All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.
The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.
Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.
A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹
No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.
Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,
the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…
…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.
Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.
These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.
Happy Birthday, America!
¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.
and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…
exposed us to more rain in 4 days than we had seen in all of one year on the road. There were moments when the deluge abated long enough to give us broken clouds and glimpses from some of the nearly seventy overlooks of the infinite Piedmont range to the east…
and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.
But mostly, we held our breath as we rolled along the two-lane ribbon of asphalt that wound around the mountains and climbed through a fog and cloud cover so dense at times that Leah and I asked ourselves if our summary road trip on the way to retiring the Airstream could literally be a watershed event.
Our travel plans were non-negotiable, as campgrounds had been prepaid along Skyline Drive and the first 300 miles of the connecting Blue Ridge Parkway before we’d exit eastbound toward Charlotte. We had given ourselves this time aboard the Airstream as a last hurrah–a chance to enjoy one more trip and indulge in driving one of America’s great “scenic” byways.
A moving van brimming with our belongings was awaiting departure from New Jersey to Florida, and slated for delivery by the first Monday in June while we slogged through foul weather on our way to Huntersville, North Carolina where our Airstream was destined for dry dock until the following year, giving us ample time to put our St. Augustine house in order and acclimate to Florida living.
Meanwhile, current weather stats revealed that remnants from Alberto (the first official storm of the 2018 hurricane season) had dumped over eight inches of rain along our travel route, punishing nearby dams and washing out essential bridge footings ahead of us, but we dutifully soldiered on, imagining the glorious views that would be to our left and our right.
Every so often, we’d take a break from our mountain miasma, and venture into the valley to escape the cloudburst and capture some of the local color (see A Touch of Blue and Mount Airy, NC), only to return to the Airstream and listen to the downpour pelting the roof like a torrent of bullets.
At times, we’d have a moment of clarity, like when we reached Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 (see Favoritism) and stopped to gawk at red-tailed hawks as they danced atop the thermals,
but it would be another hundred miles of slogging through doomsday rain before we’d catch another break from the storm.
Eventually, we disengaged the Airstream at Price Park Campground near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and backtracked to investigate Flat Top Manor, a 23-room, 13,000 square foot national historic landmark…
and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,
and aptly nick-named the The Denim King, for Moses and his closest brother Ceasar dominated the textile industry by acquiring and building manufacturing mills throughout the deep South, becoming the world leader in denim, flannel, and corduroy fabric production, and the sole supplier to Levi Strauss for its “501” brand jeans. Moses Cone, entrepeneur, conservationist and philanthropist had led the South to the Promised Land.
Moses and Bertha built their mansion at the turn of the 20th-century for $25,000 with every modern convenience of the time, despite their 20-mile distance from the nearest railhead, and the remoteness of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
The couple (they never had children) enjoyed central heating, indoor plumbing, telephone, and gaslight–for Bertha eschewed electric light–disliking its unnatural glow and how it affected her skin tone. However, years later, after the death of Moses in 1908, she allowed electricity into the house, replacing the blocks of ice once cut and carried from Bass Lake with a food refrigeration system supplemented by one light bulb in the basement pantry.
The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.
But there are notable wall decorations…
and at one time, a treasure trove of avant-garde art adorned the mansion thanks to lasting friendships and patronage between two unwed Cone sisters, Dr. Claribel and Etta,
and Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their collection ultimately passed to the Baltimore Museum of Art, now recognized as the Cone Wing, and valued at over $1billion.
Today, the estate–managed by the National Park Service–services over 25 miles of carriage roads and trails.
Leah and I dared the rain, and hiked five miles to the Observation Tower at the southeastern edge of the property, where we were rewarded with pastoral guests,
intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,
and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.
Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,
and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.
The rain returned during the brief drive back to Price Park, but abated just as quickly to capture a lasting moment of smoke wafting across Sim’s Pond.
The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.
The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.
Rangers alerted us that the Parkway heading south had been temporarily closed. Flash floods and mudslides had forced a partial shutdown of Interstate 40, necessitating a detour through rural America before we could connect with I-77 S.
Putting our Airstream on blocks in Huntersville was bittersweet. It marked the formal ending of Streaming thru America, but our future holds new surprises.
Already, we’re pre-planning a trip to circumnavigate the Great Lakes during the summer of 2019. Until then, we’ll have to settle for a journey of a different sort, and I hope to keep the world posted.
When I was growing up, I often accused my mother of favoritism–feeling as if she was more devoted to one of my two sisters or other brother than me. Yet today, I can’t recollect a certain situation that gave me the chutzpah to suggest to her that one sibling got preferential treatment over another.
Of course, whenever I raised the indictment, my mother always answered the same way, “How could you say that? I love all my children the same.”
I don’t know. Maybe what she said was true for her. But I was always suspicious of her definition of equality. None of us was the same in our looks, our likes, our talents and abilities. Each of us had something that made us special. So I was never really certain how our individuality and distinctiveness measured against Mom’s distribution of love. To me, she adopted “separate but equal” as a legal family doctrine in order to avoid conflict, but conflict always had a way of showing up.
Later, as a parent, I wrestled with whether one son was better than another. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t love them equally–I loved them differently.
Many years and careers later, when I was in a classroom setting teaching emotionally and learning disabled students, the notion of picking a favorite became a source of reflection. Of course, I was more inclined to curry favor upon students who were better prepared, less of a discipline problem, and willing to try. These were my “go-to” kids who were eager to respond to open academic questions whether they knew the answer or not, and it was hard not to treat them differently.
And so, it’s much the same with determining which is a favorite of the tens of thousands of photographs I’ve snapped since becoming a “serious” photographer. After scanning through archives of images that still thrill me, I’ve decided that I cannot pick one over another, since each “favorite” has a different integrity, or power, or message.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite photograph is the one I’ve taken last, because it’s in that moment that I’ve given it the most attention, and therefore overshadowing all the other images that have preceded it.
Currently, as I travel south with Leah to meet my new destiny in St. Augustine, I am following a ribbon of asphalt that curls through the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Virginia and North Carolina. And while I’m certain that it’s picturesque, given the large number of overlooks that the 1930’s Conservation Corps has carved out on both sides of the Parkway, the ongoing fog and rain clouds have obscured all sitelines, making this a dissapointing journey.
However, a short break in the weather while passing milepost 176 of Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Virginia gave us a chance to stretch our legs and take a self-guided tour of the mill by the water…
built by E.B. Mabry in 1903. Originally, a blacksmith and wheelwright operation,
Mabry later added a sawmill,
and seeing the need, added a gristmill as an additional service.
From all the rain, the scene was eerily green…
And for one precious moment, it became my favorite place to photograph…