Cincinnati – April 2017 – The Zoo in Bloom

The Cincinnati Zoo is the 2nd oldest zoo in America, starting just 14 months after the Philadelphia Zoo in 1875. It is situated on only 66 acres in a residential area just north of downtown. Officially known as a Zoo and Arboretum, April is billed as ‘the Zoo in Bloom’. Unfortunately most of the tulips and other spring flowers had already bloomed, then hit with a frost so there was little color on them.

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Still this zoo has great landscaping with large areas of bamboo, thousands of trees and other nicely placed shrubs and plants.

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Having gone to to photo the mix of flowers and animals, it ended up being focused on the animals. As with most zoos, many of the animals have a sad look when you are able to focus closely on them.

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While this could be their normal look in the wild, it seems to accent their life in the zoo. I realize zoos do a great job in animal conservation but it is always sad to see them in their enclosed spaces. Still in my opinion the Cincinnati Zoo is much better than the Columbus Zoo with the landscaping and relative lack of advertising, especially given their tight quarters in the city,

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While the flowers failed to provide a color show, the animals didn’t disappoint with their displays.

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Assateague and Chincoteague National Parks – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 4

One of my favorite movies was one from the 1980s called Diner, set in Baltimore, so it was only appropriate since we were in the area that we find one for breakfast. The Double TT Diner is an iconic old-time diner that looked similar to an airstream RV with shiny chrome. Back in the 1950’s, two business partners named Thomas and Tony opened the first Double T restaurant that was named after the two T’s in their first names.

The restaurant had a look of the 1950’s with rows of booths and a small jukebox placed at the end of each table but instead of 45 rpm records it had an updated version of compact discs that also seemed outdated now. Our omelets were tasty and filling then we moved on travelling east across the Bay Bridge.

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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, connecting Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore region with the urban Western Shore. The original span opened in 1952 with a length of 4.3 miles, and was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. The bridge is part of U.S. Route 50 which connects the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area with Ocean City, Maryland. The long four-lane split bridge is high above the bay giving us a view of the shimmering water in the morning with freighters chugging by.

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 Ocean City, Maryland is a summer resort destination but it was nearly a ghost town void of people when we arrived. This town brought back memories from a 1970s vacation for one of us, which resulted us in searching for the Santa Maria motel where her family stayed on our vacation forty-two years ago. Ironically we found the location, but it had been torn down and a new upscale Courtyard Hotel was in its place, by far the best looking place on the boardwalk.

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Later we continued our walk down the boardwalk and onto the beach, with a stiff breeze blowing up a lot of sand and created choppy water that crashed onto the beach. We spent a few more minutes on the empty boardwalk with all of the shops closed up for winter.

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Da Dum, Da Dum, Da Dum, — the creepy music from the movie Jaws which generates the fear and anticipation of a shark in the water delivered that feeling when we stopped to see a recreational camp called Frontier Land that celebrated the Wild West with sets of cowboys, Indians, and can-can girls.

The camp was closed the day of our visit but rested at the front of the establishment was a 31-foot shark prop from the movie Jaws. The plaster-cast shark sits in a parking lot, straining to devour a rowboat always just beyond its reach. It is unknown whether the shark is an actual prop from the movie Jaws since so many others claim the same fame. It just seems wrongly placed in Frontier Land next to a statue of a cowboy holding an ice cream cone unless it were renamed Weird Land.

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Stopping briefly at the Assateague National Park Visitor Center to renew our annual National Parks, we promptly continued across the Verrazano Bridge into the park that is well known for its wild horses and birds on the 37-mile barrier island along Maryland and Virginia. The “wild” horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Local folklore describes the Assateague horses as survivors of a shipwreck off the Virginia coast.

The most plausible explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock.

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The horses are split into two main herds, one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of Assateague. They are separated by a fence at the Virginia/Maryland State line. These herds have divided themselves into bands of two to twelve animals and each band occupies a home range. The National Park Service manages the Maryland herd. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns and manages the Virginia herd, which is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, through a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The permit restricts the size of the herd to approximately 150 adult animals in order to protect the other natural resources of the wildlife refuge. It is the Virginia herd which is often referred to as the “Chincoteague” ponies. The feral horse population of Assateague Island is known as the Assateague horse in Maryland and the Chincoteague pony in Virginia. This distinction is based on the traditional definition of a horse or a pony as to whether the animal falls over or under 14.2 hands that is 58 inches. The equines on the island tend to be under 14.2, but have horse’s traits.  It is believed that their relatively small size is primarily due to environmental, rather than genetic conditions.

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Our arrival on the island soon allowed us to see the feral horses. As we drove toward the beach, we saw two horses grazing near the edge of the road. The areas beyond the road were sandy with spots of dense shrubs. Beyond the shrubs was a marsh of cord grass.

We hiked a trail to the beach and up a dune trying to spot more feral horses on this breezy day, coming upon horses corralled by a group of people who often brought their domestic horses to ride on the beach. They said that they sometimes encountered the feral horses when they rode.

A further walk up the beach a bit more without another human being around while watching the birds scamper at the water’s edge was delightful.

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Heading south to Chincoteague, we opted to do a driving tour first, where we had the opportunity to see more feral ponies. This time the ponies grazed in a marshy meadow under leafless trees. Two more pairs of ponies stood in the meadow.

We had planned to take a boat tour to see more ponies but decided against it due to the choppy water. Later when the winds calmed, we thought of the boat cruise again but would have to pay for a ghost rider as if there were three riders instead of two so that it would be worthwhile for the boat captain to sail.

Instead we continued our own tour stopping at different points to photograph a large variety of birds and some horses. We drove out to the end of the island where the marsh, the sand dunes, and the ocean met. It was exceptionally gusty but we saw gulls, herons, and other birds using the wind to their advantage. The birds just seem to float in the air without flapping their wings.

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Assateague Light is a 142-foot-tall lighthouse located on the southern end of Assateague Island off the coast of the Virginia Eastern Shore, a short one-quarter mile walk from the visitor center. The brick conical shaped lighthouse is at the top of a hill near the Coast Guard Station. The lighthouse is painted in alternate red and white horizontal stripes and built in 1867 to replace a much shorter lighthouse. This spot was a nice rest for us after our hike up the hill and a nice view also.

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We continued our drive of the Virginia Eastern Shore and noticed a number of contrails from jets above us. Seven separate vapor trails suspended above us against the blue sky. This continued as we drove on our way to Onancock. Not quite as good a name as a small town in Newfoundland, it was amusing enough to divert off the main road; it turned out to be a very quaint historic town.

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We landed at the Hampton Inn in Exmoor, Virginia for the night. There is not much in Exmoor so we had to drive back to the highway to get something to eat. We ate at El Maguey, where we had chorizo arroz and a chicken enchilada with rice. The Mexican restaurant was shabby looking but the food was good and the prices cheap.

Cumberland, OH – October 2016 – The Wilds

Having been disappointed when we visited the Columbus Zoo because of the commercialization, we had held off making the hour trip out to see the Wilds, a non-profit safari park and conservation center owned by the Zoo. The Wilds is home to numerous rare and endangered species living in a natural, open range habitat.

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The property encompasses 9,154 acres of reclaimed coal mine land and includes 2,000 acres of pastures and a 27-acre Carnivore Conservation Center, claiming to be the largest wildlife conservation center in North America.

We purchased tickets for an open bus tour, which left the visitor center on top of a large hill. The ride on the bus was bumpy, a bit cool on a sunny late October day, but well worth it. The driver was very knowledgeable, humorous, and thorough without being boring.

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We made our way through the tall fences between various pastures that keep animals that wouldn’t get along separate from each other. Camels and Bison in one pasture, Zebras and Hippos in another.

Expecting the worst, I was very wrong. This was a great place to see the animals, and well worth the trip out.

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New Albany, OH – September 2016 – Equestrian Competition

The New Albany Classic Grand Prix is a equestrian event featuring riders from throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, including three silver medal-winning members of the United States Show Jumping Olympic team, held on the estate of Leslie Wexner, the man who started the Limited stores.

We arrived and were directed to a large field quickly filling up with cars. Since I had purchased the tickets online we quickly passed through security and onto the grounds, where we were greeted by a 20′ high animatronics dinosaur. Nearby was a tent with a petting area with alpacas, sheep, and a couple of small ponies.

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After a brief wait we entered a tent marked ‘Magic of Hollywood‘. Among the costumes there were virtually all of the Batman ones, Edward Scissorhands, Spiderman, Jurassic Park, and many others.

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After passing more classic cars, we made our way into the equestrian grounds and found a seat in the shade, well worth the 30 minute wait to have a shady seat. We passed the time watching the color guards practice their routine 4 times, until they did it for real and the event started with a lengthy opening ceremony emceed by a reporter from WBNS TV whose delivery made you understand why they have writers prepare their words for them.

Finally the event began. The course was set out across a beautiful green field with a number of jumps. Each jump was decorated differently, and had different height and distance bars to challenge the contestants. Because each of the 25 contestants went the same path through the course, it was easy to know where they were going to provide the best shots, and they didn’t disappoint.

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The horses are amazing in their strength and skill, and look fantastic going over the obstacles.

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As noted previously the jumps had a variety of decorations, each sponsored by a different corporation.

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After half of the riders had competed, the grounds crew came out and tamped down the take off and landing areas, providing a fair venue for all the riders.

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After all 25 had gone, they narrowed it down to the top nine of the 25 riders going clear over the Richard Jeffery designed course. The grounds crew re-arranged the course slightly, and they had the finals. In the end McLain Ward claimed the Authentic Cup and his share of the $125,000 prize money

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It was a beautiful day, and a great event. I would highly recommend the New Albany Classic.

Western Ohio – August 2016 – Vintage Trucks, Vintage Airplanes, Vintage Houses and Fishing in an Ohio Corn Field

We made another trip to Troy, Ohio, this time for the 27th Annual International Harvester Vintage Truck Show. When you think antique vehicles IH is not the first brand to come to mind, but everything has a following. A plus was it was being held on the grounds of Waco Airplanes, which we had visited previously.

Once we arrived they directed us to park in a field directly beside a small metal hanger that had a bi-plane parked inside, along with another small plane whose wings were folded up. After checking these out for a few minutes, we moved into the grounds to view the trucks.

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In my opinion most of the IH trucks over the years were boxy and boring, except for the very early years. This show had a nice representation of the ones from the 1930s and 1940s, along with a slew of them from the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the newer ones have been customized, with their owners rightfully proud of the hard work they had put in.

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One family we met had come over from Weirton, West Virginia, which you could tell was near Pittsburgh by the attire of nearly everyone in the family (Steelers garb). We did all we could there in 90 minutes, so it was time to move on.

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Starting back east we made our way to Urbana, the county seat of Champaign County, where the Champaign Aviation Museum is located. This small, relatively new museum is located in a hanger at the county airport. Their pride and joy is a B17 (The Champaign Lady) that they have been restoring for more than a decade, with another 10 years expected before they complete their work. In addition there is an A26 outside, a C47 on static display inside, and a B25, but that was out on a flight the day we were there.

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The best part of this visit was they allowed you to wander through their shop area, taking time to explain what the approach to the restoration was. Of interest to me were a number of the specialty tools they were using to put spacers in the drill holes they were to later going to rivet together.

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A couple of miles up the road from the airport is the Freshwater Farms of Ohio, the state’s largest indoor fish hatchery.  You can pet a sturgeon, but some smoked salmon, and check out the various ponds they have with koi and other decorative fish. It seems out of place in the middle of an Ohio cornfield, but was fun to check out.

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Finally we stopped at Mac o Chee castle, a tourist attraction since I was a little kid. I remembered it being an impressive place, but now it is a sad old rundown building that is a shell of it’s former self. I am certain it takes a lot of money for upkeep, and they clearly aren’t bringing in enough. This resulted in our of our most disappointing stops in all of our travels the last couple of years.

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