Eastern Kentucky – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 10

We ate breakfast at the hotel opting for oatmeal and fresh fruit rather than the ham and cheesy scrambled eggs. The fatty food probably accounts for the area of Hazard and Perry Counties having one of the worst life expectancy rates in America. Kentucky ranks in 45 out of 50 states and the town of Hazard is even worse than the Kentucky average.

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The morning air was a cold temperature of 26o F. as we left Hazard. The hillside and trees were covered with kudzu as well as a school bus on our drive to Breathitt County.

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As we made our way north we ran into smoky air from wildfires in the area. The smoke was thick enough that we can smell it in the car with the windows closed as we moved along state route 15N through the hills.

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Layers of exposed rock sheered on both sides of the highway rise at least 100 feet. Rock is why we are here; to see Natural Bridge State Park. The park was founded as a private tourist attraction in 1895. It is still cold at 23 degrees as we began our hike on the original trail to see the natural bridge, but with the steep ascent up uneven steps we didn’t notice, and we followed the path up hill to reach the bridge.

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The trail ends under the bridge but a narrow passage called Fat Man’s Squeeze and some stairs lead to the top of the natural bridge. The view from on top of the natural bridge was marvelous. It looked as if their was a laser beam of light shooting outward into the air from the cliff in front of us over the valley of autumn colored trees. I believe it was a layer of thin fog hovering in air; in any case, it looked really awesome.

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We climbed down onto the same trail, and back through the Fat Man’s Squeeze again.

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Leaving the Natural Bridge Park, we headed north on Kentucky Highway 77, reaching Nada Tunnel,  a 900-foot long tunnel that was formerly a railway tunnel.

Since the tunnel is a single lane you must honked first before entering to alert anyone on the opposite end. The tunnel was originally 12 feet in height but when the first train load of logs became stuck and had to be blasted free, the tunnel’s height was increased to 13 feet.

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After passing through Morehead we made our way to the town of Olive Hill to see Carter’s Caves. Unfortunately we arrived at a time that the next tour was hours away. Deciding not to wait, we went for a brief walk on the trail that allowed us to explore the cave park area on our own. The half-mile loop trail from the visitor center led us into a great open cave.

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The cave had a small round opening at its roof, jagged walls of stone with niches and a small stream that flowed among the layers rocky floor surface. We finished our walk and promised to visit again but for now we headed home to end our latest advenutre.

Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 9

It was a very winding road from Boone, North Carolina passing through Mountain City on the way. Mountain City had numerous Christmas tree farms preparing the trees for delivery to the holiday sale lots. The two lane road curved through the hills with gorgeous views of trees in autumn colors and valleys with low lying fog.

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Our travel continued to the South Holston Dam, an earth-and-rock filled dam 285 feet high reaching 1,600 feet across the South Fork Holston River in Bristol, Tennessee. Construction of South Holston Dam began in 1942 and was completed in 1950 by the TVA to serve as a hydroelectric facility.  We drove across the top of the dam to reach the visitor center which had a lot of information for us to learn about the history of the TVA and the South Holston Dam.  The height of the dam also offered a beautiful scene of the sun shone through the trees with the fog settled over the river and giving a misty look of the colorful hills.

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A short drive from the dam is Osceola Island and Weir Dam Recreation Area. The weir dam (a dam designed to pool water behind it while also allowing water to flow over) helps control the water along a river, allowing engineers to measure the amount of water moving along the river, and also helps oxygenate the water.  It also makes for a pretty sight.

On an average day water gently tumbles over the ends but this isn’t always the case. The nearby South Holston Dam releases water from time to time as part of their hydroelectric operations. When this happens, three things happen: a loud siren plays a sound that echoes for miles down the river, bright yellow lights begin to flash on a sign cautioning visitors about the sudden increase in flood waters, and the water starts to rage across the top of the weir dam.

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The weir dam was built by the TVA for the purpose to revitalize the river by adding oxygen to the water to promote a healthy environment for fish, insects, and the river. The weir dam had rows of concrete horizontal barriers across the width of the river with interlocking wooden timber walls. The water that flows over the top of the weir falls over its side and acts like a natural waterfall creating oxygen that is added to the river.

The weir is an interesting sight that also attracts fishermen.Men were fishing from the footbridge and within the river. The fly fishermen stood thigh high in the river casting their lines in a rhythmic wave even though it was only 29o F. A short walk across the rusty metal footbridge is Osceola Island with additional walking trails but we crossed the bridge to the island only for new photo angles of the weir dam.

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Afterwards we drove into the town of Bristol, Tennessee, or perhaps Bristol, Virginia since the state border between Virginia and Tennessee divides the town. A sign straddles State Street so that south of the street sign is the state of Tennessee and property north of the street sign is Virginia. Flags of each state hung on their respective sides of the street. Having recently seen the Geico commercial we tried to spot the painted marker on State Street, but did not find it.

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Then off we raced to Bristol Motor Speedway to see an old NASCAR racetrack that was built in 1960. The structure looks like a football stadium from the outside but has a capacity to hold 162,000 spectators. Bristol Motor Speedway is the fourth largest sports venue in America and the eighth largest in the world.

Finding the stadium open we walked into the bleachers amazed at the size of this immense stadium.  The concrete oval short track was set below in the center of the stadium. It must be deafening to be here for a race with the noise of the crowd on metal bleachers and the thundering roar of the car engines within these enclosed walls.

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The Natural Tunnel in Duffield, Virginia was next on our list to see. A trail at the visitor center led us downhill to the creek and train tracks. Natural Tunnel State Park is a Virginia state park, centered on the Natural Tunnel, a massive naturally formed cave that is so large it is used as a railroad tunnel through the Appalachian Mountains.

It is the first tunnel that I have seen that was not man-made and bricked. The Natural tunnel, which is up to 200 feet wide and 80 feet high, began to form from a small river, now called Stock Creek that was diverted underground and continued to erode the tunnel over millions of years continuing to this day. Time will eventually wear away the rock ceiling until it falls and forms a gap between the hills of the mountain.

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Local folklore of the area tells of a Cherokee maiden and a Shawnee brave who had been forbidden to marry by their respective tribes, jumped to their deaths from the highest pinnacle above the Natural Tunnel. The place is now known as Lover’s Leap after the couple sneaked away at night to climb the peak waiting until morning to jump from the cliff so that they could be together in the afterlife.

This seems to be a popular tale because we have heard this story before with multiple peaks known as Lover’s Leap. We hiked to the pinnacle of Lover’s Leap overlooking the park. Looking down over the edge at Lover’s Leap from this point most definitely certified death should anyone jumped from this cliff.

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After we hiked back, we went to McDonald’s for our usual order of chicken sandwiches with sweet tea before continuing on to the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, the southeastern end of the famous passage of Cumberland Gap that led west. The Cumberland Gap is a National Historical Park located in Middlesboro, Kentucky at the border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Cumberland Gap is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains.

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We started our adventure of this park by driving a four-mile road to Pinnacle Overlook, an elevation of 2,440 ft. This overlook provided a great view of the tri-state park and the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap was a trail used by elk and bison to the salt springs. Native tribes marked the trail before Dr. Thomas Walker who worked for the Loyal Land Surveyors documented the route through the gap in 1750.

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The Appalachian Mountains made it difficult to move westward but the Cumberland Gap allowed westward passage beginning in the 1770’s. Daniel Boone who was born near Reading, Pennsylvania made his first passage through the gap in 1769. Boone with thirty men was commissioned to mark out the Wilderness Trail from the Holston River in Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. The significance of the Cumberland Gap was dubbed as the “Gibraltar of America” by Ulysses S. Grant.

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The Object Lessen Road was a path that brought attention to the importance of a road through the Cumberland Gap to people in the 1920’s. We hiked the Object Lessen Trail until we reached the intersection of Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Trail. A large boulder at the crossing of these trails had a bronze plaque mounted on the face of the rock dedicated to Daniel Boone. Since the sun was beginning to set we left the park and traveled through the mountains to reach our hotel in Hazard, Kentucky.

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North Carolina Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 8

After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we went to see the Durham Athletic Park, an old baseball stadium, built in 1926. This park is most famous from the movie Bull Durham.

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The park was originally called El Toro Park, built to support the small Carolina League crowds that arrived. When the movie came out the team became so popular they ended up building a new stadium on the south edge of downtown Durham, however this park remained as a college stadium.

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The new park, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, was built to reflect many characteristics of old-time parks and the historic downtown Durham architecture. A 32-foot-high wall stands in left field 305 feet from home plate, resembling Fenway Park’s Green Monster. The Blue Monster, as it’s called in Durham, contains a similar old-style manual scoreboard.

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The ballpark’s most distinctive feature is the Snorting Bull that stands tall above the Blue Monster. This Bull was modeled after the bull used in the 1988 film, Bull Durham. The 10,000-seat ballpark is tucked into a warehouse district similar to Camden Yards and the red-brick architecture compliments the view from the ball park diamond.

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Being in this ballpark brought back good memories of the times when we attended baseball games with our daughters twenty years ago. The new ballpark added features more similar to a major league team level with a grand concourse.

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On the drive to Winston-Salem, we saw political signs for Dan Forest running for the position of Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina. He used a catchy phrase from the movie Forest Gump “Run Forest Run” that worked perfectly for him since his last name is Forest. Voters must have remembered that phrase on Election Day by re-electing him for another term.

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On Sprague Street in Winston-Salem is a unique Shell gas station built in the shape of a clamshell and painted bright gold with red trim. This architecture gem was built the in the 1930’s by the Quality Oil Company, a Winston-based marketer of Shell Oil. The station, modeled on the brand logo of Royal Dutch-Shell Oil, was constructed of concrete stucco over a bent wood and wire framework. Two glass-top gas pumps painted in matching colors were placed in front of the shell.

Though the station fell into disrepair toward the end of the 20th century; a state historic society, Preservation North Carolina, stepped in and restored the highway icon in the late 1990s. According to the fliers for the station, it is likely that this landmark is the last clamshell gas station in the country. Today it’s used by the preservation organization as a regional office and info center about the station and other preservation projects.

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It is Veteran’s Day today, and true to life in the south this time of year the temperature has warmed from a frosty cold into a sunny sixty degrees. It was a good day to visit Stone Mountain Park in Roaring Gap, North Carolina. The centerpiece of the park is Stone Mountain, a dome of exposed granite that rises sharply over 600 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The mountain, which has an elevation of 2,305 feet above sea level, is known for its barren sides and distinctive brown-gray color, and can be seen for miles. Because the mountain is the best example of a monadnock in massive granite in North Carolina it was designated a National Natural Landmark. Monadnock is originally a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that stands above the surrounding area. It is thought to derive from the Abenaki language, from either menonadenak (“smooth mountain”) or menadena (“isolated mountain”) but here monadnock is used to describe a mountain that rises from an area of relatively flat and lower terrain.

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There are more than 18 miles of trails in the park. We started on a trail from the upper lot that looped up to the top of the massive granite rock and then down to the opposite side. The trail led us up in elevation and down about one thousand steps completing more than five miles. The summit of the rock gave us a terrific view of colorful leaves of the trees, wild rhododendrons, and faded ridges in the distance.

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The smooth rock looked slick and solid but at points short trees seemed to grow straight from the rock without any soil. We sat for a bit to rest and enjoy the view while some young adults piloted a remote monster car over the rocky landscape and on the trail.  We climbed down nearly five hundred steps through the wooded side of the trail until we reached the meadow at the foot of the great stone. The barren face of the rock was clear to us from where we sat in the meadow.

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The trail directed us to a 200-foot waterfall that slid over the rock into a small creek. We nearly stepped on a small black snake as we trudged on the trail that took us up three hundred more steps to finish the trail. Our hike was completed in four hours with only brief stops and it felt great.

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Leaving the park, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in the direction of Boone, North Carolina. It was slightly cloudy as we drove on the Parkway so that the Blue Ridge Mountains appeared dark and the ridge behind it seemed a faded smoky blue. Fog hovered low in some areas separating the colors of the field and the mountains for a really beautiful scene. As we rose in elevation closer to Boone, the trees were less colorful and began to drop their leaves.

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Boone, North Carolina is home to Appalachian State University and also the location of our hotel for the night, the Courtyard Marriott. We had a physical day and were hungry so we hurried across the street from our hotel to eat at the Stagecoach Steakhouse. Our table was surrounded by many military veterans who came to get their free dinner by courtesy of the restaurant owners honoring those who served our country. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel physically tired from our busy day.

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 12

In all of our adventures it is really amazing that the weather doesn’t impact us more than it does, but on this day we woke to a foggy rainy day which was disappointing because we reserved seats on a cruise into the gorge at Western Brook Pond, a fresh water fjord carved out by glaciers during the most recent ice age.

The landscape at Gros Morne during our drive to our hotel yesterday was stunning with views of mountains and steep cliffs dropping into the ocean and gorge that we wanted to see up close.

After leaving our motel in Cow Head, we drove to the trail that led to the boat tour where other tourists waited hoping for the weather to improve. Visibility was only about 50 feet with poor conditions to see anything so we decided to skip the boat ride and went to the fishery at Broom Point.

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The tour guide had not arrived yet so we explored the area on our own but it was windy and foggy, providing an excellent photo op of an ocean front privy held up with wooden boards and only one other building stood in the park so we left.

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We had to drive to Rocky Harbour to cancel our boat reservation and it turned out to be a scenic ride that presented lots of opportunities for photos, because amazingly we popped out of the fog. The ladies at the boat tour reservations desk however have a web cam back at the boat and they assured us it wasn’t going to sail that day because of the fog.

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Having finalized the decision not to wait for a boat tour that wouldn’t occur, we continued to the Tablelands, an environment so different from where we started that morning. Most of Newfoundland that we have seen was green with water everywhere in forms of fjords, rivers, waterfalls, countless ponds and lakes, also with mountains and ridges covered with evergreen trees; but the tablelands looked more like a barren desert with prickly brush.

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The Tablelands were a rocky mountainous landscape where we hiked a two kilometer trail up the hill to a lookout to see straight into the pass between the mountains. It was incredibly windy making it hard to walk along the trail.

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We did see two waterfalls from the trail that ran down the mountain range beside us. Returning to the car, we headed down the road a short distance climbing almost 900 feet in only minutes to Green Gardens for a better look at the mountains. Even with the clouds and fog, the view was very pretty.

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Gros Morne National Park is a spectacular place, far off the beaten path, but with scenery to match the best in the United States. We felt it was every bit as impressive as many of the parks out west, and definitely the best in the eastern half of the continent.

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We left the park for lunch at the Deer Park Motel and Restaurant, where we had very good clam chowder and a hot turkey sandwich. Well nourished, we headed out onto the TCH again for the four hour drive to Port Aux Basques ferry terminal.

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On the way we passed Corner Brook, which I knew well from the in flight maps on all the trips I had taken back and forth to Europe. When I saw Corner Brook pop up on my map on the airplane I knew we were back over land, which always gave me a sense of relief. The city of Corner Brook is clearly an industrial town with a port, as we saw one of the largest piles of logs ever ready to be shipped.

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The road between Corner Brook and Port aux Basques is 120 miles of trees, mountains and damn few people, so we sailed along admiring the scenery, except during the intermittent rain showers, which always seemed to occur when we would go through areas signed ‘significant moose activity – be alert’, complete with 12′ high fences along the roads, however we went 1000 miles through the northlands and never saw a moose, other than the plastic one at the rest area in Maine.

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Not long before we reached Port Aux Basques we came upon Cape Race, which has a nice lighthouse. It is located in a small town but important because it is here where the trans-Atlantic cable connected from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and then to the North American mainland crossing borders to New York City. The cable is now replaced with modern electric lines but a historic marker is erected in front of the lighthouse on the edge of the shore.

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The wind produced a steady line of waves that crashed onto the beach for some great photos. Small homes lined the street to the lighthouse and also stood along the pretty shoreline. Mountains sat in a beautiful backdrop of shanties for homes. It was a thousand dollar house with a million dollar view.

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We took our time driving the rest of the way to Port aux Basque. When we arrived in the town, we stopped at the Historic Railroad Museum. The Railway Heritage Centre consists of a replica of the original 1898 passenger station and a restored nine car train. The train is made up of a snowplow, diesel locomotive, two tank cars from World War II, a Newfoundland boxer, sleeper, two baggage cars and a caboose. The museum was closed for us to go inside but I think we saw the main attractions outside.

After a visit to a quirky little shop for a Newfoundland T shirt, we had a leisurely dinner at Pizza Delight. 

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Just down the road was the Port Aux Basque Marine Atlantic ship terminal to board the ferry to Nova Scotia, where we arrived 3 hours early, spending the time hanging out in the modern terminal editing the photos from the last few days.

Since we were on another over night crossing, we had again reserved a cabin with a private bath. At 10 p.m. we drove the car onto the Marine-Atlantic ferry with hundreds of other cars and semi-trailers, and headed to our cabin for a quick night’s sleep.

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Acadia National Park, Maine – Late Summer 2016 Road Trip – Day 7

Our Friday morning started with us leaving the Longwood Inn by 6 a.m. to avoid the morning rush hour and anyone leaving the city for a long Labor Day weekend, finally stopping a rest area in Maine for breakfast at Burger King and Starbucks.

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The common dining area was the dirtiest rest area I had ever seen. Every table, chair, and floor was covered in crumbs and dirt. A large painted statue of a moose stood outside at the front of the building letting us know that we were in moose territory and I thought that if the moose were in the building at least the crumbs would have been licked up.

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We had a short stop in Portland, Maine along the Eastern Promenade for a view of the harbor with the sun shimmering on the water dotted with boats. As we made our way out of town we found U.S. Highway 1, a road that goes from far northern Maine to Key West, Florida. This would be our route throughout most of Maine, passing through numerous small towns, around bays, and across rivers. While not fast, it was scenic.

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Finally we arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. After circling the island on the west side we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain within the park, the highest elevation on the U.S. east coast at 1539 feet.   Cadillac Mountain offered us a view of the city of Bar Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.  From this vantage point you could see islands in the ocean and a large anchored cruise ship in the harbor, with tenders shuttling people to Bar Harbor.

Further climbing across the rocky surface of the mountain top provided views of northern and southern exposures.

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Acadia National Park stems from a name given by explorer Giovanni Verrazano in 1524. The shoreline reminded him of a part of Greece named Acadia.

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Completing our hike, we headed into the town of Bar Harbor, checking into the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel, where we were given a complimentary upgrade to a private suite with reserved parking. Our hotel room was a suite with a living room, full kitchen, bath, and king size bed, and it’s own entrance from the parking lot.

Once the bags were dropped we walked down the street for lunch at a restaurant called Blaze, where we had a crab cake and duck breast arugula salad that was very good, as well as a duck and pork belly burger topped with a fried egg. A very interesting lunch to say the least.

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After walking through town to check out the small touristy shops along the way, we headed down to the waterfront. For an hour and a half before until and hour and a half after low tide it is possible to walk across the rocky sandbar of the ocean floor to Bar Island. We arrived just as the water had cleared way, so we headed across.

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Once on the island we hiked the mule trail up the mountain to a vista to look back at Bar Harbor. You can view Cadillac Mountain from this spot, providing an interesting contrast since we were on the mountain at high tide when this island was only accessible by boat.

As we hiked back down and rested on a log at the rocky bottom, finding a fossil in stone that I kept as a souvenir.

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After crossing back over to town, we continued our tour of the local shops. Many shops were open for the Art Walk serving wine and cheese or snacks to visitors. We stopped for dinner at Café This Way hidden in an alley. We had a whole lobster that I had to crack open to eat, as well as lamb with mint pesto sauce and mashed potatoes, which as delicious.

Later we continued the Art Walk, as well as a stop at the Atlantic Brewing Company microbrewery. After a bit of refreshment, we continued on to the Eclipse Gallery, a glass shop with really interesting vases and glasscapes (scenes made completely of different types of glass). One scene resembled Acadia National Park with layers of trees and rock made of colorful glass.  Another glasscape of mountains was made of glass mounted into wooden slots and of trees in a technique called frit (tiny bubbles of glass fused together).

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Finally the temptation of 100 T shirt shops got the best of use, so we stopped in one with giant lobster claws hanging from the store front with lanterns and a lit moose form mounted on the store’s rooftop for our obligatory souvenir. The town was bustling with people drinking wine, eating ice cream, and strolling the streets as we returned to the hotel for the evening.

Portland, Oregon – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 16 – A Morning in Oregon and a Long Trip Home

Our final morning on the west coast started with a drive around downtown Portland where we stopped at the Union Station rail terminal. Union Station currently serves as an Amtrak station located near Old Chinatown in Portland, a classic old building complete with a 150′ tall Romanesque Revival clock tower. In 1948 classic neon signs were added, reading “Go by Train” on the northeast and southwest sides and “Union Station” on the northwest and southeast sides.

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As we drove about the city the thing that surprised us most about Portland was the number of homeless people. We saw the homeless in every corner of the city and sometimes “tent cities” and panhandlers.

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While still downtown we decided to check out Voodoo Doughnuts but the line was outside and wrapped around the block; I guess a lot of others had the same idea. Voodoo Doughnuts is known worldwide for specialty donuts and the quirky shapes and names of their products. This doughnut shop was also featured on the Food Channel.

We skipped the donuts and slipped by an art piece for Zoobomb Bikes at 13th and Stark Streets of a sculpture of small bikes mounted to a pole. I assumed it refers to the bike club that has been hauling absurd varieties of bicycles up to the zoo and hurtling down Washington Park’s steep hills every single Sunday night for the past 10 years.

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For our final stop in Portland we drove into the hills of neighborhood homes that have great views of the city or the mountains, interestingly finding the best spot in a small cemetery looking out at the snowy peak of Mt. St. Helens.

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We crossed the Columbia River again to go to Washington just to explore and use the extra time until it was time for us to get to the airport. After dropping off the rental car to Thrifty, the shuttle took us to the Portland airport.

The baggage drop off with Delta was a hassle even though I had checked our luggage online. The attendant asked us to recheck our bags at the kiosk while he flirted with the young girl ahead of us, smiling and saying ‘oh your bag weighs 55 pounds, that’s ok’. When it was our turn to check in with our luggage, one of the suitcases was slightly over the 50 pound limit. Our 55 pound suitcase was about to cost us an extra $100 for the extra 5 pounds. This took me straight to angry and annoyed that the attendant allowed the girl before us slip by the extra weight limit fee.

So we shuffled clothes and items from one bag to the other. Once I finished repacking, I dropped the bag onto the scale only to find that once more the bag was overweight. We finally got it worked out but not before the attendant asked me to not slam the bag on the scale this time. So we made it through security and into the concourse where we ate lunch at the Rogue Restaurant. We were in no hurry since our flight was set to leave at 7 pm.

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The flight from Portland to Phoenix took two and one-half hours. It was a smooth flight most of the way until we flew into cloud cover lasting about a half hour. We were surprised to see the urban sprawl of Phoenix lit from above. My last visit to Phoenix was the opposite expecting a much larger city; but then that was more than ten years ago. We landed with a thud and walked into a nearly empty airport. It was difficult trying to find food and we were very hungry because we missed dinner. We had to settle for two cookies and a bottle of water then had to run to our gate for our connecting flight back to Columbus.

Our red-eye flight to Columbus was quiet given that most passengers tried to sleep. I was unable to sleep so I spotted lights of the cities along the way. As we approached Indiana, dawn surfaced with varying colors on the horizon. Yellow first appeared and a line of pink, then orange and more pink with a hint of blue the farther we flew east. We hovered over Ohio and the sun rose a gold and orange layer but I could still see the line of yellow and pink behind the plane in the distance as it hung at the horizon. I gazed at the sunlight as it grew brighter and more colorful from my 39,000 foot seat. The sun popped up over the horizon and it was just as magnificent as the other wonderful sights of this trip.

We continued on toward Columbus in a layer of clouds but still able to see the patches of farmland in a quilt-like pattern. The clouds were interesting in the tufted cottony stratum floating in the sky, when at last; our plane broke through the clouds landing at 6:30 a.m. Columbus time.  Two tired people emerged from the plane and climbed into the car to head home to end another excellent adventure.

Portland, Oregon – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 14

Our 15th day of this road trip started out in Astoria, Oregon at the amusingly named Pig N Pancakes provided breakfast for us before going to the Maritime Museum to watch the ships on the river. Frame by a coast guard pilot ship sitting in the parking lot of the museum, the interior appears to displayed a coast guard rescue ship in the front window but we saw no more than that of the museum since it was closed until later that day and we were ready to move on. Docked behind the museum was a ’boutique cruise ship’ and a coast guard ship with crew at attention saluting the U.S. flag while “reveille” played over the speaker for first call. It seemed a bit late in the day for this at 8:30 a.m.

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It was time to refill the car with gas and in Oregon there is a law that bans car owners to fuel their own car. New Jersey is the only other state that has this same law. All gas stations have attendants who pump gas for you. It seemed very odd and old fashion so I always get out of the car to talk to the attendant each time while in Oregon because I don’t know what else to do.

We made it to Portland and found the Japanese Gardens despite the wacky directions given by our GPS system, entering the gardens by wandering the paths in Washington Park. For a wonderful hour we walked up and down steps and crossing bridges presenting ferns, azaleas, moss that completely covered hills and beds that looked like short grass.

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Temples, arches and monuments decorated the Japanese gardens as we ambled along the path lined with a decorative fence of red cedar and/or bamboo artistically carved and tied together. Water flowed among the paths to verdant shrubs and trees, finally leading to a Zen garden. The Zen garden was made of a few large dark rocks set in a floor of small white pebbles in perfect concentric circles. It was very peaceful sitting on a bench staring at the Zen garden wondering how each pebble was arranged so flawlessly.

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The highlight of the Japanese Gardens is the bonsai area where a few well sculpted trees were on display. A coastal redwood, the tallest tree in the world, was clipped to a three foot potted work of art. Bonsai means tray planting as these art forms live in shallow trays and need styled and restyled over time.

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Ryan Neil created his own American bonsai style for this exhibit. The setting on the patio of the Japanese house at the gardens in view of Mt. Rainier offered a beautiful atmosphere.  The bonsai were each framed in a custom modern wooden structure. Maple trees, red cedar, pine and juniper were used in the other bonsai art displayed.

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We continued onward through the park to see the rose garden. Portland is known as the City of Roses. The rows and rows of roses covered a large section of the park. There was a test garden, a master rose garden, and many more rose gardens of varieties, size, and color.

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Visitors from around the world were there to see the exceptional bright colorful flora. Another area of the park had a statue of Sacajawea and a tribute column for Lewis and Clark for their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

The Kimpton River Hotel near the harbor was our hotel of choice for Portland. While the hotel was very nice hotel, it turned out that our room faced the windows of the next wing of rooms. Oh well, we had mostly beautiful views on this whole trip and we spent little time in our room, heading back out to the riverfront that border the hotel.

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Soon we were on the streets of Portland exploring the city on foot, exploring the central business district, stopping for lunch at Joe’s Burgers. After lunch we did some shopping, going to the home store for Columbia outerwear. To finish our downtown walking tour we went to Pioneer Courthouse Square where the city placed hundreds of 4-inch pots of flowers on the square to make a greenspace in the urban hard space. We sat in the lounge chairs at the square enjoying a warm sunny day of 88 degrees. The humidity was low and the weather felt perfect.

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The highlight of the square was a visit to the Portland tourist bureau information center, where we met Arnie, who was extremely helpful in giving us ideas for things to see and do in the city  as well as recommendations for a day trip up the Columbia River Valley to the east of Portland.

After a brief stop back at the hotel to search Tripadvisor for somewhere to eat, we made dinner reservation for Higgins Restaurant and Bar on Broadway Street where we had an excellent dinner is what could only be described as a Portlandia like restaurant we had salmon and steak with water chestnuts and potato au gratin.

Finally we spent the sunset sitting on the hotel roof deck for a while sipping wine and eating a small appetizer. It was such a lovely day that we went for another walk along the harbor’s boardwalk and stopped for ice cream. The ice cream was not as good as Handel’s but the atmosphere was great on this charming evening.

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