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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Outer Banks, North Carolina – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 6

We were once again up before dawn, where we had an interesting site from our 12th floor room overlooking the bay. You could see the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with gaps in the lights where they drop down into the tunnels.

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As we left the Tidewater area in the morning we drove through Virginia Beach, stopping at the Naval Aviation Memorial and briefly looked at the boardwalk. There are actually three bronze statues here with the intent to show three eras of naval aviation, starting in the early 20th century, progressing to World War II and then to modern times.

The first statue is of Eugene Ely, who was the first aviator to fly off a ship’s deck. Next, is a WWII pilot and his crewmen who are leaving their hatch. Finally, there are two modern-day pilots, a maintenance man, and a woman with her foot on an empty cart. The memorial is tucked between hotels on the boardwalk near the ocean.

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Monster trucks, anyone?  Well then Poplar Branch, North Carolina on Caratoke Highway is the place. This is the home of Grave Digger, supposedly the most famous monster truck. Its wheels are at least three feet high and the truck is painted with a gray ghost and haunted house on it. The monster truck stood upright on its front tires with raised rear tires at the front of the property.

Here is where anyone can check out these giant trucks up close and buy a souvenir at its gift shop. The establishment named Digger’s Dungeon offers rides to visitors and sells Diggers merchandise. A number of monster trucks were scattered on the property and I made the most of it taking photos.

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The Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, commemorates the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine. From 1900 to 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright came here from Dayton, Ohio, based on information from the U.S. Weather Bureau about the area’s steady winds and privacy. We took the sidewalk up the dune reading small signs warning of cacti in the grass. Thorns of the cacti are harmful to people and pets; but Bermuda grass was planted on the dune to stabilize it.  The tall monument had carved stone heads of Orville and Wilbur Wright and an inscription dedicated to the Wright brothers genius, perseverance and risk.

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A 60-foot granite monument, dedicated in 1932, is perched atop 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill, commemorating the achievement of the Wright brothers. They conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized to form Kill Devil Hill. Inscribed in capital letters along the base of the memorial tower is the phrase “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

Atop the tower is a marine beacon, similar to one found in a lighthouse. The monument was erected by Congress in 1932. In the end, 1,200 tons of granite, more than 2,000 tons of gravel, more than 800 tons of sand and almost 400 tons of cement were used to build the structure, along with numerous other materials.

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Beyond the dune stands a bronze sculpture of the bi-wing plane, Orville, Wilbur, the First Safety Security Team and photographers, a tribute to those who participated in the first flight. The First Safety Security Team is now known at the U.S. Coast Guard and the sculpture captures the historic first flight by the Wright Brothers and their witnesses.

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A park ranger informed us at the test site that the Wright Brothers made four flights from level ground near the base of the hill following three years of gliding experiments from atop nearby sand dunes. On December 17, 1903 the brothers made four flights. A white blanket hung on the hangar door alerting the First Safety Security Team that the brothers needed help to move the plane onto the launch rail and were ready to fly.

A bit of history notes that John Glenn, another Ohioan took a small piece of this white blanket with him in his historic moment into space.  Another interesting fact is that a man of the Wright Brother’s team who witnessed their first flight also witnessed the first landing on the moon in July, 1969, an accomplishment within less than a century.

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The park ranger went on to say that at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 1903 with a 27 mph wind, Orville released a wire that held the flying machine to the track, and the contraption chugged slowly forward into the stiff wind. Wilbur trotted alongside, holding the wing to keep the flyer level. Then the flying machine lifted off the track, and Wilbur let go. The flyer left the ground as John Daniels squeezed the shutter bulb on the camera to capture a black-and-white photograph that will be forever engraved in human history.

Flight 1 flown by Orville lifted 12 seconds and went 60 feet into the air for a length of 120 feet. Flight 2 flown by Wilbur lifted 40 feet at the launch rail and flew 12 seconds for 175 feet. Flight 3 commanded by Orville flew 26 seconds for 200 feet. Around noon, Wilbur made a flight of 852 feet that lasted 59 seconds—the longest of the day but the flying machine was slightly damaged by Wilbur’s landing, and the group hauled it back to the hangar for repairs.

We walked along the actual routes of the four flights, with small monuments marking their four finishes. The original launch rail is still there. Two wooden sheds at the test site, based on historic photographs, were recreated as the world’s first airplane hangar and the brothers’ living quarters.

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The visitor center in its modern design at Kitty Hawk is home to a museum featuring models and actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers during their flight experiments including a reproduction of the wind tunnel used to test wing shapes and a portion of the engine used in the first flight.

We saw articles of the history of flight and the patch of the white blanket that John Glenn took with him on his orbit of the earth.  A life-size replica of the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer was there. The 1903 Flyer is the first powered aircraft in history to achieve controlled flight (the original is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.).  A full-scale model of the Brothers’ 1902 glider is also present, having been constructed under the direction of Orville Wright himself.

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Lunch found us at Rooster’s Southern Kitchen, for some vinegary BBQ sandwich and chicken and dumplings. Now nourished, we we headed off to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park located in Nags Head, North Carolina includes the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. The tall dune area of Jockey’s Ridge is known as a medano—a massive, shifting hill of sand lacking vegetation. Scientists estimate that there are 30 million tons of sand in the park.

The sand dunes now have eight ponds scattered in the sand from Hurricane Matthew that blew through but have not dried yet. The ponds are not uncommon, often when it rains; water collects near the bottom of the dunes creating temporary ponds known as vernal pools.

A forest of trees lined the edge of the pool. This maritime forest is the home to most plant and animal life in the park. The forest help to stabilize the dune and in return the dune protects the forest from strong winds and harsh salt spray.

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We hiked through sand as we did thirty years earlier, when we were last here. From the top of the sand dune, we could see the ocean and the bay. Hiking through sand is difficult; it seems like you take one step forward and two steps back but we made it to the top of the next dune where boys were rolling down the side of the dune. We trudged through the sand making our way around the vernal pool until we got back to the Visitor Center.

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Our return trip to the hotel was along the road next to the ocean until we reached construction blocking our way to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Kitty Hawk. We managed to maneuver around it, so after check-in, we went out to explore the Outer Banks by car.

We traveled a bit up to the time of a traffic jam that blocked our way. The jam was caused by a tow motor loaded with lumber partially jutted into the roadway. The police stopped traffic in both directions due to the construction while we waited at least fifteen minutes. So we turned the car around and went into the town of Duck to shop for something to do. Later in Kitty Hawk, we bought a kite, a sweatshirt, and a t-shirt.

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The Kitty Hawk Pier is behind our hotel where we hung out to find two surfers on the waves. We walked on the beach as the tide ebbed although at times the waves chased us close to the protective dune that separated the beach from the beach homes. It was nice as we walked in the cool, cloudy, and drizzly weather, we collected some interesting seashells.

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We are in North Carolina, right, so time for more BBQ. The High Cotton BBQ restaurant was across the street from our hotel so we skipped over there for dinner, it was excellent.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel & Jamestown, Virginia – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 5

Today is Election Day, but we had already voted, so we had the entire day to enjoy the scenery. As usual we were out and at it by dawn, stopping first at Kiptopeke State Park, a park at the very southern tip of the eastern peninsula of Virginia. The park offered a unique recreational area with a series of old ships serving as a reef to the Chesapeake Bay as well as an opportunity to see part of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel from the park.

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The Chesapeake Bay area is the largest estuary in North America and third largest in the world. An estuary is a body of water where fresh and salt water mix. This estuary is approximately 200 miles long and 30 miles wide. Fisherman Island is the southernmost island on the chain of barrier islands located at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay where we began our crossing; the island is located within the Eastern Shore of the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

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From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we entered the Chesapeake Channel Tunnel which connects Island 4 to Island 3 beneath the bay. We popped up onto the Bay Bridge again and then followed into the South Thimble Channel Tunnel that connects Island 2 to Island 1. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge System consists of three bridges, two tunnels and four manmade islands spanning a distance of 17.6 miles from shore to shore at a cost of $25 as toll. Each tunnel is one mile long.

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Island 1 also known as Sea Gull Island is the southernmost location of the Bridge-Tunnel’s four manmade islands, 3-1/2 miles from Virginia Beach. The fishing pier on the island is 625 feet long and was busy with fishermen that had multiple lines cast.

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This island provided a place for us to stretch and to look back at the bridge and tunnel exits that we crossed. The island also had a cafe and gift shop that we visited.

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From Virginia Beach, we passed by Norfolk, an area rich in military naval influence, to cross another bridge and tunnel onto I-64 and onto Hampton, Virginia. We continued through the area of Newport News and into Williamsburg, Virginia to see the Jamestown Settlement.

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The Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. It includes a re-creation of the original James Fort of 1607 to 1614, a Powhatan Indian Village, indoor and outdoor displays, and replicas of the original settler’s ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and the Discovery.

The Powhatan native village demonstrated real life with instructors dressed in 17th century garb. A woman was working with leather making satchels with leather fringe. She crafted her bag with a handmade tool made of an antler or bone which she sharpened often. Deer hides hung between wooden sticks to facilitate the scraping of fur from the hide.

The village had native homes made into a wooden reed shaped modules. Bent limbs formed the concave skeleton of the structure covered in a woven mat surface. Inside a home were hides and personal items that the native tribe may have used. A vent was open on the roof to allow smoke from the fire inside to escape with a covering to close the vent when not needed. The village had free-range chickens and smoldering pits too.

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Our path led us to the replicas of the ships that brought the English settlers to the new world. We boarded the Susan Constant and the Discovery but the Godspeed was not docked for us to see. The largest ship, Susan Constant used five miles of rope to work the sails and maneuver the ship. The ship held cannons and weaponry of cannonballs and chain ball. We stepped down to the lower level of the ship to see cots on the floors and cots hung off the walls. The ship would have been tight quarters for the travelers.

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Further up the trail is a replica of the English fort, complete with the homes for the soldiers and the governor’s house.  Many of the homes as well as the church were made of stucco with thatched roofs. The governor’s house, however, was made of brick. Next to the church was an armory with muskets, pikes, swords, helmets, and shields, where the men in the armory were stoking a fire and pounding metal into weapons.

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Just down the road is Historic Jamestown, a cultural heritage site that was the actual location of the 1607 James Fort and later the 17th century city of Jamestown. It is located on Jamestown Island where evidence of the settlement existed.

Maintained by the National Park Service, we entered the grounds and made our way to the obelisk, a monument in tribute to the birthplace of the Commonwealth of Virginia and commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.

There a guide was dressed as John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas. In character he gave an account of the life and history of the settlers as if they just arrived in 1614. His wardrobe of hand-sewn baggy pants with metal buttoned vest and white shirt was cloaked in a dark colored cape and a large brimmed hat with a feather. He sported a sword and scabbard and tall leather boots.

The guide talked about his life as John Rolfe, who was bound for Virginia in May 1609 with 500 new settlers.  In July, a massive hurricane scattered the fleet, and ran aground just off the Bermudas. Rolfe’s wife and daughter died on the island but from salvage he made a smaller ship that took him to the Chesapeake Bay later. At the colony, the colonists at the settlement had tried many ventures with no financial success to return profits to their sponsor, the Virginia Company.

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Eventually most of the settlers died of starvation or battles with the natives.  It was only after the arrival of the new governor, Lord De la Warr, and his supply ships that helped the colonists endure.

An assembly convened there on July 30, 1619. Construction on the current church tower began in 1639 taking 4 years to complete. The rest of the original church was destroyed after abandonment in 1750; artifacts such as nails from coffins, armor, pottery, tools, tobacco pipes, and jewelry were found at the site.

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We had a quick lunch of sandwiches at the Dale House Cafe on the grounds at Colonial National Historical Park before going into the archeology museum called Archaerium. Upon entering the building, foundation bricks of the original assembly house were seen through the glass floor tile of the lobby. Many of the 4000 artifacts dug at the James Fort site were displayed behind glass.  Indian-made clay pipes, pots, shell beads, arrow points, and bone and stone tools have been found and now exhibited. There were also colonial wine bottles, tools, bricks, skulls, glass, nails, and pottery.

The results of forensic research on the skeletal remains of a teen girl found among animal bones and food remains show evidence of the early settlers suspected of cannibalism during the starving year of 1609.  Facial reconstructions of some of the settlers themselves were displayed.

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We also learned about how these artifacts were found. A three-dimensional representation of a 1620s well showed armor and dozens of tools and household objects suspended within it the way they were archaeologically recovered from the brick-lined shaft. A partial reconstruction of a mud and stud building inside the museum shown early Jamestown’s architecture. The archaeology team was busy digging on site as we were leaving.

At the edge of the National Park are ruins of the colonial glasshouse. Bricks and stones left from the original kiln were protected behind a glass wall. A glassblower demonstrated the art of glass making selling his craft lined on shelves surrounding the newer glasshouse. Glass has been made for centuries from a mixture of sand, soda ash (burnt marsh plants), pot ash, lime, and oyster shells.

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The ferry named Pocahontas carried our car and us across the James River from Jamestown to Scotland, Virginia. The ferry service is an extension of Route 31. We drove through Norfolk, Virginia to see the city before going to the Best Western hotel.

Captain Groovy Seafood Restaurant provided a dinner of shrimp and a sandwich for us. Later we packed ourselves in for the night to watch the results as our country moved to make the movie Idiocracy from fiction to a documentary.

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

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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.

Washington, DC – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 2

Our morning in Cumberland started out a crisp 34oF. The day would find us eventually in Washington, DC, but with a few stops on the way, starting with a drive along the Potomac River south from Cumberland, until we reached the Paw Paw Tunnel. This  3,118-foot long canal tunnel is located on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal located near Paw Paw, West Virginia.

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The tunnel was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a 6-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends. The town, the bends, and the tunnel take their name from the pawpaw trees that grow abundantly along nearby ridges.

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Building the tunnel was underestimated as to the difficulty of the job by the construction company.  The tunnel project created financial problems and nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The lengthy construction and high cost forced the company to end canal construction at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850, rather than continue to Pittsburgh as originally planned.

The tunnel was used by canal boats until the C&O closed in 1924.  The tunnel was badly deteriorated until the National Park Service made major repairs to the tunnel, including replacing fallen bricks, filling cavities along the towpath, stabilizing rock slides, and repairing the facade.  Today the Paw Paw Tunnel is part of the C & O Towpath which is part of a major bike trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

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We hiked the half-mile path from the parking lot through the woods to reach the tunnel sheathed in fog.  The colorful autumn leaves brightened the surroundings as we entered into the tunnel feeling a cool breeze within it.   As we walked on the bumpy dirt towpath where mules once pulled canal boats on this trail, the tunnel turned darker the farther we hiked.  Our flashlights and the railing helped to guide our way to the other end of the tunnel.

After reaching the end, we turned around to walk back through the tunnel again.  We did not climb the steep and strenuous looking two-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail over top the mountain to see where the tunnel builders lived during construction but I enjoyed our short trek into the tunnel to see a bit of history and engineering marvel.

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The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM)’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport.  The 760,000-square-foot facility was made possible by a $65 million gift to the Smithsonian Institution by Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of an aircraft leasing corporation.  The main building, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, had always contained more artifacts than could be displayed, and most of the collection had been stored, unavailable to visitors.

The exhibition areas at the Udvar-Hazy facility have two large hangars, the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.  The museum is connected by a taxiway to the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The observation tower at the museum provided a view of landing operations at the airport for us to see some large jets land while we were there.

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Entering the lobby of the museum offers a visitor a direct view of the space shuttle at center stage.  It was like walking through a timeline with so many historic aircrafts in one building.

In addition to the space shuttle, other crafts on display were: The Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; the Gemini VII space capsule; the SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance aircraft; the Air France Concorde; the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first man-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel; the special-effects miniature of the “Mothership” used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer piloted by Steve Fossett for the first solo nonstop and nonrefueled circumnavigation of Earth; and a piece of fabric from the Hindenburg disaster.

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We also saw gliders, satellites, military and commercial planes, flying platforms, missiles, boat planes, and farm duster crop planes.  A mobile NASA quarantine facility for the astronauts return was there.

The catwalk elevated us to a perch overlooking the planes and crafts on the floor and a view at eye-level of the aircrafts hovering from the ceiling.  We were able to peer inside the small suspended crafts to see the controls and sometimes personal items of the pilots in the congested airspace of the hangar.  There was a plethora of aircraft and spacecrafts to see but clearly the surprise of the initial look into the hangar to see the space shuttle and the close up of its tiles and many components is most impressive.

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Gravelly Point Park near National Airport was our next stop.  The park at the edge of the airport runway was filled with people enjoying the nice weather.  A maintenance crew was replacing bulbs in the landing lights as we looked on.  We stood at the edge beyond the landing lights while jets flew a hundred feet directly above us roaring noisily. The park also provided a good spot for us to photograph the D.C. buildings from across the river.

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We made our way to the Embassy Suites downtown, receiving an upgrade to the top floor.  It was a nice walk from the hotel to the National Building Museum.  The museum is all about building and construction obviously and so showcased different aspects of this theme.

The museum had paper models of famous castles and other famous buildings and homes.  There was a display of dollhouses.  Another room presented a technique of building tall structures and high rises from wood instead of steel.  The technique is a new trend of incorporating renewable resources in modern construction.  Stumps of wood and panels of engineered wood filled the room for us to learn how wood could be as strong as steel, lessens the impact on the environment, and reduces waste.   Miniature wooden models of multi-leveled structures were displayed for us to see examples of the early projects.

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The National Building Museum itself was very interesting with colossal 75-foot Corinthian columns reaching to the vaulted arches above in the great hall.  Outside a frieze depicting a parade of Civil War military units 3 feet high wrapped the building.  President Grover Cleveland hosted his inaugural ball in this building in 1885; since then this building has been the grand space for Washington’s social and political functions.

The design of the building was inspired by two Roman palaces, the Palazzo Farnese, and the church of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome built by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century.  Arched windows and arched niches reached fifteen stories high from floor to ceiling with a row of 234 white busts of men representing the building trades held in niches in the center court.

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Our view from the second story looking down into the great hall offered a geometric pattern similar to the Spirograph art that I made when I was a kid.  The table arrangement below was for an event and resembled colorful gears with cogs from high above.  The tables dressed in bright blue tablecloths and blue chairs against a terra cotta floor with stemware, silverware, and napkins had such an interesting look that I sent the photo out as the picture of the day asking his followers to guess what the photo was other than the blue shaped pattern.  The view from our elevated position did not easily reveal its true image.

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From the National Building Museum, we walked to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, the midpoint between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.  I was so stunned to see the unsightly overabundance of food trucks catering to the tourist that lined the street perimeter of the National Mall.  We opted to go to SEI Restaurant with a modern Asian cuisine and sushi bar.  The menu featured small plates for us to try California rolls, kimchi fried egg rice bowl, Kobe beef roll and short ribs.

We resumed our walk to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a quick tour before the hockey game we planned to attend.  The art was inspiring to see objects made of bottle caps, buttons, mixed media and other uncommon materials.

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The Verizon Center is the home of the Washington Capitals, a rival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, although on this day they were playing the Florida Panthers . We sat in the upper level among loud drunks to watch the hockey game, obnoxious enough you would’ve thought we were in Philadelphia. We left after the end of the second period and ambled in to a sports bar on 8th street for a bite to eat, and watch the Ohio State football game. Ohio State destroyed Nebraska 62-3, completing a really good day.

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Manassas, VA – December 2007 – Civil War Battlefield

With a trip to DC for some training I drove down early to check out a few places. One stop was Manassas, Virginia.

Manassas is know for two significant battles during the Civil War. The ‘First Manassas’ was the first major battle, occuring in July 1861. The second occurred during August, 1862.

 

Today there is a National Park at the site.

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