July 31, 2013

7/31/13 - Valley Forge NHP

We camped at an RV park near Lancaster, PA, but moved to one in New Jersey to visit Philadelphia and Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.  (It seemed like a good idea when I was looking for a place to stay.*)

We knew Valley Forge was where George Washington's Continental Army spent the miserable winter of 1777-78.   Although the Visitor Center has big murals of militiamen clothed in rags, stumbling through the snow, we found out about a lot of misconception we learned in American History--and it was promulgated by General Washington himself!

Washington's troops spent one winter in Valley Forge.  When he wrote his letter to Gov. Clinton, saying his men were "naked and starving", he apparently didn't mean it literally; evidence shows they had clothes and food, but needed ammunition.  Even so, it's become a parable on American perseverance for liberty. 

Although he spent the other winters of the war elsewhere, most people (including me) haven't a clue where. The reason we remember Valley Forge is because the most men died there--but disease, not cold or starvation, was the biggest killer.  Surprisingly, the biggest percent of those died in spring, not winter.

We watched the Visitor Center video so we could brush up on the Revolutionary War.  We took a walking tour with a ranger to the replica soldiers' huts where one of the brigades had camped. Huts? Turns out there had been more than 2,000 of these "huts" (which I would call "cabins") laid out in military avenues like a little city. Each group of 12 men built their own hut, with wood chimneys! General Washington insisted that they be lined with 12" of clay to make them fireproof. (I had no idea that would work!  George says he did.  Hmmm...)
There's an archaeology dig going on nearby.  I tend to think of archaeology with ancient history, but sometimes it doesn't have to be that long ago to find interesting things.  I have no idea what they've found.  There weren't even any archaeologists around to ask.

Another ranger showed us what a typical enlisted man wore and carried. It wasn't the red and blue wool uniform officers wore, but much simpler. Even in winter, most men had decent clothing and shoes, supplied by their home state. (This guy's barefoot because it's HOT!)  Connecticut soldiers were better supplied than those from some of the southern states, probably because they had more experience in how to dress for cold weather.
We took the driving tour through the park from the Visitor Center along the Outer Line Defenses, up to Washington's HQ, around the Inner Line Defenses and then past the Grand Parade and the Washington Memorial Chapel. 

The National Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1917. You can tell how big it is when you look at me by the base of it.
Nearby farmhouses became officers' quarters. Washington's headquarters were in the Isaac Potts house. A ranger with a great sense of history and storytelling was waiting for us there.
I found this huge(!) Imperial Moth in the grass behind the stables.  (The brochure is 8 1/4" wide.)  Cool, huh?
They kept the cannon at Artillery Park. I assume they had more than these.
Washington realized by the end of 1776 that a militia of short enlistments wouldn't work against the British. By the time he got to his winter quarters here, soldiers (not just militia) were recruited for 3 years or until the war ended. Baron Friedrich von Steuben helped train the army here on The Grand Parade.

Washington Memorial Chapel, built in the early 1900s as a tribute to George Washington and the patriots of the Revolution, is an active congregation on private property within the park. (I found a little brochure that explains all the memorials and symbolism.) 
There's a carved organ with 3,000+ pipes. (Sorry, you don't get to see it.  My picture didn't work well--and George didn't even take one!)  There are 13 stained glass windows, one for each of the original states.  The one over the alter is the Martha Washington window.  The Pews of the Patriots commemorate a patriot or a group of them.
The George Washington window over the door has 36 scenes from his life.  There's even symbolism in the roof--the Roof of the Republic has seals from all 50 states, in order. 
The Daughters of the American Revolution built the bell tower, with a bell for each state and territory.  They have summer carillon concerts.  I'd love to hear the bells ring.

*This probably wasn't one of my better ideas.  To cross the Delaware River INTO NJ, it's free. To cross on any bridge across the Delaware out of NJ, there's a toll.  It could be that once NJ gets you in, they don't want to let you out. Or perhaps once you get to NJ, you're willing to pay to leave? It's cheaper to go to Delaware ($4) than to Pennsylvania ($5)--maybe because it's a smaller state. It cost $22.50 for us with the trailer. (sigh) Maybe we should have just stayed in Pennsylvania...

More pictures of Valley Forge here: Valley Forge NHP 

July 27, 2013

7/22/13 - Hershey's Chocolate World

Yes, I know--Hershey's Chocolate World isn't a national memorial or monument.  But honestly, I don't understand why NPS hasn't yet established a memorial to Milton Hershey, founder of the country's first chocolate factory.  Chocolate is very important to the well-being of the people of the United States.  S'mores (made with Hershey bars) are the official dessert of campers everywhere!

Milton Hershey went to the Chicago World's Fair and saw chocolate making machines.  He then used good old American ingenuity to create a process to mass produce inexpensive chocolate candy bars. There's a national monument for the Wright Brother; wouldn't you agree that chocolate is at least as important as flight???
Old Factory

New Factory, 2012
They don't give tours at the chocolate factory anymore, but Chocolate World has a thing called Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour which is a cross between a Disney ride and a factory tour, leaning more toward Disney. You could probably actually learn about how chocolate is made if you took the tour 6 or 7 times and could figure out how to ignore the noisy singing cows. (That might not be so bad because then you'd get 6 or 7 free samples.)
At the end of the ride you can look down on the shops, which sell everything with the Hershey label on it for more than you could buy it somewhere else. They have other attractions but they're a bit pricey and there were crowds of people, probably taking a break from riding all those roller coasters at nearby Hershey Park. 
The Hershey Story Museum is on the main street of town.  It's cleverly named Chocolate Avenue, keeping with the town theme.  In downtown Hershey, the street lights look like Hershey Kisses.  
There we learned more about Milton Hershey and how chocolate is made.  A few interesting things I retained from the museum tour:
          -- Hershey Bars have been around since 1900; Kisses since 1907
          -- Hershey bars cost 5¢ from 1900 to 1969
          -- Reese's factory is in Hershey, PA, too
          -- Hershey Park was built for employees
          -- Hershey donated his entire fortune ($60 million) to a trust fund for a school, still in existence today.

Now I'm not saying that the National Park Service has to bring back the 5¢ Hershey Bar, but I do think it's time for a memorial! 
 More pictures of Hershey?  Click here

July 25, 2013

7/18/13 - Shredded Tire

We blew a tire on I-78 about 12 miles east of Allentown, PA.  We were told I-78 is THE worst freeway in the state; we can definitely agree with that!

The front tire on the right side of the trailer was shredded! We were on a stretch of highway where it was merging to one lane for construction, and there was no safe place to stop.

We first stopped right in front of the arrow sign for the closed lane, then got out and moved one of the pylons so we could park in front of the sign.  As you can see, the shoulder is really narrow there, and we're more than halfway into the travel lane.
I was on the phone to Good Sam Emergency Road Service before we were completely stopped.   Problem was there was more construction behind us, so instead of one hour to get a tire truck to us, it took almost two!!!  George got out the spare tire while we were waiting (and praying).
After a while, George noticed that the construction crew had finished for the day and were retrieving their arrow signs and picking up the pylons in front of us. We'd  be stranded literally ON the freeway with no protection at all. Their contract said they had to leave by 3 PM.  George called 911 to talk to the state police, who said there were only 4 troopers in the area and it take an hour for one to get to us.  George said, "We could be dead by then."  (You have no idea how scary that is to overhear!)
While I'm wondering whether I'd stand a better chance in the truck or on the side of the road,  the construction guys moved behind us to pick up the arrow sign. (Maybe I could just start walking back the way we'd come?)  Finally they had to leave, but George convinced them to follow us with their lights flashing to escort us off the highway.  Driving very slowly, we found a pulloff about 1/2 mile up the road wide enough for us to get out of the travel lane.
 Eventually the tire guy showed up and changed the tire.
Right after he arrived, so did the state trooper. He and George had a nice little conversation before he drove off, apparently satisfied that he wouldn't have to write up a fatality accident report. 
You think prayers aren't answered? 

July 24, 2013

7/14/13 - Delaware Water Gap NRA

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is on the border of NJ and Pennsylvania, where the Delaware River cuts through a ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  The brochure says...it's been a favorite vacation spot since the 1800s.  It's still popular-- almost 5 million visitors last year, ranked 10th in the park system.  Since US-209 runs through most of the park on the PA side, I think their count is a tad skewed. 

Even with that kind of rating, 21st century politics has not been kind to the Gap. The Kittatinny Point Visitor Center at the south end of the park is closed by sequestration, even though that area of the park gets the most visitors.  (How stupid is it to close that one?)  Dingmans Falls Visitor Center is open only on weekends, so it was a good thing we got there on Sunday.
The brochure says...there are 100 miles of trails for hiking and biking--even that most-famous-trail-in-America--the Appalachian Trail. There are hundreds of waterfalls. We strolled down one short boardwalk trail to see two waterfalls. I think Silver Thread Falls is prettiest. It might be the tallest in Pennsylvania.*
After we got to the platform to view Dingmans Falls (it too might be the tallest in Pennsylvania*) and took our pictures there, we climbed the "optional" 240-step staircase to the top of the upper falls.
The wild rhododendrons had just finished blooming, but there were a few left.  Rhodies remind us of Washington state.
The brochure says...there are 200 miles of roads in the park for driving and biking. We took a "windshield tour" up the Old Mine Road to Millbrook Village. You can actually see the river for the first part.  Millbrook Village had a mill on the brook (must be where they got the name) from the 1830s until the 1900s. Now there are no people, just a few buildings we wandered around. The first one is the old grist mill.
The brochure says...there are 40 miles of river for boating. We watched some people put their kayaks into the water. It was especially entertaining when one woman realized she didn't have a paddle!  Her friend had to take it to her.

Clumps of butterflies were all along the shore. Some of them seem to be dancing, but most of them seem to be just ignoring each other.  I think it might be a butterfly pick-up spot.
The brochure says the best views of the Gap are from the top of a couple of mountains where the river cuts through. (Elevation gain: 1000'+.  Trail rating: Difficult. It was too hot and humid to even think about it.) I'm not sure I really get the whole gap thing; it's not even a canyon, ...grand or otherwise.  

*If you count both the upper and lower falls at Dingmans Falls, it's the tallest waterfall in the state. If you don't count Dingmans' upper falls, then Silver Thead Falls is the tallest. Either way, they're both in the park--and in Pennsylvania.  You decide.

More pictures from the Gap:  Delaware Water Gap NRA

July 22, 2013

7/10/13 - New York City Tour

George would have avoided NYC completely if he'd had a choice.  Since I'm our de facto travel agent, I didn't give him much choice.  To see Boston, we took the subway into the city.  I knew that wouldn't fly here, so I found an RV park that had a tour bus pick-up right IN the park.  It was a little pricey to stay there, and the tour cost more than some, but it got us there with almost no effort and very few objections from George.

Our tour guide Albert was standard NY-issue:  loud, sarcastic, fast-talking.  After we went through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan, he pointed out standard NYC icons as we drove past.  We spent an hour at Times Square (waaay too long--you can get dizzy looking up at all those buildings!)
Back on the bus to drive past tenements and buildings being demolished (as well as some that probably should be), a Navy ship that I'd never heard of and couldn't see, the 9/11 Memorial (you need a free pass to visit), the Sphere from WTC recently moved to Battery Park (which is a mess), and finally got off the bus near Wall Street.

We did a bit of quickstep with Albert's version of an historical NY tour.  (George calls it a "tornado tour".)  He started with Trinity Church, just an in-and-out to see the stained glass, I guess. We filed in, took 2 pictures, got pushed back out. 

We rushed on to Wall Street for the Stock Exchange building, then past the Federal Hall National Memorial, where George Washington was inaugurated.  Albert said the tour would continue up the street, then come back to this corner.  As soon as I heard that, I suggested to George that he should do a quick trip inside Federal Hall to get his NP passport book stamped while I continued on with the tour group to see Tiffany's. I think he got the better deal; I didn't even get to see in the window!
We hurried on to Ground Zero, which we mostly couldn't see because of construction signs.  The new Freedom Tower is almost done--they're working on the antenna now. When completed, it will be 1776 feet tall--a pretty good year for freedom in the US. 
The FDNY Memorial Wall dedicated to the fallen firefighters is across the street.  
Arnold hustled us to St. Paul's Chapel, where George Washington had his own pew. The back fence around St. Paul's is also across the street from Ground Zero, and became the main location of impromptu 9/11 memorials. Quite a few of them are inside now.
We zipped around the corner to St. Peter's to meet the bus.  Driving through the rain (what's with that?!) towards the Holland Tunnel, Albert pointed out some buildings that still have smoke damage from 2001.
The bus took us to Liberty State Park in NJ for the ferry ride to Liberty Island.  Before we did that, we stopped at a diner for lunch.  I think that was the longest stop we had...then it was back on the bus to a parking lot closer to the water.  Albert stayed with the bus driver, sending us on a long, rapid walk to the boat dock.  We had to go past the sheds for the old train station where emigrants went after passing through Ellis Island.  The old terminal is now a museum, now closed because of damage from Hurricane Sandy last October. 
There was a security check before we could get on the boat and finally head to the Statue of Liberty.  Because of extensive flooding from Hurricane Sandy, it just reopened last week.   Ellis Island (still closed for at least another year--they had 9 feet of water in the basement and it's now moldy and mildewed) was on one side.  
Manhattan across the river.  
Lady Liberty getting closer.  

Albert had warned us (and warned us and warned us!)  that if we missed the 3:55 PM boat, we'd miss the bus and would have to find our own way back to the RV park.  That gave us a grand total of 35 minutes on Liberty Island, not nearly long enough!  Of course, there wasn't any question about going up into the statue--you had to have your tickets BEFORE you got to the island.  George got his passport stamp at the visitor center, then we went the wrong way to view the front of the statue. Backtracking and bickering, we finally got our pictures, just before it was time to head back to the boat.
We didn't miss the boat.  The sky was bright blue with postcard clouds and even a sailboat passing in front of the Freedom Tower.
We headed to the bus for the long ride back to the RV park in Florida (that's Florida, NY).

Would we do it this way again?  Probably not.  Too much riding just to get to NYC and back. Too much hurry.  Too much time at some places, and not enough at others.   We agreed that we're probably not guided-tour people.  Would we go to NYC again?  Well, one of us would...

More pictures of NYC on Flickr:  New York City Tour