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President Clinton and Little Rock — Woo Pig Sooie!


overcast 50 °F

I'm visiting the final state in the South to see the 42nd President of the U.S. and to try and find a razorback. I'm off to Arkansas!


Upon arriving in Little Rock, Jason and I started exploring the city at the "little rock." The city was named for a small rock outcropping that served as a landmark while traveling up the Arkansas river and was commonly used as a crossing point to get over the river. "Little rock" wasn't really anything to see, but there was a nice waterfront trail that led to some informative signs about the city. While I read the signs, Jason studied the Native American carvings.


The waterfront tourist signs and statues were only able to keep our attention briefly, another sign had caught our eye. We saw our first sign of a razorback in the area! The trail took us over the river which offered a nice view of downtown (you can see some of the hotels, like the brick Peabody, and a couple of the taller buildings).


After crossing the river into North Little Rock, it didn't take long for us to find the razorback. It was huge! In fact, it was over 300 ft long and weighed over 1,500 tons! As you probably guessed, this wasn't the same razorback as the University of Arkansas mascot. In fact, this razorback wasn't even alive. This razorback was the USS Razorback, a submarine built and deployed in the Pacific during World War II. Despite finding its final resting place in Arkansas, the Razorback was named after a species of whale, not a hog. Before boarding the ship, Jason and I played with some of its weapons.



While I read the memorial for the submarine veterans, Jason sat in one of the deck guns and pretended to shoot enemy aircraft. Both of us were eager to head below deck.


It was tight moving around in the sub. The ceilings were low and had plenty of objects that could knock your head. The first room we entered was the very rear of the ship which contained bunks and torpedoes. Our guide told us that the bunks always had someone sleeping in them (as soon as someone woke up, they switched places with someone on a different shift). Some of the bunks were under the torpedoes, only allowing about 8 inches of space. I couldn't imagine sleeping pressed against a torpedo as the ship bounced through the water!

Moving from section to section, we had to crawl through the bulkheads (yet another place you could bump your head). The next section we entered contained the controls for steering the submarine. It would be weird to have to drive a ship like this without being able to see (the periscope was in a totally different section of the boat!). There was only 8 people in our tour group, and we barely fit into any space. The typical crew was 80 sailors, but they could have up to 145 on the boat!




You may have noticed that the controls and signs in the sub are in a foreign language. In 1970 the sub was sold to Turkey, who then used it for another 30 years.

We kept moving forward in the boat, passing the engineering room with the engines (which you can kind of see in the back of the picture of the guide). The sub was diesel powered, which meant that it had to stay near the surface to supply the engines with fresh air. The ship also contained tons and tons of lead batteries to power its systems when it went into a deep dive. Let me put this into perspective, as a sailor you slept in a room with 20 other guys hanging 16 inches above and below you with 2 locomotive-size diesel engines producing deafening noise, running in a metal tube that captured leaking exhaust, producing copious amounts of heat, and are sitting on top of tons of lead batteries. Oh, and everyone is smoking to pass the time. Who is ready to serve on a submarine?


The guide is holding the emblem of the submarine that contained its kill record and rescue record (I forget how to actually interpret the symbols). We moved out of engineering and onto the bridge. We could look out of the periscope, look at maps, and see the communication equipment. There still wasn't much space, but it looked like a much better work environment than engineering. After walking through another set of bunks we entered the kitchen.




The best part of living on the sub was the food. Two full time cooks were on staff and cooked nearly all day. The sailors ate very well, and rotated in and out of the small kitchen. There were pictures of the crew in the kitchen, and again I was surprised at the number of people smoking. You would think that fresh air would be at a premium on the boat, especially in the kitchen. We left the kitchen and walked through the captain's quarters and finally into the front torpedo section. This section was similar to the rear torpedo section, except the front had twice as many torpedoes and launching tubes.


We left the sub and gulped down the fresh air. I had only been on the sub for about an hour, but it felt great to be back above deck. Jason and I had casually decided to take the tour, but it ended up being an incredible experience (granted we are two engineers that enjoy learning about this stuff).

Leaving the sub at the edge of the river, we walked back across the bridge to checkout the rest of downtown. The downtown area was easily walkable, and a lot of people were moving around (I think due to the boat show in the convention center). Several bars and restaurants lined the main drag, but our next destination was the Old State House Museum.


The museum was interesting and had a lot of information about the people who settled in the area. Several exhibits explored the civil rights and how the Civil War affected the area. The most interesting exhibits had a lot of artifacts from the Civil War. The exhibit also detailed the veterans of the civil war, and how Little Rock hosted some type of Confederate Convention in the mid 20th century. Firstly, I was shocked that cities still held conventions for the Civil War 70 years after it ended (there were pictures of how the town went all out for the event). Secondly, I was astounded that still living veterans attending these events! The last Civil War veteran died in the 1950s. The last widow of a Civil War vet died in 2004!


We left the museum and headed to grab a bite to eat. We passed the Peabody just before the traditional March of the Ducks and decided to "duck" in and watch. I had seen the ducks at the Memphis Peabody hotel, but Jason had never experienced it before. And you haven't lived until you see a herd of people stand around to watch ducks ride an elevator!


For those that don't know, the Peabody hotel keeps several live ducks in the fountain in its lobby. Every morning the ducks come down from their rooftop enclosure via the elevator and jump in the fountain. Every evening, the ducks do this in the reverse. Each "march" brings in a crowd of people. A PA announcement came over the hotel speakers letting us know the marching of the ducks was getting ready to begin. The "duck conductor" gave us a well rehearsed speech on the history of the duck march, and then coerced the ducks to walk the red carpet to the elevator.

So far I had learned that Arkansawyers seem to enjoy mentioning the Razorbacks at every opportunity, holding festivals to celebrate the Confederacy history, and watching ducks. But we hadn't seen or heard much of their favorite son, Ex-governor and US President Bill Clinton, until now.


Jason and I decided to get a quick view of the rest of downtown by riding the tram. The tram pretty much retraced the areas we had already been, but it was nice to get off our feet for a little bit. The best part of the ride was talking to the tram conductor. He was a true ambassador to Arkansas, discussing policies of Walmart (which is headquartered in Arkansas), mentioned the Razorbacks, tried to convince that we should always buy "Made In America" products, and talked about Bill Clinton at length. Despite a staunch republican, this tram conductor spoke of Clinton as if he could turn lead to gold. For the rest of our time in Arkansas, this would be a reoccurring theme. Here is a picture of our tram going over the river with downtown in the background.


That night, each bar seemed to have some reference to Bill Clinton. We also happened to catch our second razorback sighting.



The next morning we set off to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library (which was really just a museum to all things Bill Clinton). The bottom floor had display after display demonstrating Clinton's successes in gun protection, job creation, balancing the budget, etc. The displays were very nicely done, but each made it seem like our nation was on the verge of collapsing before he took the top office. And not a single display mentioned Monica Lewinsky or his impeachment. We moved on to some of the other floors to escape the Clinton dogma.



The next floor described the life of Clinton. Clinton's childhood and college years were pretty inspiring. Clinton was portrayed as always having an interest in politics and being active in the community while still finding time to follow his passion of music. A picture of Hilary and Bill in college was particularly amusing, Bill was sporting a full beard and shaggy hair while Hilary had on "John Lennon" sunglasses. Here is a picture of Bill in high school in his band uniform and one of him with the Razorback pig call.

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The top floor of the museum was the most interesting. The top floor contained a gallery of all the gifts Bill Clinton received from countries around the world when he was president. Some of the things were just bizarre. The coolest rooms were the recreation of the Oval Office when Clinton occupied it and the Cabinet Room. Each president can decorate the Oval Office however they see fit, and most put knick-knacks or items of personal significance in the room. Clinton displayed busts of the presidents that he particularly admired and a collection of pins from across the 50 states.



The recreation of the room is exact, down to the carpet and the presidential seal on the ceiling.


The cabinet room allowed us to see where each member of the cabinet sat during their meetings. I took a picture in the Commander in Chief's chair!



Our Little Rock trip was a success. We saw a Razorback, we learned something new about Arkansas, and we got to know our 42nd President on a more personal level. We are leaving the city now and heading to the Hot Springs for some rest and relaxation!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical Comments (0)

The Most Southern Place on Earth - Mississippi


sunny 90 °F

Mississippi is the Most Southern Place on Earth. Well, geographically it is not the most southern on the Earth, or even the most southern in the US. But according to James C. Cobb, a former president of the Southern Historical Association, due to its unique racial, cultural, and economic history, no place is more southern. Megan and I were headed down to Mississippi to rub elbows with the locals and attend a down-South wedding!



It should come as no surprise that the Mississippi lies in the Mississippi River Valley (the Mississippi River runs along the length of Mississippi's western border). The Mississippi River has greatly influenced much of Mississippian culture, from antebellum times to current day. The state of Mississippi is relatively flat, so when the river floods, its effects can be far reaching. Megan and I decided to stretch our legs after a long ride in the car and experience the Mississippi River runoff first hand by taking a hike through the floodplain.

It was a hot, muggy morning despite being late September. My shirt was sticking to my back and it was barely 9am, good thing we were hitting the trail before it got even warmer. Megan and I checked in at the front desk and told the ranger we were going on the river trail. Upon hearing our trail choice, the ranger looked up and said, "you watch out now, I heard the mosquitoes are real bad right now." I didn't give the warning much thought. Back home in North Carolina you have to deal with mosquitoes every second of every day during the non-winter months. Mosquitoes may be a nuisance, but they aren't going to keep me from taking a hike. We said good bye to the ranger and started off on the trail.


The trail was dominated by wooden walkways. The river runoff trail could get pretty soggy, and large portions of the trail wound through marsh land. We descended lower and lower into the valley until we reached the bottom of the valley and the marshlands extended off in every direction. There was very little direct sunlight beneath the canopy of the trees, no wind at all, and the water seemed completely stagnant.


As I followed Megan on the trail, I noticed her shadow looked really weird. It seemed be vibrating and inconsistent. Suddenly it hit me, it wasn't Megan's shadow I was seeing, it was the thousands and thousands of mosquitoes following her! I tried to keep from panicking, but I realized that if we stopped moving, we would end up having an incredibly itchy weekend. It was just about then that Megan wanted me to stop to take the picture above. It took a lot of convincing, but I agreed to a single picture, but I was going to keep moving until the last possible second to keep the mosquitoes from landing on me. Unfortunately Megan caught my "mosquito dance" on video.

After the picture, Megan and I took off at a sprint back to the visitor's center. Once making it safely back inside, we slapped each other silly to kill the mosquitoes that were sucking us dry. My smug North Carolinian pride took a big hit as I realized that I couldn't handle the onslaught of Mississippian mosquitoes.


The visitor's center was pretty cool. It was like a mini-zoo displaying all the types of wildlife that could be found in the Mississippi River run-offs. Terrariums filled with turtles, alligators, and snakes filled one humid room, while another had over 25 aquariums recreating the different environments of the river and forested ponds.

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I've seen plenty of turtles, bass, bluegill, catfish, and minnows before, but the museum made them seem exotic in the beautiful and realistic aquariums. As we exited the aquariums, we entered a large room filled with stuffed versions of the mammals that call Mississippi home. Megan and I posed as the different animals. I chose to mimic the boar and the bat, while Megan did her best two-headed snake impression (the snake was actually alive!).

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Megan and I left the trails and museum to grab some lunch. We headed to downtown Jackson to grab a bit to eat at the Mayflower, the restaurant from the movie The Help. The local Jackson residents we had met the night before had warned us about walking around downtown (apparently the area was full of crime and was dangerous). However, just as it was walking around downtown Montgomery, it seemed as if we had the entirety of downtown to ourselves. The security person guarding the building that we parked in front of (who watched us suspiciously as we consulted the map to get our bearings) was the ONLY person we saw while downtown. No cars, no one walking around, nothing. Even the restaurant we had planned on eating at was closed because the owner was a wedding.

Side note: Notice how weird the roads look. The were almost a pink color and seemed to be made from paved gravel instead of asphalt.


We walked from the middle of downtown uphill to the Old Capital building and home of the war memorials. The Old Capital (the state capital building from 1839 to 1903, including when Mississippi helped form the Confederate States of America) was located in a beautiful area overlooking downtown. The following picture features the War Memorial that sits to the left of the Old Capital building.


When Jackson was founded, the entire area was a giant swamp (not too dissimilar from the area we had hiked through that morning). I guess that's why the capital building was placed on the highest point downtown. Looking the other direction, you could see the Jackson skyline (I didn't have the best vantage point when taking the picture).


We walked through the War Memorial. There was an area that housed the Mississippi soldiers that died in battle, as well as a number of sculptures and inscriptions honoring the soldiers. Since we were the only people there, the entire area felt very serene.

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Of course it wouldn't be a southern state capital if didn't also include a memorial to the Confederate soldiers, which was located on the other side of the Old Capital building. Standing at the heart of the memorial was a life-size statue of Jefferson Davis.


From the site of the old capital, we walked down to the new capital building. Squirrels were everywhere and clucked loudly at us as we walked by. After taking a short rest on the benches in front of the capital, we made our way back to the car.


That night we met up with our friends at a Mississippi restaurant, Cock of the Walk, overlooking the river. The restaurant only served two things, fried catfish or fried chicken. You could also order sides of fried onions, turnip greens, fried pickles, and cornbread. Everything is served on tin plates, and beer is served in tin pitchers. We ordered multiples of everything, it was delicious!


The next morning Megan and I headed out to the Mississippi Ag Museum to get a feel for "the real Mississippi". The Ag Museum was actually a collection of buildings. The largest building was a museum with displays on Mississippi agriculture, but other buildings held special classes and displays. Adjacent to the museum was a collection of historic Mississippi homes and buildings that had been relocated here. We decided the check out the main museum first and work our way outside.


Upon entering the museum, we were greeted by a very realistic looking Mississippi man.


The man sat outside a replica of s simple house, and I guess he was supposed to represent a native of Mississippi. He was incredibly lifelike, and it wasn't until I got up close that I realized that he wasn't real. He was also pretty creepy, take a look at his eyes.


Escaping the gaze of the Mississippi man, we entered the first display. Row and rows of different types of axes filled several walls, showcasing the various tools of the woodworkers (or the types of weapons used by the creepers represented by the man guarding the entrance).


Reminiscent of the dinner from the night before, the museum had a display on catfish farming. Mississippi farms more catfish than anywhere else in the country. When you eat catfish, it was probably grown in Mississippi.


The next portion of the museum focused on the cotton roots of Mississippi. At the time of the civil war, Mississippi was the 5th wealthiest state in the country due to its cotton production. Even after the war, cotton remained king. They had an old cotton gin and examples of the textiles that were produced by Mississippi.

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The best part of the museum, other than the axes and freaks, was the music that was constantly playing in the background. The upbeat, banjo-pluckin' tunes prompted Megan and I to have a hillbilly dance-off! Who do you say won?

After the dance-off, Megan and I made our way outside. After exploring the big city of Jackson, it was time to walk through Small Town Mississippi!


The Ag Museum had actually moved buildings from historic sites around the state to create a little town. Several old houses (most of them log cabins), an old church, farm buildings, an old schoolhouse, and a trading post were just some of the buildings that made up this little town. Animals grazed in the pastures and rested in the barn. As you walked through the old homes sensors would detect as you entered each room which started an audio tour. Everything was kept was authentic as possible and was very well done.


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You could also walk into the largest (working) cotton gin in the world. It was massive! It was steam powered and even included a vacuum sucker that could pull cotton out of wagons. You had to walk up a flight of stairs to see the main compartment. As hot as it was already inside the room, I wouldn't want to be there when they fired up the cotton gin.


Between the agriculture tour and the relaxed attitude of its residents (not to mention the delicious down-home cooking), Mississippi reminded me of life in North Carolina (although I would agree with James C. Cobb in that the Deep South is a different type of southern). Megan and I started to make our way out of the Ag Museum, but not before one last hillbilly dance in the town garden.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:08 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum marshes historical local_food Comments (2)

Montgomery, Alabama


overcast 80 °F

Grits, Hank Williams, Rosa Parks, fried chicken, and Martin Luther King Jr can all be found in my next destination. I'm heading into the Deep South to visit Montgomery, Alabama!


As Megan and I rolled into Montgomery, it looked like it was about to rain (and the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife). I hoped it wouldn't rain, because our plan was to walk through downtown to see the sights. Montgomery has played a role in some of the most significant events in our nation's history. Jefferson Davis took the oath of office here when Montgomery served as the capital of the Confederate States of America at the beginning of the civil war. 75 years later another leader, Martin Luther King Jr., rose up to fight against unfair practices and violence against African-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. There was a ton to see, and we only had one rain jacket between the two of us.

We parked the car near the Alabama River and started to walk into town. The Montgomery Riverwalk was supposed to be a nice area to walk around, but with the rain looming overhead, Megan and I decided to head into town and start with a museum.


Hank Williams got his start in Montgomery, and one of the largest collections of Hank Williams memorabilia can be found here. Neither Megan nor I are a huge fan, so we hadn't planned on stopping by the Hank Williams Museum while in town, but it was hard to miss when walking away from the Riverwalk.


One of the celebrities we were here to see was Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, who after a day of work claimed she was too tired to move out of her seat when ordered to do so by the bus driver. She wasn't physically tired, but "tired of being treated like a second class citizen."

Megan and I walked to Court Square, the "Historic Heart of Montgomery". Originally serving as the junction between the two rival towns, New Philadelphia and Alabama Town, that merged together when the capital moved to Montgomery, Court Square has been the scene for many moments on the Civil Rights front. Slaves, freshly shipped up the Alabama river, were sold next to livestock in the middle of the square. In 1866, Court Square was the first place that Alabamians could witness the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (over 3 years after Lincoln had originally issued the order). On December 1, 1955, another historic event took place, Rosa Parks boarded a bus.



Megan is standing at the current stop for the bus route that Rosa Parks was riding. Rosa Parks only rode the bus for a couple blocks before she was arrested. Megan and I walked along this route to the Rosa Parks Museum, located at the site where Rosa Parks exited the bus under arrest. On the side of the museum there was a picture commemorating the event. Megan thought the guy's face behind Rosa Parks was interesting (and slightly odd), as he seemed to be saying "lady, you're about to be in BIIIIG trouble!"


We went into the museum to take a look around. A lady at the front desk claimed they weren't ready to accept the entrance fee (despite it being 20 minutes since the museum was supposed to open). She offered for Megan and me to take a look around and she would come grab us once the payment system was up and running. We wandered into the museum and entered an art gallery. To my surprise, there was nothing about the Civil Right Movement, just art exhibits. Not wanting to pay to see a tiny art gallery, I pulled Megan out the back emergency exit in the museum before the curator could track us down.

We walked back through Court Square, past the fountain, and further through downtown towards the Capital Building. Montgomery has a weird vibe to it. First of all, we were the ONLY people walking around. It was just before noon on a Friday morning, you'd expect to see someone walking around. Only a handful of cars passed us, one nearly running us over (I guess the driver wasn't used to people actually using the crosswalk). Most of the buildings downtown looked older, but then extravagant buildings with fountains, waterfalls, and pools mixed in between the older structures. Our next destination was the Civil Rights Memorial, one of the modern structures located downtown.


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It took us a while to find the entrance to the Civil Rights Memorial Center. As we circled the block trying to follow a basic map, a security guard definitely started following us, staying just far enough away that we couldn't ask for directions. On the second loop around the block, we found the entrance hidden behind a construction tarp. Upon entering, Megan and I had to pass through a metal detector and empty our pockets to be wanded by another security guard. The Memorial Center wasn't a very large place, but it was incredibly moving.


The first room of the center had a series of plaques describing 40 different men and women (some black and some white) that had lost their lives in the Civil Right Movement. Their stories ranged from being victims of random acts of violence, from giving a black man a ride in their car, to being an active member in the NCAAP. You could look through a simulated telescope to see the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement located within 4 blocks of the Memorial Center. A set of phones played commentary on each of the people remembered.


We left the first room to watch a 20 minute video on the Civil Rights Movement. We had studied Civil Rights in school in various US History classes and during Black History Month, but the images presented in the video had a deeper impact. Perhaps it was the fact that I was seeing these images outside the sterile and safe environment of the school and in the location where they actually took place, or perhaps it was because I had just read the tragic story of 40 people who had died. I think the real reason is I no longer view 1965 as ancient history (30 years ago seems like an eternity to a 10 year old). Both of my parents were in school when these events were taking place. My grandparents were in their 30s, certainly aware of the events that were going on. How could people in my grandparents' day think that segregation could be fair? How could the creation of laws to prevent blacks and poor people from voting be passed? These events didn't just happen in Alabama, but all across the country. In North Carolina, laws passed in 1900 prevented nearly 100% of blacks from voting. It took until 1964 for a constitutional amendment to be added to ban these types of laws.

The hallway outside the theater drove the message even further. Here were stories of additional acts of racism and unfair practices against other minorities. Some of the stories had happened since I was in college, stories like the random acts of violence against Middle Easterners after September 11th. Entering the final room, you were presented with a giant wall filled with changing names. This was the Wall of Tolerance, where people could pledge to do their part to end racial injustice. It was pretty moving to be able to take this minor stand after reading the stories presented in the rest of the museum.



Unfortunately the memorial itself was undergoing some maintenance, so we couldn't see it completely. A round, polished marble monument, etched with the names of the 40 people, rotates as water cascades over the side. The wall in the background has a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, "...we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream...".


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From the memorial we walked back to the main street running through town. On the corner was the church that Martin Luther King Jr had served as minister. They offered tours throughout the day, but the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, and we decided we wanted to see some more of the city.


Across the street from the church, a giant memorial commemorated the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. Montgomery was the initial capital of the Confederate States of America until Virginia seceded several months later.


The grounds around the Capital Building were beautiful, especially after walking around with an overcast sky all morning. A giant map of Alabama stood out front of side, while flags of all the states were on the other.



On the far side of the Capital Building, we walked past the First White House of the Confederacy (when the capital of the Confederacy was moved, so was the White House). With as much security as we had seen around downtown, I was surprised there wasn't a single guard in sight around the Capital Building or the White House.


Upon leaving the Memorial Center, we had asked the guy at the front desk where we should get something to eat. He had two suggestions, either Chris' Hotdogs for a meal that had been in Montgomery for over 100 years, or go to a down-home southern kitchen. Both sounded great, so Megan suggested a hotdog appetizer before heading the the southern kitchen.



We crammed into Chris' to sit at the bar after ordering a single hotdog. It was good, but not too much different from your standard hotdog. The restaurant itself was the real experience. You could feel the history while sitting at the counter. There were still no people in the streets, but the restaurant had a consistent line of people ordering food. Seemingly every person ended their conversation behind the register with an emphatic "Roll Tide!" (referring to the cheer of the University of Alabama).

We walked back to the waterfront to pick up the car. With the beautiful weather (but not completely able to ignore our rumbling tummies), we wandered down to the river to take in the view. It was scenic, with a walkway and a concert pavilion off to the side of the dock. A steamer was tied up, waiting to take people out for a cruise later in the evening.


We hopped in the car and drove to the restaurant for an authentic Alabama meal. I ordered steak and gravy, with grits, corn bread, black-eyed peas, and rice. Megan ordered fried chicken, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and string beans. It was absolutely fantastic, and Alabama held up to the saying "If it ain't fried, it ain't from the South".



Despite the rough memories of the events of the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery was a nice city filled with Southern pride. The people were friendly, and the food was phenomenal. If was time to leave, however, and head to the neighboring Mississippi.


Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:09 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical local_food Comments (0)



sunny 78 °F

Only 1 of the original 13 colonies did not touch the Atlantic Ocean, but it was also the center of the emerging nation politically and geographically. It is the birthplace of cheesesteaks and soft pretzels. Somehow, this state got the entire nation to watch a rodent predict a late winter or early spring. Megan and I are headed to Pennsylvania!


Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania, and arguably the best (just kidding Pittsburghers). Philadelphia does have a pretty cool view when driving into the city from the south. The downtown skyline is visible while the Phillies and Eagles stadiums fill the foreground (it was especially cool at night).


One thing immediately jumps to mind when I think of Philadelphia. You might be thinking obnoxious sports fans, cheesesteaks, or the Liberty Bell, but I can't help but remember the greatest underdog story of all time—Rocky. Our first stop is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


We could see the museum from the hotel room (at the end of the road heading in the 2 o'clock direction) so it wasn't a far walk. Flags from every country lined the side of the road (I'm not sure why). There was a fountain in front of the museum with plenty of statues, Megan couldn't resist posing.



It was about 6:00 in the morning, and the only people around were either homeless or people working out on the steps. Some were doing yoga and stretching exercises, while others ran up and down the steps. Getting into the Rocky spirit, Megan challenged me to a race up the stairs.


Upon reaching the top, Megan and I danced around, did a little shadow boxing, and high-fived one another. However one thing was missing, there was no statue of Rocky at the top! Try to differentiate between Rocky, Megan, and me in the following pictures:




From the vantage point on top of the steps, we spotted the new location of the Rocky statue. After walking back down the steps and over to the statue, Megan dared me to shout "Adrian" while posing for a picture. What you can't tell from the video is that there is a stoplight 15 feet from the statue where 20 cars had stopped on their morning office commute. Needless to say, they all turned to stare at me.


After getting our Rocky fix, Megan and I crossed through downtown to reach our next Philadelphia destination, Independence National Park. Philadelphia played a huge role in the forming of the United States. Its central location among the first 13 colonies made it a convenient place for the founding fathers to meet. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed in Philadelphia. Philadelphia initially served as the nation's capital, and several presidents had homes in the city. Independence National Park is a preserved area in downtown Philadelphia that contains Independence Hall (the building where the documents were signed and original home of the Liberty Bell), President Washington's house, the First Treasury of the US, a number of era-representative buildings, and the town bar.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center so we could empty our bladders and get a ticket to enter Liberty Hall (you have to be escorted through Liberty Hall at a specified time). The Visitor Center had people dressed up in late 18th century attire, including slaves. People played instruments from the time, and a couple demonstrated common crafts like stitching (it was a little reminiscent of when we were at Colonial Williamsburg). It was a little weird to see US Park Rangers walking around with their wide brim hats, but I guess they wear the same outfit whether they are in downtown Philadelphia or at the Grand Canyon. There were some hints of modern day Philly too, like the Philadelphia Phanatic!


We had about 2 hours before our scheduled tour of Liberty Hall, so we decided to walk around the park. On the way to see the Liberty Bell, we passed by George Washington's house.


Well, we passed what was left of George Washington's house. You could see the foundation 15 feet below ground behind a plexiglass wall. The space on top of the foundation was dedicated to a display about George Washington's slaves. It was an interesting display because it didn't mention anything about George Washington specifically, just whatever information they had about the slaves that Washington owned. It seemed like the display was better suited for a Civil War era park instead of a Colonial era park. However, it wouldn't be the last time slavery was discussed during our time at Independence National Park.

The Liberty Bell was located right next to the foundation of Washington's house. Just about every kid knows the story about how the Liberty Bell was the grandest bell in the world and how it cracked when it was rung to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence (although none of that is 100% true). Regardless of the true story of the bell, I was intrigued to see it. Unfortunately, so was just about every other person. People were waiting to see the Liberty Bell in a non-moving line that stretched around the side of the building (surprisingly, foreigners made up 75% of the people in line).


Seeing bell wasn't important enough to wait an hour in line, so Megan and I continued walking towards Independence Hall. Upon reaching the end of the Liberty Bell building, I saw that waiting in line to see the Liberty Bell was a complete waste of time. The entire end of the building containing the bell was made of glass! Anyone who wanted to see the bell could easily do so without waiting a minute in line. I guess the only benefit of going in the building is to get a little closer or get a better picture with the bell (tip to anyone who wants to do this, they have a perfect replica of the bell in the Constitution Center, and no one will even know that it isn't the real Liberty Bell). Megan and I listened to a short story about the bell, got a picture, and moved on.


Since we still had about 90 minutes until our tour started, Megan convinced me to walk through the rest of the park to see the Rose Garden. The crowd disappeared as soon as we passed Independence Hall. It seemed that most people stayed in the portion of the park between the Constitution Center, Visitor Center, Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall. I tried to follow the map to the Rose Garden, but there were no signs on the cobblestone streets. After wandering through several different gardens, we finally reached the Rose Garden. There was only one bush in the entire garden with roses, and Megan was not impressed.


We walked to the end of the park, passing by the First Bank of the US, the first US Treasury, several statues, and a variety of historical buildings. The building we really wanted to see was the watering hole of the founding fathers, the City Tavern.




The City Tavern was closed when we walked by, but it does open for lunch and dinner every day. It would have been cool to get a beer at the same place George Washington once did, but not even the founding fathers grabbed a drink at 9am in the morning.

We headed back to Independence Hall to get ready for our tour. Unfortunately Independence Hall was getting renovated, so the exterior view of the building was not quite authentic.


The inside however, was kept as authentic as possible. There are two main rooms, one side is a court room and the other is the gathering room where the delegates met. Each room only had furniture from the late 18th century, some of it being the actual pieces that were used by the delegates (such as George Washington's chair and Thomas Jefferson's walking stick).

The first room we entered was the courtroom. The guide told a story about how the seal of England used to be on the wall, but once the Declaration of Independence was announced, it was ripped from the wall and burned in the street. You can also see the cage that the accused man used to stand inside while making his case. Thank goodness the court system has evolved, no one would ever appear to be innocent when pleading their case from within a cage!



The next room, the Assembly Room, is where all the real action happened. We got a good dose of history on how the delegates were gathered here to debate the Declaration and later the Constitution. The guide went into a long story about how North and South Carolina initially refused to sign the Constitution because it would have ended slavery. I was shocked, I had never imagined slavery was a dividing issue for our country from day 1. Eventually the references to slavery were removed from the Constitution, and it was signed by everyone. The guide pointed out where each delegate sat, and described how the windows were screwed shut to prevent the listening ears of the press from reporting the proceedings until they were finished. At the front of the room sat the chair with the carving of a sun where George Washington presided over the conference, in which Ben Franklin commented "I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I... know that it is a rising...sun."


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After the tour completed, Megan and I made our way back to the car. It was nearly lunch time, and I was starved. I was told there are two options for lunch, Geno's or Pat's, the two most popular cheesesteak places in Philly. We drove out of downtown and decided on Geno's based on a local's recommendation. I ordered an "American With", which means an American-cheese based cheesesteak with peppers and onions. Listening to the next 50 people that ordered, I realized that the most common order was the "Whiz With", a cheesesteak that uses cheez-whiz (which ironically isn't real cheese).




Our day through Philly was over, but our trek through Pennsylvania was just beginning.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 02:45 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical tour local_food world_heritage_site Comments (1)

Mesa Verde National Park


sunny 50 °F

I'm in the heart of the Wild West, the 4 Corners. Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah all meeting in one place. I'm surrounded by Indians on all sides. What do I do? Thankfully no gun is needed, the Indians warmly welcome me to see how they live. I'm going to the high desert in Colorado to see how the Pueblo Indians built their homes in the sides of cliffs.


In North Carolina, we have several different tribes of Native Americans, but only 1 (as far as I know) has a reservation, the Cherokee. I have driven through the Cherokee reservation, but all I remember while quickly passing through was the billboard for the casino. Leaving Arizona, it took nearly 3 hours to drive through the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations. As soon as one reservation ended, another started. Once we were in Colorado, we entered the Ute Indian Reservation. These Indians are all Puebloan, having left the their dwellings in the cliffs for lands in the flatlands. There were no trees in sight, and the landscape was pretty flat with plateaus at the horizon. Rock formations appeared sporadically, monuments withstanding the erosion to form artistic sculptures along the roadside.

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Arriving at Mesa Verde National Park, ice capped mountains were in one direction towards the middle of Colorado, while the red plateaus were visible in the distance back towards Arizona and Utah. Driving through the 4 Corners gave a great view of varying landscapes.


From the entrance of Mesa Verde park, it was still another half hour drive just to reach the first of the old Pueblo Indian residences. Mesa Verde is a slanted plateau covering nearly 100 square miles. The first Puebloan people built their homes on the top of this elevated land. It was very windy on top of the plateau, and the late March air had a sharp, cold bite. Donning hats and gloves, we began to explore the earliest living spaces of the inhabitants of Mesa Verde.


You can see how the living spaces surrounded the circular kiva. The kiva was the center of the community, a spiritual place where people came together. It was sunk deep into the ground and was entered from the roof. The buildings could be multilevels high, but only the base foundations still remain. You could see forever in every direction being on top of the plateau. The Indians also built reservoirs to hold water for irrigation. Fields surrounded the living spaces, where they grew corn and other crops.


We continued traveling further into the park, stopping at the visitor center to learn about the Indians that lived here. They were excellent pottery makers and basket weavers, both the men and women participating. Lots of relics were found in the area, abandoned by the Indians 700 years ago.

From the visitor center, we walked down to the Spruce Tree House, a group of cliff dwellings that you can walk through. You can see them in the cliff behind Megan in the picture below.


After living on top of Mesa Verde for 200 years, the Indians started building villages in the cliffs. Some believe this was for protection against outside hostiles, but that is not the most prevalent theory for the initial move. Walking down to the dwellings, one reason became immediately obvious. The cold bite in the air was nonexistent once you went below the cliff-line. The southward facing residences were warmed by the sun, while the cold wind blew by overhead. The cliff dwellings were still close to the fields, but added additional protection from the elements. The wild fires that often scorch the ground did not reach down into the cliffs.


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The dwellings were in great shape. The National Park Service has a policy of restoring, not rebuilding. The ruins as we saw them are almost exactly as they were when first discovered. You were allowed to walk right up next to the rooms, look down into the multiple kivas, and get a great picture for how these Pueblo Indians used to live. They even had a kiva that you could climb down into through the roof! The local Indians still consider the kivas to be holy places, so it was cool to actually have access inside.



Fires would have normally been lit inside the kiva, and the smell of incense probably in the air. People would be congregating or weaving baskets. Air vents brought fresh air in through the bottom, while additional vents supplied air to the other kivas as well. The insides were plastered over and painted. There are still bowls carved into the stone where the Indians used to process their corn.


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After exploring Spruce Tree House, we walked back up the trail to the car. Sites just like this one are scattered all over Mesa Verde. We got back into the car to explore them from afar. Since the dwellings were all built on the south side of Mesa Verde, the plateaus of Arizona and Utah were visible off in the distance.


Spruce Tree House is not the biggest site for cliff dwellings. Another section of cliffs had several groupings of dwellings. These seemed more specialized in purpose. One contained a large open area thought to be used for dancing and ceremonies for large gatherings. Another area was called the Fire Temple, and another the Sun Temple. The largest cliff dwelling is called Cliff Palace, holding over 150 rooms and 23 kivas.




The last photo is of the most recently built cliff dwelling. It is creatively named Square Tower House. It rose over 4 stories, and was actually part of a much larger multistory structure. There is no easy access to this dwelling, presumably for defense. The whole complex can only be entered through a single underground tunnel. Towards the end of the time the Puebloans inhabited Mesa Verde, it seems the Indians started building the dwellings for defensive purposes.

We didn't just get to see old buildings at Mesa Verde, there was plenty of wildlife too. On the drive back from viewing some of the other dwellings, we ran into a group of mule deers. Most scattered when stopped, but a couple stayed to have their picture taken. We also passed by a prairie dog, popping out of its hole.



It was a 45 minute drive to exit Mesa Verde, but it gave us a chance to take in the beautiful views. We stopped at the mountain overlook for a quick bite to eat, and then turned south to head into New Mexico.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:01 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking historical national_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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