Detouring deliberately

1916 Clover Hollow Bridge across Sinking Creek

Click on photos to enlarge.

Rule seven says to choose a direction rather than a destination.  You should be open to what life offers.

Driving from Florida to Pennsylvania, we took extra time in order to arrive refreshed and better able to enjoy seeing our friends.

The fastest route would be I-95, but that is stressful, so we drove back-roads.  Somewhere in the Carolinas, I noticed Seneca Rocks, West Virginia on the map.  That appealed and was only a couple hundred miles out of our way.

Mountain Lake Lodge

In Radford, Virginia, we decided to see Stafford Art Glass on US 460.  On the way, we decided to drive into Blacksburg, home of Virginia Technical University, the beloved alma mater of a former colleague.

The art studio clearly had not been open for some time, so we took turned onto Virginia 42 which went the direction we wanted.  That took us through the charming little village of Newport where we saw a sign pointing to a covered bridge.

We went to see the bridge but rather than retrace our steps continued on the winding road.  It took us to county route 700 on which we discovered the Mountain Lake Lodge, opened in 1856.  It turns out the 1987 version of the movie Dirty Dancing which takes place in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was partially filmed at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia.

Forks of John’s Creek Christian Church

The road north from the lodge was closed, so we took county 600, looped back to Newport and continued north on 42 until county 658 which seemed a shortcut to Elkins, W.V.  Near Senaca Rocks, Elkins was now our destination because it had a motel.

On the way, we had a picnic lunch at a table on the lawn of the Forks of John’s Creek Christian Church before turning on VA 311.

311 took us to Paint Bank, a small town that caters to tourists looking at the fall leaves.  In the general store, we saw a T-shirt that read “End of the world 9 miles; Paint Bank 12 miles.”

Finally reaching Elkins, we found a very nice little town and an excellent restaurant.  The town decorated its parking signs for the “Third Annual Elkins Main Street Scarecrow Festival.”  We decided to stay an extra night, saw Senaca Rocks and found a most interesting glassblower, the subject of my next post.

We had not even known about most of these places when we left Florida.  We would go back — except that a detour might take us someplace else.

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Sand Sculpting Championship, Fort Myers Beach, Florida


“The Beach” — Fort Myers Beach

Kids, get your buckets ready.  It’s time to make sand castles like you’ve never seen before.

Fort Myers Beach, Florida is wide, the sand is soft, the water is shallow, and the town is family friendly.

From November 17 to 26,  “The Beach” will have the 31st annual Sand Sculpting Championship and Beach Festival.

Consider visiting in November.  “High season” starts in January — people in the North are beginning to get sick of winter.  But November is very pleasant with an average high of 81◦F and low of 62◦, Florida isn’t as crowded, and it is less expensive.

The Championships will feature world-class master sand sculptors.  USA Today and CNN Travel have proclaimed it one of the ten best sand sculpting competitions in the world.

My photos are from a couple of years ago, but I plan to go back this year.

The sculptors fashion over 1000 tons of sand into fantastic creations.  There will be a state championship, an amateur contest, a speed sculpting contest, demonstrations, lessons, music and other entertainment.  There are also food and art vendors as well as a kid’s entertainment area.

It will be held on the beach at the Wyndham Garden Hotel; use Google to find accommodation packages.  Admission is $7; kids age four and under are free; and veterans, active service members, police, fire and first responders get a dollar off.

For more information including the schedule, click here.

Ideally, one would visit over several days, but if you have only one day, I would pick one toward the middle:  some projects will be finished, but you will still be able to watch the sculptors at work on others.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Why Southwest United States cliff dwellers left their homes

Mesa Verde

The mystery is solved.  I believe I know why the ancient Southwest cliff dwellers left their homes.

We first visited Mesa Verde in 1981.  There were many possible reasons given why these people, now referred to as Ancestral Puebloan People, suddenly left their homes.  A Park Service publication says: Several theories offer reasons for their migration. We know that the last quarter of the A.D. 1200s saw drought and crop failures—but these people had survived earlier droughts. Maybe after hundreds of years of intensive use the land and its resources—soils, forests, and animals—were depleted. Perhaps there were social and political problems, and the people simply looked for new opportunities elsewhere.  We were involved in political life in 1981, and I wondered if some messianic leader led them away.

Navajo National Monument: Betatatkin Dwellings

We found the same situation in other parks where Ancestral Puebloan people lived: Navajo National Monument; Montezuma Castle, Aztec Ruins, and Hovenweep.

Then on October 25th, our local PBS station showed an episode of NOVA called Killer Volcanoes.

Archaeologists excavating a London cemetery found over four thousand people buried in mass graves, just large pits.  That means a lot of people died in a very short time.  The deaths came about a century before the Black Death struck Europe.  Also, a historical record showed extreme winter weather in 1257-58 accompanied by torrential summer rains. 15,000 people, thirty percent of London’s population, died.

Further records found massive famine in that same period across Europe and as far away as Japan.

When Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, it was followed by “the year without summer.”  New York experienced snow in June 1816.

When a volcano explodes, it puts minute droplets of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere which reflect the warming sunlight.  It seemed logical that there was a volcanic explosion in 1257.

But no record of the explosion was found.


Examination of ice cores taken from both polar poles found high concentrations of sulfuric acid during that period and microscopic volcanic ash that matched.  It turns out each volcanic explosion has its own signature ash.  Since the gas and ash covered the entire earth, the eruption must have been near the equator.

Some thirty years later, a geologist took on the quest.  He examined satellite images of volcanic craters in Indonesia which has 129 active volcanoes.  He found the island of Lambok with a four mile-wide crater near Mount Rinjani.  Pumice deposits on the island were 120 feet deep. [The pumice in which Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii is only 16 feet deep.]

An Indonesian record was found mentioning avalanches off Mount Rinjani and the collapse of Mount Samalas.  No one had heard of Mount Samalas.

The geologist and his colleagues came to the conclusion that Mount Samalas, a thousand feet higher than its neighbor Mount Rinjani, had disappeared in “possibly the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history.”

Carbon dating of ash in the pumice and comparisons with the polar samples confirmed the explosion was the cause of the worldwide famine that began in 1258.

The program did not mention the Ancestral Puebloan people, but it immediately occurred to me the timing was right.

The Ancestral Puebloan People may have experienced drought before.  But the exceptionally harsh weather and famine in 1257-1258 must have been horrific to a stone-age culture.  They might even have concluded their gods were unhappy.  I believe it is why these people migrated over the next decades to where they became the ancestors of the modern Hopi, Zuni and other Puebloan groups in Arizona and New Mexico.

Am I right?  More than ever, I am interested in your thoughts and opinions.

When you visit that area, ask what the rangers have to say.

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Nantahala River, N.C.

The Nantahala River flows through that narrow point of North Carolina that sticks out between Tennesee and Georgia. Nantahala actually shows up on Google Maps although there is not much of a permanent community there.

We once took a raft down the river and often stop just to enjoy the area’s beauty, watch people on the river and occasionally have a bite to eat at a riverfront restaurant.

There are numerous places to rent rafts and kayaks.  One, the Nantahala Outdoor Center offers rafting, kayaking, a zip-line, biking and a rope netting suspended to walk about in the trees.  There is also a snack bar, and it sits at the end of a tourist train line that comes from Bryson City.

After putting your boat in the water, you encounter many small rapids.  But there are also quiet spots and pullouts to take a rest.

People practice competitive kayak techniques near the Outdoor Center.  Just downriver there are class four rapids reserved for the more experienced.

One doesn’t have to get in the water to enjoy it.  We saw people fishing, children playing in quiet spots and others picnicking.

If you are in that part of North Carolina, stop to either relax or to get your heart racing.

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Hillside Farms Market

We have friends who have a home in North Carolina with a wonderful view  We love them, we love their view, and we visit whenever we can.

Preferring back roads when we head to North Carolina, we frequently pass Hillside Orchard Farms Country Store between Tiger and Lakemont, Georgia.  Once long ago, we purchased a jar of their preserves at a roadside market in southern Georgia.  It took us a while [pre-GPS and ubiquitous Google] to track the farm down, but we now make it a regular stop.

Hillside Farms opened an operation in Tiger in the 1980s making jams, jellies, pickles, relish, cider and syrup.  Owners Robert and Patsy Mitcham decided to move the retail store to the family farm in 2004.  Their intent was “to provide an educational and entertaining setting for people to learn about the heritage of a farm operation from another time.”

It seems the operation has grown a little each time we go back.  It is now a tourist attraction, especially during harvest season.

They started with the store, an old-fashioned sorghum pan to cook down syrup, a half-mile walking trail and farm tours.  By the time we first visited, they had added a bakery, an old moonshine still, old farm equipment, and a “gem mine” and had built a maze in a corn field.  Now they have animals for children to pet and feed, hay rides, fruits and berries to pick, honey extracting, a stage for entertainment, and a modern ethanol distilling operation.

The “barn loft” above their “mine” is available for parties, meetings and receptions.  When we were there in August, it was used as a thrift store.  There is an interesting thrift store sign on how to pay in my photos below.

Once we arrived early in the morning just in time to buy a cider donut still warm from the oven — heaven!

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Windsor Hotel, Americus, Georgia

The Windsor Hotel, established 1892

Wandering into the Windsor Hotel on a Friday night, I overheard the clerk tell someone only a few “smoking queen rooms” were available on Saturday.  There are no universities in Americus, Georgia, so I asked our waitress in the pub about it.  “Oh we are booked almost full every weekend.  People come from all over to attend [93-year old President] Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class.”

The Windsor is a five-story Victorian building taking up almost an entire block that opened in 1892 with 100 rooms to entice winter visitors from the North.  Among its guests were boxer John L. Sullivan and then New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It had many difficult times and closed in 1974.  Donated to the city, it was renovated and reopened in 1991 but with just 53 period style rooms.  All the rooms still have 12 foot ceilings and ceiling fans but now have modern amenities like air-conditioning and wi-fi.  No two rooms are exactly the same.

Three very-high story lobby

The original golden oak of the lobby was cleaned and restored.  The chandeliers are not original but are from the 1890s.  The mirror on the back wall is pre-Civil War.  The marble of the floor is original but the carpet was made in Thailand from a computer-generated design replicating a 1890s ceiling paper.  The mahogany phone booth is original to the Windsor.

We ate in Floyd’s Pub, named for Floyd Lowery who worked in the Windsor for 40 years as an elevator operator and bellman.

Becaise our room was not ready, we had the opportunity to take another room on the third floor.  We rejected it because the old hallway had some steps and Alie’s RA was bothering her.  Had we known of the legend, we might have taken it.  It is said the ghost of a little girl, daughter of a former housekeeper, runs around the third floor laughing.  It is said you might also run into Floyd Lowery’s ghost, a friendly ghost who, like Floyd, just likes to meet people.

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Paul Anderson was able to lift a record 6,270 pounds.

Going north through central Georgia, we stopped to see Toccoa Falls.  The falls were closed to the public that day, but a side-trip took us to see a statue of the amazing weightlifter, Paul Anderson, born in Toccoa on 17 October 1932.

Anderson developed Bright’s disease at age 5 and was given little chance to survive.  Although he continued to have kidney problems, he did survive and went to Furman University in 1950 where he became interested in weight lifting.

Paul Anderson

He returned home and created home-made weights to train: old car axles; 50 gallon drums filled with concrete;  an iron safe filled with weights; huge iron wheels; or a combination of some or all of these.

By age 19 after about a year of training, he was nearly equaling world records.  Other weightlifters began to notice. Then as he progressed, he continually broke his own and others’ records.

He was in an automobile accident and also suffered some training injuries.  He injured his hip and broke several bones.   However, he devised a way to place a cast on a broken wrist and continued training.

Paul Anderson

In 1955, Anderson won the National Championship and was put on the U.S. team which visited the Soviet Union.  While in St. Petersburg, he broke two world records and was proclaimed Chudo Prirody,  translated as a “Wonder of Nature.”  The tour was extended to the Middle East, and he became world famous.

In October 1955 he became world champion breaking two more records in the effort.

He broke three more records in early 1956 and won the Olympic Gold Medal in November.

Weighing 364 pounds himself, on 12 June 1957, he lifted 6,270 pounds off a trestle, proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the The Greatest Lift: the greatest weight ever lifted by a human being…

After visiting several detention facilities and prisons, Anderson became concerned for young boys placed in these facilities with hardened criminals.

In 1959 he married Glenda Garland who shared his concern.  The couple had a daughter, Paula Dean Anderson, in 1966.

Anderson began to raise funds, and the couple opened a home for young troubled and homeless people in 1961.  He made over 500 public appearances a year to support the facility.  In addition to doing lifting demonstrations, he was known for his booming voice and keen wit.  The Paul Anderson Youth Home continues today on a 50-acre campus.

Anderson’s kidneys failed in the 1980s but the gift of a kidney by his sister extended his life until 15 August 1994.

In 1999, school teacher Cynthia Sanders’ fourth grade class was given the assignment to research the life of their famous resident.  On 26 April 1999, the class gave a presentation to Toccoa City Commission requesting a city park be named in honor of Anderson.  A commission was created in 2000, and the Paul Anderson Memorial Park opened 17 Oct 2008.

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