Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Guys Trip 2016

One weekend a year three of us get together to camp for a weekend. We try to pick a place that has a good hiking spot, perhaps a winery, or some interesting places to see. Good food is always high on the list too. This year, we had a fourth join the crew. The "littlest man" was one buddy's son. To make it interesting for him, I made reservations at Lake Glory in Catawissa, PA. Lake Glory is owned by Knoebels Amusement park, and is only a mile or so away from all the rides, games and great food Knoebels has to offer.
I've been coming to Knoebels with the family for years. My family loves this free entrance amusement park. Centralia, the town that's burning from underground is close by, and we found a new attraction to check out.

The ride up was pretty laid back. Not much traffic or issues. Our trip up went so well even Ed was able to catch a nap while our young guest watched movies on my Chromebook once we reached "cruising altitude" on the PA Turnpike.
Nap time on the roadWatching a movie on the road

When we arrived at Lake Glory shortly after check-in time, there was actually a lineup of trailers and popups checking in. We waited our turn, and within another 15 to 20 minutes were at our campsite. We were in a corner spot - across the road from a small pond (no fishing in this smaller body of water) and across from the showers. A playground was in full view from our picnic table and I barely had pulled into the spacious site when I heard "Can we go to Knoebels?" And that was from the adults! Actually, hitting Knoebels for dinner was the plan, and I WAS getting ready for a good pizza. So I quickly leveled, hooked up water and electric, and jumped in the toad to zoom over to the park. Since we were arriving late in the afternoon, we were able to score a reasonably close parking spot to the entrance. We headed right for Cesari's Pizza. There are other places to get a pizza in Knoebels, but Cesari's has more options, more seating, and I think better pizza. Once the guys saw the options, my hopes for a large plain went out the window. They opted to get a large "Taco Pizza". I was just along for the gastronomic ride. We got our drinks (all local "white" birch beer) and our number, and found a shaded picnic table to sit upon. And waited. And waited. And Waited. This was the longest I had ever waited at Cesari's, and in my mind blamed it on the topping heavy taco pizza. And these guys were hungry enough to chase down staff asking where the pizza was. It wasn't just us - there were others that were waiting for food to come out. Don't know what happened back in the kitchen, but we were sure happy when the pizza finally arrived. The pizza was good - and hot, but because of the level of piled on toppings - hard to eat. And there was so much of it. I could only eat a piece and half, and collectively we couldn't est the full pie. I felt a little guilty of not doing "my part" to finish it off. Just was too full!
We walked the park a bit. We wanted to give Ed the lay of the land, since he had never visited Knoebels before. Where the kiddie rides were (like for his daughter) the eateies, the museums, and then over to the Twister. The mammoth wooden roller coaster is a favorite of those who seek that sort of thrill. For Ed and I was a good time to catch up waiting for Kev and his thrill-seeking son to do the ride. Had some fun people watching too!
Thrill-seeking Father and Son after riding the Twister
After wandering a bit more and a few rides, we headed back shortly before 8pm to set up camp. We just popped out some chairs and erected the shade room. a few interconnected foam pads for a patio and we were all set. After our first day out, we decided to just get our bed areas in order and watch some television. We didn't pick up any over-the-air channels, and there is no cable setup at Lake Glory. Fortunately I had put a few movies on a larger thumb drive. I was able to connect the Chromebook to our TV's HDMI port and watched a few recent movies (and cartoons) through it before heading to bed. I even was able to activate my phone's hotspot to view a few You Tube videos about the movie. Only did a few - not wanting to eat up all my data.

Saturday got a quick shower and then headed over to Knoebels early to grab breakfast. On the way out of the campground, we saw a horse trailer stopped near the campground office. Inside was what looked like a reindeer, but ended up being a Red Deer. The owner was there advertizing his Deer Farm not far from Lake Glory. We stopped and learned about the farm and got to feed the deer. The multi point rack still had velvet on. Pretty cool being close to such a large animal. At Rolling Hills Red Deer Farm, not only can you feed the animals, but buy meats and participate in hunts on their property.
We continued on to Knoebels and headed into the empty amusement park. Breakfast is served at one of the food pavilions for guests camping at either Lake Glory or the campground attached to the park. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then headed back to the campground to relax.
Playing on the old coal train at Knoebels after breakfast
Our next trip out for Saturday early afternoon was to Pioneer Coal Mine, with a short stopover in Centralia - still burning underground. I enjoy sharing the amazing, yet sad story of the underground fire of Centralia with friends. Click here for thoughts from my first visit to Centralia
On the Abandoned Route 61 in Centralia 
Though not as prolific, we did find a few vents from the mine fire burning underground. No bigger than to fit a hand in, they still emit hot gasses and water vapor when you pull your hand out. We also walked along Abandoned Route 61  - Centralia’s Graffiti Highway - and found a few families in the act of tagging. Must be a rite of passage in these parts after high school graduation. Quite a few people were wandering the area looking around, and a few riding quads. Someone even had a makeshift hot dog stand setup in the trunk of their car.
We continued on to about 10 or 15 minutes to Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine Tour, located in Ashland PA. This tour takes you 1800 feet straight into the side of Mahanoy Mountain on actual equipment used in the 1920s when the mine was operational. There is also a ride on the Henry Clay, a narrow gauge steam locomotive, which takes you into the mountains surrounding Ashland to the location of a "bootleg mine". Our tour guided on both tours were very informative and able to answer our questions about the area and coal mining in general. Very cool! Will have to take my girls here the next time we head to Knoebels.
Waiting to go down into the mine 
Steam Locomotive Henry Clay
Learning about some of the various jobs and the dangers of working in a mine
After our tours, we headed out of Ashland, and were ready for a late lunch. We decided to check out Big Dan's BBQ located at Rohrbach's Farm Market. We got a rack of ribs and some sides to share.  Dan actually use to live near Philadelphia and moved to the area to help with her family's farm stand. With their help they are growing the business - and the BBQ is a great addition right up the road from Knoebels. We also stopped into Rohrbach's and picked up some homemade baked goods for dessert - and were lucky enough to find them on the discount table. Both places are worth a visit! We took our delicious finds back to RoadAbode and enjoyed everything at our picnic table.
Now back at camp, we relaxed, watched a movie or two, napped and strolled around the campground, stopping by covered bridge and over to Lake Glory.

Kev after much thought  decided to buy a fishing rod at the camp store. They have one, but forgotten I mentioned there was a lake to go fishing.  First test told us something was wrong with the reel, and Kev went back to the store to exchange. Once we saw it was working, we took a small cooler of drinks, some chairs and all of us went over to "help out" with fishing. Things were pretty slow, while a "Nana" with her grandchildren were catching a fish every few minutes. They left and she stopped by and offered us her leftover bait - hotdog rolls! Sure enough it was what the fish were biting on. By the end of the weekend the little man had caught more fish than I remember the count. (at least fifteen)
One of many

Ed help pulling one in

Relaxing lake-side

Toward Evening, we headed over to Knoebels to catch the lights of the lights, some rides and dinner and dessert. There is something memorable about having a warm waffle ice cream sandwich while enjoying a summer evening.

Click here to learn about a previous RoadAbode trip to Central PA, including Knoebels and Centralia

Friday, July 01, 2016

RoadAbode June Trip 2016

There is lots happening this year for the RoadAbode Crew.
New position for Amy coordinating "The Table", a food pantry located at Roxborough Church. Kimberly "graduated" her first class of preschoolers. Emily herself graduated from High School. I have a new position of Infrastructure Support - focusing on creating and maintaining the backups for hundreds of virtual servers - and tweaking a few "bare metal" ones. Add in other daily demands, volunteer opportunities, a few social engagements like weddings and we were MORE than ready for our annual June roadtrip. Even so, it was two days shorter than usual, just because of individual logistics and commitments.
Prom Time Fun!
Since this was Emily's graduation year, she got to pick where we were heading. Months ago we discussed and I "helpfully suggested" a few points we haven't visited. Lake Erie or Lake Michigan, perhaps the Outer Banks of the Carolina's. Emily had already a place in mind. Amherst Massachusetts. What's in Amherst? More than I expected!
Amherst MA is the home to the American Poetess Emily Dickinson, one of our Emily's favorite writers. Emily D was born and raised in this now college town, and is buried only a short walk from her family homestead.
Now that I'm a "father of adults", schedules become more crowded. Not only do I and my wife have work obligations to take care of, but so does our now teacher daughter. The day we hit the road, we ordinarily like to be at RoadAbode by 10 or 11am, earlier if possible. Because it was last day of classes (graduation day) for our daughter's preschool, we couldn't leave until 2pm. Drive time (without stops) was six hours.
As usual, there was plenty of road construction, and a short harrowing piece I thought  we were ending up on one of New York's parkways.  We called ahead and had the office of the campground leave our paperwork on the front door. Even though we rolled in around 9:15pm, at least it had not been raining, and had no mishaps.
Campground KOA
Setting up camp is always pretty easy with RoadAbode, a fact I especially appreciate in the dark. Setting up at Northampton/Springfield KOA was no different. We had a pull thru site, that we only needed two blocks under one front tire to level. Hooked up water, cable, electric, turned on gas - and we were set! The rest could wait till morning.
Molly our 7 year old Lhasa-poo pup loves to explore new places, and at first light was already poking and prodding me to take her out for new "sniffs." I got to stay in bed until 5:30a, and had to take her out. Who am I kidding - I wanted to get moving too!
A leisurely walk around the park let us discover a nice dog park with doggy exercise equipment, a newer playground for kids, and smallish pool (right across from RoadAbode). The roads were gravel, and in many places a new coating would be a good idea.
Back at RoadAbode, I began brewing a pot of coffee on the stove, and was able to relax. I sat outside to read more of the book by Ron Chernow that inspired the Tony award winning musical, Hamilton. The true history of the man is in some ways more incredible then what is dramatized in the play by Lin Manuel Miranda.
I was able to get in a few hours reading, then a shower. Shower house was disappointing at this KOA. Only one shower and in need of updating. At least it was clean.
The girls were soon up and getting hungry. We decided to do an all American diner - and we sure found one! Blue Bonnet Diner located in Northampton was exactly what we were looking for before touring Amherst. Great food, great service. A short drive from there we were in Amherst proper and found what we came for - the Emily Dickinson Museum.
There was plenty of metered parking out front, but a side street across from the museum had free spots available, so we took advantage of a spot - with shade to boot.
The homestead of Emily Dickinson has been wonderfully restored, and the grounds have homey small gardens, similar to what Emily would have had during her time there. The first floor of the home is a welcome center and gift store, with some photos and memorabilia to see before an official tour. The tour is the only way to see the other areas of the interior of Emily Dickinson's home. Many of the volunteers are college interns, and of course fans of the poetess. Our guide was a retired resident of the area who knew a few poems by heart. She was well versed in the history of  the town of Amherst, the college, and the family tree of Emily. One special treat was near the end of the tour. We were sitting and looking at how variations of Emily Dickinson's poems came to be, when she asked for anyone who had a personal favorite. Our Emily, usually reserved in open forums, quickly raised her hand and discussed her favorite. Our guide pulled out a concordance of Dickinson poems, found the particular prose, and invited our Emily to read for the tour group. To my surprise - she did! One of the highlights of the visit for me.
After the tour, the girls did some shopping in the museum shop, then we wandered thru the gardens. I checked my smartphone, and found we were a short walk from Emily Dickinson's grave. We exited the gardens on an opposite corner, and walked past some of the beautiful homes of Amherst to the gates of West Cemetery. We were not sure of the exact location of the grave, but since the graveyard was small, it was easily found. Gated along with her family in almost the center of the cemetery was her tombstone, adorned with gifts from her admirers. Pens and pencils, scrawl
ed notes, even jewelery were placed upon her final resting place.
We left the West cemetery and walked along North Pleasant Street to Judie's Restaurant to have some drinks and pop overs with apple butter. Pop overs are a great mid-afternoon snack. If you have never tried one, pop overs are similar to very eggy, overgrown muffins. We first encountered them on our 2012 trip to Maine. Slather them with locally grown jam or apple butter and they are even better.
After touring town a bit (should have checked out this part of the college town even more) We headed back to RoadAbode to relax. On the way we stopped by what appeared to be a family run farm stand near the campground. Outlook Farms had lots more going on! Set next to to an orchard of heirloom apples and other fruits, Outlook Farms also holds a bakery, small cafe, butcher and produce stand. They also have an in-house cidery, which I picked up a bottle to try. Great stop if you visit the area.
The Three "R"s ~ Relaxing, Reading and Recreational Games
Rest of our day was spent reading and playing games. That relaxation part of a vacation that we sometimes forget to do. I was continuing to read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Amy was reading something on the problems and solutions for food security in our neighborhood. We also got to play some great games the girls had along. Kimberly had Game of Phones, where each player participates in a scavenger hunt using their smartphone. The "judge" for the round picks a card, and the others need to scour either their smartphone folders or internet and find the best answer on their phones and show the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. Emily brought out Rory's Story Cubes, a set of dice with different symbols on them. Create a story using the symbols you roll. pass on the story or shift it around from player to player. Great game to dust off the cobwebs in your brain and use your imagination.
The next morning we opted to grab breakfast at the Outlook farm and head to the Eric Carle Museum. For the uninitiated, Eric Carle is a children's book author, who is known for his colorful art work. The pictures in his books are created using a collage technique with hand-painted papers. The author/artist then cuts and layers these to form bright and colorful images. His most famous and award winning book - The Very Hungry Caterpillar - has been translated into over 40 languages.
The museum itself showcases the artists and artwork found in children's books. According to Wikipedia The museum includes three rotating galleries, each housing picture book art. The West Gallery is devoted to the work of Eric Carle, the East and Central galleries present the work of numerous picture book artists. Though we did not stay long, we enjoyed learning about the creation process. I especially thought learning about story development and seeing preliminary sketches for the books were intriguing. Such great detail and imagination!
After our time at the museum, the girls thought some shopping was in order. They love perusing thrift stores, so with the help of Google Maps, we found some great stops to check out. One in particular The Cancer Connection thrift shop in Northampton MA, had some great buys at low prices. Kimberly even found some items to use in her classroom. We stopped into one of our favorite grocery stores - Aldi - for some provisions, and a look around at a Salvation Army Thrift (I stayed in the car and took a nap) 
Since Friday is pizza night, we got a recommendation from the KOA office for a local pizza joint. Pisano's Pizza was pretty good, though pickup was a bit away in the town of Hadley. 
We closed up our evening with more games, and watching the farmer next door cut, bale and cart off his hay. 
On our last full day in the area, we wanted to check out the Amherst Trail system Some are maintained by the University, or the Township of Amherst, with the help of volunteers. Many are converted "rails to trails" .The girls decided to check out the shortest trail because it was named for Emily Dickinson. The trail formerly known as the Misty Bottom Trail, is one of Amherst's "Literary Trails." It starts in Groff Park and follows Amherst College land, meandering along the Fort River.
Along the way we passed a small community garden, and found what we first thought was a bird house, but turned out to be an interesting home for some wee little rabbits! The Trail connects with some larger paved biking and hiking routes. We opted to reverse and head back to Groff Park rather than investigate these. Some of the bikes going past on the larger trails were moving at a good clip, and Molly our pup is not too keen on sharing space with bicycles.
As we headed back to RoadAbode, we noticed an interesting sign that we had past a few times in our travels in the area. "Grey Matter Books 2/10 ->" 

We decided to stop in - though half our crew stayed in the car "to keep Molly company" Grey Matter Books Was what a used bookstore looks like in the movies. Off the beaten path, with just a little disarray, but a helpful clerk that can probably find just about anything. Kimberly again found plenty to share with her preschool class.
After a bit of literary shopping, we headed back to RoadAbode. Emily cooked some hamburgers over the fire - she's a pretty good cook - and we settled back for another evening of reading and games. Except - we had the excitement of some police activity right in the campground!
Seems that a domestic dispute of some sort broke out, and the KOA staff became involved, as did Massachusetts state troopers. A few conversations and walks around the pool, and a family was packed up and escorted off the property. 
After the evening's live action soap opera, we settled in, watched some TV, and prepared for coming home.

Our trip home was easier navigation-wise than travelling to the area. We only ran into heavy traffic as we approached the Tappan Zee bridge, and that was partially due to all the construction going on. What we gaged as being five and a half hours only stretched into six and a half. 
Another great June family trip in RoadAbode!