You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
A road trip home, and some western Virginia scenes
As the frost comes upon the pumpkin in northern Wisconsin, and upon the unwinterized cottage on the lake, it's time to go south. This is the Starved Rock State Park near Peru, Illinois, 23 September 2019.
That's Plum Island in the Illinois River -- we've had a long drive, and have just time to dash up to the Starved Rock itself.
Not so much 'dash up', in fact, but we're pacing ourselves. A good long while ago, some Native American tribe that had been insulted by some other Native American tribe besieged the offending tribe atop this huge rock and starved them out. We recounted some of the relevant, if somewhat legendary, details when we first visited the place.
The State Park parades along the south bank of the Illinois River with some 21km of hiking trails through 18 riverside canyons, some of which have waterfalls in season. That's not for us today, though.
There are some interesting and colorful information plaques sprinkled roundabout, and an informative Wikipedia page as well.
That's the Army Corps of Engineers Dam and Lock number 6, also called the Starved Rock Lock and Dam, and 'Pool 6' upriver.
The Illinois River takes a hitch round Plum Island on the left, and the lock is behind Leopold Island on the right.
Of course it's too late to try repairing all the old dams, bridges, and roads, but at least they could spring for some new flags.
Downtown Utica (aka 'North Utica'), pop. 1,350, is the nearest town to Starved Rock S.P., and home of the Burgoo Festival and the Witches Walk of Utica. And Skoog's Pub and Grill.
Melvin displays his usual doubts in a new environment. La Quinta hotels, like this one in Peru, Illinois, were famous for their 'pet-friendly' policies, before their acquisition by the Wyndham Group in 2018. Presently, at some 'pet-friendly' 'La Quinta by Wyndham' hotels, one discovers after booking at the advertised room rate and upon arrival that 'pet friendly' actually means an additional $50 for each cat. Not all that friendly, in fact.
Choupette, too, prefers to remain inconspicuous. This La Quinta, in Peru, did not charge extra for the cats, but they downgraded the suite from the one we'd been confirmed for to a tiny room in the back, as part of Wyndham's 'new pet-friendly policy'. With no change in the room rate they'd confirmed. The staff was apologetic, but who argues with holding companies that boast ca. 10,000 hotels with 20+ brand names.
Road trips in the American Midwest promise a little bit of everything.
This is not the La Quinta Inn in Peru, Illinois -- it's the La Quinta Inn by Wyndham in north Lexington, Kentucky. A very different management style at this one.
This one is worth recommending, at least until the Wyndham home office finds out.
Nonetheless, Melvin is still inclined to stay discreetly out of the way.
Melvin is an amazingly cooperative traveler, if not always a joyous one.
The next day, 25 September, Choupette is so far from enjoying her stay here that she's trying to wriggle her way into the travel carrier . . .
. . . successfully. (They're both capable of wriggling out of it, too, if they're not watched carefully. Once on the road, when they're roaming free in the back, they both squawk for ten minutes, then go to sleep for the rest of the trip.)
On to the La Quinta in Elkview, West Virginia, where we've stayed before (and it's still quite nice) as much for the La Carreta Mexican restaurant nearby.
The 'Old Y'
And we're home at last, with three carfuls of rugs, suitcases, paintings, and cats, exploding out of one car.
Melvin's been away for four months and doesn't seem to recognize anything yet.
Choupette darts off to hide in the guest room.
Things are getting back to normal . . .
. . . including two cats stalking each other.
A few views from the Blue Ridge Parkway
A pleasant drive, 4 October 2019, on smaller roads south of Staunton, Virginia . . .
. . . and a brief trajet up on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the access point above Steeles Tavern.
This is the scenic overlook called the '20-minute cliff', at milepost 19 south of the northern entrance to the Parkway at Rockfish Gap (i.e., the Staunton-Waynesboro end of it).
We're apparently looking southward down the length of the Parkway (which is 469 miles long, down to Cherokee, North Carolina). The name of the cliff here has something to do with villagers below, back in the day, being able to tell that when the sun hit the cliff it would set 20 minutes later. So call in the pigs.
This is farther north, looking westward across the Shenandoah Valley
We were wondering what the huge white blot on the landscape could be -- like an airport? -- and a fellow sightseer said that it's a Walmart distribution centre. (Visible from the moon.)
Choupette delights in chasing toy mice, pouncing on them, tossing them into the air and batting them across the room, but sometimes loses focus and takes a nap instead.
The August Springs Wetlands
By way of stoking up a little weak nostalgia for the wetland sciences, and getting a wee little bit of exercise, we're off to the Augusta Springs Wetlands, 6 October 2019. Having passed through bustling downtown Buffalo Gap at the foot of the mountains, and down the Little Calf Pasture Highway.
There was apparently (according to an info plaque) a spa resort here long ago, presumably for the healing waters of the spring, but little of it remains.
There's a modern circular 'gathering area' over on the left, for introductory lectures one guesses, and some picnic tables.
The hotel seems to have been near here, with a sluice down from the spring itself into the wetland and the remains of a 'hotel pond'. We're walking from the end of the tour towards the beginning, characteristically.
[As of March 2020, more information about the former hotel and resort, founded in 1817 and demolished in 1940, can be found in the Staunton News-Leader newspaper, 30 May 2015.]
-- Mind your head.
Cute little info panels along the trail. We've been promised a great lot of wild- and birdlife (including 'sparrow diversity' and 'black rat snakes') on the official webpage, but saw nothing at all. Maybe that's our fault. [We did not know that a Wood Duck does not quack.]
That's described as the 'Wildlife Pond'.
Sans wildlife (as far as we can tell)
Crossing a little creek (so we're halfway round it now. The whole thing is only about a kilometre long.)
A convenient boardwalk, a good 150m long if it's an inch
It's a wetland, sure enough.
With more information about the wildlife that's off hiding somewhere
Past the 'Beaver Pond' (in the home stretch)
And back on the boardwalk. According to the map, there's meant to be the remains of a bottling plant round here. Somebody was bottling the healthful waters evidently; a little hard to believe now.
'Hear a songbird', eh?
An avenue of trees that could probably tell a few tales
We're taking back roads a little farther south, a kind of brief scenic diversion.
We're past Goshen and going east through the mountains, so that must be the wandery Maury River below.
Relics of a bygone age . . .
. . . and reminders of our present age -- supersize patriotic flags on every car dealership.