Tag Archives: destination

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 1)

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view.  Buffalo had an annular  eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925!   So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.

LOOK BACK: Walter Cronkite covers the 1979 eclipse

I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay.  It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration.  I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.

However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked.  It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites!  Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.

French Fort De L’Ascension/Massac on the left and reconstructed American Fort Massac on the right.

Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War.  While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.

Reconstructed American Fort Massac (minus the log palisades).

The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The sign says it all …

Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).

 

A tiny fraction of the stone tool collection at Fort Massac.

As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.

But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked.  We had a place to camp for the eclipse!

Then we had to get there.  The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so.  This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.

Our (rather grainy) route map for the Eclipse Trip

We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip.  We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac.  On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).

With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …

(Continued in Part 2)

 

A Trip to Presque Isle State Park, PA

So, on the 13th of July we set out for Presque Isle State Park in/by Erie, PA.  Our son had a day’s worth of homeschool classes on aquaculture, swamp & beach biomes, the geology of the park, and preservation and maintenance of the park.  While it was only two and a quarter hours away from Buffalo, as the classes started at 9 am, we decided to camp overnight.

Our trip was uneventful, except for the fact that I made the mistake of topping up the coolant level in the bus before we left.  Why was this a problem?  Because there was a small leak at the coolant reservoir that dripped down onto the alternator, frying the voltage regulator.  By the time we had hit the Angola Rest Area on the NYS Thruway/I-90, we were running on battery power.  But as on our Evangola trip, I knew that the engine would keep running fine, but unlike that previous trip I had the house batteries fully charged, and chargers for both the house and bus batteries that would work when we got to shore power.  But now I knew the reason WHY the alternator was failing.  Unfortunately, the fluctuations in voltage damaged the board in the fridge, though I got it to work for part of the time we were plugged in.

We stayed at Sara’s Campground, whose lands abut right up to both the Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Their grounds also have sites on both sides of Peninsula Drive/Route 832, the east side has sites for actual beach camping (in tents), and the west side is in the more forested area.

Sara's Campground Site Map
Sara’s Campground Site Map

So, we ended up getting Site 21 in the Forest Section.  It was our first stay in a private campground, and I was frankly surprised at the density of sites! The dashcam recorded our trip into our site, including the trepidation and worries I had of getting the bus in a place I’d have to back out of.

Sara’s Campground, Site 21, with the bus all settled.

But the site was fine.  The electric/water pole had a streetlight on it, so we had to put a blanket up over the windows on that side (thankfully magnets hold to bus steel wonderfully).  But there were no sites to our starboard side (where the firepit was), so it was a nice open site (next to a parking lot). And the concrete pad was very nicely level, so everything was comfortable.

Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.
Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.

But right across the street (via a crosswalk with speedbumps and a pushbutton controlled set of flashing lights to cross) was the start of Presque Isle’s beaches, and we walked all the way up past the first couple of breakwaters.  We did a little beachcombing, then returned and we made a fire and some lovely toastites for dinner.  We had some people stop by, interested in the bus, and we gave them the tour, and some skoolie info, as they had expressed interest in working up their own.

The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.
The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.

A little while later, as the sun was setting, we found that the sun was setting directly behind the bus, through the path to the beach.  It was, however, it was basically 9pm, so we were forced to get to bed before we felt we were ready.

Our next morning was fine, coffee and bowls of cereal for breakfast, and as the engine was running and I was doing our pre-trip, folks came over, interested in the bus. Alas, we didn’t have time for a tour, and weren’t returning, but they thought the concept was cool and were absolutely fine with us being there.

Unfortunately, given the short timing of us getting to the Tom Ridge Center for the aquaponics class, and then us getting from that class to our pontoon boat tour, I forgot to turn the dashcam on for those trips. But after the boat tour, I remembered to turn the cam on, so we have a video tour of Presque Isle, sped up 4x.  You miss out on a whole bunch of the cottonwood tree seeds floating about at that speed, but I recorded us getting from the tour to Barracks Beach, and then down the beach road to the Tom Ridge Center again, and then around the whole park once more.

 

Our trip back was uneventful, except for the one tractor-trailer driver who LOVED the train horn.  He paced us while we were still in PA, blew his horn and motioned for me to blow ours and gave a thumbs-up when I did, and hung out in front of us to break air for us until he got to the Angola, NY exit where he sounded his horn again and waved, and I sounded ours again.

A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 2)

After a quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, we packed everything up, put up the awning and headed off to Fallingwater.  While it was only about 2 miles away in a straight line, the campground was up atop a high ridge that we had to backtrack along to get down, and it ended up being an eight mile drive.

We also had to travel down PA 2010 (which was just one last long uphill drive as we were getting in so late on Friday night), which has a pretty steep grade for almost a mile of the mile and a half we were on it.  There was an option of going another route, but that would have replaced the 2010 route with a sixteen and a half mile detour.  I decided to just plan on stab braking my way down, and it all went fine.

We drove back through the town of Ohiopyle and along 381 North back up to Fallingwater.  The ‘campus’ has a couple of nice parking lots, one of which is set up for about eight RVs or buses, so parking was easy.  It was a chilly day, and the area the education people had for display space for the architectural models was in an outdoor area with a roof but no walls shielded from the parking area by some lovely evergreen trees.  That meant that while it was really comfortable out in the sun, sitting in the pavilion was kind of chilly.

Luckily, we had the bus right there and I was able to run back and get a sweatshirt for the boy, and then some coffee, and then a jacket.  The kids showed their models, and our son worked with staff to get their laptop to run Minecraft and load his world in, so he could show his. We then got to tour the Fallingwater house.

We couldn’t take an pictures inside the house during the tour, but let it be said that it certainly is a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  Low ceilings and corridors make you feel squeezed, and subconsciously make you move to more comfortable places in rooms.

After our tour, our son was able to give a tour of his house on the projector screen, but a couple other kids couldn’t get their digital data off their iphones, which was a bit disappointing.  But when it was all done, the kids were happy, the folks at Fallingwaters were impressed with what our homeschool group had done, and we went back to the campground.

Again, we took the steep shortcut and just rode it slowly.  All was fine.

Back in the campground, I turned the bus around at the intersection made by a utility (water & power) access road instead of trying the way-too-tight loop, and we slid right back into our spot. More Boss Monster ensued, and we had another chilly night.

The next morning we repeated the process of getting back to Fallingwater, but were delayed getting out of the town of Ohiopyle by a train.  While tempted to blow the train horn at them to get back at them doing so in the middle of the night near our camp, there were too many people around outside.

We arrived again at Fallingwater and over the day, the kids had some classes on architectural drawing & scaling, building paper cantilevers, and perspective drawing,  My wife found that the information area had these small little pieces of colored paper, each with directions on how to get where you were going from Fallingwater, so we grabbed one that confirmed how we would get to I-76.  Afterward, we said our goodbyes to the folks staying another night, made a quick dinner in the bus before leaving, ate, and headed back to Buffalo.

We had already decided that we would take the longer (but faster) route home, going back up 381 to 711 (and avoiding the shortcut that got us lost) to 31 and then onto The Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) West.  It was nice to see all the places we’d missed in the dark, and I had noticed when we’d passed over the Turnpike on our way down, so I had an idea of where we were going.

The Turnpike was it’s own adventure.  I’d never taken the bus on a toll road, and rather than having a manned toll booth, there was just a machine that spat out tickets.  As I was looking for a way to figure out what class we were, a ticket came out and, well, we were a class 3.  I guess there was a person watching somewhere. So, onto the westbound ramp we went, and I worked at getting up to traffic speed.

The speed limit was a zippy 70.

I can push the bus all the way up to 65, but that’s all the way up at 2600 RPMs, so I feel tenuous about holding it there.  So I rode us along between 63-65 while the trucks zoomed around us.  Some $17 later we got off the paid section of the Turnpike we had been on, and our exit onto I-79 North which would take us from Pittsburgh to Erie.

And again the speed limit was 70.

But we made it to near Erie and got on I-90 East, and I promptly got us off to get some fuel – just 10 gallons, as we were close enough to to the Seneca Reservation near Irving that I could fill up fully there, which we did.

Finally home!