Chapter 1. Heading North
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Newfoundland is the lure of far away places. Even the name suggests discovery, adventure and a story worth telling. When I first dreamt of traveling to Newfoundland, I thought no one ever visits this place. Perhaps few do, but in our two years of planning we've run across dozens who have made the trip and many others who would like to. So, armchair travelers, whether you are reliving a memory or fulfilling a dream, join us on our odyssey to the new found land. We begin northwest of Dallas, in the midst of millions, and travel east, skirting the city for over an hour until we free ourselves of the population and enter green fields bordered by green forests. Only a week ago we were in Big Bend in the far west of Texas where the multi-year drought is strongly in evidence. Annual rainfall increases across the state from west to east at the rate of about 4 inches per 100 miles. Now, today, as we continue our diagonal cut across Texas the benefit of rainfall is painted in the greenness of our passageway. Tall pale green grasses wave in the strong winds, oak leaves show the vibrancy of fresh rain. Water stands in ditches and ponds while burgeoning streams and rivers flow quickly. Eastward 150 miles, tall pines intermingle with the oak forest, but they don't dominate until we cross Texarkana into Arkansas. When we stop for the day, we camp in an oak forest beside Interstate 30. Shari retreats to the coolness of an air-conditioned motor home; I prefer the coolness of the forest, vibrant with the bird songs of Eastern Phoebes, Swainson's Thrushes and Red-eyed Vireos. I meet a fellow Audubon Society member, and although a stranger, he provides a 20-min. repertoire of the best local places to bird. Too bad we leave early again tomorrow morning.
(Shari) I always have mixed emotions when starting a long journey like this. On the one hand, family ties hold me back. On the other hand, the lure of new sights and smells beckons me north, not to mention the 90-deg. steamy weather forecast in Dallas today. Our traveling friends for this journey, Don and Jean, have been delayed three weeks and they intend to catch up with us somewhere in Canada. It has only been a day on the road and I already miss their friendly banter over the CB and happy hour when we stop. Bert is a wee bit tired today and I have to take my turn driving. I am reminded of Maddie, my 3-year-old granddaughter, trying to stay within the lines as she colors the handle of a broomstick. Here I am, a 102-in. by 56-ft. rectangle, racing down I-30 at 55 mph trying to stay within my 108-in. wide lines. I bet I wiggle out of the lines as much as she does, especially on the passenger side. Thank goodness for wide shoulders. We decide to make a beeline for the US/Canada border and pass up our intended stop near Hot Springs, AK. We keep on trucking until close to 4:30 PM and stop at a wonderful municipal park in North Little Rock called Burns Park. For $10 we get a nice paved level site, water, electricity, and a picnic table under the shade of tall pine and oak trees. Not far away is a golf course (we did not bring our clubs, though). My computer found this place. In spite of all its mapping errors, I love that Map n Go program. I connect the GPS to the computer in the morning, and we follow the little green arrow as it moves across the computer screen map. When we are ready to stop, I look for the green triangular trees on the map, indicating a campground, click on one of them and read about it before choosing the night's location. Without that program, I doubt if I would have found this lovely oasis.
(Shari) In our van 10 years ago Bert and I traveled to Nashville for a meeting. We left early morning on a Thursday and arrived at 8PM that same night. Now it has been two days since we left Dallas and we still are not in Nashville. Fifty-six feet of vehicle does not handle 75 mph very well. Ha! So here we are in Natchez Trace State Park, about 30 miles north of Jackson, TN. The park is so so. The narrow roads need repair. The paved sites are not very level. We only have water and electric for $14 and would be charged $2 more if we had to use the air conditioner. A table is supplied at our site and most of the sites are in the trees for shade. The park must be used for equestrian activities because evidence of horse presence is all over. So Don and Jean if you stay here, watch where you walk and bring a clothespin for your nose. We seem to have the park to ourselves. I have not seen a park host or another camper yet today.
(Bert) Peterbilt, Freightliner, Volvo, Mack - by the hundreds they pass us in both directions. US40 is straight and flat, a pulsating stream of semi trucks transporting the nation's goods. But the highway is not much for scenery. Except the cloverleafs! Maybe Tennessee should rename these intersections flower petals, for the turn circles are filled with thousands of side-by-side brilliantly red poppies. The luscious blooms dazzle our eyes. Miles further, red flowers are replaced by white - acres of solid white. We stop at a state park three miles deep into a state forest, far from the sound of traffic. Here we pick an easy site to back into, set the jacks, attach shore power and water hose, extend the slide-out and then see the "Handicapped Only" sign. I groan, but then look around to see that we are the only campers in the state park. I guess we can break the rules this time. Again we are in an eastern deciduous forest, this one sprinkled with White Oak, Black Oak, White Ash, Black Cherry and a dozen other trees I'm less quick to recognize. Pipevine Swallowtails flutter between forest flowers, giving me glimpses of their metallic blue hind wings and orange-eyed fore wings. Nesting birds - Kentucky Warbler, Summer Tanager, Eastern Pewee - sing a dusk chorus. And just as darkness falls, a Whip-poor-will calls outside our window.
(Shari) I nudge Bert awake at 6:30 AM. I am ready to get up. He goes outside while I dress, "batten down the hatches" for travel and eat. Soon it is 7:45 AM and he still is not back. I impatiently honk the horn. After 10 minutes and no Bert, I honk again. That air horn makes a nice loud noise in the woods. Soon I see him walking towards R-TENT. Apparently the storm last night caused a mini-fallout of birds and he was busily looking at the migrants and was in no hurry to leave. Finally we get on our way and arrive at Mammoth Cave around noon. The campground is just wonderful and we have a nice big wooded site with a paved pull through and table. The fee is $13 for no utilities, but a dump station not far away. We walk to the Visitor's Center and read about the cave tour options. Eight years ago we took a short entry tour and want to do something different this time. The brochure lists 14 tours using descriptive titles like Historic, Frozen Niagara, Gothic, Wild Cave, Travertine, Great Onyx and Discovery. We choose the 3-hr., 3-mi. Violet City Lantern Tour that starts at 1:15 PM tomorrow. The guidebook says,
"Follow the path of the cave's famous explorers along a nostalgic journey into Mammoth Cave's historic past. By the light of coal-oil lantern, view a saltpeter mining operation, evidence of prehistoric exploration, historic tuberculosis hospital ruins, and some of the largest rooms and passageways in the cave. The first half-mile follows the Historic Tour route. Hiking boots recommended. Restrooms not available. Participants must be 6 years of age or older. (Strenuous)"
It is that word "strenuous" that has me concerned. I wonder what their definition is. I figure how bad can it be if 6-year-olds can do it. And they only travel at the speed of 1 mph. I do almost 4 mph on my haphazardly scheduled 2-mi. walks. So we decide to do it and pay our $9 fee per person. It is pretty quiet around here, the summer crowds not yet in evidence. We hike one of the trails and have it all to ourselves. I am sure Bert will tell you all about the neat creatures he has seen flying around. Even I am impressed with the four male Scarlet Tanagers sitting in an area so close I do not need binoculars to see them. When we return to R-TENT my little odometer, which I attach to my waist, tells me we have walked 3 miles in 2 hours. I will rate today's walk as moderate. I'll let you know tomorrow how the tour goes.
(Bert) Beneath the maple canopy, the graveled trail leads us over the limestone hills that mysteriously enclose Mammoth Cave. Limestone outcroppings hint at the subterranean passageways, but only because we already know the secret. We scheduled our visit to the cave tomorrow; today we take the above ground route. In the refreshing coolness of the forest - not cool enough by Shari's standards, but fine for me - our path takes us to an overlook of a narrow glen where we rest on a park bench to enjoy the view. A flash of scarlet and another of green catches my eye. Then three more red flashes light up like Christmas bulbs in flight. Four male Scarlet Tanagers, and a drab female that blends into the tree leaves, put on a show for us. The valley broadens slightly as the shallow Green River bumps between the rocks. Full circle, we finish our 3-mile hike and return to our campsite. I start a campfire and assemble an aluminum tripod that suspends a circular grate over the hot coals. Sizzling chicken legs and baked potatoes produce aromas that whet our appetites for the evening meal, which we enjoy in the open air.
(Bert) The darkness is complete. Not a photon of light reaches my eyes. Buried 150 ft. below the surface, limestone rock surrounds me on all sides except the tunnel through which we entered. We've hiked through Mammoth Cave as far as the lights extend and when our guide flips off the last light switch I cannot see Shari even though she is only inches from me. In the pitch darkness, Joe Duvall tells us more about the cave named Mammoth, not for the extinct mammal, but for its immense size. We've hiked a half-mile of the three we will walk this afternoon; twelve miles are open to the public, yet 350 miles have been explored in the Mammoth Cave labyrinth. At 54 deg and 88% humidity, the constant temperature is cool enough to warrant a light jacket even though the hiking generates body heat. After a few minutes of darkness, Joe strikes a wooden matchstick and the light illuminates his face and that of most of the two dozen fellow spelunkers gathered around him. Then he lights the eight coal-oil lanterns that we will carry for the rest of our trek to the Violet City cave entrance. Shadows surround us, ghostly images of limestone plates fallen from the ceiling through eons of time, rough walls layered like a giant Dagwood sandwich. Periodically stopping, Joe discourses on the history of the cave. I am most fascinated about early explorers. At one stop our lanterns reveal a flat surface carefully carved in script letters, "J. N. McDowell 1839." This M.D. came to the cave on invitation to breath the damp cool cave air thought to be a cure for consumption, the historical name for tuberculosis. The disease without a cure scared people in the early 1800s, perhaps with the same intensity as AIDS today. But the TB patients who grabbed this vain hope by living in the cave, died shortly after the experiment began. Further along the cave, over a mile from the entrance, we see evidence of even earlier visitors. High up on the domed ceiling, 35-ft. above us, cane torches are wedged into the roof. Carried by Indians seeking gypsum from the cave, the torches have been carbon-dated to 2000-4000 years ago. Two miles into the cave we see a cedar tree used by Indians as a ladder, carbon-dated to 2000 years ago. Further into the cave, Joe tells us the story I find most amazing. In the 1930s when it had been decided to make the cave a national park, President Roosevelt enlisted 600 young men as part of the Civilian Conservation Corp. (CCC) to build smooth trails through the caves, replacing the rough and sharp rubble paths taken by earlier visitors. The men labored at $1/day - sending $21/mo. back to their families - for six years, braking rock and carrying dirt from other parts of the cave to put on top the trails. Several years into the project, one CCC worker was climbing over the rough rocks seeking more sources of dirt when he lost his grip and began to fall. While recovering his balance his hand fell on a rounded surface covered with long hair. Here, 2-1/2 mi. from the entrance, he had discovered the intact remains of an Indian. Navigating over the ragged rock piles, before the CCC path was laid, must have taken the Indian a day's time to reach this far into the cave. Apparently, searching for gypsum, he had unlodged the keystone, bringing a Volkswagen-sized limestone rock down upon him. Carbon-dating showed his remains to be 2100 years old. I am amazed that with the benefit of only a reed torch, early man did not fear such a challenging enterprise.
(Shari) The first words out of Ranger Joe's mouth is "I do not want to discourage you nor do I want you to take another tour, but there are three things you should know about this tour." As he says this, he looks at each of the faces in our group of 22. Looking around I see Bert is the only one with gray hair and we are the oldest people listening to these words. "First," he goes on, "you should be in good physical condition and regularly walk 3 miles. Second, do not expect spectacular sights and third, you must like to listen to a ranger talk about geology and history for 3 hours in the dark." I glance over at Bert and see him enthusiastically nod affirmative to these words so I know there is no chance that we will exchange our tickets for another tour. Oh well, I mentally make a note that three hours of shopping is due me. I think the market in St. John's will be just the place to cash in my markers. We grab one of the eight oil-fueled lanterns and make our way to the mouth of the cave. Ranger Joe is funny and informative as he tells us about the geology and history of the cave. Walking past a couple of stone houses like those built in Ireland by the people to live in, we learn that this part of the cave was once a hospital for tuberculosis patients. It was thought that the cool damp air of the cave would improve the dreaded disease. A few patients actually lived in the cave, hoping beyond all hope that they would be cured. The experiment was a failure and many people died, including the doctor. Church services were also held in the cave. Indians used the cave and one skeleton was found in the 1930s that was carbon dated back 2000 years. About one mile into the cave, we have to light the lanterns. So far the walk has been easy and lit by electric lights. We sit on a bench and Ranger Joe turns out all the lights. It is so black that I cannot even see my hand as I wave it in front of me. Ranger Joe talks a good while longer than I would like in this darkness and I squeeze Bert's hand to make sure he is still there. Finally he lights a match and, my goodness, what a welcome light that is. Carrying our lantern, we walk further into the bowels of the cave. 350 miles of cave has been mapped. We walk only three. Built by a group of young men of the CCC, our path becomes harder with numerous up and down hills. Eerily our lanterns swing, making shadows on the walls and ceiling. Huge flat rocks, on either side of our path, lie at angles that only God could create. Finally the last half-mile gets strenuous with steep hills and the final steps upward. We exit the cave at one of the manmade exits and the humid hot air hits my face like a furnace. Literally and figuratively, Mammoth Cave is a cool cave. It keeps a constant 54 degrees with 84% humidity, summer and winter. Our tour was neat, but don't tell Bert. I want to use those shopping times he thinks I have accumulated.
(Bert) Not an eventful day, we speed along congested 4-, 6- and 8-lane highways, concentrating on the sometimes bumper-to-bumper traffic. After a brief initial passage through picturesque foothills of Kentucky, the rest of our journey seems like one long expressway winding its way around the metropolitan areas of Louisville, Cincinnati and Dayton.
(Shari) My friend Jim would hate this place and he would be right about it. But it is time to stop driving before we get into Toledo rush hour traffic and Map N Go labels this campground as near the interstate. The first indication that things do not bode well, occurs at exit 165. It is closed and a sign points to a detour at exit 169. We take the detour and a few miles later we find Pleasant View Recreation Park. The check-in girl is slower than molasses in January and my impatient Bert comes into the office twice to determine if we have a back-in or pull-through site. He wants to know if he should unhitch the car or not. Besides the usual sewer hookup at a higher rate, this campground charges extra for more than 2 adults and/or 2 children. It charges extra for air conditioning and it charges extra for pets. The printed list of dos and don'ts is a mile long with a small rectangle reading "Thank you for camping with us. We hope you enjoy your stay!" Well, no matter, we are here now and not about to find another spot. I pay my $20 for site #11, a pull through. We turn right, after the gate, and drive down a narrow road to #11. The site may be a pull-through for a Volkswagen but not for the 56 feet of us. We unhitch the car and maneuver R-TENT so it sticks out into the road equally in front and back, just a little bit. We look like a size 20 squeezing into a size 6 pair of jeans. Certain things just hang out.
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