Just to review: After Lily Dale, I headed to Chicago to stay with a friend for the night. Then it was off to Myre Big Island State Park in Albert Lea, Minnesota for some camping and hiking. I finally, begrudgingly, left the park at around 3:30 pm and headed west until I hit a KOA in Mitchell, South Dakota. For some reason, I always end up there. It’s the place where driving fatigue always compels me to stop. After a very rainy night in the tent, I headed to the world’s first and only Corn Palace. It was free, so why the heck not? Here are some factoids about Mitchell’s glorious monument to maize:
The corn palace is redecorated every year with a different theme.
600,000 pieces of corn are used to decorate the outside each year.
3,000 bushels of grains and grasses are also used to decorate the outside each year.
9 different colors of Indian corn are used in the murals.
Over a ton of nails, staples and wire are used to secure it all.
Approximately $100,000 is spent each year in the redecorating process.
It’s open year round and free to enjoy.
It was well worth the brief interlude off Interstate 90 to see this. The Kremlin-o-corn is basically a large auditorium inside, including stadium seating, a gym floor and a stage. This leads me to believe that the corn palace pulls double duty. What a pain in the arse it must be to move an entire gift shop when you have an event! Every last inch of wall space on the inside is covered with detailed corn and grass murals. On the floor is a gift shop in which the proceeds go to keeping the palace free and open to the public. All-in-all, it’s corny but pretty cool. I happily did my part by purchasing some Corn Palace post cards and then it was back to the beloved old grind.
As promised, here are the photos of Lily Dale, New York. This small community of mediums, psychics and spiritualists is actually the world’s largest center for the science, philosophy and religion of spiritualism. This 135-year-old community is located on Cassadaga Lake, just an hour south of Buffalo and about 35 minutes north of Interstate 86. Sadly, their open season is not until June 27th so I didn’t get a chance to partake in any of the workshops or talk to any mediums, however, the upside to going during the off-season is that I could walk around at my leisure and not have to pay the $12 gate fee. They’re totally cool with visitors no matter what the season so don’t be afraid to check it out any time. The gates are open year-round. I was certainly not the only one enjoying the grounds. Residents and visitors alike were walking around, meditating, taking photos and indulging their own creative endeavors. There’s a beach, campgrounds, a museum, a post office, a few hotels, a healing temple, a library, a bookstore & souvenir shop, several restaurants, a spiritual school, a pet cemetery, walking trails, an artisan guild and they even have their own fire department. Yup, they’re pretty hooked up.
As I walked around, I could see a lot of home repairs happening in anticipation for the open season. There’s pretty much a medium in every house in Lily Dale, each with a placard out front beckoning you to choose them. It’s was a lovely, surreal place to visit and I’d be more than willing to return when their season is in full swing. The good news is that their last day is August 31st so I may be able to swing by when I head back east.
If you’re looking for a place to camp nearby, definitely check out Woodside Campground. They have ample RV sites and three tent sites (which were super nice–you will have to drive through a field though). Plus, it’s just a few miles from Lily Dale. The cost for a tent site was $17, which is way more affordable than most campgrounds. They even have seasonal rates for around $775 so you can stay a while if you like. In fact, I think that’s what most of the RVers do in this campground. The best part–well, besides it doubling as a country music park–is that they have private, clean bathrooms with showers. A word to the wise though, don’t be deterred by lack of signage telling you where the heck to check in and such. Just stop by the white house on the right, that’s their office but there’s no sign telling you that. Like I said, most people are either seasonal residents or repeat customers so I don’t think they feel the need to explain much.
Two posts in one day!? Wtf?! Yup. Don’t get used to it. After I wrote my first post, I took a hike around Myre Big Island State Park and had the best, most relaxing time. Fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities abound. A racoon hiked along with me, I ran into a mouse, and I accidentally scared off several white pelicans and one magestic heron. From their brochure, I gather that pelicans are an increasingly common treat. They must have finally put this place on their migratory map. It’s funny because me and the pelicans are probably both heading to the same destination. I wish I could hitch a ride on the back of one (ala Neverending Story movie poster). They have a six-foot wingspan, they wouldn’t even feel me. I had such a good time that I pondered staying another night but….Yellowstone calls. I got a huge kick out of their brochure. Since when have turtles been amphibians? Cornell, I want my money back! All this time I’ve been completely misguided. In fact, I feel lied to and betrayed.
I finally made it to South Dakota. This is when the drive becomes extremely amusing: roadside attractions that you didn’t even think possible, kitschy Wall Drug signs mixed with anti-abortion manifestos, extremely windy roads that leave me wanting to poo my pants with every gust, great hard rock radio stations (even heard my hometown hero, Ronnie James Dio), motorcycles up the wazoo… It’s a really interesting state. I’m debating over whether I should hit up the corn palace tomorrow or drive on through to Wall and the Badlands. It probably should be experienced at least once, right?
Right now I’m hunkered down in Mitchell, SD (yup, the home of the world’s first and only corn palace) at a KOA for the night because…well…this old lady is beat. When I checked in, the office was closed but an older gent in a golf card swooped by to save me. Apparently, he owns the place and lives right here with the rest of the campers. I asked him what time I had to leave by and he told me not to worry about it and invited me to stop on in for coffee in the morning. I warned him that I may never leave to which he replied that I could stay until November but then he goes south for the winter. So I’m faced with the dilemma to stay with my new boyfriend in Mitchell or to continue going west. Decisions, decisions.
Now its off to enjoy jammies and some tent Netflix (tentflix!).
Miles travelled: 844.4
Gas for today: $28.32
Mitchell KOA campground: $24.27
It’s my third day on the road, I believe. The days sort of mush together. I’m writing this from my picnic table at Myre-Big Island (no, I’m not in Hawaii-I wish!) State Park in Albert Lea, MN. It’s beautiful here, like an oasis in a rather flat, farming landscape. I left Cortland at around 2 pm on Thursday to head west to Woodside Campground (and country music park) in Cassadaga, NY. The campground was definitely unique and I highly recommend it for an adventure. After many detours, I pulled in wondering what sort of backwoods, deliverance situation I’d gotten myself into. Right from the start, I couldn’t figure out which abandoned building to check in to so I wandered aimlessly until I decided to call for help. Once that was all figured out (check in is located in the family’s front porch, duh), I drove down into the actual campground, assuming that I’d be alone– it’s literally out in the middle of nowhere–and to my surprise the place was packed with seasonal/full-time RVers. There are only three tent sites in existence and you have to drive through a ball field to get to them but the sites are super sweet. After a great nights sleep, I grabbed a shower and headed six miles away to Lily Dale, the spiritualist capital of the world. This was my one and only reason for taking the overnight, 35 minute diversion off the interstate. I won’t go into details now because I have a lot of pics of Lily Dale so it warrants its own post. Let’s just say that it was pretty freaking spectacular.
I left Lily Dale at 12:30 pm and said hi and goodbye to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in one fell swoop. After a zillion pee breaks, I arrived at my friend’s apartment in Chicago (Evanston to be exact) at 8:30 pm (accounting for the 1 hour time roll back). I just love my friend Cathy and where she lives. Evanston was designed with me in mind. Within walking distance of her place there’s the subway, a post office, Vogue Fabrics, a guitar shop, several Mexican restaurants, a vegetarian & vegan restaurant, a gem & mineral shop with a fossil museum in the basement, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, a wine & liquor store and tons of crafty boutiques. It’s my idea of heaven. Plus just a quick drive away is the beach. Too bad the weather is freakin’ crazy sauce or I’d be moving there. Tornados and -55 below windchill is not my thang. Cathy and I spent the night telling each other spooky ghost stories and paranormal happenings of a personal nature until we were both almost too apprehensive to sleep. My kinda night. I spent the next day walking around Evanston and shopping. I bought so many fossils, crystals and rocks that are going to make the most gorgeous, unique jewelry: labradorite, Oregon opal, ammonites, orthoceras, red tiger eye, mugglestone, zebra stone, and even a big ass quartz for my reiki sessions. And even though I just left, I can wait to get back home so I can start making stuff again. Yup, I really do love making stuff that much.
I begrudgingly left Evanston at 1:30 pm to find myself hung up in traffic and construction for way too many hours. Interstate 90 from Chicago on west to the state line was all construction, expensive tolls and just plain sucky. Eventually I hit the open road and it was smooth sailing after that. Wisconsin was a virtual gauntlet with all of the deer carcases on the road. I’ve never seen so many dead deer in one stretch of road and it’s always like that. It’s a beautiful state but not if you’re an animal. After many tiring hours, I set up camp in the Big Island at 9 pm, watched Netflix in my tent until the wee morn and woke up with the birds. Not too shabby. They don’t kick me out until 4 pm so I’m going to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of this place. Perhaps some drawing and hiking is in my future. Then it’s off to the Badlands! I probably won’t make it to Wall, SD today but I’ll get as close as I can.
I’ve had two revelations for thus far..no three! The first is that I absolutely love my Honda. It’s got +200,000 miles on it and it’s been an absolute dream. Every day I’ve been doing at least one thing to pamper it. Yesterday it was an addition of oil and coolant. Today it’s going to be a power steering fluid check and some air in the tires. Tomorrow it’s going to be an oil top-off. I’m prepared for it to break down on me at some point but I won’t be mad because this well-oiled machine has earned it. It’s just such a great vehicle that has required so little of me over the years compared to all the other cars I’ve owned.
The second revelation is the Oh, Ranger Park Finder app. I downloaded several apps before I left and this one is complete gold. Plus, it’s free (thanks to LL Bean & Ford). It uses your location to tell you where the nearest parks (state, national, BLM land, etc…) are, what activities they allow and hooks into your phone’s navigation system to direct you there. That’s how I found Big Island. I’m not a fan of pre-planning where I’m going to stay because then I’m on a strict time schedule, which stresses me out. This way, I can just find a nice place to camp nearby when I’m ready to rest for the night. I prefer to stay in parks because they offer recreational activities such a hiking and wildlife watching so you get more bang for your buck.
My third revelation is that I love making my own stuff. An hour before I left for this trip I decided to take a few minutes to make some sunscreen and toothpaste instead of buying it somewhere. Now I’m sitting here having used my own soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, body butter, sunscreen, toothpaste, deodorant and insect repellent and I’m so proud it say that it’s all the absolute best. I’m tent camping and yet I feel completely pampered from head to toe. It’s such a treat and it leaves me a bit tickled. Yup, tickled, I said it.
Miles travelled: 592.7
Woodside Campground: $17.00
Big Island State Park camping: $25.00
Tolls: Ohio: $10.00, Indiana: $7.90, Illinois: $11.80
The Yellowstone Park Foundation is having their 2nd Annual “Capturing Wonderland” photo contest and I thought I’d toss my hat into the ring. I only have a rinky-dink camera so I don’t achieve high quality photos but I thought even if I didn’t win, they may be able to use and enjoy my photos at some point. They have two categories–landscapes and wildlife–and I submitted something for both. I have great photos of bison and common landmarks, which I’m sure everyone has, so I tried to offer something they may not have seen many photos of before. Here are my entries (click on each pic to enjoy it in full size–especially if you want to see the otter’s adorable squishy lil face!):
I haven’t a clue how to use Photoshop so I’m sure they could be a million times better. In fact, the landscape pic is too dark but I kinda dig it that way because the trees create a negative space where the sky and the glass-like water becomes the main focus. The only manipulation they’ve seen is the standard contrast/brightness/saturation you can use from the Microsoft photo gallery. I haven’t really bothered to learn Photoshop because I’m a true believer in the idea that what makes a good photo is the subject matter and being in the right place at the right time to capture it at its best.
In this day and age, there are many types of photography and it drives me nuts when they’re judged same way. I see it as boiling down to two vastly different approaches: There are photographers who patiently wait for magic to happen and there are photographers who make magic happen through creative editing. (Most are probably a mix of both at this point, however, I’m predominantly a waiter.) I’m not saying either is better or worse, I’m just saying they are very different approaches. Both are time-consuming and require talent, but one is more about having camera skills and the other is more about having computer skills. That’s basically why it drives me nuts when both are viewed as being the same. One should be considered fine art photography and the other should be considered fine art photo design. However, in this digital age, techniques have bled together making its difficult to determine where one begins and ends. Shew… got that off my chest. Okay, I’m stepping down off my soap box now.
Looking through all my photos was just what I needed to get me into the mood to travel back out to the wild west. Truthfully, a large part of me dreads it every year because I’m not a fan of driving for days on end. However, this year I left myself plenty of time to hike, camp and explore so hopefully it won’t be as painful.
Okay, if you ever want to enjoy the Finger Lakes on a budget, keep reading. Whenever I want to do anything on Seneca Lake–like wine trail, hike and eat good food–I usually camp in New York State’s only National Forest. It’s a little slice of nature right in the heart of wine/beer/spirit country. There are a few group campsites that cost money but for the most part you can camp for free anywhere in the forest just as long as you set up at least 50 feet from any body of water or trail. That’s easy enough. There are even bathrooms nearby incase you don’t get your kicks from peeing in bushes…sissy pants! The forest is not only close to Seneca Lake (plus Watkins Glen, the speedway and Farm Sanctuary), it’s also convenient to Ithaca, Trumansburg and anything having to do with the west side of Cayuga Lake.
The Finger Lakes National Forest is different from a state park in how it’s managed. It’s all about providing a wide variety of recreational opportunities and managing for a variety of wildlife habitat types. There’s hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, blueberry picking, snowshoeing, skiing, biking and snowmobiling. They mow, prescribe burn and stock ponds. There’s no fee to get in so it’s also different from a state park in that respect. Instead, they raise funds through other means such as harvesting timber and allowing livestock grazing. It’s pretty neat to be hiking in the forest one minute and the next minute you’re in a clearing with a herd of cattle.
This past weekend, my Hudson Valley friends, Cassie & Lauren came to visit me and I figured this would be an ideal weekend excursion. We enjoyed some delicious microbrew at Two Goats Brewing overlooking beautiful Seneca Lake; headed into Watkins Glen to eat, drink more microbrew and listen to live music at the Crooked Rooster; then we camped in the National Forest for the night. We set up right next to Potomac Pond and fell asleep to the sound of frogs calling en masse. It was the perfect nights sleep until a duck got there in the morning. This paticular duck’s constant jibber-jabber incorporated itself into my dream and nearly drove me insane. Then we broke down camp and ventured into Watkins Glen to eat brunch at the Glen Mountain Market (yum!). The rest of the day was spent hiking the extremely packed but still awesomely majestic Watkins Glen State Park, chomping down ice cream, and venturing back up Route 414 to taste wine at Atwater, Bagley’s Poplar Ridge and Hector Wine Company. After that we parted ways and put the lid on one heck of a perfect weekend. Enjoy the photos…
You can pay to park at Watkins Glen State Park or just find a space on the street and walk in for free. Either way. The downside to parking on the street is that it’s 2 hours max and that’s the bare minimum for hiking the gorge. If you have the cash, pay to park and then spend the day enjoying the the glen (which is in walking distance to breweries, eateries, shops and the lake) without having to worry about parking tickets or moving your car.
As an exciting side-note: I finally got to field test my insect repellent. I forgot to spray myself as I was setting up camp and I heard Cassie exclaim something to the effect of “Good gawd girl, your arms have been eaten alive!” The mosquitoes had a field day biting my exposed arms and I was just too engrossed in setting up my tent to notice/care. When I had the chance, I sprayed my arms and legs and every last itchy welt was gone within minutes. We then headed out to the brewery where I had people comment on how great I smelled. It’s moments like these that I wait for and savor. I nonchalantly blow on my fingernails, polish them off on my lapel, slap on my best shit-eating grin and say “Why thank you, it’s my very own Sweet Pea’s bug spray. It repels insects and attracts humans.” When we got back to camp, I immediately sprayed myself and was never bothered by an insect again. I even ended up sleeping with three mosquitoes in my tent and was never feasted on. This leads me to believe that I dang done well with my little concoction.
I was also debating over whether to add polysorbate 80 or polysorbate 20 to the repellent because it helps emulsify and solublize (yup, that’s actually a word) essential oils and water and alcohol. It seems to be used in a lot of commercial as well as handmade room sprays, perfumes and repellents so I was feeling like I was possibly missing the boat. But the more I read about this ingredient, the more uncomfortable I am with using it. The repellent is great without it. You just have to shake it so everything blends together. No biggie. Why spend money on an extra ingredient, which is basically unnecessary and potentially harmful? Seems kinda silly. That’s the direction I’m taking with my lotion too. Why add a chemical preservative? Oh because the product has water in it and water breeds bacteria. Okay, just get rid of the water. Bam! Easy as that. Same with emulsifying wax. I’ll just use the heaps of beeswax I have instead. And speaking of bees…
I’m going to split this post up into a few bite-sized chunks so it’s not photos galore so anticipate enjoying a few more photo-heavy posts in your near future.
These last few days have all been about enjoying friends, family and all that my location has to offer. A few days ago my mum, Ling Ling, and I took the short drive to Syracuse to enjoy the Central New York Regional Market and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. The regional market is easily the largest I’ve ever been to. I’m so accustomed to vending at my mini-market in Saugerties that by comparison this one is absolutely ginormous! You can literally find everything: from handmade pasta, bread, cheese and veggie burgers to dog bones to herbs & flowers to kitchen tools to dvds to soap to clothes to wine & beer (Good Nature Brewing’s American Brown Ale is the stuff of dreams.)….you get the point. It’s a wonderland! Sorry I didn’t get photos but it was just too overwhelming for me to even try.
The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is always an enjoyable visit. During the summer of 1995, I worked as their veterinary technician extern and was offered the zoo vet tech position after I graduated (I turned them down because at the time they had a policy that all park employees had to live in the county and living in that big of a city was not my cup of tea). They fixed the zoo up since the last time I visited and let me tell you that the grounds and buildings are looking gorgeous! Plus, my sweet Asian elephants now have a brand-spankin’ new enclosure and exercise yard. It’s always nice to return to a place and see that it’s improved with time. I can’t say that in a lot of cases. Here are some photos for you to enjoy…
Some of you may be uncomfortable with zoo photos or the idea of zoos and I get that. Believe me, I had misgivings about working at a zoo for a little while but all zoos and situations are not created equal. I don’t enjoy petting zoos and I completely detest circuses. These exist merely for the enjoyment of humankind which I think is absolutely sick. Profit always seems to trump the health & happiness of the animals in these situations. On the other hand, most zoos participate in captive breeding programs, support native-habitat conservation efforts and serve to educate the public. That’s the difference. The more I know and the more we continue to pillage and plunder our natural world, the more I realize that zoos and refuges are the only and last hope for many species. Sad but true. I wish they weren’t necessary, but if people continue to cut down forests and poach the endangered, zoos will be the last place most species will be allowed to exist without threat. I hate that I even have to write that sentence. It’s shameful.
A few weeks ago I took a super quick trip down to New Orleans. By super quick, I mean that I was basically there for 2.5 days. My stay was by no means long enough but it’s all I could afford both time and money-wise. Nevertheless, I tried to cram in as much as humanly possible and I think I did a bang-up job. Several trips to Bourbon Street, a visit to the rum distillery and a haunted history tour (probably my fifth one but I still enjoy them) were all in order. Hours were spent looking in the shops on Royal Street, listening & watching street performers, breezing through the French Market, a night stroll by the Mississippi River, walking though Lafayette Cemetery #1, napping and watching the turtles swim in Audubon Park, thrift shopping at Buffalo Exchange, stuffing my face at Deanie’s and Slim Goodies, burning my insides with cherry bombs at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, visiting my favorite French Quarter bars (The Dungeon & The Golden Lantern) and rump shaking to Bourbon Street bands playing the likes of Bobby Brown and Montel Jordan. Oh yeah! A little My Prerogative and This is How We Do It, is good for the soul!
Overall, I was amazed to see how budget friendly New Orleans is. It cost me $2.00 to catch the E-12 bus from the airport to the French Quarter. That’s a $33 cab ride. An unlimited day pass to travel around New Orleans on their public streetcar and bus system is $3.00. The rum distillery tour including transportation to and from the French Quarter (with lots of tasty rum sampling!) was $10.00 per person. We scored the haunted history tour for half price so it was about $13.00 each. Eating can be expensive but the portion sizes will easily take you through lunch and dinner. Slim Goodies is always my favorite breakfast spot and that’s very reasonably priced (remember to bring some champagne for mimosas with no corkage fee). Audubon Park and the cemeteries are free to enjoy and just walking around the French Quarter is entertainment enough. So although I spent more than I’d have liked to, it was still more affordable than vacationing elsewhere. Plus, it’s my most favorite place in the whole-wide-world so there’s no putting a price on that.
This past Tuesday was so nice that Tuna and I felt the need to crawl out of our winter cave and embark on a little adventure. We both enjoyed the Walkway over the Hudson so much on New Year’s Day that we decided to give it another go before the move. I especially wanted to visit during the week so we’d have the place all to ourselves but boy was I a fool. It was absolutely sardine packed! Seriously, are others as equally unemployed as me? Probably, at the rate things are going. Anyways, it was lovely enjoying all the ice but not having to freeze my butt off doing it. The view was magnificent and it lit a tinsy spark of spring fever within me.
The one and only downside was that since it was so packed, Tuna was more than a little overwhelmed with all the people and dogs going by. Halfway through the walk she became really frustrated that she couldn’t visit with everyone. At one point she broke her collar and ran after a small dog, leaving both the dog and her owner absolutely, pants-peeingly, terrified. I can’t blame either of them. I would not want to see a pit mix barreling towards my toy poodle. It was just a bad scene all around and Tuna was extremely upset afterwards because she knew from the woman’s reaction that she had done something terribly wrong. Oh well, we live, we learn and now I know to avoid such overstimulating situations.
Yesterday I had the chance to return to my old stomping ground to visit the Museum of the Earth’s staff and volunteers (I miss them all immensely) and to see their new exhibit, Whales: From the Depths of the National Geographic Collection. If you have the chance, I strongly recommend visiting the museum to view this awe-inspiring exhibit. It will take your breath away. In my slideshow you will see just a small sampling of the photos on display but your really need to be there to get the true experience. Over the exhibit gallery hangs the skeleton of a 44 foot-long North Atlantic Right Whale which beached off the New Jersey coast a few years ago. Her death was due to being caught in fishing line–an unfortunate way to go for any animal but it’s especially tragic considering there are only around 300 of these whales left in the world. Paired with the photos are the haunting melodies of whale songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustic Research Program, facts on whale evolution (Did you know that the whales closest living relatives are hippos? Now you do.), kids coloring activities, and action steps you can take to help whales. You will walk away feeling overwhelmed by the idea that you are sharing this planet with such majestically beautiful creatures. The exhibit is up until June 4th so you have some time still to plan your visit to the museum.
I also made sure to photograph and include the spectacular artistry of staff member, Maija Cantori. The queen a paper-mache herself created Senorita Anita the Ammonita (the ammonite) and Barnacle Betty (the adorable North Atlantic Right Whale), the painting of the North Atlantic Right Whale with her calf AND some of the kids coloring sheets for the Whales exhibit. Such a talent! I’ve never seen someone do such an amazing job with paper-mache, especially on such a grand scale. This is another great example of how art and science go together like hand in glove. Just as an aside: if you ever get a chance to meet Maija, make sure to ask her when she’s starting her pinata business.
Below, you will see (in no particular order) a glacier garden, the Hyde Park mastodon (found not too far from where I’m living now), a Dunkleosteus (an armor-plated fish about the size of a school bus), early amphibians creeping their way onto land, a lobed-fined fish, casts of swimming reptiles (like Nessie), the largest intact sea scorpion fossil, sea scorpion art depicting a larger sea scorpion man-handling a smaller one, a glorious slab of fairly sizable trilobites (Who doesn’t love trilobites?), a cast of a T-Rex skull, and coelophysis art through the ages (I actually spelled coelophysis correctly the first go around! Wow!)