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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Hike to Massanutten Ridge in George Washington National Forest

It's not every day that we can explore a meaningful hike directly from our campsite -- but today we could!  The trail is known as the KOA Harrisonburg Trail and climbs over 1100 feet in two miles to the Massanutten South Trail on the ridge between Bird Knob to the north and Grubbs Knob to the south, all in the George Washington National Forest east of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The campground posted  a cute trailhead sign to let us know where the trail started:

The trail generally followed an old woods road up a drainage, where flowering mountain laurel were everywhere:

We eventually crossed a drainage, paralleling the old Bryce Lane to its south.  Eventually, we crossed the drainage and turned up a long shoulder, where we shortly met this gate.  We're not sure why it is there, because the woods road is not really accessible to vehicles; perhaps the gate is meant to discourage ATV's on the upper part of the trail.

After the gate, the trail climbed more steeply, so that our last half mile was probably a grade of 700 or 800 feet to the mile.  Eventually we left the shoulder and switched back and forth up to the ridge.  A view was accessible at only one spot on the hike, looking west toward Interstate 81:

Finding no documentation the trail before we hiked it, we weren't sure what to expect for our efforts; we weren't even sure the trail would take us all the way to the ridge.  As it turned out, we climbed straight to the ridge, where the trail met the Massanutten South Trail, crossing north-to-south, and another trail continuing east, down from the ridge to Cub Run Road.  A sizeable cairn marks the trail junction, and Kathy wasted no time adding her stone to the pile of rocks:

This was a morning hike after which we planned to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in Harrisonburg, so we brought no snacks.  After a short rest, rehydration and dowsing of bug spray, and we were ready to return down the trail.  We stopped again on the way down for another look at the view west:

By the time we got halfway down, the sun had moved and lit up a large flat boulder, where David perched for his trail photo:

It reached about 90F as we were finishing our hike, but, even so, the trail was shaded so that, with the less strenuous walk downhill, we didn't feel as warm as we had on the initial climb.

Reaching the trailhead in our campground, we realized that we had been so intent on finding the trail, that we walked right past this cute little pirate ship designed for imaginative adventure on the high seas.  Kathy rushed over and claimed her place on deck, raising what was left of the mainsail in victory!

Not every trail we hike is momentous.  However, this outing was supposed to be a short walk in the woods, but transformed itself into a moderately strenuous half-day hike to the top of a ridge.  That made it memorable and worth telling you about in this blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Touring Blenko Glass Company

 Tuesday, May 25, 2022

Hi Blog!

We made a quick stop in Milton, West Virginia on our way to the Shenandoah Valley for Memorial Day Weekend with the kids. We were looking for something to do on our day off and learned that the Blenko Glass Company in Milton offers tours of their factory. We thought it would make for an interesting outing.

Blenko Glass Company has been a family owned and operated company since 1893. Their factory in Milton opened in 1921. Their exquisite color, skilled craftsmen, and imaginative designs made Blenko famous in the time-honored craft of hand-blown glass. The Blenko Visitor Center was built next to its factory in the 1960s. The first floor is a gift shop. The second floor is a museum and entrance to the factory tour.

Our tour guide has worked at Blenko for many years. He knows the business inside and out. Blenko has employed dozens of designers over the decades. Each designer has a collection of their work on display in the museum. Unlike a single artisan glass blower who designs his own creations and makes them, at Blenko, the designer creates a design, a craftsman creates a mold and the glass blower and his team create the final work.

In addition to hand blown pieces, Blenko also makes sheets of glass that are used in making stained glass windows. There are several panels on display. The Red Baron was one of our favorites.

As we walked over to the factory from the museum, we passed a number of glass panels weathering in the courtyard. To make a glass sheet, the craftsman blows cylinders of glass, with ends removed, scored, and then reheated. The cylinders open into flat sheets of glass measuring 18 by 25 inches during the final heating. The color sheets, along with small rondels of glass, are utilized in decorative architectural design and stain glass windows.

Our first stop on the factory tour was the mixing barn. It all starts with the simplest of materials – sand, limestone and soda ash. When mixed together in a roaring furnace and placed in the hands of master craftsmen, these elements form one of the most captivating materials known… GLASS! 

And when they say roaring furnace, they mean it. The first thing you notice when you enter the factory is the heat. There are several furnaces glowing red hot.

Melting glass is a very precise process. Even the difference of a few degrees or minutes can completely change the outcome of glass. Blenko glass melt hits 2400 degrees and the skilled artisans work with molten glass that is anywhere from 1950 to 2100 degrees!

There are currently 80 employees at the factory. The glass teams consist of a master glassblower and a lampworker as well as assistants to work the molds. The bench is the glassblower's workstation, and has a place for the glassblower to sit, a place for the handheld tools, and two rails that the pipe or punty rides on while the blower works with the piece. 

Pictured below, the lampworker has just brought out of the oven the molten glass on the end of the blowpipe. The glassblower inserts the glass into the wooden mold and begins to blow.

Once the glass has taken shape in the mold, it is removed, cut off from the blowpipe.  Its rough top opening is then reheated and the end snipped off again to even it out.

The different teams each have their own work stations. Each person on the team has a job. Watching them work was like watching a fiery ballet.

Once a piece has been crafted, it is placed in a lehr for finishing. A lehr is a long kiln with an end-to-end temperature gradient, which is used for annealing newly made glass objects. The glass objects take a 5 hour trip down a conveyor belt in which they are gradually cooled from a beginning temperature of 1600 degrees, to 660 degrees in the middle of the cooling process, and eventually to room temperature. The annealing process renders glass into a stronger material with fewer internal stresses, and with a lower probability of breaking.

Next was the warehouse with its rows and rows of finished products.

Employees were busy gathering items to fulfill various orders.

We watched an order being prepared for shipment. The glass was wrapped in thin silicon sheet and then covered with a liquid foam that quickly expands and dries. The outgoing boxes are piled up under these unique factory windows.

After the shipping warehouse, we stopped in the craft building, where the molds are made. Wooden molds are hand carved and then soaked. Once a mold is created, it must remain wet. If it dries out, the wood could crack and create imperfections in the glass.

Metal molds are used for making animals and sun catchers. The glass in the metal molds usually stamped and not blown.

Just as a painter fills his palette with dabs of paint, the glassblower has a whole spectrum of color to choice from.

After touring the factory, we learned that there is a very active collectibles market for Blenko Glass. Historic pieces often find their way to auction houses where folks bid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for some of the more unique pieces.  Blenko received international attention when Martha Stewart included Blenko's now famous water pitcher in her Holiday Gift Guide.

Nothing makes glass the king of the decorative arts more than the interplay between color and light. Think of magnificent cathedral windows and the magic of color and light presented inside. Blenko has been a master of color for over a century. Its historic color formulas include over 1,000 hues, shades, and variations. By using its 120 years of skill, Blenko has captured the rainbow, recreating a spectrum of almost endless color.  All that color was in full display in the gift shop.

Needless to say, we found the glass pieces irresistible, and realized that we had just found some interesting gifts for family.  Shhh....don't tell!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm

We are on our way back to a Memorial Day family gathering in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia, after having visited Crater of Diamonds State Park and Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, and paddling and fishing our way through various lakes and estuaries in Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

This stop in Georgetown, Kentucky is along the way.  As we were planning the itinerary for 2022 in May 2021, we watched an episode on CBS's "Sunday Morning" about Old Friends and realized that it sits right along the path we wanted to follow this season in our RV vagabonding.  So we made a campground reservation nearby, and, before we arrived, reserved a spot on a tour of the farm today, Sunday, May 22, 2022.

Old Friends is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) equine retirement facility in Georgetown, Kentucky. The organization started with one leased paddock and two horses, but now owns 136 acres, Dreamchase Farm, with additional leased pasturage. It is the only Thoroughbred retirement facility in the United States that accepts stallions on a regular basis. Old Friends is currently home to over 150 retired Thoroughbred athletes.  The facility was created in 2003 by former The Boston Globe movie critic Michael Blowen, spurred by the death of 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand in 2002. The presence of high-profile horses helps raise money, allowing after-care for more low profile horses.  

The farm decided to open its doors to the public, inviting fans to visit their turf heroes. As a result, Old Friends is now the “living-history museum” of horse racing. Annually, its horses attract nearly 20,000 visitors, who come to get up-close-and-personal with racing’s superstars, and also meet a few who never saw the inside of a winner’s circle.

When we were arrived, we were greeted by a volunteer who passed us off to Steve, also a volunteer, who served as our tour guide.  Let us just say that Steve is voluble and fun to listen to and chat with.  He knows all things horse racing and Old Friends!

Our tour was a walking tour.  We headed down the farm's central road, through the front paddocks, toward the main stable:

Steve introduced us to the first two horses, winning thoroughbreds in their time, who eagerly trotted over, knowing that they would get carrot treats from these new visitors:

Kathy was eager to accommodate, offering carrot pieces from a bag full of them that the farm offered to touring visitors:

We already knew that every horse has a unique personality, but this was evident front-and-center as we introduced ourselves to each of the thoroughbreds we met:

Steve introduced us to Little Silver Charm, who has lived at Old Friends since it opened in 2003.  He is in his early thirties -- older than any of the more famous thoroughbreds who reside at Old Friends. He came to the farm when his original owner died, leaving Little Silver Charm and some other farm residents destitute.  He hasn't left since and continues to charm visitors:

Leaving Little Silver Charm, we reached the crest of a hill where we could look out over many of the paddocks housing the Old Friends.  It was a very impressive view:

The horse barn is modern and clean.  Steve explained to us that each horse has its own stall (with the horse's name on it -- eat your heart out, business executives!) where it can shelter from inclement weather.  But, bad weather aside, every horse gets to spend lots of time outside.  The horses that don't get along well with others (generally, the stallions) have their own paddocks, and the more sociable horses (usually the geldings and mares) run around together in huge field enclosures.

Everyone had plenty of opportunity to feed carrot treats to horses and make new friends and influence equines:

Each horse has its own quirks, including this one, who loves sticking his tongue out when he is begging treats:

Staff at the farm attend to each of the horses.  Here is one new arrival who has been quarantined to protect against possible disease, being walked back to the barn for brushing and a little lunch by a doting attendant:

We had a chance to meet Silver Charm, who was just beat out from becoming a 1997 Triple Crown winner when Touch Gold barely outraced him in the Belmont Stakes that year.  To show you how important Old Friends is in racing circles, Touch Gold is also a resident at the farm.

It is the hope of the owner and staff at Old Friends that each of the thoroughbreds who reside there live out their lives and pass away naturally at Old Friends.  At the end of our tour, we had a chance to view the cemetery where each horse (after being cremated) is buried and is honored by a stone marker:

You ask us who our favorite horse was.  That would be impossible to answer.  But the award for Biggest Clown has to go to Stubbins who, when offered a carrot with the request, "Show us your tattoo!" will curl his upper lip and show off the tattoo that marks him uniquely with his thoroughbred identity.  Sometimes he will even offer the tattoo unsolicited just to see if a random carrot or two will fall his way:

Most of the horses we met were already waiting along the fence as we approached.  In some cases, however, the famous residents were busy with other horsely matters (we know not what).  In these cases, Steve would call to them, or rattle the carrot treat bag -- or, in extremis when necessary, shake the food trough hanging on the fence.  When Steve called, any old friends who didn't realize carrots were on offer would come ambling over for a treat. 

Kathy will tell you that she has a soft spot for horses, and carries proudly the emotional scars of having a horse steal a corncob out of her back pocket as she went to pet it when we hiked around farms in Chester County, oh, way back perhaps in 1993 or so.  Imagine her delight at being able to make so many new friends without having to have her pockets picked.

The National Corvette Museum Rocks!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Hi Blog!

Because we are racing back to Virginia to spend Memorial Day with our kids and grandson, we only have a couple days to cross Kentucky. Yesterday, we immersed ourselves in Bluegrass Music. Today, we took a drive up to Bowling Green to visit the National Corvette Museum.

Our friends, Ginny and Eric toured the museum back in 2017. Here is a link to their blog with lots of cool car photos.

You may remember when the National Corvette Museum made the news on February 12, 2014, when a giant sink hole swallowed 8 of their one-of-a-kind cars. Security footage showed the cars sliding into the abyss.

In an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, the museum salvaged the cars, repaired the sinkhole and reopened the museum, complete with a new interactive exhibit documenting the entire process. The image below shows the museum floor and the cave that opened up and swallowed the cars. If you look closely, you can see how the cars landed on top of each other.

Construction crews had to remove giant boulders from the hole, before filling it with 4,000 tons of stone, installed support beams and trusses, rebuilt the entrance doors and other infrastructure improvements, and finally installed a new floor. The new floor includes a trap door with a ladder leading to the bottom of the cave, so crews can monitor the stability of the repairs.

As part of the sinkhole exhibit, you enter inside a mini-cave for a virtual simulation of the collapse. It was wild watching the cave slowly form, the floor of the museum give way and the cars slide down. After watching the simulation, we walked out onto the repaired floor of the museum. 

Six of the 8 cars that ended up in the cave were repaired. They are still working on number 7 and number 8 is now part of the exhibit.

One wing of the museum is devoted to model Corvettes. They had several displays in different scales. They even had a display of Hot Wheels. We later learned that the museum is gearing up for a big summer programs called Hot Wheels, Race to Win. This behind-the-scenes look at the thrilling world of racing investigates the scientific process for designing super-fast cars and helps families who have the need for speed understand how it is achieved. The exhibit was created by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in partnership with Mattel. Looks like it would be a lot of fun for kids.

There is no doubt that Corvette owners love their cars. However, when the Corvette first came out in 1953, only 183 of 300 were sold. It was a slow start for a car that would go on to break speed records.

Things do pick up for Corvette. By 1958, the Corvette received a body and interior freshening which included a longer front end with quad headlamps, bumper exiting exhaust tips, a new steering wheel, and a dashboard with all gauges mounted directly in front of the driver and a more powerful engine.

The Corvette has become widely known as "America's Sports Car." Automotive News wrote that, after being featured in the early 1960s television show Route 66, "the Corvette became synonymous with freedom and adventure," ultimately becoming both "the most successful concept car in history and the most popular sports car in history."

If truth be told, we really didn't come to see the cars. We came for the sinkhole. The interactive displays takes you right down in the cave; they have samples of the different rock formations. A 360-degree video lets you look all around. However, our nephew, Michael Davis, would be disappointed if we didn't include a couple cool cars in our blog. 

Mike, these are for you.

In the lobby, are all the current models that are available for purchase. For $73,000, this little blue bundle could be yours.

We leave you with the age old question: which is the true sports car?

The lesson of this blog entry?  Not all of our adventures are in wilderness, but you can be sure all of our adventures will be WILD!