A Big Milestone – 1500!

My travels this summer fell into a distinct pattern as did recent Twelve Mile Circle articles.  I didn’t even plan to mention the most recent long weekend excursion until I crossed an important milestone somewhat unexpectedly.  This marked our annual visit to Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival, our tenth straight year in a row.  No big deal.  That wasn’t the milestone, and I’ve talked about that plenty of times so I didn’t need to add anything more.  However, enough other interesting things happened last week so I decided to post an overview anyway.

One More Trip to Chicago

Chicago Skyline

I spent most of the rest of the days after Madison in Chicago, for my job.  This worked out nicely.  Rather than fly home to Washington, DC only to turn around and fly back, I simply drove from Madison to Chicago.  It took about three hours — not bad — and I didn’t have to hassle with an airport.

Chicago traffic rivals DC traffic for congestion and unpredictability so I feared a mid-afternoon downtown arrival by automobile.  Traffic actually seemed reasonable, maybe because I got there before rush hour kicked into high gear, or maybe because I got lucky.  I don’t know.  Either way, now I can say I’ve driving into the heart of Chicago and survived.  Every other time I’ve arrived at O’Hare and taken the Blue Line L train.  I’d still prefer that.

I’ve always enjoyed Chicago.  I wouldn’t mind if every business trip brought me there.

And One More University

The University of Chicago

Readers might be wondering what I did with the car after I got to Chicago.  Actually, my wife drove it back to Wisconsin the next morning and I flew back to DC later in the week.  We used the trip as another opportunity in our string of college visits for our older son, this time stopping at the University of Chicago.  He seemed to like it.  We’ll see.  He’s liked several of the others, too.

This visit also gave me an opportunity to show them the adjacent Midway Plaisance (map).  I mentioned this location awhile ago in 12MC’s Trivial Chicago article.  The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition took place there.  It featured the world’s first Ferris Wheel and of course every decent carnival now has something called a “midway”  named after the original too.  I got my chance to show-off some worthless trivia, my son saw another university, and the three of us shared an undersized urban hotel room.  It was plenty roomy after they left, when I stayed by myself a couple more days.

Two More Counties

I’ve Visited the Colored-In Counties

Almost exactly ten years ago, back in the summer of 2009, I wrote about my 1,000th new county visited.  Now I can say I’ve reached 1,500!  Ordinarily we would have driven east into Milwaukee and then south towards Chicago.  However, we needed to avoid huge backups caused by road construction near Milwaukee that has been a problem for months.  Instead, we cut south to Rockford, Illinois and then southeast to Chicago.  That would take a few minutes longer in normal circumstances although a better route this summer because of the construction.

I didn’t intend to capture any new counties although I noticed we would cross into Boone and McHenry in Illinois (towards the eastern side of its norther border) as I planned the route.  I’d been chasing 1,500 all summer and those two captures put me over the top.  Maybe I should pick up the pace.  It will take more than 30 years for me to finish the remaining counties if I capture only 500 new counties a decade.

Three More Breweries

Cruz Blanca Brewery & Taquería

Well, yes, of course I stopped at some previously unvisited breweries along the way; three to be exact.

First, as we drove in ever-closer to Chicago on the Kennedy Expressway we paused for lunch at Old Irving Brewery before heading to the University of Chicago.  I liked the vibe.  I also liked the neighborhood.  Irving Park began as an early suburb in the 1870’s, carved from farmland once far outside the city.  Rails connected Irving Park to Chicago as it does today, making it a reasonable commute.

That evening we took a rideshare to Gino’s Brew Pub in River North, just north of the Chicago River as one would expect given the name.  Gino’s East was a small local chain of pizza restaurants and they bolted-on a brewpub to their River North location.  They only had a couple of their own beers on tap because of problems with their brewing equipment.  Beer wasn’t their primary focus.

Finally, a couple of days after my wife and older son left, I took a nice walk to Cruz Blanca Brewery & Taquería in the Near West Side neighborhood.  They had a great selection of street tacos to accompany their Mexican-inspired beverages.  This seemed like a bustling area, and just outside the Loop. I’d like to spend more time there on my next trip.

Gulf Coast Weekend

The college tours continued again last weekend although I didn’t go.  My wife and our older son headed towards sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The younger guy and I flew down to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi to visit with family instead.  He didn’t get to go on the great road trip over the holidays last year so I wanted to spend some time with him.  Actually, he didn’t want to go on the road trip because he doesn’t like long rides.  That’s why we took a plane to New Orleans for this quick trip.

The National WWII Museum

World War II Combat Uniforms

My son had only one thing on his list.  He wanted to visit the National World War II Museum in New Orleans (map).  That seemed like a completely reasonable request so we drove about an hour from the family homestead during the first morning of our visit and checked it out.

We’re a bit spoiled because we get to go to the Smithsonian museums anytime we want to back in DC.  Sometimes we’re a little underwhelmed when we visit museums elsewhere.  That didn’t seem to be an issue here, however.  The World War II museum kept the highest levels of quality.  I’d never been there before and I left considerably impressed.  I’ll have to go back again  on the next trip and catch what I missed.

INFINITY Science Center

The First Stage of a Saturn V Rocket

On the other hand, we’d been to the INFINITY Science Center at NASA Stennis (map) several times over the years.  It’s been an old favorite of ours along the Mississippi Gulf Coast ever since we started going down there.  I even wrote a page about it several years ago although it’s considerably out of date now.

The facility continues to change and evolve.  It used to be located on the actual NASA base and visitors could drive right up to it.  They stopped that after 9-11.  NASA replaced it with a brand new center relocated directly outside of the base adjacent to Interstate 10.  People toured the science center and then got onto buses to ride onto the base and view various rocket testing platforms.

Unfortunately we learned that as of July 2019, NASA discontinued the bus tours due to budget cuts.  Hopefully those will return someday because they were always a highlight.

Capturing A New Parish

I’ve Visited the Colored-In Parishes

Like many trips recently, I used my home base as an opportunity to add to my county counting map.  Oftentimes I’ll get up before dawn, before anyone else even awakens, and drive an hour-our-so to see what I can reach.  Usually I can get home before anyone notices I’ve left.

I could have taken a couple of different directions this time, and for whatever reason I decided to head somewhat northwest.   That brought me to Washington Parish, Louisiana.  It’s found at the northeast corner of Louisiana’s eastern protrusion.

My entire time in Washington Parish lasted about five minutes, just long enough to cross the border on Rt. 26 and turn around at the town of Bogalusa (map).  I saw nothing particularly remarkable along the way other than a lot of rural countryside.  It grew strangely foggy that Sunday morning as I crossed the Pearl River into Louisiana, and I felt relieved to flip back into Mississippi and return to sunshine.  My total captures continued to creep ever closer towards a nice round 1,500, although very slowly, now standing at 1,498.

Chandeleur Island Brewing Company

The Array of Choices

Additionally, and as expected, I stopped at a local brewery.  Some of my family joined me there too.  We met at Chandeleur Island Brewing Company in Gulfport, Mississippi (map).   The name came from a barrier island chain at the easternmost extreme of Louisiana (map).  It seemed pretty typical of small breweries in general, although quite remarkable for this area of the country.  Typically one doesn’t find a lot of beverage diversity around here.

The one other memorable moment happened when my son managed to get bitten by a lesser siren salamander.  These creatures can grow to a couple of feet long, and the one that bit him looked to be about that size, and as thick as a garden hose.  They don’t normally bite people, but then again, people don’t normally try to pick them up either.  My frantic Internet search confirmed that they are not venomous and sometimes they’re kept as pets.  Knowing that, I felt pretty safe letting him disinfected the bite without taking him to Urgent Care.  He survived just fine and promised to not do it again.  He said it was the most memorable part of the trip.

Ithaca, Part 2 (Waterfalls)

Some sources claimed the presence of “over 150 waterfalls within 10 miles” of Ithaca, New York.  I guess it depends on how they’re defined.  Even so, waterfalls seemed to pop into view just about wherever we looked.  As numerous T-shirts and bumper stickers around town reminded us, “Ithaca is Gorges.”

We squeezed a lot of interesting places into our brief trip and naturally that included a lot of waterfalls too.  They all led to Cayuga Lake, a part of the Great Lakes watershed.

I’m presenting them here in the order that we visited them.

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park

Technically the waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park shouldn’t be included on this list.  Visiting them required about a half-hour to drive over to Watkins Glen at the southern tip of Seneca Lake.  However, I went there in 2006 and loved them so much I had to return on this trip.  I wondered if they could possibly meet oversized expectations from my fading memories.  Happily, they did.

Few walks anywhere could top the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail (map) for the sheer concentration of  amazing features crammed into such a confined space.  Nineteen spectacular drops and cascades lined a narrow slot of less than a mile and a half.  Sure, we had to push through hordes of tourists.  These falls attracted tourists for a reason.  I’ll come back again during the off-season someday and appreciate them with a bit of solitude.

Cascadilla Gorge

Cascadilla Gorge at Cornell University

The Cascadilla Gorge (map) cut through the southern edge of Cornell University.  It offered a scenic path between campus and downtown, a part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens.  Water dropped about 400 feet (122 metres) along the length of the gorge in a series of steps.

I wondered about the name, Cascadilla.  One source claimed “it most likely comes from Spanish, meaning ‘little waterfall.'”  That seemed reasonably plausible although I couldn’t prove it.  The cascades seemed most impressive as a collection, several falling from respectable heights although none really overshadowing the rest.  I could see how some would view them as a set of “little” falls (relatively speaking) all lined up sequentially.

We saw a Cascazilla beer (yes, with a Z) at Ithaca Brewing.  They explained, “The name CascaZilla (Cas-kuh-zil-uh) is a play on both the name of the gorge in Ithaca called Cascadilla and the monster amount of Cascade Hops we use while dry hopping during the brewing process.”  So, I figured like Godzilla?

Wells Falls

Wells Falls

Along Six Mile Creek, below the overpass on Giles Street, stood one of the more obscure cascades within Ithaca; a feature called Wells Falls (map).  It also went by an unusual alternate designation, Businessman’s Lunch Falls.  Apparently, with its proximity to downtown, it became a “popular lunch spot for downtown office workers.”  That seemed a little far-fetched to me because it would take a mile-long walk in both directions plus a descent down a dusty path curling around a steep hill.  Maybe people in Ithaca get longer lunch breaks than I do.  I don’t know.  I did enjoy the surprisingly secluded spot so close to the roadside, though.

Old ruins lining one side of the falls hinted at an industrial past.  A mill stood there in the 19th Century.  A water pumping station later occupied the site as the 20th Century dawned.  Only a collapsing multi-story brick building and its huge rusty pipes remained.

Ithaca Falls

Ithaca Falls

An impressive waterfall crashed 150 ft (46 m) down the appropriately named Fall Creek (map).  We got to this one quite easily too, practically in the middle of Ithaca.  A small parking lot led to a short trail.  Only one waterfall in town could be named Ithaca Falls and the convenient location probably led to this one claiming it.

Industrial activity took place here too.  Several mills and factories stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the spot around the turn of the last century, using these rushing waters as a power source.  One of them, the Ithaca Gun Company (still in existence), lasted here until 1987.  Unfortunately it also left behind a lot of lead residue, contaminating the soil.  Signs warned people to wash up after visiting.

Triphammer Falls

Triphammer Falls at Cornell University

Also on Fall Creek although a little farther upstream stood Triphammer Falls (map).  This one could be visited quite easily too, smack in the middle of the Cornell University campus.  A pedestrian bridge offered a handy observation post.  Some of the natural falls remained.  The remainder was formed by a man-made dam fashioned to look like a waterfall that held scenic Beebe Lake behind it.  The whole conglomeration descended about 55 ft (17 m).

I wondered about the name of this one too so I looked up the definition of a triphammer.  Merriam-Webster defined it as, “a massive power hammer having a head that is tripped and allowed to fall by cam or lever action.”  Wikipedia had a nice video of one in action being used to forge metal.  A triphammer forge once stood at the site, using waterpower to operate the hammer, so the falls earned its name honestly.

Lucifer Falls

Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park

Then we headed a bit farther out from Ithaca to Robert H. Treman State Park on Enfield Creek, in a town of the same name.  We entered on the western side of the park and hiked along a gorge trail (map) built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.  That brought us down to Lucifer Falls, with its impressive 115 ft (35 m) drop.  The trail led all the way down to its base, crossed Enfield Creek, and looped back up to the other rim of the gorge.  It required a little more physical activity to appreciate than most of falls we visited that weekend although I certainly didn’t mind the hike even with the excessive humidity.

Old Mill Falls

Old Mill Falls at at Robert H. Treman State Park

Finally, we visited Old Mill Falls, at the same park.  This one could be found near the parking lot on the western side, on Fish Kill Creek near its confluence with Enfield Creek (map).  That placed it about a half-mile upstream from Lucifer Falls.  It would have been the  main attraction in a lot of parks although we’d seen so many spectacular falls by this point that it seemed rather ordinary.  I did enjoy the 1830’s grist mill off to its side that gave the feature its name.

People familiar with Ithaca probably noticed I didn’t mention two of the area’s most impressive waterfalls, Taughannock and Buttermilk falls.  I visited both of them in 2006 so we skipped them.  We only had so much time.

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr