Random (but not really)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Traveling WV: Paw Paw Tunnel

Technically, this is in Maryland.

But it is labelled the Paw Paw tunnel, and Paw Paw is in WV.

I can’t believe we’d never been there before.

When building the C&O canal, they were in a race against the completion of rail lines, so they decided the it would be easier to build a tunnel than to follow the river (understandable really, because the river is really twisty and the riverbanks weren’t necessarily good for canal building).

It’s pretty impressive.



We totally counted all markers and found the four markers for shafts.












Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (2)  Permalink
Categories: Maryland,National Park / Forest,Photos  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Traveling: Washington DC

Friends were in DC for work on an overlapping weekend, so I went down so I could see them while they were closer than several days drive away.

Saturday, it was supposed to storm all afternoon, so we went to the Air & Space Museum Annex, to which I had never been.

One of the things I especially wanted to see was the shuttle.


The heat tiles were more amazing that I had ever thought!



Seeing the amount of wear on the tiles was both amazing and also made me a little sad, thinking that the loss of a tile caused the death of astronauts.


One of the things I especially wanted to see was the restoration area. Since it was a Saturday, no one was working, but you could see what they were working on.

The restoration of a wood frame plane next to a WWII plane being restored.


To give you an idea of how complex these various restorations can be:


I was tickled (green, rather than pink) by this control panel.



Michael figured out what the black rectangles below the phones were. That amused me even more.


An odd looking piece of technology….


With a name that amused me highly.


I also looked at the WWI and WWII planes, because it astounds me that men were willing to go up into the air in those flimsy things and fight each other. I mean, the WWI planes had synchronizes for their machine guns so they could shoot *through* their spinning propeller without shooting themselves out of the sky.

One thing that surprised me was that the space section actually depressed me quite a bit–so many of the items in that are were for warfare. It seems so wrong that the achievement of leaving the planet was a small thing compared to the amount of time and money spent planning ways to destroy other humans.

But after further thought, it was more than that. The WWI and WWII planes didn’t bother me, because I could see the skill and bravery required to go up in one of those machines and engage in a duel with the enemy. (I have tremendous respect for all soldiers who place their own lives on the line to protect people they’ve never even met.)

Guided missiles, however, are ways to kill people from a great distance, requiring nothing more of the the person firing the weapon than to push a button.

Remember: I’m a pacifist. I believe that I personally cannot lash out at someone–even in self-defense. (It’s far more complicated than that, but that’s a decent summary.)

From that perspective, the idea of being able to kill without putting yourself in danger is mortifying. I understand the need for self-defense, even if I feel it is not an option I can take. But to kill without being in personal danger or to protect someone in your presence–that gives me cold chills.

So to see how much effort has gone into killing with missiles left me feeling shaken.

But besides that, I really enjoyed the museum–and even more enjoyed spending time with my friends: neurondoc, Jeri, and especially MWT, who I’d never met in person before.

I’m so glad I was able to spend all day Saturday with them.

Written by Michelle at 6:47 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: DC,Photos,Travel,UCF  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Traveling WV: The GPS Really Is Trying To Kill You

It’s a running joke between Michael and I about how often we ignore the GPS, because it’s trying to kill us.

Here’s a road that is at least marked as inaccessible to cars, but that didn’t stop three vehicles trying to go down the road during our brief walk. Often, the roads are NOT marked as such, so take caution when turning down any gravel road in WV.

Because your GPS really is trying to kill you.

It doesn’t look too bad here. We stopped one SUV of foreigners from attempting the road. (“No! Your vehicle will NOT make it!”)


Dappled light makes it difficult to see this is a puddle stretching completely across the road. You cannot tell how deep it is. (It’s there year round. It’s deep.)


This is the first section of road that causes people to turn around. Most cars do not have the clearance to go over those rocks. Lots of trucks don’t have the clearance to go over those rocks.


It’d been raining recently, so the creek across the road was unusually high. But even in dry weather there is always a small creek there.

There was a truck in the creek when we walked back. I think he was just playing around, but he was slipping while trying to turn.


Now we’re past the creek, and the road really turns into a muddy mess.


This is why I always advise people to NOT take a gravel or dirt road, unless that is their destination. A short cut really isn’t. Especially if you don’t have cell signal and are trying to find someone to tow you out.

Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,Travel,West Virginia  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Baltimore: National Aquarium

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been to the National Aquarium for years, because many of the tanks used to be bare, and I really disliked that.

They have remedied that, which makes me very happy. Rocks and other items make the tanks look natural, and the octopus even had multiple toys.

Even better, they had a huge jellyfish exhibit, although to my sadness, they didn’t have benches where you could just sit and watch.

Poison dart frogs!





But most importantly: JELLYFISH







It makes me ridiculously happy that so many of the pictures I took of the jellyfish turned out.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (3)  Permalink
Categories: Maryland,Photos,Travel  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Baltimore: Historical Sites

There are lots of historical areas in Baltimore, but the two we specifically visited this time were Federal Hill and Fort McHenry.

Federal Hill overlooks the inner harbor. This is taken from the public park at the top of the hill.


Fort McHenry is a national park, and the site of the battle which led to the Star Spangled Banner.

The same cannon, three different views.




The cannon fascinate me as much as they horrify me. I’ve read several descriptions of battles involving cannon, and they all describe smoke, terrible noise, complete chaos and underlying that, the knowledge that cannon blew up on a regular basis.

These are truly giant cannon, permanently placed.


The mechanisms for aiming the cannon.



There were multiple cannon from Fort Pitt.


I politely waited to ask the gentleman if I could take a picture of him in his outfit.


Sadly, he had only plain buttons, instead of decorated unit buttons.

And the magazines were also preserved.


Although the outside doors have been removed, you can still the hinges and how they would have fit. (The inside doors remain in place and locked.)


Then there were the walls….


And lastly, we were lucky that it was clear and windy, and they were flying the largest flag.


Oh! And the view!


Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Maryland,Photos,Travel  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Traveling Outside WV: Baltimore

We spent a long weekend in Baltimore. We were there for my parents 50th anniversary party, but we also took the opportunity to visit Grandmom and wander around the city.

The harbour area is full of things I love coming together: water, old buildings, and occasionally, decay.

The USS Constellation in the Inner Harbor, in front of the World Trade Center building.


There was, I believe, a student group on the Constellation on Friday night. They were getting to shift the masts but did NOT fire the cannon.


Brickwork and hinge for storm shutter on old warehouse turned into condos.


These buildings are directly on the harbor, but none of them seemed to have functioning shutters anymore.

Looking across a dock at a warehouse that was turned into luxury condos.


Street in Fells Point.


Standing on Federal Hill, looking across the harbor towards the World Trade Center, and to the right, the National Aquarium.


Decaying dock.


Written by Michelle at 10:13 am      Comments (3)  Permalink
Categories: Maryland,Photos,Travel  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What’s in My Hiking Bag (Or, A Geek’s Hiking Bag)

I love the Lifehacker bag posts. I love seeing the tools and toys people keep in their bags, and I’ve found a couple things I discovered I wanted/needed viewing those posts, so I decided it would be fun to show you my hiking bag.

We typically do day hikes, usually several hours long, eating lunch before we leave, and stopping for dinner at a local restaurant before heading home. (Unless we’re hiking at Coopers Rock.) And taking pictures is a good excuse to stop and enjoy where I am–reminding myself that I’m out for the journey rather than the destination.

What do I take hiking?

Hiking Bag

Everything (with the exception of the hiking staff) fits into the bag. Plus two smaller water bottles.

High Sierra Diplomat Lumbar Pack (I prefer hiking with a lumbar pack to a backpack. When I take a backpack, I add even MORE stuff, like wildflower guides and maybe an extra camera lens.)
Canon EOS Rebel Xsi camera
FlexARMOR X dSLR Camera Case
Vaultz Mesh Bag
Garmin Oregon 550T (link is to newer version)
Eneloop AA rechargeable batteries
Tracks Compact Travel Staff
Sea to Summit Accessory Straps
PackTowl, medium
PackTowl, small
Seattle Sundries, Gardener’s Gold Soap
Dried fruit (in Ziploc bag)
Dark chocolate (in a Ziploc bag)
Vitamin C drops/throat drops (in a Ziploc bag)
Pill case with Acetaminophen
WetOnes wipes
Lip balm (spf 15)
Hand lotion (spf15)
CeraVe SPF 50 Sunscreen (not pictured)
Samsung Galaxy S5 cell phone
Garmin Fit app

Just in case items:
Spare camera battery
Spare eyepiece
Extra SD card
Gallon size Ziploc bag (for if it suddenly downpours)
Kershaw pocket knife
LED flashlight
Waterproof matches
Pill case with anxiety meds (from Etsy)
Girly stuff (in Day of the Dead bag (from Etsy))
Ankle wrap (not pictured)

Also, when hiking near creeks and streams (when it’s warm), I’ll clip a pair of water shoes onto the outside of the bag so I can hike up or down the creek.

NOTE: Michael carries the first aid kit and toilet paper and two larger water bottles.

Obviously, several items are specific to me: the ankle wrap and acetaminophen are because of my ankle, and my ankle was initially why I started using a hiking stick, but it’s so nice to hike with, Michael now uses one.

Written by Michelle at 8:11 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Hiking,Photos,Travel  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Traveling WV: Berkeley Springs State Park

You can’t really hike Berkeley Springs, as it’s tiny. But it’s still pretty.





Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,State Park / Forest,Travel,West Virginia  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hiking WV: Cacapon State Park

Location: Cacapon State Park
Trails: Ziller Trail, Ziller Loop Trail, Central Trail
Distance: 5.0 miles
Elevation: 1561 feet



We hiked ALL the way up to the ridge line, but aside from one place on the way up (where we didn’t want to stop) there wasn’t much of a photogenic view.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a gorgeous hike, just that the forest isn’t generally photogenic.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Hiking,State Park / Forest,Travel,West Virginia  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Travels: Droop Mountain and Beartown

Saturday was beautiful, so we headed south for Droop Mountain and Beartown State Parks.

Droop Mountain

Droop Mountain is the site of the last major Civil War battle in West Virginia.

I can really only handle a small amount of thinking about war and death and misery, so it was a short visit.

The view is gorgeous, though,


Confederate Graves


The museum is where I really started to get depressed.




Location: Beartown State Park
Distance: 0.7 mile

Luckily, just down the road is Beartown State Park, which is a 0.7 mile boardwalk through some pretty fascinating rock formations.

The boardwalk is really nice.





This was a lovely walk.

Written by Michelle at 10:30 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,State Park / Forest,Travel,West Virginia  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vacation: Cabrillo National Monument

While we were staying with Mechanicky Gal, we went to Cabrillo National Monument to visit the tide pools. We also got to go into the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Most of the rooms were closed off to the public, so you could look in and see what it would have looked like when it was in use.

The tide pools were gorgeous, and I loved walking along them.




Oh, well yes, there were a lot of rocks. So I took lots of pictures of rocks. Because I like rocks.

This is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse


You could walk up to almost the top of the tower, but you couldn’t go outside, or climb the ladder to the light.


I took this picture to remind me to look up when and why lighthouses would use different colored lights.

Short answer (according to the internet): it depended upon the light house. The rate of rotation (sometimes in combination with colors) could designate a specific lighthouse. The color could designate the location of the lighthouse in relation to the bay.



Also: This guy again.


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,National Park / Forest,Photos,Travel  

Vacation: Sea Creatures and Shore Creatures and Plants

Gorgeous pine in the entrance circle. (Not sure what species. I didn’t get a close-up pictures of the leaves, and Michael and I can’t decide.)


Shaw agave (Agave shawii)


Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)


Coyote Bush/Brush (Baccharis pilularis) has incredibly soft flowers.


(Thanks Mary!)

Not that you can tell from this picture, but we saw a seal!


And the next day we saw dolphins!


Yeah, for both of those you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Flowers,Photos,Travel  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vacation: LA BREA TAR PITS!!!!!!

After we met up with Mechanicky Gal and Carol Elaine, we got to go to THE LA BREA TAR PITS!

Where we saw… FOSSILS!



Why hello there!

American Lion!






Ground. Sloth.




OK. Maybe dire wolves weren’t so smart.


Coyote! Raptor! And some sort of prey!




SO ADORABLE! (Well, perhaps not adorable.)


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature,Travel  

Vacation: JPL!

Carol Elaine generously offered to give us a tour of JPL. (Sadly, it was a holiday of some sort, so I was unable to purchase post cards. You can’t imagine how much pain this caused me.)

I only had my cell phone, so most of my pictures were shit, but here are a few nice ones.

Here’s my favorite thing!

This was a light show that showed you the communication between different satellites and ground control. It was a brilliant way to show the flow of information.


The lights going down the strand represent data coming from a satellite. The lights going up the strands represent data going to the satellite.


Some satellites have very little data transmission right now.


It was a genius learning tool, but also very pretty to watch.


The text that’s hard to read says:
The Habitable Zone: 00001
Confirmed: 01743
Candidates: 03276



This absolutely delighted me, though I have fears it was a set up, and not just the result of some random argument.


Take THAT Neil deGrasse Tyson!


Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Vacation: Joshua Tree Wildlife

I still have lots of pictures to go through, but have been trying to get caught back up on, well, everything, so here’s a quick look at some of the wildlife we saw.

Here’s an antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus leucurus I think), which I’d assumed was a chipmunk.


I’m hoping this is a coyote (Canis latrans) because I’ve never seen one in the wild, and was excited to see it.


(there are two other pictures if you click through to Flickr.)

I believe this is a Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)


(I got another picture of a different scrub jay in a tree.)

I may also have seen a Pinyon Jay, but I couldn’t get a clear picture to check.

LIZARD! Most likely a Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana) but I’m pretty reptile illiterate.


We also saw lots of ravens, but I didn’t take any pictures of ’em. Mostly because I was too busy taking pictures of rocks.

Written by Michelle at 8:05 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vacation: Joshua Tree National Park

Since we were only a few hours away (and in California) we made a point to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Since I always buy books of the places we visit, I decided this time to purchase the books BEFORE we left. One of the books I got was Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide. This was completely helpful, since it divided the trails into types, as well as distance and time.

Also helpful was the Joshua Tree National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map).

We combined the two, to give us an idea of what we’d be able to manage in a day, and plan the drive to see as much of the area as we possibly could.

We walked/hiked the following trails:
Cholla Cactus Garden
Arch Rock Nature Trail
Barker Dam Trail
Hidden Valley Trail
Cap Rock
Black Rock Trail

We drove up to Keys View

We entered the park from the south, Cottonwood Springs entrance. All of the Cottonwood Springs trails are closed, because multiple floods have exposed toxic mine tailings, so no hiking. This took us through the Colorado Sonoran dessert, which was full of Cholla cactus, Creosote bushes, Ocotillo trees, and Smoke trees.






But what I liked best were the rock formations.



We drove north, and move into the Mojave desert, which really did look quite different from the Sonoran.







Joshua Tree and the desert were interesting places to visit, but I would definitely not want to live there.

Written by Michelle at 8:40 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,National Park / Forest,Photos,Travel  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vacation! Huntington Beach

So Michael’s conference was at Huntington Beach in some really expensive resort hotel.

Really expensive resort/hotel. But I was lucky enough this trip that the hotel was NOT in the middle of nowhere, so I was able to walk to find other (more reasonably priced) places to eat.

If you know me, you are probably aware that I do not much care for the sun. So I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the beach far more than I would have expected, mostly because I found watching to surfers to be fascinating and somewhat mesmerizing.

And there were a LOT of surfers.

Huntington Beach Surfers

I was on the pier at 5:30 AM and noon and sunset, and the water was always full of surfers.

I also noticed that not only did males predominate, but when there were female surfers, it was first thing in the morning, or late afternoon (say, before work and after work), which I found quite interesting. Mind you, it was a very small sample size.

And I also liked walking along the beach at sunrise and sunset. Water is very relaxing, and walking along the water without the sun beating down on me or massive crowds was quite pleasant.



And the birds!



I kept watching the Sandlings and giggling with delight as they’d walk down to the water line, and then scurry back from the tide.


Plus, a pelican that had almost no fear of humans.


And I did get to spend some time with this guy:


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Friday, October 24, 2014

VACATION! Taking the Train

Where have I been? GLAD YOU ASKED! I have been on VACATION!

Michael’s conference this year was in California, so we made a vacation out of it! We took the train to California, went to his conference, then went to Joshua Tree National Park, then headed back to the coast and spent time with friends. We, of course, took the train back, so it was a very relaxing two weeks. (I’ve got a ton of book reviews I finished writing and posted need to post, because the train is perfect for reading, when you’re not staring out the windows at the passing scenery (which I did quite frequently).

Despite most of our trains being delayed at some point (including spending the night in Toledo) I still greatly prefer taking the train to flying. And with a roomette, we had a place to lie down and included meals, so WAY better than flying.

Because everyone has asked, here are the sordid details:

Capital Limited: Pittsburgh (11:59 PM) to Chicago Union Station (8:45 AM) – This leg is always delayed and running late. Plan for it. Also, I think next time I want to leave from Cumberland, because the Pittsburgh Amtrak station is AWFUL. Plus, we’d leave earlier and get back later. This will be our plan next time we take the train.
Southwest Chief: Chicago Union Station (3:00 PM Fri) to LA Union Station (8:15 Sun) – This was two nights on the train, with meals included. It went through: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado (south-east corner), New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We went through a LOT of desert, which I found fascinating to see.

Coming back we took:
Pacific Surfliner: San Diego to LA Union Station – This had long stretches of views of the ocean, which I really enjoyed. We got this last minute, so our marvelous hostess didn’t have to drive from San Diego to LA.
Southwest Chief: LA Union Station (6:15 PM Mon) to Chicago Union Station (3:15 PM Wed)
Capital Limited: Chicago Union Station (6:40 PM) to Pittsburgh (5:05 AM)

The total cost for both of us was ~$2,000, and (with the exception of the Surfliner) included the roomette with breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as applicable to that part of the journey). And the roomette was a single fee, not a per person fee. Plus, our luggage was free.

So the trip was, essentially, 3 1/3 days each way, and we got to see parts of the country with which we were unfamiliar.

Currently, a non-stop flight from Pittsburgh to LA is ~$570 / person and takes 5 hours.
Flights with layovers are currently:
United, 6h 40m, $336
US Airways, 5h 45m, $360

That’s with no checked luggage and no sustenance included.

Here are some of the views I enjoyed: (Please note, all pictures were taken from a moving train, through a thick window, with a cell phone.)







Because I turned on location services for most of them, you can click through to Flickr to see where most of the pictures were taken.

So, is it more expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? For me? Hell yes. Especially being able to actually see the landscape as we went by.

ADDENDUM the First:
Because it might be helpful, here are two pictures of the roomette, both taken by Michael (obviously).

train room 1   train room 2

Written by Michelle at 1:36 pm      Comments (7)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekend Ramblings: Babcock State Park

After leaving the New River Gorge Bridge, we stopped by Babcock State Park, because despite the overcast day, I figured it would be gorgeous.

It was.

I’ve heard this is the most photographed spot in the state. I find that kinda depressing, since, although the area is gorgeous, the gristmill isn’t original, but was instead reassembled from others that were taken down.

Plus, there’s so much non-man-made gorgeous scenery. But, here’s an obligatory picture of the grist mill, and you can see how gorgeous the area was yesterday.



We saw, in the short time we were there, two separate wedding shoots.


Here’s the stream above the mill:


We decided to take the Island in the Sky Trail.


Climb to an elevation of 2546 feet, and you’ll find this.


It was far less surprising, when we discovered there was a road that could bring you to this height, instead of climbing things like this:


Regardless of the shortcut, it was a gorgeous hike up. (Starting elevation was 2260 feet. We made the climb in about half an hour.)

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,Travel,West Virginia  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend Ramblings: Summersville Lake

Summersville Lake is quite interesting. It was built to control flooding of the Gauley River, and has a huge dam.

Normally, when I think of dams, I think of the giant cement structure that villains threaten to destroy in movies, to wreak destruction upon an unsuspecting populace.

Summersville dam is different.

Here a picture of the dam, looking up from the Gauley River. If you look closely, you can see cars driving across the dam.


Try this link to see the satellite view of the dam.

Summersville Lake is seasonal: in April it starts to fill, and in early autumn, the water is carefully released, allowing for some of the best white water rafting in the country.

So when we see the lake in October, the water levels are low, so you can see the underlying rock formations, exposed by the water.


Here’s the full moon over the lake.


And here’s the Gauley River. It was quite lovely, and I would have enjoyed spending more time hiking around there. Sadly for me, we casually strolled down, and I’d not bothered to put on my boots or carry my hiking stick. This is important because without those two items, walking on rocks quickly puts a major strain on my bad ankle.

But it was totally worth it.



Written by Michelle at 11:27 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,Travel,West Virginia  
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