Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Off the Trail: Cahokia Mounds

Mound 72 from the Visitor Center

July 12, 2017


There are times when I realize that there are huge gaps in my education about the history of North America.Today is one of those days.We were at an Illinois State Historic Site the other day gathering information about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. One of the volunteers asked “Have you seen the Cahokia Mounds?"

I admitted my ignorance and she went on to explain that there was a prehistoric Indian site only a few miles away that was also preserved as a State Historic Site.
Not just any prehistoric Indian site, Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico and includes the largest earthen construction in the Americas.
Cahokia Mounds has been designated a US National Historic Landmark (1965) and a World Heritage Site (1982) for its historical significance.
How did I not know that this site exists?
I used to blame educational gaps on the fact that I changed schools so frequently growing up in a military family, but Fred wasn't aware of Cahokia Mounds either.
Teacher friends is this part of today’s curriculum or does American History still begin with European colonization?
There is evidence of ocupation of this land from AD 600. People lived here, not far from the Mississippi River and found the rich fertile land to be proper for planting crops and developing an agriculture based society. They grew seed crops like squash and pumpkins. Most importantly they grew corn, a crop that could be dried and stored to feed them during winter months.
Small groups grew, banded together and formed an organized community with a complex structure that included a ruler, an elite class, tradesmen and workers.  
The residents built large mounds, a grand plaza surrounded by a stockade, and a Henge type structure made of wood that is thought to have been a solar calendar.

Artifact found at Cahokia Mounds
Archeological excavation estimates that the population was between 10,000 to 20,000 at the highest. Sometime around AD 1200 that number began to decline and the community was totally abandoned by the 14th century.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site protects 70 mounds on 2200 acres. There are 10 other mounds outside of the parks land.

Monk's Mound. 154 steps to the top. You can see the second staircase to the right of the first at the top of the picture.

The tallest of the mounds is Monk’s Mound, named after a group of Trappist monks that lived near it 1809-1813, 400 years after the original inhabitants had abandoned it.
The mound is 100 feet tall.
It’s base covers 14 acres of land.
It is estimated to contain 22 million cubic feet of dirt, dug by hand and carried in baskets.
Monks Mound is built in 4 terraced sections. It was built as a platform for buildings. Digs have found evidence at the top of the 4th terrace that a structure measuring 104 feet by 48 feet once stood there.
Monks Mound was built in a rectangular platform style and is thought to have held the homes of the ruler and his family as well as a ceremonial space that served as the seat of government.


Fred standing on the edge at the top of Monk's Mound
There is now a concrete staircase that allows you to climb to the top with 154 steps. It was over 100 degrees that day but we made it to the top.
The other 69 mounds are scattered over the 2200 acres. They do not appear to have any particular order or arrangement. Some are round or conical, some are called ridge top. A few have been identified as burial sites.
Archaeological excavations are ongoing and employ volunteers.
We were given information about the application process and have put Spend some time digging in Illinois dirt on our must do list.


St Louis from the top of Monk's Mound

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
30 Ramey St.
Cahokia, Illinois

Thursday, July 13, 2017

We Have Arrived, St Louis Missouri

“The mouth of the river Dubois is to be considered as the point of departure.”
From the journal of Meriwether Lewis


July 8, 2017

We are here.
Across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The Arch is in sight and it is amazing.
Camped on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River we await our departure on the journey west just as the Corps of Discovery did 213 years ago. We are anxious to follow their trail.

Camp Dubois
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set their Winter camp just north of here where the River Dubois empties into the Mississippi. It was called Camp Dubois (also known as Camp Wood.)
The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford Illinois has created a replica of the original encampment using the descriptive journal entries of Lewis, Clark and others in their party. There is no sign of the original Camp Dubois. The topography of the land has changed through decades of floodwaters, the force of the river and a massive earthquake in 2011. Archaeologists have proposed theories that the original camp is where the Mississippi River now flows, but no artifacts have ever been found.

Keelboat and supplies replica
We considered it close enough. The historic site has a small museum that houses a cutaway replica of the Corps keelboat that allowed us to imagine the difficulties of their travel. Talk about traveling light! What would you pack for a journey into unknown territory?
Meriwether Lewis spent that Winter securing supplies for the expedition while William Clark drilled the members of the Corps until they became a cohesive unit.
The east side of the Mississippi River in 1803 was the west coast of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson had purchased the Louisiana territory from Napoleon Bonaparte but power had not been officially transferred. Until it was and the flags in St Louis were changed to the stars and stripes the mission could not proceed.

Acquiring the Louisiana Territory doubled the size of the country

That transfer was completed March 10th 1804.
May 14, 1804 William Clark and his troops left Camp Dubois and traveled up the Missouri River in a 55 foot keelboat and 2 smaller boats. They stopped in St. Charles where Meriwether Lewis met them.

Statue of Lewis, Clark and Clark's dog Seamon in St. Charles Missouri
Their mission: to find a water passage to the Pacific if it existed, to identify and describe species of plants and animals that have not been previously documented, and to approach the native peoples they met along the route, learning about them and representing the American Government.



July 9, 2017

The Gateway Arch marks the path to the west.
That structure that looks so graceful and delicate from the Illinois side of the river is huge when you stand right next to it.


The Arch at 630 feet tall towers over the buildings surrounding it. 52 years after its completion it remains the tallest arch in the world.
The Visitor Center shows a film about the building of the Gateway Arch. It is terrifying to watch film of the steel workers walking around on the high platforms with a cigarette in one hand and a hammer in the other and no safety harnesses in sight.
There were no lives lost in the building of the Arch, although a Park Ranger told us a few harrowing stories of near misses.
One story stuck in my mind.
There were 2 young high steel workers that wanted to fall into the safety net that stretched between the towers as the Arch neared completion. On the final day (because they knew they would be fired) they decided to take the plunge. One of the men dropped his tool belt first. They watched in amazement as the tool belt was driven by the breeze past the net and into the Mississippi River. They were never really protected at all.
We took the tram to the top of the Arch. What and experience! Fred loved it. I knew that I would be nervous because of the height and was prepared for that. I did not know that the “tram” was made up of small cars each meant to seat 5 people. They are rounded at the top so that an adult can’t sit up straight. Did I mention that I hate closed in spaces?
The experience was worth 7 minutes of terror. The views from the top are spectacular and you can stay as long as you like. The tiny windows made me feel secure. Rangers told us that on a clear day you can see for 30 miles in either direction. We were lucky to have a clear day.

Inside the Old Courthouse
We are disappointed to learn that the National Park’s renovation has closed the Museum of National Expansion but glad that the funding for the work was appropriated. Some of the museums Lewis and Clark exhibits can be currently found in the Old Courthouse which is part of the National Park.  


July 15th 2017

Confluence Tower in Hartford Illinois is a 180 foot structure with great river views.

180 ft tall Confluence Tower, Hartford Illinois
From the observation deck of the upper level you can see across the levee and the wide Mississippi River to the place where the Missouri River pours in. That place where the waters flow together marks our path.
Tomorrow we drive west.

Top of the Confluence Tower. The Missouri enters the Mississippi at Fred's left shoulder

Gateway Arch and Museum of National Expansion
11 North 4th St
St Louis, MO

Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd
St Louis, MO

Lewis and Clark Center and Boathouse
1050 S Riverside Dr
St Charles, MO

Lewis and Clark State Historic Site
3500 New Poag Rd
Hartford, IL

Lewis and Clark Statue
810 South Main St
St Charles, MO
on the Katy trail


William Clark's Grave Bellefontaine Cemetery St Louis, MO

Dayton is All About Aviation

July 6, 2017

Dayton, Ohio is a great city with a lot to discover. We stopped in to explore the city's aviation history. There is lot to see!

Fred booked us in to the Famcamp at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, near the the National Museum of the United States Air Force.  Seeing all of those planes on display was one of our must see objectives. 
It became our first stop when we headed out to explore the next morning. It was pouring rain as we entered the building so we  the outdoor displays or Memorial Park to see later.
CaQuot type R Observation Balloon
The Air Force Museum has an interesting layout. The lobby has a theater to the left where a series of 3D films rotates through a schedule with a new title starting every hour. We chose to watch D Day: Normandy 1944. The film was very well done and narrated by Tom Brokaw , whose voice is very easy to listen to.
To the right of the lobby there is a very large gift shop that you must pass through in order to get to the main exhibits.
The exhibits are arranged in chronological order beginning with the Early Years Gallery. This area tells the story of the Wright Brothers and their development of the airplane. Exhibits chronicle their frustration in getting the military here in the US and abroad to value what the Wright Flyer could do in warfare. 
McCook Field Wind Tunnel used by the Wright Brothers
The brothers McCook Field Wind Tunnel is here. It allowed them to make precise measurements of minute changes on a small scale before committing to them in flight.


Add caption

You have to look every where in the Early Years gallery. There are planes hanging from the ceiling as well as displays on the ground.


I got a chuckle out of this poster of pilot symbols. Do you think that one of these fellows might have had an encounter with the mothman?


There are a number of photographs that depict early flying schools and an interesting display of a pilot who didn't land so well.
The early years was my favorite of all the galleries representing flyers and flying machines through WWI. The courage that it took for these men to take to the air after some rudimentary instruction astounds me.
The WWII gallery began with a tribute to Bob Hope titled Thanks for the Memories. It is a touching tribute to the man that spent his Holidays entertaining the troops for over 50 years.
The gallery ends with Prejudice and Memory: a Holocaust Exhibit.
In between is an amazing collection of WWII era planes that tell a story about the Army Air Force and their accomplishments in both European and Pacific campaigns.


The galleries follow a timeline. Korea, Southeast Asia and the Cold War era are all represented.





The newest gallery contains missiles and Space exhibits.

It is entirely too much to absorb in one day.

July 7, 2017

2 sightseeing days for Dayton was not enough. Friday morning we made an early start to see as many of the cities Aviation Heritage sites as we could.


The National Historic Park was our first stop. 
The Interpretive Center is built next to and incorporates the Wright Cycle Shop. There is a Parachute Museum on the second floor.
There are exhibits of the early years impressing us with the precise measurements, scientific trials and detailed records that the Wright Brothers used. Neither had any engineering background and only one of the brothers had graduated High School.
I have always associated the Wright Brothers with Kittyhawk and Kill Devil Hills. Turns out that was the flashy part of their accomplishments. 
Dayton is where the real work was done.


The Wright Cycle Co occupies the first floor of the building. It is set up as it might have been in the years that the Wright first started to work on the puzzle of manned flight.


Bicycle racks at the Wright Cycle Co
The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Site houses the original 1905 Wright Flyer III. It was restored under the supervision of Orville Wright and today sits in a climate controlled room in the park. There is a raised platform around the plane so that you can walk all around it and view it from many angles.

The original 1905 Wright Flyer the first commercial aircraft
The National Historic Site is inside of Carillon Historic Park, a 65 acre park that showcases the history of Dayton and the accomplishments of its residents.



We walked the park, admired the flyer and listened to the carillon before heading back to base.


We did take the time to make one more stop to see the historic marker that sits on the site of the first NFL Football game.
That brought a smile to Fred's face.

National Museum of the United States Air Force
1100 Spaatz St
Dayton, Ohio

Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and Wright Cycle Co
16 South Williams St
Dayton, Ohio

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park
1000 Carillon Blvd
Dayton, Ohio








Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fort Necessity National Battlefield and the National Road.

Fort Necessity was indefensible having been built too close to the tree line.

July 4, 2017

Independence Day found us driving west through the Laurel Highlands to Farmington Pennsylvania and the Fort Necessity Battlefield. The Laurel Highlands include some of Pennsylvania's highest peaks. Deep river gorges provide ample opportunity for tubing and kayaking. Frank Lloyd Wright designed 3 houses here including the famous Falling Waters.

Deep in Fayette County in the unincorporated community of Farmington is the site of the battle that started the War of 1812. A small band of soldiers under the leadership of George Washington intended  to lay claim to the Ohio River Valley. French troops with similar intentions were also in the area. Both factions were in contact with members of the Seneca Nation. They were not at War.

Late May, 1754: Washington and his troops set out to confront the French soldiers, coming upon them in the early morning hours. The truth of the events that took place that morning are in question but shots were exchanged and at the end of the skirmish 13 Frenchmen were killed, including Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville and many others captured.
Fearing reprisal Washingtom withdrew to his encampment and improved the defenses with trenches and a log structure which came to be known as Fort Necessity. Reinforcements arrived with additional supplies and the troops were put to work traveling deeper into the Ohio Valley.
July came with news of approching French forces, accompanied by members of the Huron, Algonquin, Nipissing, Shawnee, Odawa, and Abenaki.  Washington's fears had been realized. The leader of French forces, a brother of de Jumonville overcame Fort Necessity and negotiated terms of surrender. Those terms included Washington's confession to the assassination of de Jumonville. 


Trees provided cover for French troops to fire from.
Washington and his aides later claimed that the word assassinate was misinterpreted by the translator but the signed document caused a lot of political grief for the colonists. 
Increasing tensions between the English colonists and France over who would control North America lead to a war that spread around the world.

Washington and his General, Edward Braddock the British Commander in Chief of the 13 colonies, had been forced to build a road in order to move troops and supplies to the Ohio River Valley. Braddock.


The restored and preserved Washington Tavern can be seen at Fort Necessity National Battlefield
That road was incorporated into the National Road, the first federally funded highway built by the new American Government. President Thomas Jefferson's administration, recognizing that roads were necessary for Western expansion made provisions for the road. 
Thousands of settlers moved west along that road by Stagecoach and Conestoga Wagon.  Businesses followed including Taverns which provided meals and overnight accommodations to tired travelers.


Mount Washington Tavern on the National Road
Mount Washington Tavern was a stagecoach tavern.  It is preserved and open to the public as part of the National Battlefield property.
We had a great time driving the National Road imaging what it would be like to make that trip in a much less comfortable wagon than our own.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield
National Pike
Farmington, PA



























Fort Necessity National Battlefield
1 Washington Parkway
 Farmington, PA

Monday, July 10, 2017

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

View down the mountain from the visitor center at the Johnstown Flood Memorial

July 1, 2017

Day 2 found us driving to the city of Johnstown about 40 minutes from the RV park. Johnstown is located deep in a valley with steep sides. Streets are winding and switch back on themselves to keep the roads from being too steep. Neighborhoods look terraced, each road taller than the next. 

The history of the great flood is what brought us to Johnstown and to nearby Stoystown the source of all that water.
Stoystown was home to the South Fork Fishing and Country Club in the late 1800's. That exclusive club was attended by wealthy and influential businessmen from nearby Pittsburgh.  The club had a lake that was created by the South Fork Dam, an earth filled structure. The dam had fallen into disrepair in the 8 years since it was built. Several days of heavy rain in late May of 1889 weakened it further. Despite late repair efforts it collapsed on the afternoon of May 31.





The water rushed 14 miles to Johnstown at an estimated speed of 40 miles per hour sweeping away every thing in its path. People, houses, animals and even a passenger train joined the flood down the mountain. That mass of water destroyed the town of Johnstown killing 2209 people and destroying 1600 homes. 
The estimated 20 million tons of water took only 10 minutes to reach Johnstown. 

To me the saddest thing of all was a fire that started in a massive pile of debris that was blocked by a stone railroad bridge. That fire killed 80 survivors of the flood before rescuers could get to them with tools to free them from the wreckage. Police and fire stations, hardware stores and personal garages, basically any source of equipment had been washed away. 

Clean up and rebuilding started almost immediately. The terrible job of identifying the victims was nearly impossible. There are 777 graves in Grandview Cemetery, with markers that say unknown.
Donations came in from all over the country.



Clara Barton, at age 67, and 5 members of the American Red Cross worked to provide supplies and shelter to those who had lost everything. The Philadelphia Red Cross provided medical relief. The great flood was the first major peacetime relief effort of the Red Cross. 

It took another 5 years for the city to rebuild, but recovery took a lot longer. I can't imagine there was anyone in Johnstown that was not personally touched by the event.

In the early 1960's author David McCullough interviewed survivors of the flood about their experiences. 70 years later their voices broke as they cried while telling their stories. 

The  Johnstown Flood National Memorial is at the site of the South Fork Dam and clubhouse. The Visitor Center exhibits recordings of those interviews. 

There were several contributing factors to the flood and massive loss of life.
*South Fork Dam had deteriorated due to poor maintenance.
*That  May had been very wet. Heavy rain in the days before the collapse created severe pressure on the dam. The screens on the dam became clogged. There were no sluice pipes for controlled water release. The only way for water to leave was over the top of the dam, leading to catastrophic failure.
*Johnstown was a flood prone city. The dam had partially collapsed twice before, flooding homes with 2-3 feet of water. The Little Conemaugh River had flooded many times in the past. When warned of an impending breach of the dam most people in town moved themselves, furniture and personal items to the second floor and attics of their homes and prepared to wait for the water to recede. 

I have ordered David McCollough's book the Johnstown Flood to learn more about the aftermath of the disaster and rebuilding of the city.

It was poor planning on our part to visit the Flight 93 Memorial and the Johnstown Flood National Historic Site on consecutive days. We are glad to have seen both but if you are planning a similar trip I would advise doing something less emotionally charged in between the visits.

On a lighter note.

Johnstown is Hockeyville USA.  The are several cities designated Hockeytown by Kraft foods but Johnstown was the first.  We are reminded that the movie Slapshot was filmed here. 

Inclined Plane 

The city also has the worlds steepest Vehicular Incline Plane. The funicular, built in 1891 is included in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built after the great flood of 1889 and was intended as a means to escape to higher ground in the event of another flood.  
It has been used for that purpose twice.
Today the Incline Plane provides a means of transport up and down the mountain. We rode to the top with a man who biked to work everyday and returned home via the Incline Plane.

View form the top of the hill above the Inclined Plane
The views are spectacular, worth the terrifying 90 seconds of vertical lift.
There is a gift shop, an ice cream stand, and a great Italian restaurant at the top called Asiago. 


July 3, 2017

We are deep in Pittsburgh Country.  Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins logos and colors are everywhere. 
Fred wore his Yankee hat proudly when we attended a game in PNC Park. 


PNC Park has River Views.
The stadium is beautiful with great views of boat traffic on the Alleghney River. The Roberto Clemente Bridge in the background is closed to motor traffic when there is a game scheduled. It makes a wide walkway into the stadium and is lined with street performers, vendors and fans. Definitely a party atmosphere. We enjoyed the game as well as the Pirate music and "Hoist the Colors" rally cry. Big skull and crossbones flags are welcomed in the stands.
Pittsburgh looks like a great city with lots to see and do. We will plan enough time to explore it more when when the Behemoth brings us this way again.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial
733 Lake Rd
South Fork, PA

Johnstown Inclined Plane
711 Edgehill Dr
Johnstown, PA




Friday, July 7, 2017

Flight 93 National Memorial

June 29, 2017

Our second stop on the trip west is in New Florence Pennsylvania. We chose the area because it is at the center of 3 National Park Service sites that we want to visit. 

We arrived at Mirror Lake RV Park in mid afternoon and were directed to a site that backed right up to a trout stream.  It was a delightful spot.

We asked for restaurant advice from the park manager and were directed to Dave and Carol’s Roadhouse in the nearby Ligonier. It was a great Birthday dinner and bonus! Fred discovered Iron City Ale.
Ligonier is a small city with a vibrant downtown full of shops
and restaurants and a city park complete with gazebo. We never found the time to stop and walk around but it looked like fun.

The Flight 93 Visitor Center sits high on a hill and can be seen from miles away.
The next day we drove to rural Shanksville Pennsylvania, about an hour away.
Shanksville is the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial.
It is a tribute to the 40 passengers and crew of the plane that left Newark, New Jersey that morning and at 1003 overwhelmed hijackers causing the plane to crash into the countryside.
We started our tour at the Visitor Center where exhibits brought back all of the memories of September 11, 2001.

We watched the newscasts of that terrible day and remembered where we were and what we were doing when the world changed.

We listened to the voices of passengers as they called their family members to say goodbye with tears running down our faces.

We looked at artifacts from the debris field and imagined the horror that those passengers felt, wondering if we would have the courage to do the same.


View from the trail. The white structure is the wall of names  The boulder is at the tree line beyond it.

The Visitor Center sits on a hill overlooking the crash site. The views from the windows and outdoor observation deck are incredible. There is a winding trail down to the debris field which is marked by a large boulder. The path passes the place where family members observed the recovery effort and built a temporary memorial.



Near the boulder we found the Wall of Names. The wall is made up of 40 tall white marble tablets, each one inscribed with the name of a passenger or crew member. The Visitor Center and the Wall of Names are both positioned in the flight path of flight 93.

Fred reading the Wall of Names
Beyond the debris field is a Memorial Plaza that leads to a Visitor Shelter where exhibits explain the construction of the monument.


This boulder was added to mark the crash site.
We were told that the crash site was once a strip mine. I would never have recognized that. The entire area has been landscaped and planted with grasses and wildflowers native to Pennsylvania.

Native grasses and wildflowers cover the old strip mine.
The trail on the other side of the Visitor shelter was closed for maintenance on the day of our visit.
That trail called an Allee passes 40 groves of trees and over a wetland area via the Wetlands Bridge.
There are plans to build a Tower of Voices. This tower will contain 40 chimes. Construction is anticipated to begin within the next 2 years.
The Flight 93 Memorial is a well thought out design full of symbolism and personal stories. The families of the victims were very involved in the planning. That involvement kept the Memorial focused on the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew of Flight 93.
We are glad to have gone but needed some time to recover after the experience.
Driving home we noticed signs for the Glessner Covered Bridge and took a 20 mile detour to find it.

Glessner covered bridge 
The one lane bridge constructed in 1881 crosses the Stonycreek River. It reminded us of some that we have seen in Vermont and New Brunswick, Canada. We enjoyed a brief stop and then a drive home on unpaved country back roads. The views from the top of the mountains and deep into the valleys are spectacular. They helped to soothe our sadness.

Flight 93 National Memorial
6424 Lincoln Highway
Shanksville, Pennsylvania
open daily 9-5

Glessner Covered Bridge
Covered Bridge Road
Shanksville, Pennsyvania
Be careful we ended up with a flat tire on the dirt roads.