Tag Archives: travel

The Niagara Falls Aero Car

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The hotel that became our headquarters during our international border crisis was located along the Niagara River, less than a mile from the Niagara River whirlpool and the Aero Car that transports tourists back and forth above the whirlpool. On Monday, as we sat waiting for our completed application to be approved by the U.S. government, we desperately needed to get out of our hotel room and get some fresh air. We decided to go down the street and check out the whirlpool while we waited for the call to come in on Toby’s cell phone from our customs broker, letting us know if we were going to be allowed to enter the U.S.A that day or not.

It was not our intention to purchase tickets to ride the Aero Car over the river, just to check things out from the overlook, but when we arrived and saw how neat it was we decided to go for a ride.

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As terrified as I was of the Ferris Wheel, this ride across the river didn’t faze me at all, despite the fact it was even higher. I know it is totally illogical, but I am not afraid of suspended heights (like flying or floating above ground,) only being high up in a structure or building.

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Bizarre, right?

So, I found the experience to be delightful.

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Here is a little background information about this neat experience at Niagara Falls:

Designed by renowned Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, the Whirlpool Aero Car has been soaring the Niagara Gorge since 1916. The antique cable car is suspended from six sturdy cables and offers spectacular views of the swirling Niagara Whirlpool and the Class 6 whitewater rapids of the Niagara River.

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Although the Whirlpool Aero Car travels between two points on the Canadian shore, riders of this historic cable car actually cross the international border line between Canada and the United States a total of four times each trip due to the way the river elbows.

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Niagara Whirlpool

The huge volume of water rushing over Niagara Falls is crushed into the narrow Gorge, creating the Whirlpool Rapids. The Niagara Whirlpool is formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns abruptly counterclockwise. The river’s abrupt change of direction creates one of the world’s most mesmerizing natural phenomenon’s.

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 The trip across the water was beautiful!

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It was such a fun escape from the worries that had consumed us all morning, and for 15 minutes we forgot about our U.S. Customs issues and were simply present in the moment, enjoying a thrilling experience, stunning views, and an unforgettable moment with the man of my dreams.

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We soon returned to land and to reality.

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It was back to the hotel and back to the task of battling bureaucracy, but for that moment in time we enjoyed a beautiful gift.

It really is an amazing experience if you ever find yourself trapped in Canada, unable to return to your homeland…

We highly recommend it!

Carving out a little fun on Clifton Hill

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Now that you know how the story ends, here is what happened in the meantime…

In an effort to distract me from the great anxiety gripping me around the throat, Toby suggested we go play American tourist while we waited for a customs broker to return our calls. There was nothing to be done to remedy our situation, beyond what we had already done. We knew we were stuck on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for at least 48 hours, so I made an effort to surrender my worries to God and enjoy this unexpected extension on our romantic getaway.

We decided to go play at Clifton Hill. Clifton Hill is one of the major tourist promenades of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Reminiscent of Las Vegas, this street contains a number of gift shops, wax museums, haunted houses, video arcades, restaurants, and themed attractions. Unlike the Vegas Strip this touristy street is completely G-rated and popular with families.

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Although this area of the falls is touristy and tacky, there was something fun about strolling among the neon lights and crazy buildings that made us feel like teenagers on a date.

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What drew us to Clifton Hill was a coupon we recieved for a discounted Fun Pass. This Fun Pass offered admission to six different Clifton Hill attractions for $25.00, an incredible discount when compared to the cost of paying individual admission prices. We thought $50.00 for a day of fun and distraction from our customs troubles to be well worth the price.

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We began our tour of Clifton Hill at the first experience included in our Fun Pass: Movieland Wax Museum.

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The laughs we enjoyed at the expense of some very sad looking wax figures made the cost of the passes worth every penny. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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While there were a few realistic representations of famous stars, most of the wax figures were only recognizable because of the signage or the staging.

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I thought this figurine was the most realistic of any we saw that day! 

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Our next stop was The Great Canadian Midway where two more of the attractions included in our pass were located. The first was the Wild West Coaster, which was a fun 4D ride.

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We took our seats. This unique theater had seats that moved with the 3D cartoon, taking us and 18 other visitors on a rollercoaster ride with a cowboy and his horse through old abandoned mines.

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It was cute and kitschy. The kids would have loved it!

Also located in the midway, on the opposite side of a room filled with hundreds of arcade games, was Ghost Blaster.

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This was an actual ride. We climbed into our cart and entered a world of black lights and glow in the dark ghosts that we had to shoot with our laser guns. Our ride kept track of the points earned by each target we successfully hit with our laser beam. It was fun.

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Toby killed me, as he always does with these sort of rides, earning a top score while I hovered near the bottom of the leaderboard.

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Our next stop was the Niagara Skywheel.

This was located next to the Dinosaur Adventure Golf, which was also included in our Fun Pass.

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The Niagara Skywheel, which opened in 2006, stands 175 feet tall and offers visitors magnificent views of both the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls.

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We got in line for one of the 42 enclosed passenger cars. I am terrified of heights and there is no amusement park ride I hate more than Ferris Wheels. I will ride the most thrilling of coasters and love them, but that slow crawl of a Ferris Wheel passenger car up to the heights of this one, terrifies me…

But the promise of amazing views and great photo opportunities, propelled me to set aside my anxiety and climb aboard.

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The views were even better than promised.

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And I did fine, until are car stopped at the top of the wheel so we could enjoy the view.

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EEK!

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The ride that normally offers 3 revolutions, extended for an additional 3 revolutions because of low crowds. Because there was no one else in line the generous workers thought we’d enjoy an extra-long ride, but instead my heart kept dropping to my stomach each time we would pass the platform, thinking we were getting off, only to discover we were in for another ride up into the sky. Just when I thought we’d never get off, our passenger car came to a stop and we were released.

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Because my heart health hadn’t been tested enough in the last 12 hours, we decided to elevate my heart rate even more with the final experience included in our Clifton Hill Fun Pass…

Zombie Attack!

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This, like the Wild West 4D show, involved sitting in a moving seat that took visitors on a ride while immersed in a 3D movie. This experience differed a bit though, as we were also armed with laser guns that allowed us to interact with the 3D movie on another level as we battled zombies that were popping out of the screen at us.

I know it sounds horrid, but as a closet fan of zombie thrillers, I LOVED this attraction. It was like stepping into The Walking Dead.

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I can’t handle most horror movies. Zombie shows are the only horror films I can handle, and only because I believe that zombies are one threat I could actually outrun. 😉

It was a blast, by far the highlight of the day for me.

We competed against the other visitors that filled the theater. Toby represented magnificently, earning 2nd place in the tally of zombies killed. I spent more time screaming than shooting and came in second to last, earning a score only slightly better than an 8-year-old girl whose hands were pressed against her eyes the whole time. 😊

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From there we headed to Adventure Rooms Escape Room. Toby had booked an appointment for 2 to “The Case of the Missing Finger” escape room. Our scheduled time was 6:30pm. We picked this particular escape room because they accepted parties of 2-8 people. (With many escape rooms you must have a larger group, or they combine you into a team with other guests.) We also chose this escape room because of the level of difficulty. With a success rate of only 25%, we thought it would be an awesome challenge to try to beat the odds as a team of 2.

We love escape rooms, and this one was the best we had ever visited.

The challenge was to escape from a locked room before a 60-minute timer ran out by solving a series of codes and clues that eventually led to the code or key that allowed us to escape.

We figured if we couldn’t escape Canada then we would spend the evening trying to escape handcuffs…

Who knows it may have proved useful practice for our next international border crossing. At that point we didn’t know how our border crossing adventure was going to play out so we categorized the Escape Room experience as both recreation and education. 😊

This particular Escape Room challenge began with Toby and I both being handcuffed to the wall, out of sight of each other. To free ourselves to begin the escape room challenge we had to come up with a 4-letter code that unlocked a chain on my side of the room which lowered a cage containing handcuff keys to Toby’s side of the room. Once he had unlocked himself and then me, we began searching for clues to unlock a series of doors which led from one puzzle to another. Just when we would think we had reached the end of the game we would discover another layer to the mystery, like the secret room hidden beneath the table and carpet. We had an awesome time flexing our mind muscles and flaunting our teamwork ability. Like a well-oiled machine we killed the challenge, escaping from the room with 7 ½ minutes to spare.

It was SO MUCH FUN!

The experience was eerily reflective of parenting…not the searching for missing fingers part 😊, but the frantic race against the clock, the solving one puzzle only to discover behind what you think is the door to freedom another locked door, and the panic that you will never escape!

 With both parenting and escape rooms the key to success is to:

 Think outside the box.

 Always have a plan B, C, D…

 Don’t panic.

Work as a team.

 Know your strengths and the strengths of your teammate.

 Use the bathroom when you have the chance.

 The solution can always be found if you look hard enough.

 Expect the unexpected,

 And laugh…laughter makes any challenge bearable! 

After an awesome day playing “accidental tourists” in Niagara Falls, Ontario, we ended our fun day with a stroll by the falls to enjoy the magnificent view of Niagara Falls lit up at night in a show of changing colors.

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This day of fun wasn’t planned. It was a day born out of disappointment that ended up being the highlight of our Canadian vacation.

Just remember: when God closes a border, He opens a window.

Here’s to making lemonade!

 

 

 

Just Bonnie, Clyde, and an Elevator

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Bonnie and Clyde

With the falls adequately admired, we got back in the truck to cross back over the Rainbow Bridge that leads into the United States and begin our journey home. We had no idea that moment would be the beginning of a 2-day ordeal, as we scrambled to gain access back into our own country.

As we crossed the bridge we had a lovely view of the falls. We fell in line behind the many other drivers attempting to cross into the United States. Heeding all the signage we obediently got into the lane marked: RVs, busses and trailers, removed our hoodies, hats and sunglasses so the facial recognition cameras could compare our mugs to those of known terrorists, pulled out our passports and all the paperwork issued to us from the elevator company, and prepared to speak with the border agent.

We pulled up and immediately it was clear that like his Canadian counterparts, this US agent felt we were a shady pair. He asked us to pull over to the inspection station (a request that would be made of us multiple times this trip as we attempted to cross international borders) and exit the vehicle.

An agent met us at our truck and escorted us inside where we sat with an armed guard that watched us while the truck was inspected for contraband. The tension was thick, and our anxiety was high. I found my Secret deodorant failing me. Despite its famous tagline, it was not “strong enough for a man” at least not strong enough for a man who was under border security scrutiny. I know they thought we had to be hiding something big (as if an elevator isn’t big enough) by the anxiety they saw on our faces. Once again, an agent approached us, asking again if we were importing any of the illegal items listed on the posters around the waiting room. The tone he used reminded me of my own tone when I am giving my kids one last chance to fess up before they are caught red-handed. I wracked my brain.

 I was pretty certain our truck was drug and alcohol free.

I thought to myself, ‘If any critters had stowed away in the cab (something cats and goats have done before) surely we would have discovered them by now, so I think we are livestock-free.’

I knew we didn’t have any raw meat or foreign plants.

 ‘It must be a weapon,’ I thought to myself…

 I knew we didn’t have any guns or Samurai swords but we were in Toby’s work truck which contains plenty of everyday tools that would probably be considered weapons of mass destruction in this day and age, so I looked at Toby, raising my eyebrows, letting him know, with the look only wives can give, that if I end up in a Federal slammer because of an Exacto knife he left under his seat, he’s a dead man! 😊

He paused, thought, and reconfirmed that no, there was nothing illegal in the truck. The guard left us under the watchful scrutiny of a guard who took her job very seriously, not allowing anyone to use the bathroom unaccompanied or leave their seat without permission.

As we sat in the heavy silence it hit me. I DID have contraband. Like a still frame from a movie, the image of an orange, leftover from breakfast and tucked in my bag, hit me. EEK! I was the mule trafficking illegal goods, not Toby, and it was my orange that was going to earn us 10 to 20 years in a federal penitentiary. Sure enough, a few minutes later the team of inspectors returned, and the orange had been removed from the truck.

But the orange was the least of our issues.

We were called up to the front desk and informed that we had been denied entry into the United States and we were being sent back to Canada. The issue was not with Toby or with me or even the rouge orange, but with the elevator. We discovered that we had somehow stumbled into an obscure gray area of bureaucracy that would come back to haunt us. The issue was that we were crossing as individual citizens (no problem there) but because the elevator we were towing cost more than $2000.00 it was considered a commercial import. This meant we needed all sorts of special paperwork and certification that we, as non-commercial drivers, didn’t have.

A kind border agent took pity on us and tried to explain this rabbit hole we had fallen into, and what the United States was demanding of us to gain entrance. We asked what paperwork we needed to provide him, and he clarified, “Oh, you can’t give me anything. Civilians must hire a customs broker to appeal to the government on their behalf. He explained that without hiring a customs broker our elevator wasn’t crossing the border. At this point it was 8:00 pm. We had no idea how to get ahold of a customs broker or if they worked weekends. Outside the window I could see the “Welcome to New York” sign 20 yards away and for a moment considered channeling Bonnie and Clyde and making a run for it, but quickly dismissed the plan, knowing that with the trailer in tow there was no way we could get backed out and turned around before they would be on us. 😉

We were escorted back to the truck by armed guards, I guess to prevent crazy, desperate attempts like the one playing out in my head, and we were sent back across the bridge to Canada.

We pulled up to the Canadian border crossing, following all the same protocol on this side of the falls, only to have our story questioned once again. I guess someone traveling to Canada to purchase an elevator seems like a shady story. Once again, we were denied entrance and forced to U-turn our way back to the U.S side of Rainbow Bridge.

At this point we had resigned ourselves to the possibility that we might be living out the remainder of our days in an elevator crate on the walkway of Rainbow Bridge, trapped between two countries. I thought of the movie, “The Terminal,” and the ingenious ways Tom Hanks survived living in an airport, as he too was trapped between two countries that would not allow him to enter, on crackers and ketchup packets.

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Our resources were more limited, but I figured we could at least beg for handouts from vehicles crossing the bridge into the United States. We could unload them of all their high-risk contraband, like raw meat and illegal oranges, and save them from a similar fate,

 all while carving out a life for ourselves on the Rainbow Bridge.

(At least it’s a cardboard box with a great view.)

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After another pat down (on your tax dollar) we were given a piece of paper proclaiming that we would only be entering Canada long enough to file needed custom’s paperwork and that we wouldn’t be setting up residency and working illegally as elevator installers. With paper in hand we finally got off the “Bridge of Nonsensical Bureaucracy” and found temporary sanctuary at the Ramada Inn of Niagara Falls.

Then we began working the phones.

With the help of Google (how did people manage crisis’s like this before the internet?) we found a listing of customs brokers and began calling and emailing them one by one. Hours later we had left messages with 50 different agencies, and now we waited. It became clear that nothing would happen until Monday, as evidently customs brokers don’t work weekends. We tried to salvage our mini getaway and recapture the relaxed and refreshed state of mind we were enjoying prior to trying to reenter the good old U.S.A. We tried to set aside our worries about whether we would ever see our children again, and tried to make the best of a bad situation…

A skill Toby and I have developed a real talent for as result of two decades full of moments like this one.

(More on the fun we carved out of this crisis in the next blog!)

On Monday morning, we began working the phones at 8:00am, as soon as offices opened. Once again, we discovered nothing was going to be smooth or easy. Most brokers were unwilling to take our account since we were a one-time pass. Most were only interested in setting up an account with those who would be a repeat customer and who would be transporting elevators across the border regularly which left us high and dry as we had no plans to ever leave the country again, assuming we ever made it back into the United States.

Finally, a customs broker suggested we call FedEx, who apparently has customs brokers and handles one-time accounts. Who knew?! And they happily took our account.  After hours of filling out paperwork, working the phones, answering emails, faxing forms, requesting a one-time exemption from the supervising border agent, and waiting on approvals from the U.S government we were finally cleared to cross the border.

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We were assigned to cross at a commercial border crossing 30 minutes away. We were given a crossing ID number, a commercial manifest, and were told we should have no problems returning home.

One again we drove up to the check point, our stomachs in knots. And once again we were flagged. There was no record of our account with our broker and were pulled off the line as a rig trying to illegally import goods into the U.S.A. Once again, we found ourselves in a waiting room, waiting on agents to declare us (and the d*** elevator) safe to cross.

I’m sure hundreds of kilos of cocaine entered our country this weekend while U.S. agents’ backs were turned and they were distracted with the urgent task of shaking down the notorious McCleery elevator runners.

FINALLY, our paperwork was located, and finally we were deemed safe to reenter our own country.

“Just one last thing,” the agent declared. “The toll to enter will be $13.05.”

No one, in all our time bonding with various government agents over the last 48 hours thought to mention that on top of the hundreds of dollars we had already paid out to Uncle Sam for the privilege of reentering the land of our birth, that there would be a $13.05 toll.

Who even came up with that amount?!

Opening his wallet, Toby let out a sigh of relief to see that he had $13.00…exactly. Nothing more, nothing less. He pulled out the bills and turned to me to ask, “Do you have a nickel?”

A frantic search of both our pockets resulted in one…lone…Canadian quarter. Toby held it up, inquiring sheepishly of our straight-faced border agent, “Will you accept Canadian?”

To which the border agent responded, with crossed arms and tight lips, “No, this is America.”

There we were feet from freedom and five lousy cents stood between us and home…AHHHHHHH!!!

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When it was clear Mr. Grumpy wasn’t budging we started scanning the floor for fallen change. Luckily a kind stranger donated a dime to our cause, making him the hero of this comedy of errors.

We got in the truck and made a beeline for the border, fearful that if we made eye contact with anyone in blue, or hesitated for any reason, they just might change their mind and send us back to Canada for good.

Never did a sign look as good as this one!

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We are home

and…

 We are never leaving the country again!!

That’s A LOT of water!

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After our five-hour drive from Montreal to Niagara Falls, Canada we decided to tour the falls before we crossed back to the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, where we had a hotel booked for the night.

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This wasn’t my first time visiting Niagara Falls, but it seems that no matter how often I visit, it takes my breath away. No picture or video does justice to the overwhelming sense of awe that you feel as you stand beside this magnificent wonder of the world. It truly takes your breath away. The roar of falling water, the spray of the mist, and the view of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge of the rock face is powerful and it soon becomes evident why this view…this experience…draws 12 million visitors each year.

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Here are some fun facts about the falls:

Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in America, established in 1885 at the Niagara Reservation. Over 8 million visitors explore Niagara Falls State Park annually.

  • Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls, from largest to smallest, the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls), American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
  • Niagara Falls’ vertical height is over 176 feet in some sections.
  • The American and Bridal Veil Falls were turned off in 1969 by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers to study the effects of erosion. There are plans to “turn off” the Falls again to rebuild two, 115-year-old bridges.
  • Niagara Falls’ current erosion rate is approximately 1 foot per year and could possibly be reduced to 1 foot per 10 years due to flow control and diversion for hydro-power generation.
  • The water that flows over Niagara Falls is at 25-50% capacity at any given time.
  • The first person to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel was 63-year-old school teacher Annie Edson Taylor. She is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls in an area called Stunters Rest, along with other Niagara Falls daredevils.
  • Cave of the Winds, located at Niagara Falls State Park is torn down and re-built every year.
  • The birth of Niagara Falls can be traced back more than 12,000 years to the end of the last glacial period.
  • Despite myths to the contrary, Niagara Falls does not freeze in the winter. However, the flow of water was reduced to a mere trickle for a few hours on March 29, 1848 because of an ice jam upstream in the Niagara River.
  • During periods of peak flow in the summer and fall, more than 700,000 gallons of water per second pour over Niagara Falls.
  • Four of the five Great Lakes drain into the Niagara River, (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) before emptying into Lake Ontario. These five Great Lakes make up almost one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply.
  • Niagara Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world; however, the beauty of the falls comes from the height and the incredible volume of water running over the falls at a given time.
  • Fish travel over Niagara Falls and most survive because of their ability to flow with the water

 

Toby and I walked hand in hand along the walkway overlooking the falls. It was rainy and cold, but that didn’t damper our enjoyment of experience.

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How blessed I felt to be sharing such an awesome sight with such an amazing man.

Then we climbed back in the car, blasted the heat to warm our toes,

and headed over a beautiful bridge,

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with amazing views,

on our way to a special kind of hell…

 

How about a trip to Canada- Eh?

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It began as all thrilling tales do with lovable characters, good intentions, and just enough naivety to propel the plot from rising action, to conflict, to climax and then conclude with a deeply felt sense of relief and resolution.

Our tale begins with our lead character (Toby) posing the innocent question, “So, do you want to dust off your passport and join me on a trip across the border?”

Toby, needing to purchase an elevator for the addition he is building on his Mom’s apartment, had to drive up to Quebec, Canada to pick up said elevator and fulfill the required training. We decided to make a mini trip out of it and I was invited to tag along. As most good stories go (and as EVERY Mccleery story goes) things didn’t play out as planned.

Our story  climaxes with said characters trapped in Canada, unable to return home to the United States, with elevator in tow…

Have you seen the movie “The Terminal” staring Tom Hanks?

Yeah, it was like that.

This is not to say I didn’t have a wonderful time with my husband, it is just that our trip  ended up being a much greater adventure than we had planned.

Ahhh, but I digress.

Let me begin at the beginning when our future troubles were first foreshadowed.

We left on Wednesday. We knew we had a long 10 hour day ahead of us to get up to the small town in Quebec where Toby’s elevator installation training was to take place. Our plan to leave by 8:00am was thwarted by a series of road blocks and mishaps, resulting in an 11:00am departure instead.

The drive was uneventful. We traveled along the New York/ Canadian border until we reached the Thousand Islands Border Crossing.

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We got in one of the lines, pulled out our passports, and prepared to cross. Being fans of the National Geographic reality show, “Border Security: America’s Front Line,” we knew how this process should play out. We were also familiar with the flip side of the coin, having watched many episodes of travelers being detained because they were perceived as  a potential risk. With those scenarios playing out in our minds we pulled up to the booth to be questioned by the border security officer. Whether he didn’t believe our story of crossing the border to purchase an elevator, or whether our nerves made us look as though we were mules smuggling balloons of cocaine in unnamed orifices, I’ll never know, but we were flagged as a risk and sent inside to meet with Canadian border agents.

As Toby parked the truck I quickly dabbed on a little lip gloss, you know just in case I was making my reality TV debut, only to discover at 10:00pm at night there are not only no cameras but no other travelers as well. The place was dead.

Once again we explained our reason for wanting to enter their country. We quickly were cleared to enter but when asking if we would need any special documents (beyond what was being provided by the elevator company) to reenter the States, they seemed uncertain and a bit concerned. The look that flashed between the two agents helping us, was a clear foreshadowing of the obstacles ahead of us. At the time, however, we were just thrilled to have passed the interview without needing to strip down or bend over, so we didn’t push the issue. We hopped in the truck and entered Canada.

It was dark when we arrived at our hotel. We couldn’t see much of the place, all we knew was that the bed looked awfully inviting and we crawled into it, ready to get some sleep.

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The following morning Toby was up by 6:30am in preparation for the 30 minute drive he had to the elevator factory, where he would be meeting up with one of the crews to shadow them through an installation of an elevator. The residence getting the elevator was 90 minutes away from the factory, so I had a full day ahead of me knowing Toby wouldn’t be back until evening.

Our hotel was in the middle of nowhere, in a portion of Quebec filled with cornfields. It reminded me a lot of Ohio. Without a car and with zero French vocabulary to help me navigate public transportation I stayed hunkered down in my hotel room for the day, enjoying the quiet and the solitude…something I rarely enjoy in my life.

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I spent the day Christmas shopping online, blogging, editing photos on Shutterfly, reading books and enjoying the sunken tub in the room. It was a good day to stay in. The weather was grey and cold and very wet. The rain which began Wednesday at home followed us through our entire trip.

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Toby arrived back at the motel at 7:00pm, with elevator in tow. The training that was supposed to take two days was accomplished in one long day, thus freeing Friday up for some sightseeing in Montreal, which was a fun, unexpected surprise. With Toby home I finally felt brave enough to call for food from a local take-out restaurant. With our limited language skills (high school German and Spanish were no help in Quebec!) we worked at deciphering the menu and then calling in our order. Poutine was one of the dishes we ordered, having been told by all the locals that we must try this local dish that consists of French fries covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. We were told we would know it was good poutine if the cheese squeaked when we bit into it. It sounds disgusting and looked even worse, but it was surprisingly delicious.

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Over the next few days I will blog about our adventures in Canada, but for those of you who can’t handle the anticipation and who like to read the last chapter of the book first…

We are back home.

We did make it out of Canada.

And no, we aren’t on the run from Homeland Security.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Johnstown Incline

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Our final stop of the day was the Johnstown Incline.

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The 21st Century staff decided to take the school van up the incline for a fun photo op and invited anyone who wanted to join them (for this optional add-on to the planned field trip) to meet them at the incline.

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It sounded like fun to my crew, who although had previously ridden an incline up the steep hillsides of Pittsburgh, had never experienced the unique thrill of riding up an incline that could carry vehicles in addition to people.

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Here is a little background information about the Johnstown Incline that we learned while visiting:

In the 1830s, the first inclined planes in the United States were completed in and around Cambria County, Pa, as part of the Allegheny Portage System. Over the coming decades, this technology was used to create no less than 17 inclined planes in Pittsburgh, which hauled people and freight up the city’s many hillsides.

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the narrow valley in which the city was located created problems for expansion. As a growing industrial city, Johnstown needed to find room to grow, and the hilltops near the city were the perfect choice.

The Johnstown Flood of 1889, which devastated the city and killed over 2,000 people, increased the desire for hilltop living. The top of Yoder Hill to the west of the city was home to only a few farms, and the roads to the top were very difficult to navigate. The Cambria Iron Works decided to turn this land into a livable space for its workers

In 1890, just a year after the devastating flood, work began on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which was opened on June 1, 1891.

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Originally known as the Cambria Inclined Plane, it rose 502 feet from downtown Johnstown to the top of Yoder Hill. Covering the vertical increase in only 896 feet, the incline has a grade of 70.9%, making it the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world 125 years after it was completed.

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Over the first 80 years of operation, 40 million trips were taken on the Johnstown Inclined Plane, include roughly 4,000 people who escaped from the 1936 flood in Johnstown. Today, the inclined plane is primarily used by tourists visiting the area to enjoy the beauty and nostalgia of the ride.

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Our large crew had to be split into two groups with the 21CCCS van and teachers riding up in the first car and the rest of the students and their families taking the second car.

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The ride up was thrilling. The car was more open than the enclosed cars we have experienced on Pittsburgh’s inclines. There was just a wooden gate to prevent visitors from tumbling to their deaths down the steep hillside.

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OK, I’m sure there was no actual risk…

 but it felt daring, nonetheless.

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On our climb up the hill we passed a family of white tail deer…aka “Pennsylvania mountain goats”…munching on grass alongside the incline rails.

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At the top of the incline, there was a large observation deck which offered the opportunity to take in the amazing views. From here, we could see all of Johnstown and the valley created by the Little Conemaugh River and Stonycreek River. On the outskirts of the city, the remains of industrial sites could be seen, including an old steel mill. In many respects, this view reminded me of what Pittsburgh might have looked like from the top of Mount Washington 100 years ago.

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Without a doubt, a ride on the Johnstown Inclined Plane should be on the bucket list for every visitor to Johnstown. The combination of a fun ride, a history lesson, and the amazing view from the top made it one of the highlights of the day.

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It was a perfect way to round out our day in Johnstown, Pennsylvania with our 21st Century family!

That is one BIG houseboat!

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IMG_0607 (2)We have now been home from our Texas trip for about a week. Upon arriving home I got hit with a killer flu and was down and out for five days. Now that I have emerged from the world of the living dead it is time to wrap up the recordings of our travels with a recap of our final day on the road.

On our way back to Pennsylvania we traveled northeast through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, with the intended purpose of visiting the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.

I had seen pictures and read the reviews of this amazing structure, but nothing could have prepared me for the visual impact of seeing this massive boat sitting in the middle of the Kentucky countryside.

The 511-foot-long gorgeous, timber structure was awe-inspiring from the moment we arrived.

Upon arriving we found ourselves in the middle of a massive parking lot with a shuttle station situated in the center. It is here we purchased our tickets for the Ark. From our car we could see the Ark in the distance but to get to the Ark visitors are loaded onto shuttle buses and driven a mile to get to the Ark.

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We arrived 20 minutes before opening and were among the first visitors taken into the park. Because we had to be back home by 4:00 for Gracie’s evening work shift, we only had 2 hours to explore the Ark. We made sure we arrived as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The bus dropped us off in front of the Ark, and there up close, we were able to really grasp the massive size of this ship.

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The outside was beautifully landscaped and the Ark sat behind a reflective pond that created beautiful photo opportunities.

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As we neared the Ark it seemed to increase in size. Standing at the base and looking up was incredible. Pictures simply don’t do it justice!

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This life-size re-creation of Noah’s Ark, built to biblical specifications, is the largest timber framed structure in the world.  The craftsmanship is amazing and completely impressive.  It is hard to describe what you feel when you first see the Ark.  Even before stepping a foot inside I would say that this sight alone would have made the trip worthwhile:

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WOW!

You just can’t fully grasp the enourmity of the task God that was placed before Noah until you are standing at the base of this structure.

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Using the dimensions given in the Bible (in Genesis), the ark is built to be a full size Noah’s ark replica.

God gave Noah the dimensions for the Ark in cubits. “And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it  thirty cubits.” (Genesis 6:15)

How long is a cubit?

About this long…

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The Ark was 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high!

The Ark had the same storage capacity as about 450 standard semi-trailers. A standard livestock trailer holds about 250 sheep, so the Ark had the capacity to hold at least 120,000 sheep.

The thing was HUGE!

So what is the Ark Encounter all about?

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Well…

It is the opportunity to  walk through the decks of this replicated Ark to experience how Noah, his family, and the animals might have lived during their time on the Ark.

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The Ark Encounter helps you answer questions you have about the Noah’s ark story. How did Noah build the ark? Did he fit all the animals in the ark? What methods were used for Noah and his family to take care of all the animals? What was life like on the ark? Using Bible scriptures from the Old Testament, we got an idea of what life may have been like on the ark.

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I will say that while much of the experience was biblically sound, there was some artistic license taken in their interpretation of what Noah’s sons and their wives were like and what life on the Ark would have been like. Signs throughout the Ark explain that because of limited information given in Genesis as to the details of everyday living, creative interpretation has been taken in the recreation of many scenes.

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In addition, not all who visit will agree with the science behind some of the exhibits. While I found some of the renditions not fully in line with what I  believe to be true, it did not diminish the experience for us. Overall, I found it to be an amazing experience.

Tyler loved the animals on the ark. As we walked through we enjoyed peeking in the many cages, filled with two of each animal. I loved the added touch of sounds as you passed by some of the cages. You may hear hissing to represent snakes and bears roaring.

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The visual impact from the inside was as powerful as that from the outside. My carpenter husband appreciated the sheer artistry of the woodwork within the ark. It was all so beautifully done.

“Ark Encounter is the largest timber frame structure in the world, built from standing dead timber, in part by skilled Amish craftsmen.”

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We found going to the Ark Encounter made us want to learn more about Noah and his life.

 

When Tyler was younger I remember him trying to explain to us what Bible story he learned about in church as we drove home one Sunday. He couldn’t remember any names or details.  He finally summed up what he learned with:  “You know, the one about the old man, with all the pets, who lived on a houseboat!”

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Well touring Noah’s “houseboat” and seeing all his “pets” made me want to go back and study the story of Noah in more depth. 🙂

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Life on the Ark would have been challenging…

Remember, it was just Noah and his family that had to feed ALL those animals! Have you ever thought about how they could have done that? The Ark Encounter gives examples of ways that all the animals may have been fed.

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The visuals of food and water storage and the logistics of how that massive task might have been accomplished was fascinating to me. That was my favorite part of the experience.

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Have you ever wondered about how Noah made sure all the animals had water to drink and their living area cleaned?

Maybe not…but the Ark Encounter answers questions of how it might have taken place. And many other questions you have not even thought of. Find out for yourself things like a possible ventilation system, jobs that needed to be done on the ark, and a possible light source! Theories are based on what is known from the Bible.

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The family friendly Ark Encounter offered interactive displays, reading, and life-like visual exhibits. We found it to be very kid friendly and engaging.

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Ever wondered what life was like on the Ark? Noah was told to build the Ark and how to do it. But, he wasn’t told how long he was going to be on it. The Ark Encounter gives examples using very detailed, life-like props!

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It was fun to walk through the living quarters and imagine ourselves in the same scenario and what life would be like on a daily basis.

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There were three floors (or decks) of exhibits  available to explore! On the first floor we learned about why God caused the flood. The second floor explored how life may have been onboard the Ark. (This was my favorite part of the Ark experience.) The third floor answered questions about  what happened when the floods receded.

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We managed to see the entire Ark in the two hours we were there without feeling as though we were rushed through any part of it. If we had a full day to explore we would have stopped to watch some of the videos playing throughout the ark and explored the grounds outside where there is a petting zoo and other fun activities, but unfortunately we had to run.

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It was an awesome thing to see. I’m glad we stopped.

 

Little Rock Central High School

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On Tuesday morning we woke up in Little Rock, Arkansas with plans to drive past Little Rock Central High School, site of a major test in 1957 of the Civil Rights act where nine (the Little Rock Nine) African-American students integrated the all-white school.

We didn’t realize that our “drive by” would turn into a much more profound, educating and moving experience until we pulled up to the site and discovered that it was more than just a high school with a historical plaque. It was a National Parks historic site.

Little Rock Central High School is the only functioning high school to be located within the boundaries of a national historic site. Across the street sat a National Parks Visitor Center that depicted the struggle through exhibits and photos.

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We began at the Visitor Center. The story of the Little Rock Nine is one we have all read about in our high school history books, but the story of those nine brave high school students and the effect their stand had on the course of history really came to life as we walked around the Visitor Center.

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In a key event of the American Civil Rights Movement, nine black students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, testing a landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The court had mandated that all public schools in the country be integrated “with all deliberate speed” in its decision related to the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas called in the state National Guard to bar the black students’ entry into the school. Later in the month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the “Little Rock Nine” into the school, and they started their first full day of classes on September 25.

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We were moved by the photos of that day,

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As we read the words of those who were there,

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And as we listened to the actual first hand accounts of those involved.

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As we walked through the Visitor Center the reality of a world that now seems so foreign to my generation and my children’s generation, became real.

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We listened as a park ranger walked visitors through the events of those days. His deep, melodic voice painting a picture of what happened on this site, a picture far more impactful than the watered down version we read about in our history books.

The concept of segregation and such intense hate over the idea of integration is so foreign to me. It is so far removed from the reality of the world I was raised in decades later, and unrecognizable to the world my children live in today, that I find it surreal that this event was only 60 years ago.

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If your remembrance of that historic event was as cloudy as mine was prior to visiting this site here is some background on this historical encounter as taken from the History Channel’s website:

Despite the opposition, nine students registered to be the first African Americans to attend Central High School, which opened in 1927 and was originally called Little Rock Senior High School. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls had been recruited by Daisy Gaston Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP. Daisy Bates and others from the Arkansas NAACP carefully vetted the group of students and determined they all possessed the strength and determination to face the resistance they would encounter. In the weeks prior to the start of the new school year, the students participated in intensive counseling sessions guiding them on what to expect once classes began and how to respond to anticipated hostile situations. The group came to be known as the Little Rock Nine.

On September 2, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus announced that he would call in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the African-American students’ entry to Central High, claiming this action was for the students’ own protection. In a televised address, Faubus insisted that violence and bloodshed might break out if black students were allowed to enter the school. The following day, the Mother’s League held a sunrise service at the school as a protest against integration. That same day, federal judge Richard Davies issued a ruling that desegregation would continue as planned the next day.

The Little Rock Nine arrived for the first day of school at Central High on September 4, 1957. Eight arrived together, driven by Bates. Eckford’s family, however, did not have a telephone, and Bates could not reach her to let her know of the carpool plans. Therefore, Eckford arrived alone. The Arkansas National Guard ultimately prevented any of the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High. One of the most enduring images from this day is a photograph of Eckford, notebook in hand, stoically approaching the school as a crowd of hostile and screaming white students and adults surround her. Eckford later recalled that one of the women spat on her. The image was printed and broadcast widely, bringing the Little Rock controversy to national and international attention.

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In the following weeks, Judge Davies began legal proceedings against Governor Faubus, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower attempted to persuade Faubus toremove the National Guard and let the Little Rock Nine enter the school. Davies ordered the Guard removed on September 20, and the Little Rock Police Department took over to maintain order. The police escorted the nine African-American students into the school on September 23, through an angry mob of some 1,000 white protesters gathered outside. Amidst ensuing rioting, the police removed the nine students. On September 24, President Eisenhower sent in 1,200 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and placed them in charge of the 10,000 National Guardsmen on duty. Escorted by the troops, the Little Rock Nine attended their first full day of classes on September 25.

Legal challenges to integration continued throughout the year, and Faubus publicly expressed his wish on numerous occasions that the Little Rock Nine be removed from Central High. Although several of the black students had positive experiences on their first day of school, according to a September 25, 1957, report in The New York Times, they experienced routine harassment and even violence throughout the rest of the year. Patillo, for instance, was kicked, beaten and had acid thrown in her face, and at one point white students burned an African-American effigy in a vacant lot across from the school. Ray was pushed down a flight of stairs, and the Little Rock Nine were barred from participating in extracurricular activities. Brown was expelled from Central High in February 1958 for retaliating against the attacks. And it was not only the students who faced harassment: Ray’s mother was fired from her job with the State of Arkansas when she refused to remove her daughter from the school. The 101st Airborne and the National Guard remained at Central High for the duration of the year.

On May 25, 1958, Green, the only senior among the Little Rock Nine, became the first African-American graduate of Central High.

In September 1958, one year after Central High was integrated, Governor Faubus closed Little Rock’s high schools for the entire year, pending a public vote, to prevent African-American attendance. Little Rock citizens voted 19,470 to 7,561 against integration and the schools remained closed. Other than Green, the rest of the Little Rock Nine completed their high school careers via correspondence or at other high schools across the country. Eckford joined the Army and later earned her General Education Equivalency diploma. Little Rock’s high schools reopened in August 1959.

Several of the Little Rock Nine went on to distinguished careers. Green served as assistant secretary of the federal Department of Labor under President Jimmy Carter (1924-). Brown worked as deputy assistant secretary for work force diversity in the Department of the Interior under President Bill Clinton. Patillo worked as a reporter for NBC. The group has been widely recognized for their significant role in civil rights history. In 1999, President Clinton awarded each member of the group the Congressional Gold Medal. The nine also all received personal invitations to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Jefferson Thomas became the first of the Little Rock Nine to die when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 67 on September 5, 2010. After graduating from Central High, Thomas served in the Army in Vietnam, earned a business degree and worked as an accountant for private companies and the Department of Defense.

We then walked across the street to Little Rock Central High School, the scene for this historical event. It is still a functioning school so access is only allowed with a park ranger led tour.

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The school is stunningly beautiful. As we stood outside I thought of all the photos I saw at the Visitor Center and could imagine the chaos that reigned on these school grounds during that period of American History. It was sobering.

We ended our visit with a film at the Visitor Center. It was awesome and I highly recommend if you are able to visit this site that you make time to watch the 30 minute video presentation. In it the men and women who were the Little Rock Nine are interviewed and asked questions about their choice to volunteer. They speak of what life was like that year in high school, the choice they made to not retaliate, but rather be peaceful in their resistance. They spoke of how being one of the Little Rock Nine changed the course of their lives and the history of a nation. It was powerful to watch the interviews of these men and women who are now in their 70’s speak about the impact we can each have as human beings when we stand up for what we believe.

The video then transitioned to three stories of youth today who are making an impact on their communities. One story spoke of youth in Baltimore who are fighting legislation to allocate funds for a new juvenile prison in their community, funds that they are asking be put towards education and other preventive programs. Another story spoke of youth on a Native American Reservation who are using social media to change the world’s perception of life on reservations. And the third story was about youth in New Mexico who have engaged in a battle against a big coal corporation to pass emission laws to protect their air quality.

The thread that connected the stories of the youth today with the interviews with the Little Rock Nine was the powerful message that we have the power to better our communities. We can take a stand and say, “This is not acceptable.” We can demand better of our leaders and of our nation. It was a powerful message, especially for my teens, that we can ALL have an impact for good if we are courageous and persistent in our beliefs.

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It was an ideal message to end our experience with…

An experience none of us will soon forget.

Diamond Hunting!

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It’s finder’s keepers at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The only public diamond mine in the world, Crater of Diamonds offers you a one-of-a-kind adventure – the opportunity to hunt for real diamonds and to keep any mineral you find.

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Monday we woke up early with plans to get on the road by 5:30 am. Our intention was to work our way towards Memphis, TN. We said our “goodbyes” the night before to all our family. The last of the wedding guests were heading out after a magical weekend, with Kelly’s family and our family the first to pull out since we each had a 11 hour drive ahead of us.

As we drove along I searched for sites along the way that we might want to see while we were in the area. We are firm believers that if you are in an area of the country you normally don’t frequent, you might as well stop and see the top sites, for who knows when we will be out that way again.

It was  that mindset that led us off the highway to Crater of Diamonds State Park. I remember hearing about this unique state park and when we discovered it was along our path of travel there was no way we could drive by and not stop.

When else in our lives will be have the opportunity to go mining for diamonds?!

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We arrived and headed first into the Visitors Center where we learned more about the geologic history that led to the formation of the diamonds in the park, as well as the history of discovery and mining on the land.

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We also saw displays that showcased the diamonds that are found in the park and what they look like in their uncut state, giving us a better idea of what we needed to be on the lookout for.

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Then we paid the mining admission price and headed out to the mining fields to begin searching,

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after a quick stop at the pavilion to rent our mining equipment.

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What a thrill it was stepping out onto the field, with the prospect of finding a diamond a distant but exciting possibility.

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The kids were convinced they were on the brink of discovering their life’s fortune.

We began searching the 37-acre plowed field – the eroded surface of an ancient, diamond-bearing volcanic pipe.

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We had three options for diamond hunting and ended up exploring all three strategies.

The first was surface searching. With this strategy visitors search the surface of the field in search of crystals that have been exposed by rain or plowing. We began our search with surface searching.

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The second method is screening. With this strategy visitors shake soil through a screen to find minerals. This method is most effective when the soil is dry. This was the next method we tried.

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The third method, and the one we spent the most time using, is wet screening. With this method of diamond hunting visitors use the water available at the mine washing stations to rinse dirt through a screen and collect the minerals that are left behind.

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It was so much fun. The process was as satisfying as the hunt itself. We filled bucket after bucket from the field and sifted and rinsed, collecting the minerals that were left behind.

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In addition to the diamonds in the soil, other rocks and minerals were found hidden in the soil, including: Jasper, Agate, Quartz, Amethyst, Calcite, Barite, and Mica.

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But as cool as all those pretty minerals were, everyone was tunnel focused on finding the elusive diamond.

Since diamonds were first discovered on the site in 1906, over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed.

When John Huddleston plucked two diamonds from the greenish-colored dirt of his farm, a hysteria known as “diamond fever” ensued. Although the excitement has since waned, interest in Arkansas’s diamond mine remains high. About 120,000 people come to Huddleston’s old farm site, now the Crater of Diamonds State Park, each year to search for these precious gems.

This Arkansas crater is the only diamond mine in the world where the public can pay a fee to dig and keep any gems they find.

Although thousands of people have dug and sifted through the volcanic “lamproite” soil, there are still plenty of diamonds waiting to be discovered. Since the park opened in 1972, more than 30,000 diamonds have been found. This is still a place where diamonds are found regularly — park officials say about two are found by park visitors each day.

Not all of the finds have been small. The largest documented diamond find is the 40.23-carat “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was discovered in 1924. The largest diamond retrieved since the Crater of Diamonds became a state park was the 16.37-carat “Amarillo Starlight,” discovered in 1975.

Other notable finds include the “Star of Arkansas,” which was 15.33 carats and the 8.82-carat “Star of Shreveport.” The 4.25-carat “Kahn Canary” diamond was found here in 1977 and was  mounted on a ring worn by Hillary Clinton during the presidential inaugural balls. The 3.03-carat “Strawn-Wagner Diamond,” found in 1990 was cut to a 1.09-carat gem graded D-flawless 0/0/0 (the highest grade a diamond can achieve) by the American Gem Society.

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Geologists believe these diamonds were formed millions of years ago with tremendously high pressure and temperature and shot to the earth’s surface during a violent volcanic eruption. The portion of the crater that is known to be diamond bearing is about 37 acres and is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe.

Test drilling at the crater has shown that the reserve is shaped like a martini glass; it is believed to be the eighth largest diamond reserve in the world, in surface area.

We stayed for 4 hours digging in the dirt and playing in the water, in search of a diamond to call our own.

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When we were ready to leave and get back on the road in our journey towards Little Rock, we stopped at the Diamond Discovery Center to have our haul examined.

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A kind and informative ranger looked over the kids’ pile of rocks as they held their breath. After careful examination, he broke the news that we didn’t find any diamonds but sifted through their pile explaining to them all that they did find out in the field. It was an awesome geology lesson, as he took 20 minutes to explain to the kids why diamonds exist in this particular area, and describe the unique characteristics of the rocks and minerals they did find.

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We didn’t find any diamonds during our visit to Crater of Diamonds State Park, but I left the proud owner of something of far greater worth:

A once in a lifetime experience with my greatest jewels!

What an awesome day!

“To the Bat Cave!”

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A year ago we had the opportunity to experience a once in a lifetime thrill when we attended the evening bat show at Carlsbad Caverns. I struggle to even describe the thrill it was to sit quietly in that stone amphitheater and watch as millions of bats exited the caverns over our heads. It was awe-inspiring.

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When we arrived in Fredericksburg, Texas we were told by the locals that before we left we needed to take the kids out to Old Tunnel State Park to see the nightly emergence of the bat colony that makes its home in the abandoned railroad tunnel located in the park.

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After our experience at Carlsbad Caverns there was no way we were going to miss the opportunity to witness this awesome show by Mother Nature a second time and we made plans to drive out to Old Tunnel State Park on Saturday night after the wedding.

Knowing that the bats typically emerge to feed just before sundown,  we made plans to arrive at the park by 8:00pm.

It was a beautiful drive through Texas hill country to get to the state park that was located 20 minutes away from downtown.

When we arrived the first clue that we had miscalculated the time was the wave of visitors leaving the park. It is never a good sign when you find yourself swimming upstream! It wasn’t until we made it over to the viewing pavilion and spoke with the park rangers, that our fears were confirmed.

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They explained that although the bats usually emerge closer to 9:00 pm, lately they have been exiting earlier and earlier. They explained that the drought in the area makes hunting for insects more challenging for the Mexican free-tail bats, which means they have been emerging earlier than usual to get in their food quota each night.

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We were disappointed to have missed the bats but stayed to enjoy the park with plans to return the following evening to catch the show.

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While there we enjoyed checking out the cacti:

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Catching up with family:

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And enjoying a spectacular Texas sunset.

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The next day we returned. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the bat show two days in a row so we arrived by 6:30 pm. And it is good that we did! Rather than the 7:25 emergence that occurred the night before, on Sunday they began making an appearance by 7:00 pm.

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Here is a little information about this special show, as taken from the state park’s website:

Watching a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge is truly a special experience! During emergence, the bats spiral upwards in a counter-clockwise direction in order to gain altitude. Aerial predators, such as red-tailed hawks, are sometimes seen catching bats as they emerge, and terrestrial predators, such as raccoons, feed on fallen bats. The large, serpentine column of bats can travel as high as 10,000 feet and 60 miles, one-way, each night to feed on agricultural pests such as the corn earworm (a.k.a. cotton bollworm), cutworm, and webworm moths. Each bat can eat its weight in insects nightly, and the Old Tunnel colony may devour over 25 tons of moths per night!

There are two viewing options for the bat show:

Lower Viewing Area Tour

A close-up view of the emergence is one of the most unique experiences in nature. The flapping of millions of tiny wings is usually audible and often creates a light wind that can be felt by visitors in the lower viewing area. Lower viewing area tours are conducted Thursday through Sunday, May through October. An educational program is given about bats, with an emphasis on the fascinating life history of the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana).

Seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum seating capacity of 70 visitors. Reservations are not accepted. The activity tour fee for the lower viewing area is $5 per person ages 4 and up. Due to the bat’s sensitivity to noise disturbance, children age 3 and under are not allowed at the lower viewing area.

Upper Viewing Area

The upper viewing area, located adjacent to the parking area, is open nightly for use by the general public. The scenic view from the upper viewing area allows visitors to experience the rugged beauty of the Texas Hill Country. Many bicyclists, motorcyclists, and car clubs stop at Old Tunnel to enjoy this view. Bats are best viewed from this area during August and September, when bat emergence times are earlier and more light is present. Fantastic views of red-tailed hawks feeding on emerging bats can also be seen from this area. No fees are charged.

(To protect and conserve the resources and for the safety of our visitors, they only allow 250 people at the upper viewing area. If they reach that limit they close off the parking lot next to the upper viewing area and will admit more visitors to the upper viewing area as people leave. )

 

We felt the upper viewing area was a better fit for our crew so we got settled and waited for the show to begin.

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Wow, what an experience! It was unreal watching those millions of bats flying out of the tunnel in a funnel of activity, soaring out of the trees into the skies above. Once again I found the experience affecting. There is something so humbling about watching the God’s greatness highlighted through nature’s displays of beauty.

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And it was so special sharing the experience with my family.

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What a awesome way to end our special weekend with the ones we love, in Fredericksburg, Texas!