Friday, July 22, 2016

Hidden Gems...

2016 Faulkner-Fest is now done. We didn't go to the actual conference, but we did our own thing. 

It was actually easier this time, because we knew what we were doing. We ate, for the majority of the spots, in farm-to-table places. 

It's likely to be our last Faulkner Fest; Kid #2 is eager to go to other places, and I've enjoyed my time as travel partner, but it's time. 

I truly love both of my kids. I mean real visceral intense kind of love for beings that turned out, in spite of my own indifferent parenting, to be amazing adults. They're smart; intelligent (two vastly different properties, you know); compassionate; realistic; and caring. And I enjoy spending time with them. 

Traveling with Kid #2 is always a treat. Next year, it's going to be a visit to Kid #1, who now lives near the Smokey Mountains. He's eager to show me his life and it's going to be a great trip. 

There'll be a regular slew of pictures as we go forward over the next few posts. 

Giant City State Park...

Who knew this existed? Kid #2 found it. One of my students said that we missed "arguably the best fried chicken on the entire planet" but we were there in the morning, and lunch was several hours away. 

The lodge is gorgeous. Reminiscent of Starved Rock State Park, up in Utica, but no hotel. There are, instead, cabins, ranging from "luxury" to "lucky you have walls." It's all in what you expect - what level of camping or "glamping" you prefer. 

Me? I'm all about the "glamp." I sweated enough with the walking and the fact that we were far too far South... heat and humidity aren't my friends. 

So back to this part of the trip... There's a bison. No petting. Steps are hewn from timbers. The windows are the original hand-rolled glass. I bet it's gorgeous in the fall and in the winter, if there's snow. 

This park is part of the Shawnee National Forest, and we found it almost by accident because we weren't sure what we wanted to do. Our first day is usually "drive to a certain point, and spend the night, then find something to do." 

We spent the night in Marion, IL. Because Cairo (pronounced KAY-ro -- it's an Illinois thing...) is a depressed area, we were only actually going there to visit the Library and the Custom House. We thought about Ft. Defiance, with the confluence of two rivers, but then we found Giant City. 

We found a couple of trails that we thought we could knock out before going on. 

The first one, we turned back after about 4 yards - spiders as far as the eye could see. Thanks. No. So we went on the other one, seeking the Balance Rock and Giant City. You'll see why they call it Giant City in a moment...

Because Kid #2 had forgotten his camera batteries, he had control of my "real" camera. These are all shots I took from my phone. 

For the record, it was about 90* out with humidity somewhere near 95%. And not much breeze. Thankfully, lots of tree cover! 

Giant City was "made" by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and in some of the areas, the workers carved their names into the rocks. I don't mind that kind of memorial. And I think, in many ways, we need the CCC back! Especially in light of states cutting budgets for parks and the free things you can do with your families. 

As you can see here, J.L. Parker was one of the workers pre-CCC... That's 1887. It was fascinating to see the various names and dates. Brings up the question of what's "history" and what's "vandalism." Here's an easy answer... Mr. Parker's name is something I'd consider as history. And some of the workers who carved their names in, with their CCC affiliation - those are also history. 

But then there's modern man. Kid #2 said, "Don't look at this..." and at first I thought it was something obscene. Well, it was. But not THAT kind of obscene. The bright yellow paint is "stupid human obscene." And sadly, there were a few of those. More than a few. 

This is where a "new" CCC could help - they could provide jobs, and clean up the idiocy. 

We had initially thought of taking 3 trails. Honestly, at the end of this one, which was labeled "moderate" but then in the brochure, "rugged," we were dripping wet and exhausted. It's not that we're not fit. We're not marathoners, but we're not slugs either. But the heat and humidity was a precursor to what we were going to find later as we got nearer to Oxford, MS. We laughingly called this our "training ground." 

We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, "You know, I'm good here."

The rock formations were intriguing. The colors were vivid and the delineations were clear. If I knew more about geology, I could tell you more. But I don't. I appreciate the beauty. I appreciate the light and the shade. I appreciate the birds singing. The bees lazily pottering among the wildflowers. The sound of the leaves in the slight breeze that was that day. 

As we got farther down the trail, we began to understand, in spite of the pictures in the Visitor's Center, what they meant by Giant City. The formations got more and more muscular. More and more intimidating in a way. More and more God-placed-this-rock kind of feeling. 

It became less about what the CCC did and more about what they found as they were doing it. 

These formations gave you the impression that you were in an ancient city. And that at some point, you'd come across other people, perhaps marketing, or visiting, or going to or from some errand. 

There was no evidence of any other human being on the trail. We thought we'd come across others because there were people staying at the cabins, but we were alone on the route. Thinking about it, it was probably better that way. 

We walked along quietly, pointing out the various formations and plants. No chattering on cell phones. No rushing. No loud conversations and boisterous groups of people who were just "checking something off the tourist list" rather than actually sitting or walking or being in the space. 

Neither of us is anti-social. We both have jobs that require us to be "on" when we're working. Jobs that require us to be around people in various situations. 

My way to recharge is to be silent. As silent as I can be. 

My mom used to joke that I had "an anvil in [your] rear end" because I can sit for a long time and not speak or move. Meditation must have been meant for me from my youth!

This trip, especially in this spot, I was very appreciative of Kid #2's ability to be quiet. 

One of the more interesting spots is here... a before-and-after shot... This is the "before." I was supposed to go through this spot. Now, I'm not huge. But I am a tad claustrophobic. 

That splash of red on the other side is Kid #2. The big rock is perched on top of that little tip of rock. And there's a very tight set of rocks on either side. 

I took a deep breath, let it out and then focused on the other side... 

This shot here IS the other side, looking back. 

Gotta love those "accidental bucket list" items. I never thought I'd have found this kind of place. I never thought I'd find this kind of peace in this kind of place. 

I enjoyed this spot, and I would go back again - perhaps in much cooler weather - and tackle a few of those other trails. 

Random Picture...

So normally there'd be a cute dog picture or a picture of my garden. The garden, by the way, is going nuts. The veggies are insanely healthy. The herbs -- I have to figure out how to make infused vinegar or oil because we have far too much than we can use in a year!

But the flowers are a bit wilty. The heat's doing them no favors. There's a notable absence of butterflies, but lots of bees and wasps. Not a fan...

Anyway, as we left the park, I looked up. You know I love sky pictures. And here's a beauty. 

When you go on a trip, look at your local park system. Find something that you haven't heard of. Look around and see what's there. You'll find hidden gems each time. 

I guarantee it. 

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