Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exploring Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is definitely an interesting place to drive around, with all the narrow streets and hills everywhere!

Pittsburgh hillside housing

Liberty Bridge











It’s also a very vibrant and lively town – with Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and a couple of other smaller colleges – all downtown. We only spent one day in Pittsburgh, but Tom and I will have to come back again and spend more time exploring this cool city.

I did a little research, and came up with a plan for our Sunday – noon mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, exploring the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and then dinner at a cool restaurant downtown.

There was a big run going on that morning, and we weren’t sure how long it was going to take to find parking, or even if the streets would be re-opened (although they were supposed to be open by 11am), so we left the RV Park around 10:30.  We were downtown with plenty of time to spare, but we drove around quite a bit looking for a place to park before finally settling on the museum parking lot.  We had just a few blocks to walk to church – although it was UPHILL!

Cathedral of St. Paul


The cathedral was across from the Carnegie Museums, and it’s an amazingly beautiful structure.








Cathedral of St. Paul

The inside was beautiful, as well, and reminded me of the Cathedral in Toledo that my family belonged to when I was young.

Inside the Cathedral


The altar

The Organ


The noon mass is the choir mass, so we were treated to beautiful music.  It was also a jubilee celebration for religious orders, so sisters from the various convents in the Pittsburgh diocese who were celebrating jubilees – 50, 60, 65, 70, 75 and even 80 years – were all in attendance.

We even had a Bishop saying mass.



Mass at the Cathedral

Carnegie Museums


After mass, we walked back over to the museum.  We really lucked out here – normal admission is $20/person, but this past Sunday was a free admission day!




The entrance to the museum is very modern looking, but the building that houses most of the exhibits is very old – lots of marble and columns, and elaborate woodwork.

Looking down at the Lobby

We began our exploration in the geology area, learning about the earth’s makeup, particularly in Pennsylvania,

Studying Pennsylvania's geology

and then viewing the hundreds of gems and crystals that occur naturally, all around the world.     Crystals




From the geology room, we stepped back in time to the world of dinosaurs.


Dinosaur sculptures


They had numerous models of different dinosaurs, with varying amounts of actual bones in the structures – some of them had quite a few! 

We couldn’t tell the difference between the real bones and the cast duplicates, but each display had a screen that showed which bones in the model were real.





I think I read that this was the first complete T-Rex on display.


There were actually two!









They had quite a selection of dinosaur skulls!



Dinosaur skulls

More dinosaurs . . .















One of the volunteers spotted us walking around, and she pointed out several interesting features to us, including the only baby allosaurus ever found.

Baby Dinosaur

She continued to keep Dad company while he took a break.  He said he was pretty impressed by her knowledge and sharpness, especially at 84 years old.

Dad getting lessons from the volunteer

From the dinosaur area, we went upstairs to the displays of North American animals and birds.  It was interesting, but can’t compare to seeing the real thing, in their natural habitat.  It was pretty cool to walk around and realize how many of them we have seen during our travels!

In between all of the displays, there were office doors, “Section of Birds”, “Section of Mammals”, reminding us that this is still a college, with students and professors.

I wonder what they study in this office!?!

I wonder whose office this is?

We made one last stop in the Polar Experience,

Polar Culture

Polar Bear











and then we were ready to call it a day – we were all getting a little tired!

After leaving the museum, I gave Tom directions to the restaurant that I had found, but didn’t tell him what it was . . .

as we got close, he said “Hey, this is that church that they turned into a brewery and restaurant!  I’ve eaten here!”

The Church Brew Works

Seriously . . . of all the restaurants in Pittsburgh, he’s already been to the one that I pick!




It’s an old Catholic Church that closed and the building was bought and converted into a brewery restaurant. 

It’s still quite beautiful inside!


Church Brew Works












Tom had Philly Cheesesteak with sweet potato fries, and Dad and I both had the Pittsburg-style salad . . . which was a basic entree salad with grilled chicken and one more interesting topping . . . french fries!  We opted to have our french fries on the side, but the salad was really good.

It was a very full, enjoyable day . . . and once again we pretty much wore Dad out!     IMG_1531



Monday, September 26, 2016

It’s been awhile since we added a new state to our map

The easiest route to our next stop south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, would have been I-76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but we really weren’t crazy about the big tolls for the RV & Jeep, especially when there was an alternative on this leg of the journey.  So we mapped out a route that would take us through the Ohio countryside, and follow the Ohio River to Wheeling, West Virginia, where we could pick up I-70 into Pennsylvania.



It was a beautiful day for a drive, and we had an easy drive through the Ohio countryside,

Ohio Countryside












and up some pretty crazy hills!

There were some hills!

In East Liverpool, we started following the Ohio River South, and the drive was curvy and scenic.

Following the Ohio River











There were several power plants taking up real estate along the river, though, including one that we drove straight through,

Power Plant

We drive right through it!












and a nuclear power plant that was ridiculously close to the road!

Nuclear Power Plant

Steubenville had a fancy new bridge crossing the river, but we stayed in Ohio until we reached I-70, and then crossed into Wheeling, West Virginia.

Bridge over the Ohio River

With that, we’re able to add Pennsylvania to our map of states!


Once we were on the interstate, the drive was much less scenic, and about an hour later we arrived at our home for the next two nights – Fox Den Acres Campground – and we had our first taste of the STEEP, NARROW roads around Pittsburgh!


We had to make a sharp left turn off a narrow road onto an even narrower road, and down a steep hill, to the entrance where we had to dodge telephone poles and huge boulders!  Campgrounds don’t like to make this easy on us, do they?!?


We pulled up at the Park Store,

Interesting Camp Store

just as families were getting started with their trick-or-treating in the campground.  We didn’t have any candy with us, so luckily we were busy with getting checked in and set up while the kids were out!

It was an interesting store/museum, with lots of stuff hanging around on the porch.

Totem Poles

On the ceiling of the porch




We circled through the campground, and out to the lower section where we had a nice long pull-thru site.

Our site in the lower area of the campground

Site 119










We did have one little mishap on this trip – the air line for the brakes, from the motorhome to the Jeep, disconnected on the motorhome side and was dragging on the road for some time as we drove, wearing off the end of the connector.  Fortunately, there was a Harbor Freight just up the road, and we were able to get a new connector (as well as a spare), so Tom and his dad could get the air line repaired.

We also made a Walmart run to restock a few groceries, so with that business out of the way, we were all set for a day of exploring on Sunday.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Adventure Begins in Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

When we started planning our route south, I knew we didn’t want to take either of the main routes to South Carolina – Interstate 75 or 77, but something different that would give us an opportunity to add a couple of new states to our map – Pennsylvania and Virginia.

I’ve been wanting to get to Pittsburgh and Gettysburg, and we wanted to visit our RV-Dreams friends, Don & Lois, in Virginia, so we had a general direction.

We needed a stopover in Ohio on the way to Pittsburgh, and after reading fellow RV-Dreamers’ blog about Cuyahoga Valley National Park, we decided on Country Acres Campground in Ravenna, OH, a Passport park about 30 miles from the National Park.

We took I-280 through Toledo,

Downtown Toledo

and then non-interstate highways from there.  It was a pleasant drive through the back roads and small towns of Ohio.

Amish Country

We arrived at the campground on the day before their Halloween weekend,     DSC_0020










and they were gearing up for a big celebration . . . with lots of decorations throughout the campground!

Halloween Decorations



There were even ghouls hanging in some of the trees, and they were setting up haunted houses in the pavilions!








Haunted House

The campground appears to be mostly seasonal, with about 30 daily sites near the front.  There’s a pond in the middle of the park, with sites and a walking path around it.












And a resident goose . . . who we heard wasn’t very nice!


We set up on site 18,

Site 18

Site 18










which is a nice long pull-thru with plenty of shade (water & 50amp), and we were doing pretty well until that evening, when we discovered that we weren’t getting any power through to the RV.  Our batteries weren’t drawn down too much, though, so it seemed that we had an intermittent ground issue.  We ended up switching to a neighboring pedestal, but that meant using an extension cord, which is only 30 amp.  Good thing we had a shady site, so we could get by with just one A/C!

Time to relax

Fortunately, nobody was moving onto that site for the weekend, so we set out for the National Park the next morning.

The focus of this National Park is the Ohio & Erie Canal, which travelled through the Cuyahoga Valley, connecting the Ohio River to Lake Erie.  The canal system allowed Ohio farmers to get their excess crops to the markets in the east, and to get goods in return.


Goods carried on the canal boats

The Canal Exploration Center,

Canal Exploration Center


has displays that explain the history of how the canal was designed, built (hand-dug, 4-feet wide and 308 miles long), utilized for transporting goods and people, and later for tourism, until it was ultimately replaced by more efficient means of transport.

Today, most of the canal system is gone, but within the park, there are sections that are being preserved,

Deep Lock Quarry

and even a working lock at the Canal Exploration Center.  It’s hard to believe that boats travelled through here back then!

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail follows the path of the old canal, including the section in the National Park, and provides recreation opportunities for biking, hiking and horseback riding.  That was our main reason for coming to the park, even if it was almost 90 degrees on the first day of Fall!

Our first stop was the Boston Store Visitor Center,

Boston Store Visitor Center

Boston Store Visitor Center

we picked up a map, and made our plan for the day.  Tom and I had brought our bikes and wanted to get out on the trail for some riding, but we needed something for Dad to do.  Our first thought was that he could take a ride on the scenic train which runs along the trail,

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Train

Watching the train

but the times weren’t going to work out well to make it worthwhile, and we actually didn’t want to ride too far, since it was so hot.

We decided that we would have our lunch at the Deep Quarry picnic area, and then Tom and I would ride 3-1/2 miles south on the trail to the Beaver Marsh, and then turn around and ride back, and Dad would wait at the picnic area after walking a bit on the trail.

It really was a beautiful day for a bike ride!

Towpath Trail

Most of the trail is shaded, so it was a pleasant ride even on a hot day.

A beautiful day for a bike ride

It’s an easy trail to ride on,

A nice, smooth, flat bike trail


and there are lots of things to see along the way.

Locks and bridges,




historic farms and villages,

and of course the Cuyahoga River.









Cuyahoga River

Tom and I reached the Beaver Marsh,

At the Beaver Marsh

where the informative display pointed out a beaver den,

Beaver Family Den

as well as the series of dams that create a clear area of the pond.

Tall grass growing on the beaver dam










We didn’t spot any beavers, but we did see a turtle sunning itself on the shore of the marsh.

Painted Turtle

We arrived back at the picnic area, and Dad said he he had just gotten back from his walk on the trail, also.  That worked out well!

Before leaving the park, we stopped for two more popular attractions --

The Everett Covered Bridge,

Everett Covered Barn

Everett Covered Bridge

which involved just a short walk from the parking lot,

A beautiful day for a walk, too

and Brandywine Falls, which took a little longer walk through the woods on a boardwalk.

Boardwalk to Brandywine Falls










We stopped at the upper overlook,

Dad waiting for us on the upper walkway

View from the upper overlook

and Dad waited there while Tom and I continued down to the lower overlook.

Walking under the rock shelves


Walking to the lower overlook

It wasn’t much further, but did include a few sets of steep steps.

Nice view!

View from the lower overlook

It was a beautiful day, and felt great to be out exploring again!  We’re glad we can share the experience with Dad!

Wildflowers along the trail