Saratoga Springs… Who Knew?

Laura, Fred, Marie & Jason
Me, Fred, Marie & Jason

August 28-30 — We’ve spent the last three days visiting in and around the very lovely town of Saratoga Springs in eastern, upstate New York.  Who knew this would turn out to be such a good stop on our journey?!?  We decided to route this way a couple of weeks ago once my cousin, John, hooked me up with his nephew, Jason – I know; it’s confusing – we just referred to each other as ‘cousins.’    Anyway, Jason has worked for the National Park Service for 10+ years now.  Last I knew, he was up in Alaska at Denali N.P., but John told me he switched parks and was now at Saratoga National Historical Park outside Saratoga Springs.  Given the nature of our journey, we knew we just had to reroute this way to see Jason’s park.

On the battlefield
Canon on the battlefield

Saratoga is known for two important battles in the Revolutionary War during our forefathers’ quest for independence from the British.  In the fall of 1777, the Revolutionaries, under Generals Gates, Morgan, Learned, Poor, and Arnold – the future Traitor Benedict Arnold this would be!** – defeated the Loyalists and British troops, lead by General John Burgoyne, in two significant battles that were just three weeks apart.  Burgoyne was forced to surrender to Gates, thus turning the tides of momentum, which, up until this point, had favored the British.  It is for this reason that Saratoga is celebrated as the turning point in the Revolutionary War.

[**Incidentally, these Revolutionary victories happened, in large part, due to the aggressive tactics and surprise attack of the brash General Benedict Arnold.  He was a hero in these battles.  He was shot in the same leg twice, and if he would have died then, he would have been celebrated here.  But then it would be two more years before he committed the treasonous act of selling information about the Revolutionaries to the British.  As one of the NP Rangers shared with us, Benedict Arnold was more concerned with Benedict Arnold than he was with his Cause.  Indeed, he was a great general, and he was being promoted up through the ranks during the war; he just wanted glory and recognition faster.  So he got impatient, got greedy, and betrayed his country.  He escaped to Canada, then Britain, never to return, but boy did General George Washington want to hang him!  And today, other than mentioning his name in the literature, there is no monument hailing the good works that General Benedict Arnold did do here.]

Obelisk monument built 100 years after the battles here
Memorial Monument

We enjoyed our tour of the Saratoga National Historical Park – the movie in the Visitor Center, of course, and especially our private, after-hours tour of the Schuyler House and the Saratoga Monument; a 155′ memorial obelisk we got to climb with Jason.  We also took the 9-mile audio-guided tour of the battlefields and surrounding area.  While not much remains of what was originally here – it was, after all, some 240 year ago! – the NPS has done a nice job of presenting the important battles that occurred here.

Then if the Park wasn’t enough, we met up with Jason and his, wife, Marie, for dinner at the Old Bryan Inn – a great old colonial restaurant and inn that was originally established in 1773.  We love being out east here and seeing all of these old structures!  We enjoyed our ‘revolutionary cuisine’ and then made plans to get together with them once again on Saturday at the race track.

Racing at Saratoga Racetrack
Racing at the historic Saratoga Race Course

Historic Saratoga Race Course is the oldest racing track in the country.  It was established back in 1864, and the old, iconic buildings are simply beautiful.  Jason made “the dash” to secure our spot – this involves queuing up outside the gates around 6 a.m. so when park doors open at 7 a.m.,  all those who have lined up can run – or dash! – into the park with tablecloths, chairs, etc. to reserve their spots for later.  When we arrived around 1 p.m., just before the first race’s post, we had a prime spot right next to the rail where they walk the horses en route to the paddock before their races.   A couple of Marie’s high school friends were in town, as well, so nine of us in total enjoyed the afternoon picnicking in between the 12 thoroughbred races.  We got a couple of tips from Elmhurst friend and racing fan, John K., but I didn’t need his help to win.  I didn’t bet a single dollar, and did the best I’ve ever done at any track –  nothing spent; nothing lost!

While Saratoga Springs wasn’t on our initial itinerary, we are so glad we rerouted.


Three Days of Peace, Love and Great Music

Woodstock Flag
Woodstock Flag

August 27 — How could we pass up the opportunity to come to music concert mecca?  We couldn’t!  So when we crossed the state line from Pennsylvania into New York, we proceeded directly to Bethel, site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.  While concerts are no longer allowed in Max Yasgur’s famed field, there’s a field & concert venue right next to it that hosts them (Zac Brown Band is playing tonight!) and it is here at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts that the Woodstock Museum resides.

I expected a well-done museum that featured psychedelia and music, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much more there was to it. Fred & I spent over four hours taking a trip (pun intended) through the 1960s to see how that time period influenced these young ‘hippies’ that many in the older generation came to not like and not trust – perfect family shows on television, Vietnam’s influence on the country, changes in fashion, the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Haight Ashbury… the list goes on.

F & L at Max Yasgur's farm - site of the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969
Max Yasgur’s farm – site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival

And then it told the story of a couple of guys who wanted to put on a ‘Music & Arts Fair.’  They secured funding and booked a location.  [Incidentally, the concert was originally to be in nearby Wallkill, but concert organizers had to find a new venue just six weeks before the show because threats to the Wallkill site owner forced him to rescind his offer of his field.]  Then they started lining up artists including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin & a host of others.  Unknowns Crosby, Stills & Nash (Young joined them for a second set) performed for just their second time here – “we’re scared $#!tless” exclaimed Steven Stills to the crowd.  Bill Graham, Santana’s promotor, had to beg for them to be in the lineup, and got them on only because he also allowed another of his bands, The Grateful Dead, to play.  It turned out that Santana was one of the best bands of the whole concert!  Music aficionado that I am, and Woodstock nut that Fred is, we watched every movie and read every placard in this place.  Afterwards, we strolled down the field to the monument, having been satisfied that, while we were both a little too young to be at Woodstock back in August of 1969 (and I could not see our parents letting us take this trek even if we were old enough), we at least got to come back and relive the experience now – well worth the trip here!


Hover your cursor over the below photo and scroll on the arrows to see some more photos of our groovy time at the Woodstock museum:

Best Hike Yet

The big 94-footer!August 25 – On the recommendation of a couple of people we met three weeks ago, we came up to Ricketts Glen – a state park in northern Pennsylvania.  They sold us on the promise of an epic hike that takes you alongside 21 waterfalls – you hike down one creek to where the two creeks meet (at Waters Meet), go down a little farther to see three more waterfalls, then hike back up the second creek – all in all, it’s a 5+ mile loop trail with about 2,000 feet of climbing.  Indeed, this was a fabulous hike!

The falls ranged from 11 feet to 94 feet in drop.  They follow all sorts of routes as the water flows over and around rocks and fallen trees.  The pictures don’t do it justice, but trust us, this was the best hike of all that we’ve been on while Out There – a great recommendation, and one we make to anyone who thinks hiking around 21 waterfalls sounds like a great way to spend a few hours.





Hover your cursor over the photo and click on the arrows to scroll through some really great waterfall shots, although the pictures don’t do them justice:

When We Let The Day Wash Over Us

Three great things have happened to us in the last two weeks that we attribute to letting the day wash over us – a luxury we now have and for which we are extremely grateful.

First – On Saturday morning, August 16th, we were just ready to pull out of our campsite when Fred struck up a conversation with the couple we saw pulling into the site next to us the evening before.  It was an hour before we actually pulled out, for we starting talking to Ron & Tina – a couple from eastern Pennsylvania with whom we seemed to share a lot of commonalities.  It turns out they live 30 minutes from where we were heading next!  We traded contact information and vowed to get together in the following week.  Five nights later we were having a fabulous dinner with them at their house in the woods and six hours went by just like that as we traded advice on everything from places to visit and trails to hike to camera tips & equipment.  We now have friends we really hope we can see again somewhere on the road.  Thanks, Ron & Tina, for a wonderful evening at your place – we really enjoyed getting to know you and look forward to meeting up again!

Second – About a week ago we took a nice morning walk on the towpath along the Delaware River, then stopped at the local General Store where we ordered some breakfast.  We found a table outside, and while waiting for our egg sandwiches we started talking with a couple we had seen biking along the towpath.  It turns out Stan and Pam are from Vermont where we’re planning to be this fall!  We whiled away the next two hours very pleasantly with them on the patio next to the towpath, traded contact information, and now we look forward to seeing them up in Vermont where they have graciously offered a parking spot for Charley while we’re enjoying their lovely state.  We’ll see you soon, Pam & Stan!

Site of the Little League World SeriesFinally – This past Sunday, August 24th, we were moving on once again – this time to Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania where we’re currently staying.  We were aware of the Cinderella story of the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson Little League team that kept winning and winning, and had made it to the Little League World Series.  Well it turns out they made it to the championship game which was being played at 3 o’clock that afternoon less than an hour from our campground!  We hurriedly set up just the basics of our camp, then hopped in Toad and drove 40 miles to Williamsport.  Kids having a ball sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes - it was great!We missed the first inning, but joined some 20,000 spectators, most of whom sat on the hillside around the outfield, and watched six more innings of a hard-fought game in which the team from South Korea had a little more firepower in their pitching and a little more bounce in their bats.  Little Jackie Robinson, underdogs all the way, was now known as the USA team, and chants of “USA-USA” could be heard from all around the stands and field as people waved American flags.  A 3-run 7th inning wasn’t enough to get the job done, and Jackie Robinson ended up losing 8-4.  Still, we got to be there, thanks to allowing the day to wash over us instead of having it so rigidly planned, and we got to share in the excitement as this fighting little team from our big city of Chicago had the whole country cheering for it.

Independence National Historical Park

The Liberty BellAugust 22 — We did something we haven’t had to do in three months – we drove into the big city of Philadelphia and had to deal with traffic!  But our time spent in the traffic was worth the reward of visiting yet another famous National Historical Park and seeing, among other things, the most important shrine to American liberty – the illustrious Liberty Bell.

Philadelphia was founded in 1682, and by the late 1700s it was the most populous and most culturally-advanced city in Colonial America.  It was the center of activity for those who advocated independence from Britain – men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and scores of others who discussed ideas, debated concepts, documented their beliefs, and ultimately lead 13 colonies to independence and the creation of The United States of America!

Walking along the cobblestoned streets, we couldn’t help but reflect on all of the historic events in the American Revolution that happened here – who walked down the very passages we walked down and who sat in the very rooms we got to tour.  As our rousing NPS Park Ranger told us as we were touring Independence Hall, “You are standing in the most famous room in the entire country.”  Reflecting on that strong statement, he’s right.  The First and Second Continental Congresses met here.  These were the first unofficial forms of government meetings; men representing each of the 13 colonies – the country wasn’t even a country yet.  These courageous men went against British rule, first to create the Declaration of Independence (1776) which immortalizes “unalienable truths” upon which just government must depend, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  Next came the Articles of Confederation (1776 to 1789) which defines powers of the States, and then the Constitution of the United States (1787) expresses the essence of free government.  Our founding fathers were incredibly bold to believe they could go against British rule to establish their own country and form their own government.  Affixing their names to these monumental documents was committing treason against British Rule, and yet so committed to freedom were these men that they bravely did it and kept fighting in the war to ultimately win such independence.

There are more than a dozen historical buildings spread over ten or so blocks in the heart of this historic city, and while we didn’t visit all of them, we hit the primary ones including Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center, the Second Bank of the United States, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the B. Free Franklin Post Office (the first in the nation) and, of course as we value so greatly, the park’s Visitor Center.

It was another amazing day of revisiting our American history – well worth our time in traffic!

Hover your cursor over the photo and click on the arrows to see photos from our day in Independence National Historical Park:

Valley Forge National Historical Park

General George Washington
General George Washington

August 19 — We spent a nice afternoon here at Valley Forge which is about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.  I’m sure I sound like a broken record because I keep saying this, but it’s true – we were once again impressed with the features, layout, and exhibits in the park.  We took in the introductory film in the Visitor Center, walked around the exhibits and viewed artifacts from this time period, and then enjoyed the 10-mile self-guided driving tour around the Encampment Area – it was all very well done!

Inscription on the National Memorial Arch
Inscription on the National Memorial Arch

So we all know that Valley Forge was the site General George Washington chose for his Continental Army’s winter encampment.  Valley Forge was chosen for its proximity to Philadelphia – it was close enough for Washington to monitor the British Army’s activities in Philly [they had recently taken control of this, the patriot capital, forcing Congress to flee to York, Pennsylvania] but far enough away to prevent a surprise attack on Washington’s troops as he tried to keep alive the hopes of Independence.

I knew this all happened during Revolutionary times, but I hadn’t remembered when exactly – the Continental Army was here from December 19, 1777 until June 19, 1778; a full six months.

Until visiting Valley Forge, I hadn’t stopped to realize how significant this time actually was for the patriot soldiers, the leaders, and ultimately what would become the United States.  Yes, I remember there were hardships here and that the winter was cold, but seeing replicas of the huts these determined men built once they got here, and then imagining the long, cold winter they had to endure here… or understanding just how inadequate the food, clothing and equipment there was, as evidenced by the letters in the exhibit that Washington and others had sent to Congress to try to secure appropriate provisions for his army to fight the British… wow! – such perseverance!  But that we all could understand and appreciate these extreme sacrifices….

As tenuous as the conditions here were, Washington inspired his men through his own resilience and sense of duty.  He persuaded Congress to reform the supply system and end the crippling shortages.  He attracted experienced officers to his cause, including former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben, who was given the job to train the troops.  Von Steuben taught the soldiers new military skills and to fight as a more unified army.  In fact, Von Steuben’s reforms in supply systems, fighting tactics, military hygiene, and army organization became the foundation of the modern United States Army!

Before my visit here, I hadn’t stopped to consider that Washington’s army was made up of men that 13 quite-disjointed Colonies sent [they wouldn’t become true States for another 10 years], and that these men, not having any training, all showed up to fight in various states of preparedness – or lack thereof – of clothing, weapons, and the like.  It’s truly amazing what they accomplished in the face of these tremendous odds that were stacked against them!

The National Memorial Arch
The National Memorial Arch

Washington’s words are inscribed on the National Memorial Arch, “… naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.”  So true are these words.

An inscription in the Visitor Center very nicely summarizes this place… ‘Over the course of the American Revolution there were many highs and lows, battles won and lost, but it is Valley Forge that has become a symbol of resilience for the American people.  It was here that the Continental Army survived hardships; where conflicts and choices were made; where leadership was inspired; and where the army was transformed in such a manner as to ultimately achieve our country’s independence.’  

Model encampment at Valley Forge
Model encampment at Valley Forge – some 12,000 soldiers created what would be the 4th largest ‘city’ in America at the time, with 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications
NPS Ranger demonstrating the interworkings of a musket for Fred
NPS Ranger demonstrating the interworkings of a musket for Fred
General Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge
General Washington’s headquarters while at Valley Forge











A bit of foretelling here… After Washington’s Continental Army was strengthened during their winter here in Valley Forge, they went on to fight the British troops more effectively.  Still, battles would go on for another three years before British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to end the last major campaign of the Revolutionary War, and then another two years [1783] before the final peace treaty was signed in Paris and British troops would leave America for good.

Washington’s Crossing

Plaque that tells the story
Plaque that tells the story of George Washington and his weary troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night for a surprise attack on the Hessian troops the following morning

August 19th — At Fred’s insistence, we visited Washington’s Crossing State Park.  As it wasn’t on our “National Park Areas” list, I wasn’t too keen on going – I just wanted to get to Valley Forge! – but Fred wanted to see this famed historic site as General George Washington crossed the Delaware River here.  I kept telling him that Washington crossed this river several times, which was true, but his famed crossing on Christmas night took place right here, and Fred insisted on stopping.  Well I am admitting publicly here in my blog post that Fred was right and I was wrong (oh how that hurts to admit that!) – this place was not to be missed!  While there are two Washington’s Crossing Parks – one on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River and one on the New Jersey side – we opted for the New Jersey side.   The small Visitor Center in the park was chock full of artifacts from this historic event and the surrounding Revolutionary times, and the movie telling of ten critical days in the battle for our country’s independence was spectacular!

Thanks to General Washington’s surprise middle-of-Christmas-night crossing of the Delaware River with his then-battered and nearly defeated Continental Army, their horses and weapons, he and his army of some 2,400 men were then able to surprise the Hessians [hired German soldiers fighting for the British; a ruthless army these guys were!] and defeat them in Trenton, New Jersey, on December 26, 1776.  Then with this newly-found confidence, Washington’s army then marched up to Princeton, New Jersey, and on January 3, 1777, defeated British troops there before heading back over to Pennsylvania to Valley Forge to recoup from the year’s battles while winter weather, impassable roads, and scant supplies prevented fighting by both sides during these winter months.

The Delaware River where George Washington crossed
Site of Washington’s Crossing on the Delaware River

Incidentally, there’s a famous painting by Emanual Leutze that depicts Washington Crossing the Delaware.  In it, the Delaware River looks very wide, but see the photo to the right – this part of the river is actually pretty narrow.  Not that I think that was an easy crossing on a cold, Christmas night with all that ice on the river, but I’m just saying that Leutze has exaggerated the river width quite a bit in his painting….  Another perception-corrector – I had always envisioned a couple of boats crossing the river with the troops and then away they all go, but no… with 2,400 men, their horses and even waning supplies, the Durham boats they used were only about 40′ long, so not that many men could cross in one boat.  Basically the few boats that Washington had secured in advance of his crossing went back and forth and back and forth all night long shuttling soldiers and supplies.  At one point, Washington was concerned that they weren’t going to get everything over to the other side [the Jersey side] in time, and in fact, it was reportedly daylight when they finally got everyone and everything over – so much for the surprise attack coming in the middle of the night.  But actually, the Hessians were taken by complete surprise (it was Christmastime after all!) and Washington’s men quite easily defeated this army and in doing so, captured many as prisoners and were able to grab much-needed supplies from them.  Well done George and Army!


The Haines Shoe House

The Haines Shoe House

It is in the category of “Out of the Ordinary” that this place belongs.  We learned about the Haines Shoe House from the CBS News Sunday Morning show, I think it was.  As the picture depicts, it’s a house in the shape of a shoe!  Well, actually it’s a work boot.

We drove by this unique dwelling [on Shoe House Road no less!] in Hallam, PA, while driving along the Lincoln Highway en route to our current destination in northeast Pennsylvania.  According to my source, Wikipedia, Mahlon Haines built the house in 1948 as a form of advertisement for his boot company.

The house is 25′ tall with five stories and is open to public tours now, but on the day we drove a little out of our way to drive by it, The Old Woman [who lived in a shoe] was not home so we couldn’t get the tour.  Oh well….

The back of the Haines Show House - and note the mailbox - how could you miss it actually?
The back of the house – great mailbox!

For you TV fans, which, by the way, we aren’t any more (haven’t seen TV since we’ve been Out Here other than when we have dinner at a bar / restaurant and it’s on in the background), the Shoe House was on the TV show, The Amazing Race.  We never watched that show, but that’s okay – we got to see The Haines House up close and in person!


Meet Reg!

Reginald Todd Whiten
Reginald Todd Whiten

Our new little nephew came into the world back on June 30, and last night we got to meet him!  You can call me a biased aunt, but I think he’s the sweetest, most adorable little thing on the planet!

Amy & Ray went through all of the steps and the anxiety of adopting this little peanut, but from Amy’s first text to me from the hospital, once they saw him at five hours old, it was ‘love at first sight!’  We can see why!

We met Amy & Ray out at a terrific little pizza place in Easton, PA, and I had the pleasure of getting to hold little Reg most of the time – I just didn’t want to give him up!

While there’s not much you can say about a seven-week old’s personality just yet, I did make a couple of initial observations.  He’s adorable.  He’s wiggly.  He’s strong.  Everybody, and I mean everybody in the restaurant wanted to take him home, so you can see in the photos and imagine just how sweet he is.

He’s still trying to figure out his days and his nights, so we wish Amy & Ray a lot of luck with that early on here!  But we also look forward to watching this little guy grow and being a good aunt and uncle to him in the future.  So welcome, little Reg.  We already love you lots & lots!

Aunt Laura & Baby Reg
Mom Amy & baby Reg
Happy Mom & sweet baby Reg