26. December 2011 · Comments Off on Alabama Discoveries 1: The Santa Train and Zoo Lights! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

We had a fun couple days sightseeing and enjoying some of the local holiday traditions.  Dave’s finally getting his “travel legs” back after his surgery and on Friday withstood about 4 hours in the car, to and from the Foley, Alabama area.

We live about 1 1/2 hours from the Wales West RV Park…and Tourist Railroad.  Yes, if you can imagine the two businesses coexisting, that’s what we have.  It’s tucked deep in a rural town in Alabama, east of Mobile….

Okay, an aside here: I’m not sure what you officially call that part of Alabama that’s due west of the Florida Panhandle and has the Gulf of Mexico as its southern border.  I always thought of it as a “stem”.  I did some cursory research and determined it could be either “South Alabama” or “Lower Alabama”.  Wikipedia didn’t offer too much help.

…anyway, this RV Park offers Welsh Narrow Gauge train rides on weekends, and in December they had an adorable Santa Train experience.

After dark, the train takes riders throughout the extensive RV park, which is brilliantly lit up.  You ride to the far eastern side of the park, where you’re dropped off: Santa Claus is waiting for the kids in his “North Pole” workshop.  The kids meet Santa, photographs are free, and Santa gives each child a wooden toy train to decorate in a craft section at the workshop.  What a wonderful way to meet Santa!

After returning to the main train station on the west side of the RV park, the riders get cocoa, cookies and entertainment.  There were a traveling petting zoo on hand, and a snack bar/gift shop area.

The facilities were well-kept and the holiday decorations were beautiful!

After the train, we headed over to Foley, AL to a touristy restaurant called Lambert’s Cafe.  They advertise that they’re the “Home of Thrown [sic] Rolls”…and that’s precisely what they do: fling the HUGE yeast rolls across the dining room to customers.  The boys enjoyed catching them for us!  Sadly, I tried and tried to get a picture of the young man just as the roll was leaving his hands.

The menu is “comfort food”, like what you would expect at Cracker Barrel, and the portions were ENORMOUS!  Dave and I should have share something!

The kid was too fast for me to catch the roll flying through the air.
Look at the size of these rolls!  Still warm, too!
There’s a paper towel with fried okra in front of me.  Servers came around with “pass arounds” all throughout the meal.

On Saturday evening, after Christmas Eve church services, we headed to the Gulf Breeze Zoo for the “Zoo Lights” event.  We had a nice time seeing the lights, and even got a sneak peek at many of the animals at night!

Unfortunately, I left the good camera at home and most of my iPhone pictures were pretty lousy.  This one was nice, though.  The kids were being silly in the foreground.

15. August 2011 · 3 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,
This is officially called “The Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain”.  It’s the largest relief carving in the world…at least until the Crazy Horse Monument is finished.  We all know who the guys are…who knows the horses’ names?

As I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post about The Varsity, the only truly scheduled activity we had coming into Atlanta was a Sunday afternoon Braves game.  So we had the entire city of Atlanta at our disposal for sightseeing.

What to do…what to do…

Most families staying in downtown Atlanta would have considered the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center tour, and/or the World of Coca-Cola.  Zoo Atlanta would have been a good option too…if it weren’t for the incredible heat.

Dave, in his typical train-fan fashion, knew of a tourist scenic railroad in the area.  So that’s what we sought to do.  We decided to grab some same-day tickets to the Saturday night Braves game, and then headed out for the day to Stone Mountain Park which is about 15 miles east of Atlanta.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect — several folks at the hotel breakfast area told us we’d have a good time and that there was “so much to do!”.

Those folks were right!  Stone Mountain Park is very beautiful and there was no shortage of things to do!  We didn’t quite dress for hiking up the mountain (and Dave’s back wouldn’t have been to happy with it either), but we were able to enjoy the scenic train, the skytram right to the top of the mountain, a ferryboat ride, and a fun — touristy — lunch where our yeast rolls were thrown to us by our servers!

Dave and I really enjoyed the Civil War history that’s been memorialized at the park — of course there’s the beautiful bas relief sculpture of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (and their horses!).  There is also an antebellum mansion to tour, and a Confederate Museum.

One could visit the park and make a complete vacation experience out of it — from campsite to the Stone Mountain Inn, you can stay on the property.  If you want to do outdoor activities, there’s hiking, biking, golf and boating to be had!  If you prefer indoor air conditioned stuff, there are the museums, the shops and lots of exhibits and demonstrations.

Stone Mountain is a fascination in and of itself: the dome of cooled magma, which soon became granite rock, poked up over the surrounding geology, rising over 800′ above the surrounding area.  There are gentle rolling hills around Atlanta, but Stone Mountain sticks up pretty high…

While you could pay individually for each of the activities we did, we instead took advantage of the one-day “Adventure Pass”.  This let us do just about all the theme-park activities (there’s this “Ride the Duck” attraction that wasn’t included, but that’s okay).  We had a military discount of $3 off each ticket, yay!

Perhaps because it was August in Georgia, who knows?  The park was not crowded at all even on a Saturday, there were little-to-no lines for any of the activities we wanted to enjoy.

First, the 5 mile train ride around the base of the mountain.

The engine that pulled us.

This is the walking trail up to the top (as seen from the train) — it’s straight up the sheer rock surface so it can get quite dangerous if it were rainy.

Next we enjoyed a touristy Southern comfort food lunch at an in-park restaurant called “Miss Katie’s”.  They’re known for throwing the yeast rolls at you.  I didn’t get a picture of this gimmick, but here’s a picture I found off the web of a Miss Katie’s server throwing a roll, from the Epicurean Family Blog:

We enjoyed southern fried chicken and chicken and dumplings for lunch.  Along with free tossed rolls, fried dill pickles, fried sweet potatoes and free fried onion petals…we were glad we ordered 2 entrees and 1 kid’s meal for the 4 of us!

The lunch was yummy, but unfortunately was priced for tourists and our lunch for 4 was over $50.

After lunch we visited the air conditioned Yogi Bear’s 4D Adventure.  This was merely a stitching-together of 12-minutes worth of scenes from the 2010 movie Yogi Bear…the 3D version.  But we were in a theater that added in real water and wind effects.  We had seen Yogi Bear this past spring but it was fun to experience the water and wind effects.

This is what I usually get from Jacob these days when I say “Smile for the camera!”

Next we visited the Summit Skyride, which was the gondola ride to the top of the mountain.  The gondola has a capacity of 13,000 lbs., and when we were loading up, it was rather freaky seeing the load weight – displayed in tons – get higher and higher.  Luckily, everyone fit on board at 5.1 tons.

We enjoyed the views from the top of the mountain.

Can you see the Atlanta skyline out there?  Trust me, it’s out there!

I have a lot of peak pictures of Dave: here and here.  I have one of him on North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain too…but that’ll have to wait till I get home and dig into my photo archives.

I think this is the very peak of the mountain.  But I could be wrong….

Timmy was very curious about these circular depressions in the granite.  It’s from rainwater “soaking” some of the softer minerals in the rock…when the water evaporated, the dissolved minerals would go with it.

This is the very pretty — and very rare — Confederate yellow daisy.  There’s a festival in September to celebrate it’s full bloom, but they were just starting up about this time of year.

Jacob took this nice picture of Dave and me…I like the rainshower on the left side of the picture, in the background.

This black swallowtail butterfly was fluttering among the yellow daisies.  Way up on top of the mountain.  Love how my 12x zoom captured even the detail of the granite of the mountain top.  There was a tiger swallowtail, too, but he wouldn’t land anywhere for me to photograph him.

We cooled off at the air conditioned Memorial Hall Museum, which has exhibits about the geology of the mountain…and a lot of the Native American and early American artifacts found nearby, as well as exhibits about the making of the bas relief sculpture and the Civil War history in the area.

Did you know?  The original sculptor of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial was Gutzon Borglum…his design wasn’t used due to differences the artist had with his financial backers in the mid-1920s.  Borglum smashed the models of his designs and left Georgia in anger in 1925.  He went to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota to design and oversee its construction from 1927-1941.

The Memorial Hall Museum.

A view of the “Memorial Lawn” – laser light shows are held every night at 9:30pm during the summer.  We’d have loved to have seen one; apparently their lightshow rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is pretty well known.

Finally, and by this time we were all tired and sore from the walking around, we ended our day at Stone Mountain Park with a ride on their riverboat Scarlett O’Hara.

Dave might actually be sleeping here…we were all pretty tired by this point.

View of Stone Mountain from the riverboat.

We were very glad we chose a day at Stone Mountain Park over the more common tourist destinations in Atlanta!  It was nice to get some fresh — albeit hot — air, and learn more about Georgia’s nature and history.

29. June 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve never done a “Wordless Wednesday” before, but I thought we’d have a good time with these pictures Dave and I took of Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary exhibit train at the Strasburg Railroad in June, pulled by a P40 locomotive.  Considering these to decorate Jacob’s room, since he’s a fan of Amtrak.

23. September 2008 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 6: Our Weekend in North Platte · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

This past weekend we rented a camper from the Air Force base and drove it 280 miles west of here to the town of North Platte, Nebraska. They were holding their annual “Railfest”, this big Union Pacific Railroad/Town of North Platte celebration weekend. The UP sponsors everything, lots of fun for everyone. There’s a festival at the town park, plus lots of train-related activites throughout the rest of the town.

From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE

We visited several historic UP locomotives, visited the 8 story Golden Spike observation tower, and got to ride in a little mini-train.

From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE


From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE


From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE

For Sunday morning, I made arrangements for tickets for a bus tour of Bailey Yard, the UP’s classification yard. That was one of the most incredible experiences for any railfan, and even *I* found it impressive. Dave writes more about it here.

We drove home right after the tour, taking our times by driving east on U.S. 30 from North Platte to Grand Island (about 115 miles). This way we could parallel the UP tracks and saw at least 20 trains!

As for the camping, once Dave and I got over the initial shock of (a) requiring about 40 gallons of gas to get the camper from Omaha to North Platte and (b) everything you have to do to set up the camper at the RV campsite (water, power, leveling, starting up the fridge), we figured we’d have a relaxing weekend on our hands. I made a nice chicken and rice dinner with our dutch oven, then we toasted marshmallows and made Smores with the campfire.

From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE


From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE


From 2008 09 20 Camping_RailFest_BaileyYard_NorthPlatteNE

But at 1am Friday night, we were awakened by an alarm bell: the propane detector was telling us “no more propane”, although we hadn’t used any since dinnertime. Actually, a circuit board went bad in the 3-way power converter unit (which is what seamlessly transfers power from battery to AC for the onboard fridge, water pump and lighting)…so overnight the power switched from AC to battery and the battery died.

Dave and I did about an hour’s worth of troubleshooting, between 1-2 am Friday night…and gave up and went back to sleep angry. By Saturday, we just told ourselves we have a big hardened tent. Then we went on and enjoyed the rest of our weekend.

05. May 2008 · Comments Off on Photos from Dave and Jake’s Dream Train Vacation · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , , ,

Enjoy these pics from Dave and Jake’s big model railroading/railfanning weekend. Hopefully Dave will blog about this soon on his own.

Timmy and I had a fun weekend together in South Carolina!

PS: We have two offers on the house, possibly more by tomorrow morning! Whoo hoo!