Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ruby Falls

As friends and family may know about me, I don't go in for the usual 'tourist' attractions--and especially not caves!  Now, don't get me wrong--I am fascinated by caves but most of those one encounters when traveling the byways of the US are not much more than big holes in the ground that someone is making way too much money from.
There are exceptions--Kartchner Caverns in Arizona is perhaps my favorite (I have visited it 5 times now) and I highly recommend the out-of-the-way trip to see something that is both uniquely beautiful and properly well-protected.
Many, many years ago I visited Carlsbad and was impressed but I will have to visit it again in the future to see if it is still as impressive as I remember.
There is an underwater cave in the Bahamas that was featured in a James Bond movie that was worth the visit.  It is so out-of-the-way that it was still in pristine condition when I saw it some 30 years ago.  I hope it is still that way.
And then there is the Chauvet cave in France I have seen only in the documentary, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" but can only imagine the thrill the discoverers felt when they found it.  It is not open to the public but the film and website are well worth a visit.

So why did I stop at Ruby Falls?  Well, it was recommended to me by the Earons and I have found that recommendations are generally worth the time and trouble to check out.  This was no exception.
First there was the drive to the top of 2000' Lookout Mountain (located just outside of Chattanooga) with a spectacular view of most of the state of Tennessee.

The entry fee was not small (another money-making cave for sure) but I bought two tickets (the cave and Rock City) for a discounted rate and pleaded senior-citizenship on top of it.
This perky guide informed us that we were going to descend more than 1100 feet underground to view the tallest underground waterfall so far discovered.

Next, I discovered the original cave explorer was a Lambert!  That is my maiden name.  Perhaps a relative?  Could be.  I spied pictures of him and his wife on the wall and saw no family resemblance in Leo but Ruby has my nose--poor dear.
An elevator took us down 200'.... then we descended a long, long walkway into the bowels of the mountain....


"Deep into the darkness peering, 
Long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before..."
Edgar A. Poe

(I think old Edgar was a spelunker!)

When poor Leo found the cave opening in 1928 he crawled in and continued crawling for 17 hours before he could stand up!

There are a few open chambers but most of the cave was small walkways that have been chiseled out of the granite rock..

There are the usual formations....

and there was even some moss growing in the depths and without sunlight.

Later when I looked at my photos I thought....Rorschach Test!

In some of them I could not tell what was up--and what was down...

But, all in all the cave was interesting....

and sometimes eerie....

I have always thought that naming rock formations is a rule I prefer my own imagination. 

As we descended we began to see signs of water....

Pools appeared and the drip, drip echoed through the tunnels...

I was really getting excited with anticipation when--suddenly--the battery died on my camera!  I quick stepped to the side and tried to change out the battery but in the dark I jammed the new one in the wrong way!  Oh, shucks!  (yeah! right!)  The guide was explaining that the falls would be lit for only a few minutes before the lights would go out (Saving money I suppose) so we had to hurry with our pictures.
My hands were shaking as I tried to reposition the battery in the faint light of the tunnel.  I could hear the Oohhs and Aahhs of the group up ahead of me.  Did I come all this way to not get a picture of that silly waterfall?  Wow,  finally the camera hummed into action just as the guide said, "15 seconds to go!"

Well, I got my picture but I was too close to get it all in one shot...

It was good to get back up top.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  Leo's waterfall is pretty spectacular and I thoroughly enjoyed the walk.  Next stop--Rock City!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Braselton, Georgia

The little town of Braselton, Ga is not very noteworthy at first. Of course, it is the home of Chateau Elan Winery plus a whole bunch of distribution centers--including Whole Foods--but that is the usual stuff touted by the local CofC.

Braselton also has some 'different' bragging points.  First of all, a few of the scenes from Clint Eastwood's newest movie ("Trouble with the Curve") were filmed there...(this is not one of them--I went looking but couldn't find the spot).

Also, actress Kim Bassenger, along with some other investors,  bought the town back in 1989 for $20 Million--I'm not sure why except that it is her hometown...

But she later sold her share.  However none of that is as noteworthy as what Braselton is best known for,          its....


Lots and lots of scarecrows....

Everywhere you look.

Whole families of them....
Even a few mixed marriage families thrown in....

I was told, "Just wait until October 1st, that's when they really start appearing."

I found this guy in front of a gun store, and right behind him I saw this....

  Now that's a serious ScareCrow!
So if you are near Braselton, Ga around Halloween take a little drive.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Earons

I had been trying to visit cousin Jamie's oldest daughter, Wendy Earon and her lovely family for months and I finally made it--to Winder, Georgia (a few miles east of Atlanta).

They have a wonderful home on a cul-de-sac, surrounded by woods, with a perfect and spacious place for me to  park for a few days. Once again, I could visit without moving in (except for the hot shower, of course).

And here they are--Mike and Wendy Earon and sons, Josh and Matthew.

The boys were a delight--super studious Josh and....

super friendly Matthew.  I am so glad I got to meet them and spend a little time.

I also got to meet the neighbors......

Some bashful...

and others not so much.  They were warm and welcoming, or maybe they were just worried about how long that strange vehicle was going to be sitting on their street.
And I am always ready for a 'baby-fix.'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Desert Air Alpaca Farm

Some months ago I joined an RV club called Harvest Hosts.  For a mere $35 per year I could stay for the night at one of the hundreds of wineries, u-pick-it farms or specialty farms that are also members.  It is merely a place to park, there are no hookups, and it is necessary to call ahead because there is very limited space for parking.  I had not had the opportunity to stay at one until recently while traveling to visit cousins outside of Atlanta so I checked the list and found this lovely spot on a rainy afternoon....

The Desert Mountain Alpaca Ranch

The road in was not far from the main thoroughfare,  and not bad, even though it was raining when I arrived.

Curious heads were watching me from the barn as I parked...

and a cacophony of barking sounds told me these occupants were well guarded. The owner of the ranch, Janice Buttitta came out to greet me and I learned that she and her husband, Tom, had recently moved their charming herd (what do you call a group of alpacas?)  plus 6 or more dogs from Arizona.

The beautiful animals were very curious and not the least bit afraid of this new visitor in their midst.

Janice's mother, Nellie Diaz, is also a willing participant in the care and upkeep of the Alpacas.


They are remarkably beautiful with the softest fur imaginable and just look at those eyelashes!

Janice knew the names and personalities of each and every one of her charges.

They are sheered once a year for their wool (?--what do you call alpaca hair?) and these were all sheared approximately 5 months earlier.   

They are sheered in the spring right before the heat of the summer and then they have the time to regrow the fur for the winter.

If their fur is this thick in only 5 months just imagine the thickness in another 7 months.  It is then turned into yarn and made into sweaters, caps, rugs and much more.  The animals are also bred and the offspring are sold to other potential alpaca farmers.

As I was strolling among the animals, Janice warned me when I started to get near the pile of 'Alpaca Beans' above.  "That's their bathroom!" she warned.
  I looked around and noticed that the yard was remarkably clean except for two or three piles like the one shown above.
"They all use the same few spots for defecating," Janice explained.  "As a result they are some of the cleanest farm animals you will ever find."

And that was definitely true, the barn did not smell like most barns I'd visited.  It actually hardly smelled at all.  I marveled at the efficacy of Alpaca farming.... raising lovable and friendly pets (no they do not spit!) who are naturally toilet trained and don't have to be slaughtered to produce an income.  What a deal!
Well, Nellie might not agree completely.  I found her shoveling up the bathroom piles the next morning--and it was raining again!  I guess there had to be a downside to this idyllic life after all.

I now consider my $35 membership fee in Harvest Hosts to be a real bargain--I would never have had this experience without them.

And for more information on Alpaca farming: