Summer 2017, Day 28: Mammoth Cave NP, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

This morning we drove north, crossing briefly into and out of Tennessee back into Kentucky:

Summer2017_Day28_2_001

Our first stop was Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest in the world.  The cave’s subterranean passages are shown on the map in yellow:

Summer2017_Day28_001

Summer2017_Day28_2_002

The visitor center was more crowded than usual with post-eclipse traffic.  After touring the visitor center, we descended into the cave:

Summer2017_Day28_002

Unlike caves we’ve visited in the past, like Carlsbad Cavern, Mammoth Cave is a dry cave, so there aren’t many Stalactites or other cave features here:

Summer2017_Day28_003

When the cave was first discovered, it was mined for saltpeter.  Some evidence of the mining remains:

Summer2017_Day28_004

Summer2017_Day28_005

Summer2017_Day28_007

Summer2017_Day28_008

Summer2017_Day28_009

Summer2017_Day28_010

Summer2017_Day28_011

Summer2017_Day28_012

Summer2017_JR_Badge_001

The kids also handed in the Eclipse Explorer books we picked up at another NPS site last week:

Summer2017_JR_Badge_011

Our next stop was Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.  The primary feature of the park is this building, built in 1911, in which the childhood cabin of Abraham Lincoln is housed:

Summer2017_Day28_013

…Except it’s not really Abraham Lincoln’s house.  This cabin was built from logs that made up a tourist cabin claimed to be made from logs from a cabin found on the site that used to house Lincoln’s cabin.  Recently, tree ring analysis has shown that the logs are from trees younger than Lincoln, and therefore could not have been from his cabin.  Nonetheless, it’s the thought that counts, I suppose:

Summer2017_Day28_014

Summer2017_Day28_015

The memorial building:

Summer2017_Day28_016

Summer2017_Day28_017

Summer2017_Day28_018

Summer2017_Day28_019

Summer2017_JR_Badge_013

We continued north to overnight at the Walmart of Shepherdsville, Kentucky.  See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 27: The Eclipse of 2017

In the morning we were rudely awakened by shouting Walmart employees collecting scattered shopping carts. Overnighting at Walmart is certainly convenient but doesn’t usually lend itself to a restful night. It was 6am and the sun had yet to rise, yet the temperature was already in the mid-70s with humidity around 80 percent.

Welcome to Southern Kentucky.

After breakfast, we repositioned the RV to a gravel stub off the end of Walmart’s access road. Being out of the Walmart lot itself, we could now unfurl our awning in an attempt to slow what would be an inevitable rise in the cabin temperature. Our generator is only powerful enough to power one of the RV’s two air conditioners, so the best we could hope for today was reduced humidity inside the RV and a temperature a few degrees cooler than the 95 degrees forecasted outdoors:

Summer2017_Day27_024

Summer2017_Day27_003

The partial eclipse was scheduled to start shortly before noon, so we set up our folding chairs, prepared the binoculars (for totality only), and donned our eclipse glasses. I also set up a small telescope with a solar filter affixed to the end of the telescope and a photographic adapter that allowed my DSLR camera body to mount directly to the back of the telescope, With the flip of a lever, I could direct the telescope’s light either to the eyepiece or the camera.

We were ready.

Summer2017_Day27_004

Summer2017_Day27_005

Summer2017_Day27_001

Our reposition to Kentucky paid off, with completely clear skies forecasted for the whole day. At noon, we watched through solar glasses and telescope as the Moon began its slow crawl in front of the Sun. Totality was scheduled for around 1:30pm, and by 1pm the air temperature begin to fall and the sky started to darken slightly. It wasn’t like sunset because the sun was still overhead, rather it was as if we was looking through increasingly dark sunglasses. Note the sunspots: 

Summer2017_Day27_002

The effect became extremely pronounced in the last ten minutes before totality. The temperature had fallen from 90 to about 80, and the sky somehow felt heavy, as if the darkening celestial sphere was pressing down on us.

Summer2017_Day27_006

Summer2017_Day27_007

Summer2017_Day27_008

Summer2017_Day27_009

In the minute or so before totality, the sky darkened rapidly, as if the Sun was being controlled by a heavenly dimmer switch:

Summer2017_Day27_010

Summer2017_Day27_011

Summer2017_Day27_012

In the seconds before totality, we viewed the Sun without the solar glasses and saw the “engagement ring” effect as the last sliver of the Sun desperately peeked around the Moon:

Summer2017_Day27_013

Then totality.

We all gasped as the sky went twilight-dark and bright stars and planets sprung to life in the sky. Set on the sky’s dark blue background was the black hole that was the Moon:

Summer2017_Day27_020

Summer2017_Day27_019

Spreading out beyond the Moon’s edge was the Sun’s white Corona. It stretched away from the Moon like a cotton ball being pulled apart:

Summer2017_Day27_015

In the binoculars and the now-unfiltered telescope, we could see red prominences protruding rope-like from the Sun’s concealed surface:

Summer2017_Day27_014

It was the strangest two-and-a-half minutes of my life. At that moment, the Sun had ceased to exist. It was as if creation itself had been profoundly and permanently altered. I was deeply moved by experience, and had to blink back tears as I looked through the binoculars.

Summer2017_Day27_016

As if unwinding a vast celestial mechanism, all the events we witnessed minutes before repeated themselves in reverse. The Sun’s edge, impossibly bright, forced itself past the Moon’s concealment, creating a second “Engagement Ring” effect:

Summer2017_Day27_017

The light level rapidly “came up” as if at the end of a play and the Sun began to move away from its temporary prison. The light level slowly increased and Walmart employees and shoppers went back to what they were doing.  I desperately tried to hang on to what I had experienced, to force into my memory all the strange sensations I had experienced only minutes before.

Views of the sun after totality:

Summer2017_Day27_018

Summer2017_Day27_021

Summer2017_Day27_022

The sun, projected between gaps of leaves onto the ground, creates crescent-shaped highlights:

Summer2017_Day27_023

Summer2017_Day27_025

The end:

Summer2017_Day27_026

It’s late afternoon now. The Sun is now completely free of the Moon’s temporary embrace. We have another few days to travel until we return to New York. We will visit and experience natural wonders and locations of historical significance, but I suspect they will all pale in comparison to the 150 seconds of miracle we experienced today.

In what has been called the “golden age of American eclipses”, today’s eclipse is a preview of two more cross-country eclipses in 2024 and 2045. In less than seven years, the Moon will once again conquer the Sun, this time over the skies of upstate New York.

We decided to stay here for the rest of the day so I could write an article for Mishpacha Magazine about this trip and our eclipse experience, due Wednesday.

See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 26: Truman NHS, Grant NHS

On Shabbos day, after a nice davening, the shul had lunch together in honor of the one-year anniversary of a member couple. Shabbos in Leawood reminded me of how strong and special small out-of-town communities can be. After Shabbos, our RV neighbors from Brooklyn decided to drive over to a local Walmart and sleep there just to have the experience.

Today we left Leawood and continued East, crossing into Missouri. In the morning we visited Harry Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri.  We parked a few blocks away and walked over.  Interesting street names:

Summer2017_Day26_001

Summer2017_Day26_002

We learned about America’s 33rd president, who fought his own State Department to have the US vote for recognition of the fledgling State of Israel in the United Nations.  Trish posed with the president:

Summer2017_Day26_003

Summer2017_JR_Badge_006

Our next stop was SubTropolis, a business complex built into a spent out limestone mine.  Unfortunately, access is closed on the weekends:

Summer2017_Day26_004

Our next stop was the town of Liberty, Missouri:

Summer2017_Day26_005

Summer2017_Day26_006

At this bank in 1866, Jesse James and his gang committed the first daylight bank robbery in US history.  We came here because a relative of mine was shot and killed during that robbery:

Summer2017_Day26_013

Summer2017_Day26_007

Summer2017_Day26_008

Summer2017_Day26_009

Summer2017_Day26_010

Summer2017_Day26_011

The museum was closed, but we were able to peek through the window:

Summer2017_Day26_012

We continued east to visit Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri.  The visitor center:

Summer2017_Day26_014

I found this quote amusing considering that, that as a Civil War General, Grant issued General Order 11 which expelled all Jews from portions of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The order was revoked by President Lincoln three weeks later.

Summer2017_Day26_016

Summer2017_Day26_017

The Grant home:

Summer2017_Day26_015

Summer2017_Day26_018

Summer2017_Day26_019

We had been watching weather forecasts throughout the day, and with only 18 hours to go until the eclipse, it looked like the St. Louis area had a good chance of cloudy weather, so we decided towards sunset to reposition to the Kentucky-Tennessee border, where the forecast looked much more promising.  We saw the St. Louis arch in the distance as we continued east:

Summer2017_Day26_020

250 miles later, we arrived in Oak Grove, Kentucky towards midnight and overnighted, naturally, at the Walmart here:

Summer2017_Day26_021

See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 24: Brown vs. Board of Education NHS

The end of the world?  No, just a passing front here at Lyon Lake in Kansas:

Summer2017_Day24_001

We drove east to Topeka, where we visited Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site:

Summer2017_Day24_003

The visitor center is housed in a Topeka school that was all-black before the court case forced the school district to desegregate:

Summer2017_Day24_002

Summer2017_Day24_004

Summer2017_Day24_005

These signs are not period-authentic, as the school was all-black, then desegregated:

Summer2017_Day24_009

Some rooms were restored to their original appearance:

Summer2017_Day24_006

Other rooms now house exhibits:

Summer2017_Day24_007

Summer2017_Day24_008

Summer2017_Day24_010

20171009_173918

We continued east to Kansas City.  We had made arrangements to park at a synaogue for Shabbos in Kansas City’s Overland Park suburb, but it turned out that it had no exterior power outlets. With the forecast calling for humid conditions with temperatures in the low 90s, experiencing Shabbos in our RV under the relentless Kansas sun without air conditioning was unlikely to be enjoyable, so we made some last minute calls and were invited by Rabbi Mendy Wineberg to join his congregation for Shabbos at the Chabad of Leawood. Leawood is an outer suburb of Kansas City, and the Chabad of Leawood is the only synagogue that serves this area.

Also attending as guests were a family from Baltimore and a family from Brooklyn who were also in town to view this summer’s eclipse, which is now only two days away. The family from Brooklyn rented an RV in Kansas City and parked it right in front of the synagogue so they could carry their baby back and forth into the synagogue.

See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 23: Barbed Wire Museum, Fort Larned NHS, Tallgrass Prairie NP

We woke up to a sunny day in the city park here in La Crosse, Kansas:

Summer2017_Day23_001

I called the police last night to confirm that we were in the correct spot and that it was legal.  I love how laid back rural America is:

Summer2017_Day23_002

We discovered that we parked next to a cluster of museums, all on the same property:

Summer2017_Day23_006 
We first visited the Barbed Wire Museum:

Summer2017_Day23_003

Summer2017_Day23_004

Barbed wire art:

Summer2017_Day23_005

This museum is surprisingly extensive:

Summer2017_Day23_021

Summer2017_Day23_012

Summer2017_Day23_013

Each variant of barbed wire in the collection is labeled with its patent number:

Summer2017_Day23_014

Summer2017_Day23_015

Summer2017_Day23_016

This wire was used in 1892 in Bodie, California to move power from a hydroelectric plant to the town.  It was the first attempt in history to transport power from the source to a distant destination.  It was thought at the time that electricity flowed like water, and if the wires did not travel in a straight line, the electricity would “spill out”.  The project was a success, and power flowed 12 miles to town, though the perfectly straight path of the power poles was unnecessary:

Summer2017_Day23_017

Summer2017_Day23_019

Summer2017_Day23_020

This nest was built by ravens out of strands of barbed wire.  It weights over 70 pounds:

Summer2017_Day23_022

A setup like this, a modified coffee grinder and grinding wheel, was used to create the first strand of barbed wire:

Summer2017_Day23_023

A fence stretcher:

Summer2017_Day23_025

Summer2017_Day23_026

Fence posts:

Summer2017_Day23_027

Summer2017_Day23_028

The barbed wire hall of fame, which honors barbed wire collectors:

Summer2017_Day23_029

Summer2017_Day23_030

Summer2017_Day23_031

Summer2017_Day23_032

Our next stop was the Rush Country historical museum:

Summer2017_Day23_007

Summer2017_Day23_033

Summer2017_Day23_034

Summer2017_Day23_035

Summer2017_Day23_036

Our third stop was the post rock museum:

Summer2017_Day23_009

Trees were scarce in the plains states, so fence posts were made out of limestone:

Summer2017_Day23_037

Summer2017_Day23_038

Summer2017_Day23_039

Summer2017_Day23_040

Summer2017_Day23_041

Our next stop was the bank musuem, in the closed bank building moved here from Nekoma, Kansas:

Summer2017_Day23_008

Summer2017_Day23_042

Summer2017_Day23_043

Summer2017_Day23_044

Summer2017_Day23_045

Summer2017_Day23_046

The last museum here was a one-room schoolhouse, also moved here from Nekoma:
 Summer2017_Day23_010

Summer2017_Day23_047

Summer2017_Day23_048

Summer2017_Day23_049

We continued east to Fort Larned National Historic Site:

Summer2017_Day23_050

The fort was built in the mid-1800s to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail from hostile Native Americans:

Summer2017_Day23_051

Summer2017_Day23_052

Summer2017_Day23_053

The visitor center was interesting:

Summer2017_Day23_054

Summer2017_Day23_055

This photo shows William Bent, one of the brothers who built Bent’s Old Fort, which we visited yesterday:

Summer2017_Day23_056

Summer2017_Day23_057

Summer2017_Day23_058

Summer2017_Day23_059

Summer2017_Day23_060

Summer2017_Day23_061

Summer2017_Day23_062

Summer2017_Day23_063

Summer2017_Day23_064

Summer2017_Day23_065

Summer2017_Day23_066

20171009_173900

Our last stop of the day was Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve:

Summer2017_Day23_074

The preserve protects and interprets the largest remnant of tallgrass prairie in America, which once covered over 170 million acres:

Summer2017_Day23_067

The preserve also protects a historic farm.  We visited with the horse:

Summer2017_Day23_068

Summer2017_Day23_069

Summer2017_Day23_070

Summer2017_Day23_071

Summer2017_Day23_072

Summer2017_Day23_073

We continued east to overnight at Lyon Lake, which allows free lakeside camping:

Summer2017_Day23_075

Summer2017_Day23_076

Summer2017_Day23_077

See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.