*****

Alaska, Last State in North America, 2017 (No Boat to Hawaii)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Driving Adventure

I'm writing this more for myself and for my non-RVing friends, than for the experienced RVers who check this blog from time to time.

Sometimes the adventure is in the driving, not in the destination.

When we were first starting as motorhome owners, we lived on a windy, hilly road near a very busy freeway with several downhill curves and narrow shoulders that could be very scary. It was a good but expensive learning experience. 

When we were looking at our options for our drive out of the North Georgia Mountains, US 19/129 was our first choice. We drove it many times, going to various trailheads and attractions. From our park there were about 20 miles of difficult driving conditions, with a section of about 7 miles that had many 20-25 mph "S" curves going both up and down. Not the best choice for a Class A motorhome towing a Jeep. But in the worst places there was an extra lane, and although the shoulder was only a few feet wide, we hadn't seen any large rock walls leaning into the road. We saw some larger trucks going both north and south, but at the same time the traffic seemed relatively light.

We could do this. In particular, I (Merikay) could do this if I was the driver and the weather was good. I am more comfortable behind the wheel than white-knuckling it as the passenger. As the driver, I feel I can go as slow as I want and be in control.

But, after having been parked for five weeks, we had forgotten to tie down or properly stow a few things. On my first turn onto the highway we heard a large crash. Our table will fall over if not locked down. We forgot.  No damage, just a scare!  Craig fixed it while I kept driving. There was another class A towing a car just ahead of us, so my confidence got a little boost and the drive along 19 went smoothly. I'm not sure we would have chosen to go that way if we hadn't driven it by car several times first.

Next up, Atlanta. We were warned about the horrible traffic in and around Atlanta. 

Poo, what could be worse than Los Angeles? Craig is a much better city driver than I so it was his turn.

We had all day, and figured if we got caught in a slowdown we would just put up with it. We did need to stop at a Trader Joe's for essentials like ketchup, wine, and a few frozen items that only they sell.  On our travels we have stopped to shop at stores that have wide open parking lots like Walmart, but of course we have avoided tight lots while towing.  Following the advice of the more experienced bloggers, I looked at the chosen Trader Joe's on Google Earth, and even printed an image of the area. Both of us looked at it and decided we could maneuver through to the TJ's back lot and into to a much larger open lot where we could leave the Alfa with the Jeep attached.

I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a careful planner, but reality took over when we got there. The Trader Joe's was in a very urban area with lots of heavy traffic. We managed to drive the few blocks from the freeway without incident, pull into TJ's driveway and make our way around the back. The lot was very full, and (OMG) the driveway between the TJ's lot and the larger open lot, that I thought I had seen on the image, was blocked by a cement curb. The only way to get there was to make a couple of very tight turns, which I knew would be practically impossible with a 36' rig plus Jeep. 

But we stayed calm.

We ended up unhitching the Jeep and parking the Alfa in a tight corner spot with her rear end sticking out into the aisle.  Other cars could get by us. After shopping we returned and were happy to see several cars that had parked along our exit route had left. With careful guidance, Craig backed her out, got turned around and was able to exit the lot. I followed in the Jeep with the walkie-talkie. He found a larger lot down the road a bit to reconnect the Jeep.

Next challenge: Get out of Atlanta and back onto the freeway toward Warm Springs.

Our Rand McNalley GPS unit told us to turn onto Peachtree and then onto Piedmont. We did, but there was construction on Piedmont that required three lanes to merge into one. Not easy! We were then told to turn right on Buckhead Loop in 300 feet. Yikes, we were still merging. We squeezed over and were about to try for the turn when both of us could clearly see a sign that said this was Lenox Rd., not Buckhead Loop, so we drove straight through the intersection.  At this point we notice a cop waving his hands furiously at us, probably telling us to stop.  We did not.  I looked in the side view mirror and saw him throw up his arms as if in exasperation.  

The next intersection was not Buckhead either, and at this point the Randy was telling us to make a U-turn if possible. (Not !)  It then guided us in a four street turn-around putting us back onto Piedmont going in the opposite direction, again toward Lenox Road (which it insisted was Buckhead).  We were glad to see the cop had abandoned his post by this time, and was yakking it up with some other motorists, allowing us to make the turn without a problem.  I had little faith in Craig's comment of "maybe he won't notice us..." I guess it turned out traffic was so tight that unless we had caused an accident, he let us pass.

A few more blocks and we happily found the ramp back onto I-85 and drove the remaining miles to the Warm Springs area.  

Monday night we were happily settled into our spot at our RV Park for the night.  

It was a harrowing day's drive, but we made it.  Luck and patience were the keys.

Someday I might look back at this post and laugh at myself.  But for tonight, I'm just pleased we made it without a fender bender or worse.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Question about Caravans and Albuquerque Balloon Fest

I have a very long bucket list. 

For years I have wanted to go to the Albuquerque Balloon fest. Now that we are full timing, I am definitely looking at going for the 2015 fest next October.  For me, once a decision like that is made, it is never too early to start planning, and or making reservations.

I have been looking at several Caravan companies, and at the Escapee's, and FMCA as well as just going it alone.  I know in the long run, you get what you pay for. The Escapee's seem to do a dry camp HOP. FMCA connects with the Fantasy Tours company, and I read about another company called Adventure Caravans.  Each has it's own draw. 


As of now, we are not inclined to dry camp. I hate running, or listening to others run generators. 5 - 8 days of dry camping does not turn me on.

Adventure Caravans is the more expensive than Fantasy, but it seems to offer the more. 

Has anyone had any experience, either with the Balloon Fest, or with a Caravan deal? 
 Like I said, I know you get what you pay for, I'm just wondering what we want. To me it seems like going with a professional company is much like taking a cruise. Sometimes I like to be taken care of. Sometimes I don't need it.

If you don't want to put your advice in the comment form, please feel free to email.  

Another

Another beautiful, sunny, cool day.
   Another drive along North Georgia's mountain roads.
        Another hike.
              Another waterfall, or two!

Life is really hard on fulltime RVers.



The trees seemed to have recovered from the rain storms. Many leaves blew off, but many more are showing their autumn color. As we drove, a new blast of reds and golds appeared around each bend. 

Did you know that the leaves are really always this color, and that it is only because they are full of chlorophyll, which masks the color with green all summer, that we cannot see it. Now they are getting ready to rest through the cold dark months. The chlorophyll production shuts down, and their true colors come through.

Our first destination this day was Anna Ruby falls. 


The walk to the falls was paved and was less than a mile, but was quite steep.

It ran along a fast-moving stream that tumbled over many large rocks.












What is a hike in the Georgia mountains, without a super-falls as the destination? Anna Ruby Falls is quite wonderful as it roars over the rocks.




Like a previous area that we've visited, AR falls is the junction of two different streams, that spill over the edges of a valley side-by-side, to come together at the bottom of their almost-separate falls.

There were only a few steps, but a couple of nice observation decks.  This big rock didn't want to get out of the pathway. I guess it liked the nice sunshine.





Our second destination for the day was also a falls. The path to it was through an open wooded area, above the creek that it spilled into.

We could hear the water, but couldn't see it for most of the 3/4 mile walk to the falls.

















The upper de Soto Falls cascades down three or more levels. There are several smaller pools below what is shown here.  They signs say that the name comes from a suit of armor that was found near the falls, and was attributed to the expedition of Hernando de Soto.  It being late October, we think it might have been an old Halloween costume...











There was also a lower de Soto falls, but nature called us to the parking lot with facilities...

This may be the last falls we will be visiting in this area.  We are moving on Monday, and will be getting ready and watching World Series baseball over the weekend.  


I'm the small figure on the road,,,
The trails to and from both falls were through gorgeous forests.  It is hard to believe that conservation-oriented people think that human activity can produce more carbon dioxide than the world's plants can handle.  Look how many trees there are!  

It has been a good stay, in a beautiful part of the country. 

The weather has been great except for a few rainy days, but even they were a nice chance to just relax. I've been watching the weather in Florida, and know we are moving on into much warmer temperatures. It looks like mid to high eighties is the norm. That's fine with me. If it gets too hot, we'll just crank up the AC and stay in. I'm looking forward to seeing new parks and places.  Maybe alligators! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

See Rock City!

In my last post I mentioned that on our 1975 road trip, we had seen many roadside signs for Ruby Falls. Their main competitor for many years was Rock City, which is also on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. We learned that the promoter of Rock City commissioned the painting of "See Rock City" on over 900 barn roofs in nineteen states between 1935 and 1969. I wonder how many are left. 

On our way over to see Ruby Falls yesterday, we saw some billboards for both attractions, and bought tickets for both as a package deal. 

In 1855 a Mr. Myers described Rock City as follows:
Just imagine rocks fifty feet in height, piled against each other, forming as it were underground passageways; I felt as though I was wandering among the ruins of some giant's castle.  Not that the rocks at all assume any regular forms, but there are long passages between them, sometimes covered, narrow, and then suddenly widening into large halls.



Rock City is a garden developed among the many very large rock formations. Although there was a bit of autumn color, I imagine the place would be spectacular in spring when all the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom. But that is true of most of the South!



Paths and bridges wound in and out around the rocks.



This part of the path  went down and between the rock walls. A very fat person might not fit.  I felt good 'cause I did.

Around every turn and up every stair was a new view. Given a good imagination you could feel you were in another time or exploring the riuns of another civilization.



There is more than one observation point/platform.



One of the most notable features of Rock City is a large rock outcropping called Lovers' Leap.

It is said that on a clear day you can see seven states from up there. 















The view of the city below and the distant mountains was pretty good.


This is the platform that the man in red was standing on, in the picture above.

When we were on it there was a young man who was not very happy with the fact that it was suspended over the rocks far below! I felt quite safe.






Up on the top of Lovers' Leap is a small bridge that is near the head of a water fall. We talked with another tourist about where the water was coming from. We all wondered if it was it man made or natural.

Later I asked someone who works there and was told that although it is almost at the top of the mountain, the water flow is natural.


We could see the water splashing into the pool below by leaning over the stone wall of the bridge we were on.




This is a more distant view as we made our way on through the garden. The preceding two shots were taken from the bridge where the two people in blue are standing.






All in all we enjoyed our time there, with the exception of one feature that Craig and I differ on. That being the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. I thought it was past its time in concept and Craig thought it was fun. The many fairytale figures done up in dayglow paint under black lights in a dark cave space, were about as enchanting as Chuckie or an evil clown. I'm sure it was amazing at one time, but no longer.

Have you encountered any "has been" attactions in your travels?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

See Ruby Falls!

A rare picture of us where we both look pretty good.
On Monday we took a rather long drive to the Chattanooga area to revisit a place we stopped at with our children 40 years ago, on a Christmas road trip between Wisconsin to Florida: Ruby Falls. As we drove that route many years ago, we saw dozens of signs to "See Ruby Falls!". There were so many signs that we felt compelled to stop. We expected it to be a really cheesy tourist trap, but were delighted by it being an interesting cave tour with a 145 foot waterfall inside a mountain. 

Last week we saw a Ruby Falls sign in Murphy NC, and just had to go see it again. We were not dissapointed.

Ruby Falls is inside a cave deep in Lookout Mountain. It is a privately owned property and a commercial tourist attraction.


The cave tour starts with an elevator ride  hundreds of feet down into Lookout Mountain. 

Then we walked thru a narrow passage that in many places was only wide enough for one person to pass.

Like many caves, Lookout Mountain Caverns contain many calcium formations, some of which were as complex and interesting as any we have seen elsewhere.

















Finally after about a half mile of walking we arrived at the falls chamber. We could hear the water, but it was completely dark. We were told there would be an eight minute light show, and when the lights came up they revealed the falls. 







The lights kept changing colors from reds, blues, purple and white. 

This is one of our pictures.















image from web


We took lots of them, butI feel none really showed the size or power of the Falls, so I have swiped one from the web.

 I think this one shows the chamber quite well. 

 Doesn't really need colored lights does it!

Personally, spelunking is not something I would want to do, but I find well lit, guided tours of caves quite interesting. 

We also went to another tourist attraction on Lookout Mountain, but I will save that for the next post.

Have you ever gone back to an attraction or special place after many years?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Learning about history as we travel

As we have traveled, I have enjoyed reading and learning about the history of the places we visit. When in Gettysburg, as part of  learning more about the Civil War, I bought a copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Every Southern ranger or volunteer I have spoken to about it has told me that they had read parts of it in elementary school, and more in high school history classes. I was aware of the book and its place in history as a propaganda tool used by the abolitionist movement, and the place it had in the "King and I", but I had never actually read it. 

Now I have. I thought it was well written and a good read.

When we got to the North Georgia mountains, I came across a copy of "Cold Mountain," a fictionalized account of a Confederate soldier who deserted and walked home through the Blue Ridge Mountain range. With the hiking we have done around here, I  identified with his travels and found the descriptions of the people he encountered very interesting. I didn't realize I had seen the movie until the very end of the book. I checked and see it is available from Amazon Prime, so we will probably watch it again soon. 

Now, I have just started "Thirteen Moons" written by the same author, Charles Frazier. It is the fictionalized story about a boy who was sent into the Cherokee Nation as an indentured servant to work in a trading post. It looks like it will be a good read. I know a few things about the Cherokee, and am looking forward to learning more.

With that in mind, our Friday drive took us to look at the James Vann House near Chatsworth, GA.

James Vann was the richest Cherokee at the time and built a large home on his plantation.  He was not a "good man," nor was he known to be a "nice man," but he was wealthy.



This was not a teepee in the forest.


Indians ate here. He also entertained many prominent men of his time.

This is a fork. I imagine table manners were not as prim as in later decades.



There were many wonderful quilts on display about the house. This one was up in the master bedroom. 



This was the story.



I was amazed at how well preserved this quilt was.  I don't think it was ever actually used since there was not a stain or a fray to be found. Having been made in the early 1800s it is 200 years old. 



There were also a number of Cherokee buildings that had been moved to the house property and restored. This was a typical cabin of a "poor" Cherokee family. A sign of this was the log chimney. They used this type of construction because they could not afford the mortar necessary for a stone structure. To keep it from catching fire, they lined the inside of the chimney with mud. 



It was a one room cabin with a very large loft. Typically they did not have windows so it must have been quite dark when the door was closed in winter. One of the interesting facts the ranger told us was that in summer they would knock out sections of the chinking between the logs for ventilation, and then fill them back up in fall.

Kudus to the State of Georgia for restoring these structures and making them available for travelers like us. 

Now that the rain has stopped, the air has been brisk and the breeze glorious. I am looking forward to a couple of nice hikes in the upcoming week. There are a few more waterfalls to be seen, and hopefully other things as well.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

An Autumn Week in North Georgia

We felt like real full time RVers this week, just being lazy and watching the season change. No plans to rake leaves, clean gutters, harvest firewood, or pay property taxes! 

There was quite a rainstorm here Tuesday. I guess Karen and Al know more about Georgia weather than we do, because they took off and went to a motel Monday night when the storms first started. We had looked at the local and regional radar and decided there probably wasn't any danger, but I did make a mental note that the brick-walled laundry room and bathroom were at the end of the street, about six lots away. I try to remember to find a safe place to go to (if necessary) when we first arrive at a new park.

We have been having overnight rains often this fall, but this one was quite hard and woke me with the drumming on the roof. I felt quite peaceful knowing we were not under any big trees like we had been all last winter on our own land.


The rain continued all day. Karen told me we got five inches and the rivers were running hard and full. 






Craig enjoyed the day alternately reading and napping on the couch.

I spent the day doing needlepoint and reading. I felt a bit like I was inside  protective bubble with the rain and wind all around. I checked all ceiling edges and was happy to report they were all leak-free. The window that we had repaired last spring was also nice and dry.

We had planned on waiting a couple of days before taking another foliage drive, but with the storm and wind we were afraid all of the leaves would blow off. Wednesday started as a partially sunny day, but by the time we took off it was mostly cloudy!



The mountain  views from the Brasstown Bald lookout tower were quite different from a few weeks ago when everything was green. This time the clouds were very dramatic, and I was pleased to catch this bit of color in a splash of sunshine between clouds. It was very cold up there as well! Forty degrees and windy, so I didn't stay up on the tower's deck for very long.



We retraced our path from Monday, but this time without the fog cover we were able to see far off into the distance from the turn-out locations.



There is a small town named Helen on the route we were driving. The central area of town has block after block of shops and restaurants decorated in a Bavarian style. I think I would rather see a small town do a theme like this than fill itself with waterslides and wax-museum-type attractions. If it fills the cash registers of the local businessmen, more power to them! 

Craig and I both like German food, so we stopped for lunch. We both enjoyed Reuben sandwiches. I make them for us at home from time to time, but they looked like the best things on the menu. 



There was still some very nice color along some of the drive, but in other places it was as we feared: pretty blown out.

Thursday was another lazy day, but on Friday we again went exploring. This post is getting too long, so I'll tell you about what we did in the next one.

[From Craig]  I love the combination of the blog title and our new top image.  If I had a dream that looked like that, I'd consider it a bad dream!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A foggy Autumn drive

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Judy commented she likes her ribs naked.  Georgia would probably frown on a nudist restaurant.
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Every day the trees have been showing a little more color. Unfortunately the weather has been quite rainy and we have not gotten out as much as we would like. It has rained every night.

Monday, we decided to take a drive along the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway even though it was a bit wet and foggy. I would say that the color was more than halfway to its peak. Sunshine would have been nice, but the fog gave a bit of a mysterious air to the forests.




We stopped and took a two mile walk to the Dukes Creek Falls.


It was wet, but it did not rain on us.


The fog was really neat. I heard a little boy who was walking with his parents say "it's like we're in a parallel universe." A perfect description of how it felt.



Many colors.


Dukes Creek Falls is the confluence of a smaller creek, which is coming down from on high via many branches (above), with a larger creek that makes a lot of right-angle turns (below). 





We hope one of the next few days will be dry and sunny. We would like to take the same drive again because there were many turnouts that overlooked mountain vistas that were totally fogged in today.  If the weather stays as it is, the leaves will soon fall and the show will be over.

Autumn color is one reason we are here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jim's Smokin' Que

[From Craig]  Barbecue fans from all over the country (at least those east of the Mississippi) should make a beeline for Jim's Smokin' Que south of Blairsville, GA.  It's about 2 or 3 miles south of Blairsville (94 miles NE of Atlanta) on US 19/129, locally a.k.a. Gainesville Hwy.

We've been looking at the place as we go past, for the last week or two.  Since they're only open Thursday through Saturday, it took us a while to get synchronized.  Now that we're retired full-timers, we have a tendency to forget what day it is.

I thought I'd never have as good a barbecue as we had at Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City.  Being retired full-timers :-) my memory makes it hard to make comparisons four months apart, but the food here at Jim's sure is great.  We got the big Ribs and More platter that you can see on the site, with pork back ribs, beef brisket, cole slaw and fries.  The idea was to have enough leftovers for breakfast tomorrow, but the stuff was so good that we may have supplement the leftovers!  

The ribs, french fries, and cole slaw were all world-class.  No one makes brisket as good as did my late friend John Nocher of Virginia Beach, Cape Canaveral, Milwaukee, and Fort Worth.  But if you put a good amount of Jim's excellent barbecue sauce on their brisket, it gets pretty good too!

We didn't bring our camera; the pictures wouldn't have been as good as the food anyway.  But I did catch a phone shot of their shirt.  A fold makes it hard to read their slogan "you can smell our butts for miles".




We even have 3 or 4 ribs left over.  I may dream about breakfast all night...



From Merikay:  I was thinking of making the leftovers for dinner, if I can hide them from Craig long enough.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

We are still here ..

I know it has been a while since I wrote a post. In fact, Craig wrote the last one for me.  I just haven't felt that much of what we were doing was of much interest to anyone out there.

We are still here at River's Edge RV Park, in the North Georgia Mountains near Blairsville. We continue to take walks and have even done one hike that included a mile of the Appalachian Trail, but how many pictures of peaceful forest walks do I need to post?

We have had a few rather cold nights so the trees are really starting to turn. We will be here for a couple more weeks and hope to catch a bit of the color peak.

Day to day we have relaxed a lot, shopped a bit, and taken care of some odds and ends that needed our attention. We both got our teeth cleaned and have gotten our annual flu shots. Now isn't that exciting news!

I had thought that during this time I might write some thoughtful opinion post about our first six months on the road, but although many things have run thru my mind, nothing seems to be coming together.

All I can say is we are happy we are doing this. We are enjoying our travels, and are now enjoying staying in one place for a few weeks.  I think we needed this rest time, but I am starting to get a bit of "hitch itch" and am looking forward to our next round of new places and new experiences.  

We will be here until the last week of October, and there is still much to explore and enjoy.  This weekend we will be going to a local festival in Blairsville.  That should be fun.

Till the next time ...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola, Pensacola, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo 

[From Craig]  Monday night we were sitting with our hosts/neighbors Karen and Al talking about things to do in Georgia.  We said we might want to go see Amicalola Falls, which someone told us was the tallest waterfall in Georgia.  Karen warned us that it involved many stairs.  That sat in our minds overnight, and Merikay and I both woke up in an adventurous mood Tuesday and decided we wanted to go there.

It was almost 50 miles from our camp south of Blairsville, and we got to the Amicalola Falls state park in the middle of the morning.  The Georgia Parks year pass that we bought a week ago got us in for free, and we stopped at the Visitor Center.  The ranger lady told Merikay that the trail along the falls included 604 stair-steps.  Karen had prepared us for this, and we decided to go for it.

They told us about the stairs, but didn't mention the rather steep 0.3 mile path leading to them.  Merikay didn't like the slope at all, and I didn't care for it much either.

We were about to return to the VC and ask for our money back, but remembered that we hadn't paid any.  Just about this time we got to the first of the stairs.



The nice part was that all the stairs were identical and all were the standard height (7 inches).  So there was nothing to do but start climbing.  We stopped at each conveniently-spaced lookout platform and went on only when we were both good and ready.

About waterfall comparisons and claims: Amicalola literature says it's the "highest waterfall east of the Mississippi".  Sites like Wikipedia and Infoplease use "highest" and "tallest" interchangeably, so we don't have to consider small waterfalls near the top of Mount Everest.  The facts about Amicalola are "729 feet in seven cascades".  That would be just high enough to make the Infoplease list, but Amicalola doesn't appear.  Probably they only count height in a single cascade...



Anyway, the cascading waterfall is off to the left as you ascend this first stair complex.  (Don't forget you can click on images to see them larger.)










At the end of the first 175 steps is a crossover bridge to the other side of the stream.  This offers the best view of the falls anywhere along the trail.



























On the crossover bridge, a young lady asked if I would take a picture of her and her friend using her phone.  Of course I said yes, and then she insisted on returning the favor.  So here we are in front of the falls.




























After crossing to the left side of the falls/stream, we came upon this friendly little sign.  Of course we expected it, but still...




I knew Merikay was concerned about getting up this stair, and I tried to say nothing but positive things.  Again, there were frequent rest platforms.  





























The view of the falls was not as good in this upper portion as it had been in the lower.


















Finally, we made it up the last flight of stairs.  Merikay was so happy, and I was so proud of her.  604 x 7 inches = 4228 inches = 352 feet = 35 floors!


Pat on the head

This is the view looking down from the top of the falls.  It's harder to see than the views from below, but it's still a nice bunch of bouncing water!  Someone tossed a red flower on the left side.  If they wanted it to go down, they didn't succeed.



We wandered around at the top for a while.  People who don't want to climb 35 floors of stairs can drive up to the top and then walk down.  We met several such folks.

Then came the climb down.



In this direction we offered advice and encouragement to travelers in both directions.  Success was so good for our spirit!

We made it down to the bottom and fetched our lunch from the Jeep.  After lunch we revisited the Visitor Center.  Merikay almost bought this but realized that the shirt would long outlast her feeling of achievement.


I may sneak back to this VC before we leave North Georgia and buy her this owl.  Feels pretty appropriate for a retired wildlife artist...


From Merikay: I asked Craig to write the post for this hike because I was a bit tired. I feel I am getting back into shape however. About the shirt and owl, I love looking at the things in the park gift shops, but exercise restraint. Otherwise our coach would be full of stuffed toys.  "Take nothing except pictures", just like the forest. Also it helps the budget numbers.

Due to operator error, this post was published about an hour after the previous one.  So please read on below...