Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for January, 2013

Big Muskie Bucket Exhibited at Miners Memorial Park

Big Muskie 325 tons of earth in a single bite!  The Big Muskie took that bite quite easily while mining over twenty million tons of coal in  Muskingum County of Southeastern Ohio from 1969-1991. Today all that is left of the Big Muskie, one of the world’s largest draglines, is this bucket capable of holding many tons of earth.

Miners Memorial ParkOn a crisp winter afternoon, the curvy, scenic road happened to meander past the site of the Miners’ Memorial Park in Morgan County, Ohio where the Big Muskie Bucket is the centerpiece of the park. While the ground was covered in a light snow and the gates were closed, the sign said : Walk-Ins Welcome. That was invitation enough to explore a little closer. My footsteps were the first to leave imprints in the snow this January afternoon.

Big Muskie BucketConsidered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world, this bucket weighs 460,000 pounds empty. If you look closely in the bottom left of the picture, a teddy bear can be spotted on the left hand side of the bucket…and it truly looks like “just a drop in the bucket”! When you consider this is only the bucket of the dragline…well, the magnitude overwhelms you.  It has been estimated that twelve car garages could fit inside.

This massive mechanical wonder was last used by the Central Ohio Coal of American Electric Power, or AEP, in the rolling hills near Cumberland, Ohio. Lucky it was being used by AEP as this huge machine was run basically by electricity, using enough electricity daily to power over 27,000 homes.  Big Muskie had a crew of five and worked around the clock to take advantage of the lower nighttime per kilowatt-hour rate. When you check out the first picture, knowing the size of the bucket, you then realize how gigantic the entire Big Muskie really was, actually twenty-two stories tall!

The WildsAfter the land was mined, it was beautifully reclaimed as can be seen in this picture. The ground was smoothed, trees were planted, and it was again an inhabitable place for animals.  In fact, The Wilds, a haven for wild animals from all over the world, is located within a short drive and is where this picture was taken. If you look closely in the open range, you can spot a herd of buffalo grazing in the snow with a beautiful lake in the foreground. The Wilds is one of the largest wildlife conservation centers in the world with some type of safari available most of the year to explore nearly 10,000 acres of that reclaimed land.

Today, AEP maintains this Miners’ Memorial Park. It is a great place to relax, even on a quiet winter day, while strolling around the huge bucket. There are several areas available for picnics as well as a shelter, which houses displays on the Big Muskie when it was working as well as other information on the area. As land was reclaimed, many camping areas with lakes and fishing were included so it is a great place for family fun during the summer months.

Even though the Big Muskie is no longer in operation, coal mining is still an important occupation in these rolling hills. Warning: Watch out for fast moving coal trucks on every curve!

To visit the Big Muskie Bucket on your next visit to Ohio, travel I-77 and take Exit 25 in southeastern Ohio. Be certain you stay on Route 78 and after many bends and curves – a rollercoaster ride – of about 16 miles, you will arrive at the Miner’s Memorial Park. The area is open May – October, but you can walk in and explore at any time.  Be sure to stop and scan the hillsides.


Scenic Pikes Peak Cog Railway Blocked by Heavy Snow

Pikes Peak Cog Railway“End of the line for today,” announced the engineer as the Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway locomotive came to a stop.  Thus, Windy Point, at about 12,000 feet, became the end of the journey up Pikes Peak in Colorado that particular afternoon. The snow was too deep on the tracks for the blower to remove it…and it was still snowing.

Traveling by car to the top of Pikes Peak has been a memorable occasion since childhood; however, traveling by cog railway was an entirely different experience. Even though it was April, seems that spring isPikes Peak's Windy Point the time for heaviest snow in the Rockies as the main road to the top for automobiles was not passable. The only possibility of traveling up the mountainside was taking the Cog Railway and seeing how far it would be able to go on that particular day.

Pikes Peak was named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer, who happened upon it in his 1806 travels.  He attempted to climb it with a small band of men, but they only reached 10,000 feet before they were turned away by deep snow. Even before Pike, the Ute Indians camped at the base of Pikes Peak and it is suspected that they had a pathway to the top to get ceremonial eagle feathers.Pikes Peak Early Steam Engine

Starting back in 1889,  workers were paid twenty-five cents an hour to lay the rails to the top of Pikes Peak. The first steam locomotive took a Denver church choir to the summit. These early locomotives pushed the passenger car up the steep incline. Over the years the engines have developed from steam to gasoline and then diesel. Today the cog locomotive is run by a combination of diesel and electric.

A cog railway uses a gear called a “cog wheel”, which meshes into a special rack rail in the middle of the outer tracks.  With its use, the locomotive is able to travel much steeper inclines than a standard track. Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway is the highest cog railway in the world…with a perfect safety record.

Pikes Peak steep inclineWhat a great view all the way up the steep incline to the timberline, which designates the altitude where trees can no longer grow due to lack of moisture caused by the frozen permafrost under the surface.  Seemed like you could see  forever over the beautiful snow-covered Rocky Mountains with their forests of tall pine. Fantastic rock formations often gave way to breathtaking cliffs overlooking steep canyons.  Passengers oo-ed and ah-ed all the way to the top.

Back at the base in front of the old courthouse in Colorado Springs, there is a statue of Katharine Lee Bates sitting and looking up at Pikes Peak, which was her inspiration to write the words for “America the Beautiful”.  Although written back in 1913 after going to the Peak using a team of mules, the purple mountain majesty still reigns over Colorado Springs to this day.

Cog Railroad OrnamentWhen in Colorado, take Exit 141 (US 24) off I-25.  Go west toward the Rocky Mountains on US 24 about four miles to the Manitou Ave exit, which is in Manitou Springs. Keep going west one and a half miles to Ruxton Avenue. Turn left on Ruxton Avenue at the Mountain Man Shop using a roundabout. At the top of Ruxton Avenue is the entrance to the Cog Railway. Enjoy the ride!

Explore Dennison Depot Museum WWII Dreamsville U.S.A.

Dennison Depot Museum“Grease the pig!  Tallowpot, grab that banjo and throw on some diamonds so we can bake a cake.” Commands similar to these could have been heard around the Pennsylvania Railroad in Dennison back in its prime. This railroad slang translated into our everyday English, would sound something like: “Oil the engine! Fireman, grab that shovel and throw on some coal so we can build up steam.”

Dennison Depot Museum in Dennison, Ohio displays the history of their depot in a rather unusual manner…in the cars of a train! Each car displays a particular section of interest varying from hospital car to telegraph office. There is much to explore and all is well marked with explanations.

Model RailwayWhy would they have decided to buy the land to establish a town, where none existed, in this particular place back in 1865? Well, it wasn’t by chance! The spot they later named Dennison was exactly 100 miles between Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus, OH. The steam engines of that time could only travel a hundred miles before needing water, so this became their mid-way stop. Approximately forty trains stopped here daily during its peak, when Dennison had the most complete and largest railway yard in the nation. This model train lay-out shows in great detail part of that yard, and is maintained by a group of local model train enthusiasts.

Salvation Army CanteenMost exciting of all seemed to be the story of how they became known as Dreamsville, U.S.A. During WWII, the Salvation Army Canteen ,with nearly 4,000 volunteers, provided free food to around 1.3 million servicemen.

Arriving Servicemen's Train Car The train stops were only five to seven minutes long, so the girls went out on the platform to meet the train. They could see the loneliness, hunger and despair on the soldiers’ faces, so those young girls tried to have a smile and a kind word for everyone.

The soldiers said it brought back fond memories  of their hometowns.  These friendly, smiling girls reminded them of their moms, sisters, or girlfriends…plus there was free food.  A dream come true!  Thus the name Dreamsville, USA.

Hobo Message StumpBecause of all the trains, Dennison was a hotbed of hobo activity.  Whenever a train would stop, many hobos would hop off looking for a place to get handouts. It was common practice for the hobos to make marks on a nearby tree or on the house itself, so other hobos would know if they would be well received. Marks of simple circles, arrows, or even animals signified: Good road to follow. Free telephone. House is well guarded. A kind old lady. They even had a camp along the Pennsylvania Railroad in the city dump, where they made makeshift shelter of tin wrapped around tree trunks.

Friendly volunteers patiently answered questions, making the day enjoyable as well as informative. Boarding takes place here for the Polar Express, which during the Christmas season takes children on a magical ride where they encounter Santa. Special events are scheduled throughout the year from Private Bulldog Bing’s Birthday Party to Ghost Tours in the fall.

After visiting the museum, the Trax Diner, located in the old depot, is a perfect place for a meal or a snack.  Children were full of “whoo-whoos” while they were enjoying the atmosphere. Although they have delicious full-course meals, I chose a “Hobo Basket” filled with British style beer battered fish and chips. Since an English lady operates the diner, this seemed like a logical and delicious choice.

“Coal Cars”, stuffed potato skins, also chugged across the menu.  Might have to return for “The Caboose”, a sugar and cinnamon shell filled with ice cream and toppings. Think a Caboose would be a perfect ending for a meal, a train… or a blog post!

Dennison Depot Museum is located in Dennison, Ohio  not far from I-77.  Take exit 81, 36 East, to the Dennison exit. Turn right on Second Street and continue on Second Street until you reach the tracks. Turn left on Center Street and after two blocks you will see the museum. Parking is on the left side of the street.

Biosphere 2 – Earth Under Glass

Biosphere 2Want to see a rainforest and ocean in the desert? Time to  head to the barren desert hills of Arizona, or should I say mountains! Located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Oracle, Arizona, Biosphere 2‘s striking white outline and unusually shaped, futuristic buildings catch the eye. Recently named one of the top fifty “Wonders of the World”, which must be seen, this is an informative stop.

Biosphere is defined as: the regions of the Earth’s crust and atmosphere occupied by living matter. Therefore, it seemed fitting to name this man-made earth model Biosphere 2. Here is the world’s largest glass covered ecological laboratory located on forty acres. Back in 1984, Edward Bass, an environmentalist, contributed $150 million to build John Allen’s invention – Biosphere 2.

Originally built to experiment with self-contained settlement, those first eight ecologists, four men and four women,  signed up for a two year term, then sealed themselves away.  They began raising their own food and recycling air and water. Their goal was to be able to sustain all their needs from the five different ecological regions that were located inside the domes. These early designers were interested in space colonization and were looking for a way to build a similar system on Mars or perhaps the Moon.

The experiment, however, basically failed after almost two years due to the build up of noxious gases, and lack of oxygen.  While some of the four thousand species survived,  water and crops failed. However, much was learned scientifically as well as socially where disagreements caused lack of co-operation.  Columbia University operated it up until just recently, but today it is maintained and used for experimentation by the University of Arizona.

Biosphere 2 RainforestNot only is it an experiment station, but also a unique spot where visitors can view, on an inside tour, five different ecosystems: rainforest, grasslands,  desert, wetlands and ocean floor.  The rainforest is the largest and tallest biome represented.  It contains a number of different habitats, including a lowland forest, a flood plain, and a cloud forest on top of a sandstone mountain.

Savanna Grasslands is naturally dominated by various types of grasses, but there is a quartzite slope in the area where the stream waterfall is located. The Thornscrub section is the wilderness area. Most of the plants in this region are from the Sonoran area. Vegetation consists mainly of short trees and shrubs with many of them being thorny.

Biosphere 2 DesertThe desert biome has over 125 species of plants and was originally designed to replicate a coastal fog desert such as those found along the western coasts of Baja, California.  This allows the Biosphere 2 desert to co-exist with the other, more moist biomes.

The Marsh biome begins with a fresh water lake with a transitional marsh leading to the Mangrove wetlands.  Here over five hundred large mangrove trees dominate the wetlands, which is colonized by many marsh creatures such as crawfish, snails, sponges, and shrimp.

Biosphere 2 OceanThe ocean biome, designed to simulate a Caribbean reef, contains a coral reef and over one million gallons of salt water. A forty foot cliff overlooks the tropical ocean where waves, temperature and chemical balance are all carefully monitored and controlled by innovative technology. This allows scientists to conduct groundbreaking research. But the ocean biome is very efficient at recycling nutrients, so mainly mechanical means will be used in the future to attempt to control the environment here.

Today their largest project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory where they     are exploring the secrets of earth’s landscape and how it changes due to climate and water movement, as well as modifications through biological systems. Edward Bass continues to be a major supporter and last year donated another $20 million to support operations and research. This is the premiere place for learning about Earth and its place in the Universe…now and in the future. Biosphere 2 is where science lives.

Getting there depends on where you are beginning! If you are in Phoenix, find your way to Biosphere 2 off I-35 exit 185. Continue East of 187 toward Florence where you will turn right or south on Arizona 79.  Turn left on Arizona 77 until you arrive at Oriocle Junction where you turn left on Biosphere Road.  If you are in Tucson, take Arizona 77 north about 24 miles.

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