The real Iron Man, Lady Liberty and a Cherokee Maiden…

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The five-day stay at our favorite Corp of Engineer (COE) campground in Gunter Hill, AL (you can search back to Steve’s review from March 2013 here) was more of a downtime stop – we’re calling it the calm AFTER the storm.  It’s not like we don’t have enough downtime, but this was one stop where we didn’t even leave the campground.  We took our tour of Montgomery  last year while we were here, one of many history-laden stops enroute to the northeast.  If you want to see that part of our travels, click here to see what we learned in Montgomery.  This time our efforts were concentrated on drying out  one of Betsy’s compartments (which took 4 days) and trying out some new stuff that Steve got for Betsy – more on that in an upcoming post.

We were able to take several walks and bike rides around the wooded campground, and since our WiFi was pretty lousy I spent some time cleaning up my digital library – getting back 10G of space!  Steve was right, I do take a lot of “duplicate” shots of my feathered friends.  But I can’t help myself!

Gunter Hill, Alabama

Down time at Gunter Hill Campground

wpid24873-2014-05-05-AL-1290952.jpgAs you may be noticing, our current pace is slower compared to this time last year, and now that the weather is allowing us to proceed north our only obligation is not until June 13th when Betsy’s chassis maintenance and new tires will be done in Gaffney, SC.  So, we’ll be hanging out in Northern Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina a bit longer than anticipated, which will give us plenty of time to check out the Great Smoky Mountains.  Gadsden, AL is our home base for a week now, as we check out the city of Birmingham and the Lookout Mountain region of Alabama.

Birmingham, Alabama

Yellow wildflowers dot the beautiful green hillsides

Our friend Ayn of RoadLife, who lived and worked in Birmingham for many years, gave us a short list of things the city has to offer – in fact only two items, to be exact.  The city is proud of its two statues, one is the original iron man – in somewhat revealing attire – and the other is a more moderately-dressed replica of a very famous statue.  However, both are displayed raising their right arm – one with a spear and the other a torch – to the heavens.

Meet Lady Liberty and Vulcan, the iron man!

At 31 feet tall and weighing 10 tons, Lady Liberty is one of the largest replicas of the Statue of Liberty.  She was cast in the same foundry in France as the original.  This lady can be seen from I-459 at the Birmingham area Boy Scouts headquarters.  The small park area at the base of the statue is open to the public and free of charge during daylight hours. Unfortunately, people aren’t allowed inside this one.  The Boy Scouts headquarters and a memorial to all Eagle Scouts who served in North and Central Alabama are nearby.

Boy Scouts of America

Eagle Scouts Memorial

Eagle Scouts Memorial

Vulcan, on the other hand, stands 56 feet tall from toe to spear point and sits on a 124-foot tall pedestal, rising to a total height of 180 feet.  This one weighs in at 101,200 pounds.  He is the largest cast iron statue in the world, and the largest metal statue ever built in the United States.  To promote Birmingham and Alabama at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, it was decided to build a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge.  Vulcan was created to highlight the area’s growing industrial capabilities, and to personify Birmingham’s pride in its local iron industry.  Vulcan was awarded the “Grand Prize” at that fair.


Over 100 years later, Vulcan now stands atop Red Mountain, over the iron ore mine that was instrumental in Birmingham becoming the Iron City.


The highlight of our visit at Vulcan Park and Museum was climbing the 157 stairs to the top of the tower (there’s also an elevator for those so inclined) for a panoramic view of Birmingham.  Looking up at the statue, the first thing we saw was his big old iron butt 😉 The statue’s naked behind has been a source of humor for many years, and some folks actually protested its move to Red Mountain because they didn’t want to look up from their homes and see that butt every day!  A novelty song, “Moon Over Homewood”, refers to the fact that the statue moons the neighboring suburb of Homewood, Alabama.

Birmingham Alabama

Panoramic view of Birmingham, Alabama

Top of Vulcan

Just another tourist …

Here are some items at the museum that we thought were interesting:


Steve loved this “sculpture” of the many iron items cast right here in Birmingham

Finally, back at our campground at Noccalula Falls, we visited the Cherokee maiden. Located only about 1000′ from our campsite, she stands at the edge of the Falls.  Legend says that the daughter of an Indian chief committed suicide at the beautiful Black Creek ravine to avoid marrying a man forced upon her by her father that she did not love.  The statue stands poised and ready to leap at the very spot where she, Noccalula, supposedly jumped to her death over the falls to the rocks below.  The Falls and several area attractions have subsequently been named Noccalula Falls.


Noccalula Falls cascades more than 90 feet into the Black Creek ravine, and is the centerpiece of this popular park and recreation area in Gadsden, Alabama.  The city campground where we stayed is part of the park complex there, and it’s a nice green area.  You can see Steve’s campground review here.

Noccalula Falls

Noccalula Falls

We were not satisfied with only viewing the Falls from the top, especially when we found out there was a “hike at your own risk” path leading behind the cascading waters. Although the hike was fairly strenuous and we were concerned about the mist from the Falls ruining our camera, it was worth it to get another angle on the rapidly-flowing water that has carved a deep ravine into the western end of Lookout Mountain.  This mountain stretches from Gadsden, Alabama all the way to Chattanooga, Tennesse – which just happens to be our next destination!

Black Creek Gorge

Black Creek Gorge

Noccalula Falls

Behind the cascading Noccalula Falls

Under Noccalula Falls

Although it was 80 degrees and humid outside, the cavern under the Falls was cool and beautiful – we didn’t want to leave

The trail to the foot of the falls was conveniently accessible from our campsite.  It had been a while since our last real hike, so we were a bit sore the next day after scrambling up and down the boulders and steep paths.  We also took several walks on the  Black Creek Trail a 2-mile crushed stone path  which was literally right behind our site, making our daily exercise super-convenient. The trail is lush with tall green trees and meanders along the Black Creek gorge.

Noccalula Falls Campground

Walking up the hill from the trail to site #A19 in the campground

Each afternoon after our day of activities, we would sit outside reading and watching hikers passing by.  And like every afternoon our entertainment is watching  these little black squirrels as they went about their daily routines, running around, eating and just having fun.

Black Squirrel

Check out this guy as he played in our fire pit and got himself all powdered white.  We don’t know what he was doing, but he seemed to be having fun and we enjoyed watching him make a mess of himself! Life’s little pleasure.

Lastly, a trip down scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway begins right outside our park at Noccalula Falls.  And that’s where we’re taking you next time, so hop in and enjoy the ride!



Touring NYC by boat – The Big Apple pt. 2

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After walking much of Manhattan with our friends, we took a tour by boat that had been recommended to us.  We think this is a great way to see Manhattan from a different perspective – after all, it does have the world’s most famous skyline.  We chose to take the Full Island Cruise offered by Circle Line, which gave us a good tour all the way around Manhattan in 2.5 hours.  To get there, we hopped on the PATH train in Jersey City and went 2 stops to the World Train Center station in Manhattan.  Then we made the short walk to the subway and took the E line to 42nd Street, finally walking four avenue blocks to Pier 83.  Hey, just getting there was half the adventure!

Next to Pier 83 where we boarded the boat is the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, where a British Airways Concorde is on display.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit that museum, where we could have checked out the the fastest commercial aircraft to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Maybe we’ll see one in DC.

British Airways Concorde

British Airways Concorde

Departing from the pier, the tour guide began sharing his in-depth knowledge of the city.  From him, one could really get a sense of the size of Manhattan and the 5 surrounding boroughs.  He helped us to keep our bearings, for as we passed by each landmark he would mention which subway line(s) stop closest to it.  It was a very good tour, and relaxing on such a beautiful day.

Manhattan Skyline

World Trade Center One is now the tallest building in the U.S.

This area of the Hudson River is where Captain Sully performed his miracle landing on the river in January of 2009.  Circle Line was one of the many first responders to the incident.

Jersey City skyline

Jersey City skyline with Goldman Sachs Tower in the foreground, called the “lipstick building” by locals.

Thanks to the government shutdown, Lady Liberty was left standing alone on this day, and Ellis Island looked deserted as well.

Manhattan is an island whose name is derived from the word Manna-hata, as written in a 1609 logbook.  It was subsequently translated as “island of many hills” from the Lenape language.  We saw only a few hills as we cruised around the northern end of the island, perhaps the high rises have hidden some them.  Speaking of high rises, american architects consider 12 stories or higher to be a high rise.  New York City easily leads the U.S. list with over 6,000 high rise buildings, and Chicago is a distant second with “only” around 1,100.

Being an island, Manhattan is linked to NYC’s outer boroughs by numerous bridges, large and small.  On this day we passed under nineteen of them!  The first three major ones we cruised under, which the tour guide called the “B-M-W” bridges, were the Brooklyn Bridge, (seen on my header), the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge – pedestrians and bicyclists can also get across here.

Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

And the bridge that Betsy crossed while on I-95 S a few days ago – the George Washington Bridge – is considered the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.  It connects upper Manhattan with New Jersey.

George Washington Bridge

George Washington Bridge

Leading to the new Yankee Stadium were 6 street bridges with low clearances.  The tour guide repeatedly warned the Yankee fans on board that we might not be able to see the stadium because it was high tide and the boat might not clear.  Well, with just a few inches to spare, the boat inched very slowly under all 6 of them.

The tour gave us views of Harlem, Gracie Mansion, the Upper East Side and many other areas of the island.  Culling through many pictures, I chose some which depict the fascinating diverse Manhattan skyline.  Here are a few that caught my attention, featuring golden rooftops as well as green ones:

On the Upper East Side we saw luxury apartments where many celebrities reside, their rooftops decked with trees.  We noticed a “nurse’s co-op housing” with color-coded doors.  Neither Steve nor I could remember why the guide said they were painted that way – it had something to do with helping the nurses to find their rooms.

According to our guide, approximately 10,000-15,000 water tanks reside on building roofs across the boroughs.  Buildings higher than six stories need the tanks because the city’s water system is unable to supply sufficient water pressure to tall buildings.  The tanks are filled by pumps in the building’s basement, and water is supplied from the tank to users via gravity only.  Wooden tanks are by far the most popular because of their insulating properties and low cost to construct.

Our knowledgeable guide helped us to learn a lot about Manhattan Island, NYC and the diverse people who live there.  Once docked, we still had plenty of time to do some exploring on our own.   We walked uptown, where we checked out the ubiquitous food vendors and clever pedicab drivers competing with their per-minute rates:

We strolled through Central Park and stopped at Strawberry Fields, a mosaic memorial for John Lennon.

Heckscher Playground

Heckscher playground at Central Park

We quickly learned that when taking the subway you need to know if you’re going uptown or downtown.  Knowing that, we hopped back on, this time heading downtown.  Emerging from the subway, we ended up at City Hall Park.  There we caught a glimpse of a live clown dressed in red and sleeping on one of the benches.  Strolling along, we learned that a group called “Lightness of Being,” had an outdoor show running till Dec. 13th, and it dotted the park with whimsical works of art.  They call it “concept-based art” (or stupid art).  Decide for yourself!

The Humans, Lightness of Being

“The Humans” – I’m the one with the little ears.

Our stop in The City That Never Sleeps was packed with activities – not only sightseeing, but also socializing.  We caught up with Joe and Charlene, whom we had met a few days ago in Boston, and Praveen, my former coworker at PayPal.  Also, we received a visit from my lovely niece Maristelle and her friend Christian.  Whew, we kept a pretty hectic schedule – just like you’re supposed to do when in New York City, right?  Help, we need a day off!!!

We had a fantastic time in The Big Apple.  Despite the initial stress of driving Betsy  through NY and into NJ, we’re glad we decided to stay here for a few nights.  So much has been written about people in New York City, but we can now say from experience that the folks we observed and met on the streets were very helpful and tolerant of the tourists who raid their city on a daily basis.

Next Up:  Atlantic City!