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Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, Floyd Collins and Crystal Cave

Before Mammoth Cave became a national park, there was an entirely different carnival in operation. In 1917, Floyd Collins discovered Crystal Cave on his family’s farm and was able to commercialize it into a show cave. It was too far from the main road, and in 1925, he entered into an agreement with his neighbors to explore and develop what would later become known as Sand Cave (and his first grave site). The Kentucky Cave Wars were in full swing. Floyd became trapped and perished in Sand Cave in February 1925.

There is so much about this place and this time. A series of interviews were conducted by William Burke “Skeets” Miller, a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter who interviewed the trapped Collins and helped with the rescue operations, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the tragedy. https://www.americanheritage.com/it-was-my-first-trip-cave#1

Last known words: Finally, almost sullenly, Collins answered: “No, I am not free.”

Sand Cave

This trail is easy to find off the main road into Mammoth Cave National Park. There is nothing that strikes me as particularly spooky or really even interesting about the area surrounding Sand Cave. It felt like nothing to me. Just another walk in the woods, despite knowing Floyd died right there.

The Floyd Collins homesite and the trail and entrance into Crystal Cave are an entirely different story. There is a lot of weirdness around this location in my experience. It is not an area that is marked by signage from the road. We asked a ranger at the back country permit booth how to find the homesite and he replied: “I don’t think we have that here.” (We would later find it, hours later, within 2-3 miles of where the ranger’s booth was, and of course, it is fully inside the park). Inside the Visitor Center, there are maps but the homesite and Crystal Cave are not marked locations on the map.

The instructions I received from the guide inside the Visitor Center were to get back onto Flint Ridge Road and to park at the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church on my left. Then, I would access the first gate on my left to find the homesite. These were wrong instructions. By this point, I am under the impression that the park guides are under direct instructions to deter visitors from finding the homesite and Crystal Cave. The REAL INSTRUCTIONS ARE: Leave the Visitor Center and get onto Flint Ridge Road. Drive past the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church, and drive past the first gated trail on the left. When you arrive at the second gated trail, there is a place to park and this is the correct trail to access the homesite. The walk is maybe 20-30 minutes from the gate.

We walked long enough that I almost turned around because I thought it was the wrong trail. Suddenly, we crested a hill and the light became different. Fuzzy. And then we were there, looking at the homesite. Anyone who reads anything about the lore of the area will know what I am talking about. How sometimes time is fuzzy in Mammoth Cave. Thinner.

Between the homesite and the ticket booth, there is a path to Crystal Cave. It is downright eerie, but beautiful. You can still see the old posts all along the trail down.

I had been reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower books all summer, and maybe I was just more sensitive than usual to doors. Maybe. Yet a few quotes summed up the sensation of place perfectly: “I will see you in the clearing at the end of the path,” and “Go then. There are other worlds than these.”

Door into Crystal Cave

There is much mystery about Crystal Cave and the homesite. Troy Taylor recounts several tales of hauntings in Crystal Cave in “Down in the Darkness.” These are from former Geologists and Scientists at the park! One tale that sticks out involves a ringing phone coming from a disconnected phone line. Trust the science. I later found out that Floyd’s body was on display in a glass coffin inside Crystal Cave until 1989! So yeah, long story short, some people think he’s still around and this whole area is super strange.

One almost leaves with the sense that the National Park Service gave us Mammoth Cave so we would forget about Crystal Cave.

YouTube is a wealth of knowledge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAChd93qksc&t=2886s

Mammoth Cave Baptist Church

Maybe one day they will run tours again in Crystal Cave.

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Sedona)

Notes from a Play Journal.

Sedona Airport is the perfect fly-in day trip. You don’t even need car service or to get stuck in the infamous traffic loop to enjoy one of Sedona’s best hikes and restaurants. The Airport Loop trail is in very close walking distance to Red Rock Aviation Services, where you will tie down.

Mesa Grill overlooks the airport and offers the best tableside guacamole you are likely to find anywhere.

I really appreciate a destination that gives you a good taste of a venue without having to leave the premises!

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Harris Neck Army Airfield, Townsend, GA)

Notes from a Play Journal. There is a secret and very special place to hike and bike near Savannah, Georgia. Harris Neck Army Airfield in Townsend, GA is a nature preserve that provides visitors an opportunity to explore the old runways and taxiways of the abandoned airfield. You may find yourself off the beaten path and stumbling upon one of the old hangars. What happened to the interior roof? Was it a fire?

This is a must-see for any aviation enthusiasts and/or pilots!

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (South Dakota)

Notes from a Play Journal. I know I said that Wyoming was “so cool,” but so is South Dakota in more of a touristy beaten-path type of way. Sioux Falls has a fantastic park! It was a little too cold for biking during our visit, but this is on our list for a getaway once we establish ourselves out West. Alltrails.com lists the Sioux Falls Bike Trail Loop as a 19.1 mile paved (and looped) trail.

The Corn Palace in Mitchell:

The Badlands:

Mt. Rushmore:

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Casper, Wyoming)

Notes from a Play Journal. Wyoming is so cool. Casper, Wyoming is one of our new favorite surprise random destinations. The trip begins with bicycle rentals from Mountain Sports. You can ride from the shop to the North Casper Sports Complex, where you can access the paved Platte River Trail for ten miles of pure biking pleasure.

The Tate Pumphouse is a great place to stop for a bathroom break.

I love the sign on the side of the Black Hills Bentonite Company. Wyoming really is one of the last great places.

4.5 mile Bridle Trail at Casper Mountain is a must-do and was not crowded on a Sunday morning in July.

Rarely do we dine at the same place twice while traveling, but exceptions were made for dinner at The Hangar in Bar Nunn and for multi-grain pancakes at Eggingtons in downtown Casper. I loved the Hangar as much for its history as the old 1927 Natrona County Airport as I did for its food!

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Montana)

Notes from a Play Journal. The trip begins with bicycle rentals from Knickerbocker in Great Falls, MT. You can ride the River’s Edge Trail all the way to Giant Springs State Park. There are restrooms available at the park. In between, there are art sculptures to take in as well as views of the SMOKED barbecue restaurant is next to Knickerbocker and is a fantastic find! Try the spicy cole slaw.

View from River's Edge Trail in Great Falls.JPG
Sculptures along River's Edge Trail.JPG

You will find Windy Mountain in Highwood, Montana. This is just a short drive from Great Falls, and offers a challenging climb for low country folks.

Windy Mtn Highwood MT.JPG

The in-between details involved a cabin rental in Paradise Valley and a second attempt to hike at Passage Falls (unable due to rain); a lunch visit in Gardiner; downtown/historic district walking in Bozeman; and a breathtaking drive from Great Falls to Emigrant that took us past Wolf Lodge; Dearborn; Helena; and Butte. Some things you just can’t do justice by attempting to photograph.

Another star find of this trip was the Big Sky Resort in summer. We loved watching the mountain bikers zoom by as we rode up the side of the mountain. The drive from Bozeman winds past the Gallatin River and you can see the whitewater rafters as you continue on towards Big Sky. It was not over-populated at all for a Sunday in July!

Going up the ski left Big Sky.JPG

Take the lift up and hike down. Watch out for bears! Big Sky has a super cute base town that is all open for summer guests. They offer zip lines as well.

Top of Big Sky Resort.JPG

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Providence and Newport, Rhode Island)

Providence is a fantastic city for outdoor exercise and for eating pizza at Providence Coal-Fired Pizza! For a scenic walking route downtown, start at Water Place Park and work your way uphill to Prospect Terrace Park in the College Hill neighborhood of Brown University. Fans of architecture and history will love viewing the historic homes along the path of this circa 1869 park.

For bicycling, head over to Dash Bicycle Shop and rent bikes. Ride to India Park and pick up the East Bay Bike Path for a 14.5 mile ride to Bristol, RI. We stopped and had coffee along the trail and ate lunch once we arrived in Bristol. The trail itself is in excellent shape, with no cracks or roots growing over the asphalt. I would give this trail a solid five stars as far as maintenance; scenery; and amenities that are available along the way. There is even a grocery store along the trail. A nice short detour should be made to see Crescent Park and the historic Looff Carousel.

View from the East Bay Bike Trail
View from the East Bay Bike Trail

A visit to Lovecraft Arts & Sciences bookstore in The Arcade is a must stop for H.P. Lovecraft fans. I picked up a copy of “At the Mountains of Madness” and though I have vague remembrances of reading the tale in high school. I waited so long for my second reading that the experience was fresh. I loved the references to the Necronomicon and the Elder Things and/or the Great Old Ones. The story really makes you wonder if Lovecraft knew something we don’t know. What lies beneath?


Newport is Newport, as always. Fun to visit during the week, but stay out of the crowds on summer weekends. The Cliff Walk can get very tight with all of the visitors. A hot tip for flying out: the Fairfield Marriott is connected to PVD via a parking deck. It’s a small walk, but still very convenient because you can drop your rental car off the night before and settle in. There are restaurants within walking distance of the Fairfield.

Cliff Walk.JPG

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Weird Pismo Beach, California)

The Play Journal remembers Weird Pismo Beach, California, and other wanderings.

It’s funny what I took pictures of in California. Not the sunset over the Pacific Coast Highway, not any of the classic shots of natural beauty. We saw Carmel; Big Sur (Ragged Point was my favorite stop); Monterey; Pismo Beach; Cayucos; Avila Beach; Paso Robles; and the Port San Luis Pier. I think I knew I would be back, and I think I knew from experience that my camera wouldn’t do the scenes justice. I didn’t even try this time.

Central California is so beautiful with the contrast between the ocean and the hills. And it’s not crowded from Cambria all the way to Pismo Beach (at least in November).

Well, I tried one “nice” shot at Port San Luis.

Port San Luis - CA.jpg

Instead, I snapped things that made me laugh. Human seagulls at Pismo Beach.

Human Seagulls - Pismo Beach.jpg

A dog who has the look of a Dad waiting for his child to get out of class.

Dog catches movement. A stream of children pour out of school. But not the Dog’s child. Dog thinks: “C’mon! I’m dying here!“
Dog catches movement. A stream of children pour out of school. But not the Dog’s child. Dog thinks: “C’mon! I’m dying here!“
Dog has resigned himself to his fate. Dog thinks: “He’s never coming out. I’m going to die here waiting in this car. At least I can amuse myself watching those human seagulls.”
Dog has resigned himself to his fate. Dog thinks: “He’s never coming out. I’m going to die here waiting in this car. At least I can amuse myself watching those human seagulls.”

Lazy seals on this dock.

The reason this is so funny is because the sign reads: “Working Pier.” These seals are just useless lie abouts. They will never work.
The reason this is so funny is because the sign reads: “Working Pier.” These seals are just useless lie abouts. They will never work.

A gas station with caution tape – daring me to enter.

Oh, I dare.
Oh, I dare.

Pismo Beach had a classic old California vibe to it. Nothing fancy here, some downright gritty aspects to it, but my overall sense was vintage cool. I think Pismo Beach is to California what Tybee Island is to Georgia. Got to see some surfers. Part of what is so much fun about being somewhere else is you don’t know what you’re going to get. An old man at breakfast chatting me up. Asking where I’m from and then talking to me at some length about Jimmy Carter. Asking me if I’m a student (I’m 38 years old). I loved him so much. Next time, we will be fancier and see Santa Barbara; Malibu; Santa Monica; and Los Angeles.

Entered the old Mission in San Luis Obispo and lit a candle. Tried to say a prayer but it had been so long. I couldn’t even think what to pray for anymore. I vaguely muttered something about keeping me safe in 2019. I guess mostly my prayers had already been answered, and I’ll take that right now. But you have to keep lighting your way.

Pismo Beach - play journal.jpg

Travel. Write. Index. Buy Stealth Journals. Repeat — Jamie Whitmer

Pressing Play: A Look Inside My Play Journal (Orlando)

The Play Journal attempts an adult day out in Orlando sans Mickey Mouse and other cheap imitations.  

The Orlando Museum of Art only allows photography in certain sections. Here are some of those sections:

Edouard Prulhiere Untitled, 1993
Edouard Prulhiere Untitled, 1993
Richard Mosse Carvair Blackpool, 2008. Disaster response shot of a burning plane. Striking fear into the hearts of pilot wives everywhere. 
Richard Mosse Carvair Blackpool, 2008. Disaster response shot of a burning plane. Striking fear into the hearts of pilot wives everywhere. 
Nick Cave Soundsuit, 2011. I love anything that makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and/or the Mad Hatter and his tea party. Good times!
Nick Cave Soundsuit, 2011. I love anything that makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and/or the Mad Hatter and his tea party. Good times!

I did not get a good shot of the swan boats in Lake Eola Park, but rest assured that I was on one. I thought I saw an alligator, but it wound up just being a terrapin. It looked like a lawyer I used to know. So that was fun. I wish I got a picture of him so I could put them up side by side and you could compare them. I mean, that terrapin was a dead ringer. I’m tempted to go back and look for him.

Regrettably, I failed to capture an excellent scene that involved turtles on a pipe. You see, there was a group of turtles that had climbed up onto a pipe to sun themselves. Every now and then, a new turtle would swim up and attempt just once to climb up on the pipe. He would fall back in the water, and swim away in complete turtle shame. The one turtle in the middle of the pipe kicked his leg back and tried to push off the turtle behind him. The turtles were demonstrating life perfectly. 

It’s a long hard climb to the top. You can’t try once and give up and quit. Not everyone can make it. Some will be too weak to climb, some will be too lazy to climb, and some won’t even care enough to want to try and climb. Then, even when you think you’ve got it made, sunning yourself on top, the guy just ahead of you is going to try and kick your ass back down. Turtles. 

Underneath these fishy-smelling waters lurks a Terrapin, who looks like a lawyer. 
Underneath these fishy-smelling waters lurks a Terrapin, who looks like a lawyer. 

Another thing you need to know about the mean streets of Lake Eola Park is that high heels are frowned upon in this establishment. 

Don't be out here strolling in high heels, y'all. 
Don’t be out here strolling in high heels, y’all. 

When I first saw this sign I was fairly tickled about it, and still think it stands alone in the humor category. This is my first time being warned about shoes. I kind of thought it was implied. After walking around the loop a bit more, we came to a congregation of street people. I witnessed a legitimate scene that I am still trying to come to terms with. The short of it was that I think I found out that the sign is directed at street hookers and not tourists, as you would imagine! Cut to scene: two obviously highly intoxicated people. A woman standing and swaying, waving her finger in the air, and telling off a group of four men who were sitting on a bench. Woman: “I don’t do nothing for $8.50. Burger King can’t even get me for that. I want my full $10.00.” Men: “Oh, she don’t work for free.” “Nope.” I saw something in the park that I cannot unsee.    

Lake Eola park is scarier than anything I’ve seen in San Francisco; the 9th Ward; Chicago; or Manhattan. Govern yourselves accordingly. Although, faced with the choice between a walk in the park and listening to other people’s children shout and drool upon themselves while queuing up to ride a $100.00 spinning teacup, I guess I’ll take Hooker Park.

I allowed myself some snark with this one because it’s real. We got dressed out, we got in the car, and we went out to see something new. The world is not always Disney World. Disney World is not Disney World, okay. Go back and read that sentence again if you have to. Every experience is not “I’m sitting on top of a mountain and the sky is bluer than you can even understand.” Every experience is not: “the tableside guacamole was perfectly made and the chips were warm and not too salty,” or even: “we drove in silence through winding mountains that we were surprised to find, and the light hit us through the windshield in a way that could only have been what heaven looks like always.”

No, those are things that happened in Arizona last month. This is now. In Orlando. A place where no one should ever be on purpose unless they have legitimate business here (which we did). 

Every “Play” day is not a colossal success in the manner that an advertisement would try to sell you on. Sometimes, you are on a business trip and you are just trying to squeeze in a few hours of escape. I will embrace seeing something “real” even if it is a bit unpleasant and not sanitized for the tourist masses.

In fact, this installment of “Pressing Play” is probably the most real testament to what the journal is all about. And that’s making the most of the moments you have. Not everyone works in aviation and gets to travel as part of their job. Not everyone is privileged enough to take trips a few times a year. But we can all find moments to steal, and we can journal about them later to find gratitude and create memories for our families. 

I had one more afternoon break walking in the sun with my husband. We did the best with what we had and that’s a win. No, we were not hiking to the top of a mountain; relaxing in a cabin in Montana; walking on a beach in Maine; or driving and exploring Big Sur. Those things were personal travel experiences. Those are things that only happen a handful of times a year.

The real everyday moments are ones we steal. Live! Before they take it from us. That’s something that anyone can relate to. We got another day together where we walked in sunshine. I don’t know why I think of those words, but that’s what I frequently think at the end of the day. 

Ruthless turtles. Hooker Park. A terrapin lawyer. A walk in the sun. We lived this day and we were happy to have it. 

Travel. Write. Index. Buy Stealth Journals. Repeat — Jamie Whitmer

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