Friday, March 27, 2015

Rustic Roads, Wildlife and a Purple Cow

I was amazed to have a majestic visitor on Saturday afternoon. I'd got back home from a lunch with an old friend and was laying on the sofa when I thought I saw a hawk fly over the house. I'd spotted the white head but had dismissed the idea of a bald eagle and laid back again. When it passed over a second time I leaped up and grabbing my camera ran outside. A few members of my crow family were heckling him in the oak tree and I could see they were really annoying him. I hurriedly shooed Kota and Rosie Lee into the house, not wanting them to become big bird snacks.
The eagle sat only for about 5 minutes before deciding he'd had enough of the crows' rowdiness, and I couldn't blame him. It was a real din, they were incessant with their screeching and shrieking. So he flew off. But I really hope he comes back for a visit soon.
On Sunday I was meeting Janice and a couple of her friends to visit the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. I hadn't even known of its existence and was looking forward to meeting the residents. I decided to take a slow drive down the country route rather than sitting on an interstate, and had plotted a few places to explore.
I came across on of the few remaining 'round barns' in VA. This one is octagonal and in very good condition, located in Mt. Sidney. I got out of the car hoping the farmer would come out of his house and possibly give me some history on it but no luck.
There was also a great three-span truss bridge close to the barn, built in 1907 but now closed to all traffic since 1997.  It's known as the Mount Meridian Bridge.
A photo by Jack E. Boucher from 1971 when it was in operation.
I met everyone for lunch which we wolfed down and soon we were all sitting in the library area of the wildlife center where we learned of their mission and how they get their funding, most of which is from donations. Our speaker had a huge, silent, covered cage to the side of her and everybody's eyes were trained on that for the most part, watching for any sigh of movement or sound. Eventually she opened its door and out came a large beautiful Great Horned Owl.
Quinn, is training to be an educational animal. He damaged an eye on a barbed wire fence and his wing feathers, also damaged, never grew back properly. He could have survived with one eye but his feathers meant he couldn't fly silently, so he'd have no hope of catching prey. He's been at the center for about 5 years.
I loved this vase of feathers sitting in the window. I have one at home but not as well stocked.
We were taken around the center and got to see the treatment and surgery areas. I was very impressed at how clean and well equiped everything was. Boxes of various gloves and a board of different sized hoods were for treating birds. They had a board up showing the abbreviations of breeds.  The center also deals with a lot of bears and bunnies in the spring and is getting a new outdoor area built which will be split into areas for those animals that hunt, and those that are hunted.
The center also has a great sense of humor, with little scenes dotted about featuring stuffed animals playing doctors and nurses.
We even got to see in the kitchen area where meals are prepared. There were boxes and tins labeled with all kinds of meal ideas ranging from Canadian Gooses to voles. I did spot a few mouses and rats thawing out in the sink. There was also a wall area covered in toys for the animals.
We, understandably, weren't allowed in the ICU area or allowed to see the patients in case we stressed them.
Then we went outside to meet some of the permanent residents, many of whom are now educational animals and wildlife ambassadors for the center.
Edie the American Kestrel is very tame and loves getting close to people. She became imprinted on humans after being rescued in a storm as a baby and therefore can't be released back into the wild.
Athena and Gus, two Barred Owls, also live permanently at the center. Athena is partially blind, possibly due to West Nile Virus, and Gus was imprinted after being kept as a pet for a while. Gus has been here for about 20 years and when Athena arrived they were put together. but it was soon noticed that Athena was putting on a lot of weight while poor Gus was losing it; she'd been eating all the food. So now they have separate cages side by side.
What a sumptuous feast! The animals are very well fed here with fresh fruit, veggies and mouses alongside their grain and nuts. The cages were very clean and not once did I smell the musty smell of a bird cage that isn't cleaned very often. All these birds are very well looked after and obviously loved. I did ask if there were any animals other than birds that we could see but they were in ICU or there were the snakes and turtles we saw in the library. They had very recently lost two opossums to old age who had lived good lives at the center. I was sad to have missed those, I love opossums with their little black eyes and noses, and the way they scrunch their eyes shut in the presence of danger.
Papa G'Ho, another Great horned Owl, was hit by a car, resulting in the same feather problem that is afflicting Quinn, so he too can't be released into the wild. But the center take great care not to let him have too much human contact as he plays a very important role here. He's a surrogate parent for the young orphans, helping them hone their hunting abilities and develop natural owl behaviors. He did keep to the back of his cage and is apparently very bad tempered! But this is an attitude the staff love as he ensures all the new babies end up hating the staff so they don't imprint.
And my favorite resident of all was Buttercup, or Mr Butter, the Black Vulture. He was abandoned by his parents and then became imprinted on the humans who reared him. So he's no longer afraid of humans and can't be released into the wild. What a beautiful face. He loved me talking with him and stayed close to the fence, and then rewarded me with a wonderful spread of his wings, strutting up and down as I praised his handsome looks. I could have sat there all day with him.
Buddy the Bald Eagle unfortunately developed Avian Pox as a chick so had to be taken from his nest and reared by hand. His deformed beak means he can't hunt so he's being trained as an educational animal and ambassador.
We finished our tour and I noticed nearly everyone, myself included, purchased a souvenir from the gift shop and left a donation. What an amazing place with very special people working here, most of whom are volunteers. They have 4 full time vets working here. For more information on this fabulous place, click here for their website.
Driving back home, I again chose the slower route, and drove into an abandoned farm. I couldn't get inside the house but took some shots outside.
I did manage to find a way into the basement and found this hat and old green beans. I'd love to know when they were bottled, and why was just one jar left there?
The old Purple Cow restaurant sits up on the side of the road outside Waynesboro. In 1964 the Simerson family ran a fast food restaurant and bought an entire cow statue knowing it would make an excellent marketing tool. Burgers were 15c back then. The family owned 50 acres there with a house behind the restaurant but sold the land later, He then moved the business to downtown in the late 60's. Other businesses operated from this little building but the cow's head has remained; even the lane next to it is called Purple Cow Road.
A cute little house with gingerbread shutters in Grottoes. I came back through Luray at the end of the afternoon, stopping only to photograph a couple of huge metal structures outside an artists' studio. As I clicked my shots I remembered I had some dinosaurs to visit in the very near future. But that's for a later blog!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Brewery and a Bridge

The following morning we were all up early to wish Anhtuan luck then left him with Nimrod to go over the flight and paperwork. We drove to Allentown to look at Neuweiler Brewery, built between 1911 and 1913, which closed in 1968.It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. An extensive range of beers were produced here and after closure many of those recipes were purchased by Ortlieb's Brewery.
I loved the arched windows, blocked out by some cute art work on wooden boards.
The place is pretty much a shell from what we could see and well fenced, keeping nosy people like me out.
There's rumors that it could once again be made into a brewery since a New York brewing company purchased the place last year, The plans are for it to be converted into the new Ruckus headquarters with a brewpub and center for tours, and there may even be a beer named after the building.  Mary and I tried entering around the back but were soon told to leave by residents next door.
We all hopped back into the car as the cold was biting with an unforgiving wind whipping around us. We came across a city oddity while driving along a narrow back street. An adjacent row of houses was squashed up tight against the buttresses of a huge concrete bridge that spans the Lehigh river. There was barely a foot between the two and we had to get out of the car and investigate it further. We walked up and down snapping photos and an argument ensued as to which came first, the bridge or the houses. Later, back at the hotel, we started researching and after about 20 minutes had our answer. The bridge, built to allow about 22,000 cross the river daily, was built in 1929. The row houses were built earlier in 1900, and we discovered they are 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom homes worth about $43,000.
 I had almost missed this graffiti on the pillar, recognizing the name from the abandoned industrial park I'd visited a couple of weeks earlier. This guy gets about.
At noon we went to a bar near the hotel, and waited for Anhtuan to arrive. He finally turned up looking ashen and tired. He's been flying for about 20 years but said he'd never come that close to being sick before. They had been buffeted about tremendously while doing his review and I'm sure that it must have been a little unsettling trying to fly slowly, execute a perfect circle and stall the engine while wrestling to control the plane at the same time. But he passed and soon felt well enough to rapidly polish off the many plates of appetizers that we'd ordered in his absence. And so with curiosities and appetites sated we all started the long drive home, but I'm thinking a return trip to Bethlehem Steel could be in the future.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Steel Giant in Bethlehem

Yet another cold and windy weekend was promised as Mala, Carolyn and I headed up to Allentown, PA, to meet Mary and Anhtuan. Anhtuan was up taking his pilot's 2 year flight review this weekend and us girls had plans to go urbexing. After booking into our hotel our first stop was the Lehigh Valley International Airport where we got a personal tour from Anhtuan's test pilot and friend, Nimrod. Bethlehem Steel used to have its own hanger and the sign still hangs here.
 Afterwards we all drove to the Nisky Hill Cemetery. A photographer friend had sent me the image below of a view from the cemetery looking across to the blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel. Called A Lost World by Walker Evans, it entranced me, making the huge steelworks look mystical and unearthly. I wanted to take that shot for myself, but of I course would be taking it at a different time of year so there would be no foliage. Even so I couldn't rest until it was safe in my camera and the crew gladly helped me to obtain that, bless them. Both Mala and I had been thinking a good long hike would be required to get the shot but we were amazed to drive in and see the vast ruins almost immediately. It was huge. Even looking down on it across the river, it still dominated the valley, standing tall above the town with huge towers and pipes glistening dark orange and shining in the rain and heavy mist. It looked liked an alien building or a construction from a land of giants. A train hauling containers passed almost unseen beneath it, pocket-sized like a model railway. We were all mesmerized by the view and everyone leaped from the cars to take photos. Mala and Carolyn helped with mine.
We then drove to the other side of the river to see the blast furnaces up close. They really were enormous and I was pleased to see how much of the site had been saved from demolition. Old empty buildings were shadowed by the huge structures but these are supposedly being used in the future. One has been turned into a visitor center which showed a superb film on the steel plant but I was really expecting more. There wasn't much machinery or tools or even uniforms on display and the souvenirs were a little sparse. I had hoped to get a travel tumbler but none were available. so I just got a magnet.
Starting in 1857, Bethlehem Steel soon became dominant in world steel, producing the first wide-flange pieces of steel that were soon used in building the first skyscrapers. Responsible for 75% of New York's skyline and also for the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Rockefeller Center and Madison Square Gardens. It was a major supplier of armor plate and large artillery in both the World Wars. It continued to grow and built other plants and shipyards worldwide, reaching a peak in the 50's when the company president earned the nation's highest salary. It was also one of the world's leading producers of railroad freight cars. A list of its production achievements is here. But change came after WWII when the bombed steel industries in Germany and Japan were rebuilt with newer technology and became more efficient, producing steel more cheaply. Bethlehem Steel's markets diminished and because its workers retired after 30 years on full pensions with benefits, the company found it was paying out more than it made, trying to survive with a smaller workforce yet still supporting those it had employed in its heyday. Read this link on how the end of the company came about.
By 1979, on Bethlehem Steel's 75th anniversary, a wide flange beam of all the steel that had been produced could circle the earth 370 times.
The State Hospital in Allentown looked very grand as we viewed it later that afternoon. Closed under protest in 2010, it's now used for law enforcement training.
We decided to go to dinner and then return to Bethlehem Steel later as it would be lit up once it was dark. We'd looked on Yelp for restaurants and opted for Thai, but noticed one or two were marked as BYOB; they weren't serving alcohol. We chose one that didn't state this and went to dinner. We'd sat down and were ordering when we discovered that our restaurant was also dry. Oh calamity! The car had been whisked away by a valet, impeding our escape, yet the prospect of an alcohol free meal was unthinkable. Carolyn and Mary valiantly offered to go out and see if they could purchase some badly needed brews, to no avail. We had to eat our meal booze-free. I did scour the menu to see if there were any loaded dishes but nothing.
So our friendly waiter took our photo with us toasting the viewer with water glasses! We finished our food and found no reason to hang around since however much we prayed with closed eyes at every sip, our glasses stubbornly remained filled with water. We collected the car and laughed at the irony of our lost opportunity to enjoy the guilt free trip with our designated driver, Anhtuan, who just happened to be almost teetotal.
Back down at Beth Steel, we soon forgot our tribulation as we turned the corner and saw for the first time the blast furnaces lit up. They looked splendid.
We clicked away with our cameras, and for once I was glad of the gloomy weather, The clouds hung so low that they also became illuminated with the spotlights pointing up from the ground. These structures really were magnificent. but even our enthusiasm after a while waned, as our fingers became more and more numb with the cold. And we needed to get Anhtuan to bed for an early night. He'd been unable to have his evauation that morning due to the inclement weather and so was due up in the clouds the following morning. So we drove back to the hotel, but not without stopping first for that much eluded drink!