Monday, April 25, 2011

Luray Caverns and a 140 year old spoon

My family and I have been talking about visiting the Luray Caverns for a long time.  They are located in the Shenandoah Valley, deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  I grew up in the mountains, and driving through them, seeing them in the distance always makes me feel like I am coming home.  It was a really nice drive, fairly short, and the countryside is just beautiful this time of year.  On our way home we stopped at two viewing areas, here is a picture taken at the first one, with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains far in the distance.

I honestly didn't know what to expect at the cavern.  In many cases things aren't what they are advertised to be, but I can tell you that the Luray Caverns more than exceeded my expectations.  When we got to the cavern it was raining and cold, but we braved the elements and got our tickets and stood in line to go on the self-paced tour.  Your ticket for admission covers entrance to the cavern, an antique carriage and car museum, and the Luray Museum that contains artifacts from the local community collected throughout the years.

To get down into the cave proper, you descent a long fight of stairs and then arrive at a sort of holding area where you can put on your headphones and get the audio tour started.  You begin the tour by following a walkway with a metal hand rail down and into the cavern.  It took me all of about 30 seconds to let out my first gasp of amazement.  The flow stone, the draperies, the stalactites, the named structures, were breathtaking.  One structure in the deepest part of the cave was said to be over 7 million years old. 

Flow stone, named because of the way it looks like a frozen waterfall.

Draperies or Curtains


Tallest formation in the cavern, 40+ feet high.

My camera does not even begin to do this natural wonder justice.  The sheer size of the formations, the timelessness that you feel by being inside the cavern, and the beauty, all combine to leave you feeling like you have just done and experienced something amazing.

After our tour was over, we headed into the Carriage and Automobile museum.  To be honest, we should have done that first.  Man made items, even those that were made over a hundred years ago, seemed to pale in comparison to what we had just seen.  The Luray Museum was much the same, but a bit more interesting.  I enjoyed the displays of pottery and other items from the past.  Still, after seeing a 7 million year old rock formation 165 feet under ground, it was hard to be impressed.

I did see one wooden spoon along with a few other wooden cooking implements, a bowl and several rolling pins on display.  I stood and looked at the spoon for quite some time.  It was just a tool, just an implement to stir a soup or mix a cake.  

Nothing fancy at all.  Just a plain old spoon, its only decoration was a small cone shaped finial on the end.  It's a spoon that was made to be used.  Not to be put away in a drawer as a keepsake.  It's the kind of spoon that I like to make.  140 years ago they weren't worried about how many people liked what they made, they crafted and carved tools and items for their every day use.  I need to remember that more often I guess.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Weekend Camping Trip, round 2

Last week it was all about spending a weekend in the woods with other dads and our daughters.  This week, it was my son and I.  We had fun, we always do.  He gets to spend time with friends that he only sees at the camp outs and I get a few minutes with him without video games or the TV cutting into our time spent together.  It is something that we both really look forward to doing twice a year.  We were talking about our fall camp out on the drive home on Sunday.  We are ready to go again for sure.  I think this picture sums up the weekend.

See the smile?  See the joy?  I can promise you that smile was mirrored on my face as I took this picture.

We cooked potatoes in the ground again, and for the second weekend in a row we had some tasty results.  Instead of taking a video, I was able to take a few pictures of the preparation.  Not being the person digging the hole has its advantages I guess.

When we got to the camp ground we built our fire and it burned all evening Friday and then throughout the night.  We dug our hole on the uphill side of the fire, deep enough to go through the thin layer of ash and into the hard ground below.

Into this hole we built a small secondary fire, with small branches and twigs that were found in the nearby woods.  We started the secondary fire with a shovel full of hot coals from the main fire.

After forming a secondary coal bed in the bottom of our hole, we lined the hole with several rocks that we had placed in the coals of the main fire.  We shoveled in some more hot coals from the main fire and then added the potatoes.  We covered the whole thing with dirt, deep enough that no smoke was able to escape.

We waited about five hours and then excavated our tasty treasures.  For the second week in a row our efforts were rewarded with perfectly baked potatoes.

Taking the potatoes out of the hole was the best and worst part of this whole effort.  The fire was so hot that even with a thick, fire resistant glove on, our hands were on the edge of being burned.  We had to take turns digging them out, because the heat on our faces was almost too hot to handle.

There is something very rewarding about eating something that you have worked hard to prepare.  Our tribe mates were appreciative and we were left with a feeling of satisfaction that came from more than just a full stomach.  I am confident that we will cook this way again, after two successful weeks and a great deal of confidence in our ability, we won't be able to help ourselves.

Right before I left for the camp out a package came in the mail with a Minnesota post mark, bearing the name Pinewood Forge.  More about that later though, this has gone on long enough.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend Camping trip, round one.

I take my daughter camping twice a year with a large group of other fathers as part of a program at our YMCA called the Indian Princesses.  For those two weekends a local camp ground is filled with the smells of camp fires and the laughter of hundreds of young girls.  My daughter is almost 6 and we have been going since she was 4, I think this past weekend was our 5th camp out.  She loves it, and looks forward to going.  She gets to spend time with her friends and do some fishing and loves searching for frogs and trying to catch minnows on the edge of the lake.  She gets to shoot a gun, run an obstacle course through the woods, make crafts, and sleep outside.  I enjoy it as well, mostly because it seems like I rarely get time with my daughter where I am not competing with some other distraction.

Because the weekend has an Indian theme we each belong to a specific tribe.  My daughter and I are part of the Crow tribe.  Each tribe has a specific campsite and a camp fire that is used for warmth, roasting marshmallows, and for just sitting around talking.  This year, we decided to use it to cook some of our Saturday night dinner as well.

After reading a post at The Sharpened Axe about cooking beans in a fire pit, I thought it would be fun to give it a try at our camp out.  We decided on baked potatoes though.  I didn't take pictures of our preparations, but I can tell you that it was as described in the post linked above.  The main difference was that we dug our hole on the peripheral of our existing camp fire, and then filled it with hot coals from the fire and counted on residual heat from the actively burning fire to handle most of the cooking.  In a sense we created an oven with the main fire acting as the heat source.

The potatoes were coated in left over bacon grease from that morning's breakfast, and wrapped in aluminum foil.  We dug a hole about 18 inches deep and lined it with rocks and filled it with hot coals from the fire.  We then added our potatoes and then covered everything with an 8 inch layer of dirt.  

We waited about 6 hours before digging them up, here are the results.

They were cooked to perfection!  It was a very rewarding experience.  I am already looking forward to the fall camp out with my daughter.  Next weekend, I will be camping with my son in the Father/Son version of the same weekend.  

I also spent some time last week, carving a coffee scoop, I haven't been out in the shop much at all lately, I'm spending some time out there this week for sure.  We are buying a new set of cookware, and I need some spoons to keep the non-stick finish safe.  No more metal spoons for us!

Here is my finished coffee scoop.  I'm sending it to a friend this week.  It isn't too fancy, but I know that it will be used to make many many pots of wonderful coffee.