Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
Sunday May 14th, we packed up and left Dillon State Park east of Columbus, OH and drove on country roads until we hit I-70 west. Not far outside of Columbus a giant basket appeared along the highway. As we got closer it became clear that it was an actual building! In fact, the internet confirms that this is the home office of Longaberger’s—a big producer of woven wood baskets.

Woven basket building

We continued on the ring road around Columbus and then headed northwest on Hwy 33 until we turned west to the little town of Jackson Center, OH, home of the Airstream Factory Service Center and the main Airstream Factory. They have a place they call the Airstream Terraport here, where anyone can get a full hook up site for $10 a night. If you’re there for factory service you get to stay for free.

It’s kind of an odd place in that there are 3 or 4 loops with 8 (I think) sites arranged like spokes on a wheel with the utilities in the central hub but hey it worked for us. Campground review on the web said that cell service was close to non-existent here but we did get a signal on the hot spot most of the time. It was especially good on Sunday and not so good when the 800 workers showed up the next morning at the factory. Walter managed to make one phone call but the second one got dropped and he had no further success—thus demonstrating the importance of the signal booster we use for the hot spot.

We set up camp, had lunch and then drove back the way we’d come to the lovely town of Bellafontaine to do grocery shopping at their Krogers. The produce wasn’t very good but the rest of the store was great. We were in the middle of a hot spell so we had our windows open and that evening these odd birds starting calling to each other. In time we realized that they weren’t birds. They were tree frogs in HUGE numbers, croaking to each other. It cooled off enough so we could close the windows but I still needed earplugs to get to sleep. When I awoke in the middle of the night, they’d stopped. Ah blessed silence.

Monday May 15, folks starting getting their rigs ready for the service department at about 6:30 am. There was lots of banging (and someone who set off their car alarm twice) and the tractors came and got the trailers for the service department at about 7 and then it got quiet and we went back to sleep. Once we’d had breakfast, we wandered over to the service department and paid our money for 2 nights and then hit the Airstream Store looking for a few miscellaneous things that we needed. By the time we were done we’d rung up a tab over $200 and we hadn’t even bought anything fun. Not even any flamingos!

We also got a quote on repairing the damage we incurred getting stuck in the gas station outside of DC. We won’t talk about the price (it’s way less than the bumper at least) but we did schedule an appointment in early October to have it fixed. We’d hoped that we’d be able to get a new rock guard (to cover up the big dent in the trailer) but they didn’t have any in stock. Ah well, it is a growthful process to have to look at it regularly in the rearview mirror.

In the afternoon, we took the Airstream Factory Tour which starts every weekday at the Factory Service Center at 2 pm. They don’t allow you to take photos in the factory but they do stop off in the parking lot so you can see Wally Byam’s Golden Airstream, made in 1958. This trailer made the journey from South Africa to the Mediterranean on one of the conducted trips that Wally was so famous for. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Airstream lore, Wally Byam was the founder of Airstream.

Wally Byam's Gold Airstream

They have a few other classic Airstreams parked nearby.

Vintage Airstream Jackson Center OH

The tour takes you through the entire factory. You get to see the automatic routing machine that cuts each of the panels for each model with precision accuracy. They have the same sort of machine to cut all the pieces for the cabinetry. They even make their own laminant for the cabinets. It’s a very noisy place and you have to wear ear plugs which makes hearing the tour guide kind of interesting. They have tons of folks working on each stage of production. The trailers make a journey all the way through the factory (including 1/2 hour in high pressure water testing to assure there aren’t any leaks) and it’s a fascinating process. The bodies are made first and then attached to the frame (which has all the undercarriage pipes etc. installed when it’s upside down and then it’s turned upright to receive the trailer). Once the outside is all done (including installing the windows which they also make on site) it’s tested for leaks and pulled out of the factory. Then it re-enters on the other side for all the interior work. Meanwhile in the center of the factory they’re making interior and exterior panels, windows, cabinets, curtains and upholstery. It’s one busy busy place. They put out 80 new Airstreams a week plus another 40 of the new Basecamp mini-trailers. Across the street they make the new Interstate van-style Airstreams. We skipped that part of the tour and went home since we were so close to the Terraport at that point.

If you take the tour on a Friday, the factory is quiet. Folks here work four 9-hour days and then work 4 hours on Friday morning so they’ve all gone home by 2 pm. I think it might be nice to take it on a Friday sometime so you could stop and look at all the trailers at the various stages of assembly without getting in anybody’s way.

It wasn’t as noisy on Tuesday morning and we both actually slept through most of the early morning activity. Then we packed up and headed back down to Columbus and then north on I-71 to I-76 eastward to West Branch State Park just northeast of Akron, Ohio. This is the closest place you can camp (except for a KOA which is a bit closer) to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They had lots of open sites but only 10 of them were available as first come first served. The rest required a call to the office somewhere. We opted for one of the first come first served sites and by the time we’d set up and I’d driven back to hand in our registration envelope, the registration office was open and you could sign up for any site in the place. Ah well, we liked our spot which backed into the woods, so no matter.

Our hot spot worked pretty well here which was nice since it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

It was over 80 so we opened up all our windows and set the fans to running. And even though there was a lake and lots of wetlands there were no frogs that night.

Wednesday May 17th, we packed a lunch and made the drive west to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Boston Store Visitors Center which is at the center of the park.  

Boston Store Visitors Center Cuyahoga Valley

We watched their movie—which appeared to have been edited down from a very nice PBS program. This park was created in 1974 to preserve some green space along the old Ohio-Erie Canal which ran between Akron and Cleveland. At the time the Cuyahoga River which runs through the area was a ‘dead’ river that from time to time would be so polluted that it caught on fire. It has recovered enough at this point, that it has beaver, muskrat and lots of fish. Isn’t Mother Nature wonderful?

Initially, the park was a National Recreation Area. One of its early superintendents got the great idea to develop the old canal towpath into a bike path and once it was done visitation skyrocketed. The Towpath is now the heart of the park. There were tons of kids on bikes visiting for a bike safely program.

Canal Towpath Cuyahoga Valley

This place is by anyone’s definition one strange National Park. Interstate 80 goes over the top of it not far from the Visitors Center on high flyovers. I-271 crosses over in the same area. And there are high tension power lines over another section.

Down by Station Bridge, State Rt. 82 crosses over at the Brecksville Railroad Station on a very picturesque bridge.

Station Bridge Cuyahoga Valley

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad uses the tracks and stations in the park. You can bike down the towpath and then take the train back up valley to your car. We didn’t see a train all day the day we were there, so I suspect that this time of year they only run on the weekends.

We followed a driving tour up through the park (it has far more houses and private buildings then we’re used to in National Parks) and on to the northernmost end of the park and the short hike to Bridal Veil Falls. There are bike trails all over the place and all the folks who were parked in the lot when we arrived were loading up bikes after rides. It was already 82 degrees so we were grateful the hike was in the shade and wasn’t very far.

It went down into a little gorge and past a nice little cascade. There weren’t any interpretive geology signs to explain the history here but we’ve seen these same strange thin layers of what looks like sandstone in other places along the slopes of the Appalachians.

Cascade near Bridal Veil Falls Cuyahoga Valley

You cross a nice little bridge and then go on to a viewing platform for Bridal Veil Falls. There wasn’t tons of water so it’s a bit hard to see but it was a nice waterfall that doesn’t so much fall as slide down the slope.

Bridal Veil Falls Cuyahoga Valley

From here we actually decided we didn’t need to drive back the way we’d come through the park and instead asked Carmine, the Garmin, to get us down to Brandywine Falls not far from the Visitors Center. She actually took us on I-271 but we got there okay. There are boardwalks that take you down to Brandywine Falls from a large parking lot. And there is a nice loop 1.1 mile trail through the Brandywine Gorge that you can take. However it was in the high 80’s and while it was shady, the hike down to the falls and back was enough for us.

Along the way I spied some Eastern Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) in both blue and white.

Eastern Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)

Brandywine Falls is the second highest falls in Ohio—at 60 feet. And there were lots of folks who took the stairs down to the falls.

Brandywine Falls Cuyahoga Valley

There was a big patch of Squaw Root (Conopholis americana), a perennial parasitic non-photosynthesizing plant growing in profusion at the base of an old stump and in the leaf mold under the trees nearby.  

Squaw Root (Conopholis americana)

We had our lunch sitting in the shade near the parking area and then made the drive to the south end of the park to visit the Everett Covered Bridge—the reconstructed version since the original was badly damaged in the 1913 flood that washed out (and closed) the Ohio-Erie Canal system and then the bridge was finally destroyed in a storm in 1975.

Everett Covered Bridge

Once again there was a lot of Taper-leafed Phlox along the river. We saw it everywhere in this part of Ohio.

 Taper-leafed Phlox

I walked to the viewing area and of course the trees blocked the view of the bridge. So I followed a trail and climbed down onto the rocks in the Furnace Run River to get a good view of the bridge. At one time there were 2,000 covered bridges in Ohio. This is the only one remaining in Summit County.

Everett Covered Bridge

There were wild blackberries of some kind blooming in the shade along the river.

Blackberry Flower

By this point it was HOT and we were both tired so we headed home. In any other part of the country, this park would still be a National Recreation Area. It’s used like one. And it’s real claim to fame is the towpath which is a recreational use. But the congressman for the area was a huge proponent of the park (he cosponsored the bill creating the park in 1974) and was Chairman of the House Appropriations Interior Committee where he assured the park had the funding it needed over the years (over 200 million dollars). In 2000, he shepherded the name change from a National Recreation Area to a National Park because he thought it would attract more visitors that way.

If you live in that area of the country, go visit it. Enjoy it. Take a ride on the train or the tow path. However, if you have to drive out of your way to make a visit I don’t think it’s worth the detour. We’re not sorry we went, but we won’t hurry back.

Thursday morning May 18th, we packed up one more time and drove northeast on blue highways to Hwy 11 which took us up to I-90 east through about 45 miles of Pennsylvania and then to I-86 which then took us about 60 miles further east into New York to Allegany State Park. This park has 2 sections each with its own little lake. I’d checked on Reserve America and it looked like there were more campsites available in the Red House Lake section of the park so we took the exit to that portion on the park to check things out. It turns out I’d read things wrong (Reserve America can be really confusing when a park has more than one campground). The campground at Red House had one little campsite left. However, the Quaker area of the park had lots more. So we drove UP over the hill and down over to the Cain Hollow Campground near Quaker Lake.

Along the way the roadsides were lined with forget-me-nots. I don’t know if these are escaped European True Forget-me-nots or the native ones. But they’re sweet and they make the roadsides looks lovely.


We stopped at the office and they gave us a map with a ton of sites marked as available and we drove around and had a look. Many were too small and others were very un-level. Just when we were beginning to give up hope, we found a sweet level site overlooking a creek with plenty of shade.

Allegany State Park campground view

We dropped the trailer and went back to the office to register. With the out of state fees and a different rate for Thursday night than the weekend it came out as an average of $34.60 a night for an electric only site. They expected to be full for the weekend because this was the Canadian Memorial Day Weekend and they have lots of folks come down to use the New York state parks because you can drink alcohol in the New York Parks but not in the Ontario Parks. In addition there was a big Geocaching event going on over in the Red House portion of the park.

We had not TV, or phone or hot spot signal but they had free Wi-Fi at the camp store. So after dinner we went down to use it. The password was posted on the wall of the snack bar (which wasn’t open at the time) and it worked just fine. The bugs chased us in at sundown but we were ready to go by then anyway.

The heat finally broke (it had been over 80 all week and the trailer never got below about 72) on Friday May 19th. It was only 64 when we got up and while it was sunny most of the day the temperature stayed near 70 degrees—heaven. We puttered through the morning and then drove over to the office to find out whether the Laundromat we had found the night before (which was padlocked up) would be open for the weekend (yes starting on Saturday) and then stopped to get a photo of Quaker Lake on our way to town.  
Quaker Lake Allegany State Park

Then we drove into the town of Salamanca to pick up our General Delivery packet of mail for the month. Salamanca is an old town and has many rundown houses so it had a creepiness to it that isn’t one of my favorite things. We got the mail and then went over to the library to use their Wifi. It was in an old supermarket that they’d done a nice job of converting but it smelled of mildew. And wonders of wonders they still had wooden card catalogs something I haven’t seen for quite some time.

Our phones didn’t work at the state park but they worked just fine in town. So Walter made a series of calls trying to find a dentist who had a spot open in the next few weeks to clean our teeth. No joy. This is always a challenge because many dentist’s don’t take new patients. And being on the move with a loose schedule doesn’t help it. In Texas, Walter used a dental clinic (which took all day) that took walk-in patients. We’re going to look into that next since we’ve got about 4 weeks before we head into Canada and we’d like to get it done before then.

We stopped at the local grocery store for a few things (it was a little odd but not bad) and then toddled on back to the campground. At least part of the town in on the Seneca Indian Reservation and they have a big new (very ugly) hotel/casino on the edge of town. Hopefully that will bring some more money into the town since it’s pretty sad at this point.

We had English Daisies in our campsite—our first anywhere since the Northwest.

English Daisies

And there was this lovely blue veronica-like flower in the grass next to the creek.

Blue veronica-like flowers
It rained a little in the night on Friday night—just enough to watermark the pollen on the truck but it was sunny and clear on Saturday May 20th with highs of about 75 degrees. We did laundry at the Laundromat behind the Gift shop/Museum and stopped at the camp store to use the WiFi. The WiFi still worked all right but the parking lot at the store and snack bar was a zoo.

This state park is more civilized than your average western state park. There is a marvelous chateau style administration building over in the Red House section that has a full restaurant. There are over 350 cabins and cottages available for rent (many of them winterized and available year round) in addition to the 3 campgrounds with over 300 sites (half with electricity). There are 3 snack bars, 2 camp stores and 2 gift shops. The campgrounds just have electrical hook ups (no water or sewer) but the bath houses are new and really nice with free hot showers. It’s a big park with 65,000 acres and has been in existence since 1921.

There were Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) along the road from Red House to Quaker but we didn’t stop to take a photo. But not worries. There was a patch of them at the top of our campground loop. They were mostly white when we arrived but within a day they had started to all turn pink. By the time I walked back to take photos they had started to fade and look limp.

On Sunday May 21st, it was sunny and in the low 70’s when we left Allegany State Park and drove northeast to Four Mile Creek State Park on Lake Ontario just north of Niagara Falls. First it clouded up and then it started to rain. By the time we went to set up camp it was pouring and in the 50’s. We had lunch and then drove south to the town of Lewiston to do grocery shopping.