day trip, geography, hike

Up There on Lower Table Rock

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The Table Rocks are a sight to see in Southern Oregon. These plateaus are not only a unique view in the mountain range, but the hiking trails on each of these twin mountains leads hikers to a unique view of Jackson County at the top.

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I’m actually ashamed to say that, although I always lived within a half mile drive of these mountains for most of my childhood, I only hiked them a handful of times. I believe the first time was when I was in fourth grade and we took a class trip there. Even our first-grade buddies were able to keep up on the strenuous hike! I remember hiking with my family once during the winter rain, and my shoes got stuck in a sticky mud puddle, causing me to face plant in a pile of mud! There was also one time I went with my youth group. In our middle school rebellious state, my friend and I carved our initials on a tree and watched as some of the boys threw things off the edge of the mountain, including a paper airplane and an orange. The last time I hiked up Table Rock was when I was still in high school, with a few of my closest friends at the time. Being able to count my Table Rock memories on one hand, I knew I needed to return.

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Last weekend, I had Saturday off. Between working at a call center and being a weekend nanny, this is an incredibly rare occurrence, so I had to celebrate it in some way. I invited a couple of friends to do something with me, suggesting Table Rock as an option. Unfortunately, while I had a rare Saturday off, they did not. Not to worry though; I’ve traversed the continent by myself, I should be able to manage a little hike a few miles outside of town!

On Saturday morning, before I even changed out of my pajamas, I received a phone call. I was off from jobs #1 and #2, but job #3 called. The housemother on duty at the teen mother home wasn’t feeling well, so I was asked to cover for her. I love spending time there, so it was not a problem to change my plans. Besides, I would get off at 3:00, so I would still have time to go for a hike afterward.

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There are two mountains that make up the collective Table Rocks: Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock. They’re not named for their heights; they’re named for their location on the river. Upper Table Rock is faster to get to, but it’s in a location with more shade, so I was afraid that, with Oregon’s liquid winters, that would translate to more mud. (I’m pretty sure that was the one we hiked when I fell in the mud!) So I decided to go out to the more iconic Lower Table Rock.

Thinking back to my first hike, we must have taken a lot of breathers and extended stops where our guides explained the flora and history of Table Rock. The incline really does get your heart pumping! It’s less than two miles to reach the summit of about 800 feet, and I was so relieved to get to the top.

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My goal behind reaching the top (besides the mini-challenge in itself to reach the top) was to get a bird’s eye view of the county. The trail takes you to the side of the plateau opposite of the metropolitan area, so I began walking to the other side to see what I could see.

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What I saw was a sunset. While pretty, it meant that I would need to turn around soon in order to make it back to my car by the time it got dark. So after spending several minutes at the summit, I turned around and headed back down, determined to try again in a few days.

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My next day off was Thursday, so I headed back to Table Rock that day. The problem was, while I wouldn’t have gone if it was raining (you know, the whole mud thing), it was incredibly foggy.

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So I waited until the afternoon in hopes that the fog would lift. It did clear up a little bit, and when I got to the top of Lower Table Rock, it was bright and sunny. Of course, that was just because all the fog was below me! Yes, a thick layer of fog separated me at the summit from the views below. Although, it did provide a unique view of the fog. It almost looked like an ocean!

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Two hikes in one week, and I still didn’t get what I came for. But third time’s the charm, right? Perhaps next time, on a clear, dry day with plenty of time before dark, I will have a picture of an incredible view to show you!


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resources, travel tips, writing

I Now Write Travel Guides!

24 hours ago, I never expected I’d write travel guides. But here I am, 24 hours later, and I have two guides published!

Just last night I found out about a website called Buggl. It is a resource to look up all kinds of travel guides. You can search by location or by type of activity. Each guide varies in price (depending on how much the author charges), but they all include an online version and a downloadable, printable PDF book.

I decided right away that I wanted to create a travel guide of my own, so I signed up. While some of the features were kind of annoying to work with, overall it was fairly easy to put together a guidebook. With a late night last night, I finally finished this:

A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls

Because I have the freedom to write about anywhere I want from whatever perspective I want, I decided it might be fun to write a book about how you can visit Niagara Falls, the ultimate honeymoon destination, when you don’t want any romantic ideas whatsoever. Of course, I think this guide would still be useful to couples who wanted to visit, but because I went solo on this trip, I wanted to let others know that they can enjoy this place by themselves, too! Furthermore, I wanted people to know that Niagara Falls is so much more than an afternoon stop! This guide explains in detail how you can enjoy seven action-packed days! In it, I give little-known secrets, information on how to prepare for this excursion, and more. I wrote all the words and took all the background pictures featured in this guide! Click here to download A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls for only $1.25!

After publishing this book, I tried to get some sleep, but I woke up early this morning because my mind was buzzing with ideas. I immediately wrote down a few ideas I had for other guidebooks, and after I got ready for the day I sat down and wrote another one!

A Weekend at the Creation Museum Travel Guide

I was inspired to write this one because I visited the Creation Museum last March, and was surprised to learn that while all tickets are valid for two days, many people only spend a couple hours there! That’s not nearly enough time to experience all that the Creation Museum has to offer! Based on my experience, I made this guide to better utilize the two-day ticket and enjoy a whole weekend in and around the Creation Museum. This includes where to stay, where to eat, and what to do after-hours. Click here to download A Weekend at the Creation Museum for only 99 cents!

If these two guides go over well, I plan to write many more. If you are interested in visiting Niagara Falls and/or the Creation Museum, I truly believe that these books will be a helpful resource to you! If you are interested in some other place, let me know. If I’ve been there, I’ll create a guidebook customized for you!

Thanks for reading, both my Buggl travel guides and right here on my blog. Let me know what you think!

day trip, hike, saving money

Looking for Bigfoot

Do you believe in Bigfoot? Up until several years ago, I never even thought of the possibility of this creature’s existence.

At the time, I worked part-time at a now-defunct gift store called All About Oregon. On slow days, I tried to get to know the merchandise better, which included thumbing through all the unique guidebooks. In one book, I discovered that there was a Bigfoot trap somewhere in the mountains. I laughed at the concept. But soon after, All About Oregon started selling Bigfoot merchandise. We were even given a cast of what was believed to be a Bigfoot footprint, so we displayed that on a table surrounded by books about Bigfoot, a map of Bigfoot sightings, and various other Bigfoot souvenirs. My curiosity increased along with the rest of my coworkers. I even wanted to take a road trip to find the alleged Bigfoot trap deep in the woods, but instead I moved to the Midwest, where Bigfoot does not live.

Before I go on, I should give a big of background on Bigfoot. There are hundreds of legendary creatures around the world, and Bigfoot is the one that is native to the Pacific Northwest. Also known as Sasquatch, these large, ape-like animals are thought to be very intelligent, and also very smelly. Although most people think the people who are adamant about Bigfoot hunting are simply crazy people, but there are even research groups who have been intrigued by the possible skunk ape. In fact, the North American Wildlife Research Team wanted to study Sasquatch, so they built what is known as the world’s only official Bigfoot Trap inSouthern Oregon, just a few miles from the California border. This was a small shack with a steel drop-down door, and was baited with raw carcasses. After several years of attempted trapping and only being able to catch bears, the door was secured open and became an obscure tourist attraction.

Collings Mountain Forest Near Bigfoot Trap

I had completely forgotten about the Bigfoot trap, until a few days ago when I was perusing RoadsideAmerica.com. This is one of my favorite travel websites because you can search for unique, and often free, roadside attractions near your home or along your travel route. A little over a year ago, I planned a road trip where all my stops were inspired by attractions I found on Roadside America, and before I travel, I’ll often visit this site to see what quirky things are near my destination. I was searching for attractions in Southern Oregon last week when I rediscovered the Bigfoot trap. I immediately started making plans to go.

Collings Mountain Trailhead with Bigfoot Trap

Who else would be better to visit the Bigfoot trap with than my coworkers who got interested in it with me in the first place? Two of my former coworkers from All About Oregon, Megan and Steph, along with Megan’s daughter River, joined me on this day excursion. It was a long, peaceful trip through farmland and forest. After driving quite a few miles along the Applegate Highway, we arrived at the Collings Mountain Trailhead, just across the street from a beautiful view of Applegate Lake. There are actually no signs at all to inform visitors that there even is a Bigfoot trap in the area. The only clue the road signs give is that the Collings Mountain Trailhead sign includes a picture of a foot. Most people would assume that this symbolized a walking trail, but Bigfoot hunters know that this is the way to find Bigfoot.

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It was supposedly a half-mile hike to get to the part of the trail with the Bigfoot trap, but because this trailhead also had trails that went to the summit of Collings Mountain, as well as trails for biking and horseback riding, the several forks in the road confused us quite a bit. I was glad to have brought a GPS with me, with the coordinates for the trap already plugged in! However, with the mountains and thick forest interfering with the GPS signals, we did up going on the wrong path once, but soon realized that we had walked too far.

Bigfoot Trap Caretaker's Shack

The first man-made feature we found was a completely-destroyed cabin. This was the shack that the trap’s caretaker lived in. All that remains are a few boards on the ground, but through close observation you can somewhat gather what it must have looked like. After walking just a little bit further, we finally saw the Bigfoot trap off in the distance!

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Because it hasn’t been refurbished for years and doesn’t officially belong to anyone, the trap itself has turned to a sort of log book where visitors have vandalized. We enjoying crawling under the door and being “trapped”, and just being amazed at the notion to build a trap in the middle of nowhere to find a creature that may or may not exist!

"Vandalizing" the Bigfoot TrapI was prisoner of the Bigfoot Trap!

While the Bigfoot trap was the point of our trip, we had a few other things we came to do. I wanted to introduce the other three to one of my hobbies: geocaching. In the near future, I will be dedicating a post all about geocaching, but when I describe it to people who have never heard of it, I say “It’s like a worldwide treasure hunt for grown-ups!” Since finding Bigfoot proved to be too difficult, I figured that maybe we could at least find a few geocaches. I plugged in the GPS coordinates for the cache closest to the trap. Like I had mentioned before, my GPS was acting really jumpy in the area, so this one proved to be a challenge. Based on the cache’s description, we’re pretty sure we found the tree that the cache was hidden near, but we did not find the ammo can that contained the geocache. But not to fear; we had more geocaches to find!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

As we walked back towards the car, we were also on the lookout for another geocache. The GPS worked better in this area, and although this was still a tricky one to find, we went in the right direction. This was not only River’s first time to geocache, but she was also the first of us to find the geocache container!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

This was a really nice geocache, except for the fact that some of the items inside got a little damp. We all signed and dated the logbook, and then we each traded a small trinket we bought for an item inside the cache. We then closed up the container, hid it back where we found it, and continued back toward the road. As we were walking, I realized that almost all the hikers who go on trail must have Bigfoot on their mind, regardless of whether they’re Bigfoot believers or Sasquatch skeptics. I joked that if I had a large expendable income, I would get a few life-sized figures of Bigfoot and hide him just far enough away from the trail that people might catch a glimpse. Everyone else agreed that they would do the same thing. I’m surprised no one has done that yet!

There was one more small geocache across the street from the trailhead. Steph found it wedged behind the railing. Once again, we all signed the log and traded items. From here, we enjoyed the view of the lake, and then got back into the car.

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A few miles down the road is the McKee Bridge. It is the longest of the four covered bridges in that county. While it hasn’t been open to cars for a long time, it was unfortunately also closed off to pedestrians a couple years ago for being unsafe. They have since raised the money for repairs, but because the repair work hadn’t begun yet, we could only get up to the opening of the covered bridge.

McKee Bridge

As we walked back to the car, Steph and Megan were discussing that they had a favorite restaurant in historic Jacksonville, which was the closest town. They then turned to me and asked “Jes, do you like sushi?” I don’t like sushi, but I agreed to go to Umi Sushi. I found out that there are actually fish-free options for sushi, so I decided to be adventurous with this new cuisine and order a bento box with avocado rolls. (River was even more adventurous and got eel sushi!)

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Overall, it was a crazy day of unique adventures. Although we didn’t find Bigfoot, we did discover new things not too far from our Southern Oregon home!

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Accommodations, day trip, destinations, moving, saving money, tour, travel tips

Across America By Bus: Chicago

This is part two of the “Across America By Bus” series. Click here to read part one, “Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls”.

I have wanted to visit Chicago since I was eight years old. Granted, I wanted to go to Chicago back then because that’s where the Veggie Tales headquarters were. Veggie Tales moved out-of-state several years ago, and most of the attractions I went to didn’t even exist when I was eight, but finally getting the chance to visit Chicago felt like a childhood dream come true. I made sure to make it the first stop of my trip across America.

The first place I visited in Chicago was, of course, the Chicago Greyhound Station. It was probably the nicest bus station I went through on my entire trip, but it still wasn’t anything too special. The next place I visited was the inside of a taxi cab. I was only staying a mile away, and normally I would walk that distance, but because I had several pieces of luggage, it was worth paying the seven dollars for a cab. Besides, riding a taxi through a big city is part of the experience! I wasn’t allowed to call a cab or ride the subway when I went to NYC in high school, and it always felt like I was missing an aspect of the city because of it. The third place in Chicago I visited was the hostel.

Chicago Hostel

Hostelling International Chicago is conveniently located downtown, within walking distance of everything I wanted to visit. It was the only HI-brand hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and by far the largest! This hostel was quite a bit more expensive than any other hostel I’ve visited, plus I had to pay a few more dollars because I wasn’t a Hostelling International member, but it was still a great deal when you consider that any other accommodation within several miles would be at least three times the price. I checked in and went up to my dorm for a tiny bit of shut-eye before I woke up with the excitement of wanting to seize the day. Since I usually travel slowly, cramming Chicago into just one full day was a challenge, but I think I made the best of it.

As I was heading down to the first floor of the hostel, I noticed a sign that said the hostel sold discount tickets for the Willis Tower Skydeck. That was on my agenda, and I’m always up for saving money, so I picked up a ticket from the front desk before heading out.

Chicago Willis Tower

Just a few blocks away was the Willis Tower, although many people still know it as the Sears Tower. It was the tallest building in America up until this year when the new World Trade Center was built. Unfortunately, when I got to the Skydeck entrance, employees were announcing to the crowd that there was a broken elevator and to come back later. I mentally rearranged my itinerary and headed towards what I thought was Lake Michigan.

Chicago Feet Statue

After walking for many, many blocks, I thought I should have been at the lake, but I wasn’t. I finally pulled out my GPS and discovered that I had been walking parallel to the lake the entire time! I turned and began heading the right way. It actually turned out for the better, because I hadn’t planned to go to the Magic Mile, but because I took this route I ended up at the very end of it. A race was going on that day, so I walked by the finish line and visited several of the vendors before continuing on by Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan Chicago Harbor

I had flown over Lake Michigan before, but this was my first time seeing it up-close. For awhile, I enjoyed walking on the path by the harbor, with a few stops at interesting points like the Buckingham Fountain. Eventually, I made it to my intended destination: the Navy Pier.

Chicago Buckingham Fountain

Before leaving on this trip, I had asked for travel tips from people who had been to Chicago. The Navy Pier was a common recommendation. I enjoyed walking out above the lake, and going through the shops and art features, but I’m still not really sure why so many people told me to go here. I found a pizza shop on the pier where I ate lunch, and on the way out, I saw a Crave Bar truck where I grabbed my dessert. I then headed on to Millennium Park.

Chicago Navy Pier

Millennium Park is interesting in that is was created to celebrate y2k, but it wasn’t opened until several years later. I first found myself in a beautiful outdoor theater, but I was looking for the famous Cloudgate “Bean”. Something reflective across the theater caught the corner of my eye, and sure enough, it was The Bean! It was fun walking around and underneath The Bean for a fun house effect. My favorite part was trying to find myself in the reflection among the hundreds of other visitors!

Chicago Bean

After getting dizzy from the optical illusions of The Bean, I continued through the park’s art, including the Crown Fountain. I then turned back to downtown towards the tallest building I could find. I was going to see if the Willis Tower Skydeck had opened yet.

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When I got there, the staff was still saying that it was closed. I went up to one employee and asked her if it would be open at any point in time that day.

“Nope, come back tomorrow.”

Knowing I wouldn’t have time since my bus left the next morning, I asked if there was any way I could get a refund. She scrunched her face up. “Refund?” I nodded. “Oh, you have a ticket? If you have a ticket, you can go inside!” I pulled out my ticket and went through the doors.

Because the staff hadn’t communicated very well that only ONE elevator wasn’t working, and that people could still come if they had bought a ticket elsewhere, there wasn’t much of a line at all. The trip started by going down to a basement floor, getting a security check, and then watching a video about the history of the tower. I then crammed with several other people on an elevator that went to the 99th floor. It felt really different on this floor. I don’t know if it was just in my head, but I’m convinced that I could feel the building sway! I then got onto another elevator to the 103rd floor, also known as the Skydeck.  It’s the highest the public can get in any building in the United States.

Chicago View from Skydeck

I enjoyed going around the building and looking through the panoramic windows. I was able to locate almost everywhere I went earlier that day. But the highlight of Chicago was definitely “The Ledge”. These are four glass rooms that stick out of the Skydeck, so you can see everything straight below you! Waiting in line allowed me to get the guts to walk out, but as soon as I stepped out, I felt like I was going to fall! I posed for a few pictures, and then stepped back onto solid, opaque ground! It was such a rush, I decided to go out on all four ledges. It never got any easier!

Chicago Skydeck Ledge

After coming back down to Earth, I walked around the Willis Tower and was amazed at how far up I’d gone. Because I was operating all day on only a few hours of sleep, I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit. I realized that I needed to find a Chicago pizza restaurant to eat dinner at, because the pizza I got at the pier wasn’t very good at all. After I had recovered enough, I asked the front desk for pizza recommendations, and I was sent to Lou Malnati’s. I didn’t realize until I got there, but this the most popular place for Chicago pizza! I had to wait outside for 45 minutes with a buzzer, but trust me, it was worth the wait! I ordered a personal pizza of their best deep dish, “The Lou”. I had always heard that traditional Chicago pizza had sausage, but this was vegetarian and featured a divine combination of spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and three cheeses.

Chicago Lou Malnati

After finishing off with a cookie pizza dessert, I spent the rest of the evening exploring all that the hostel had to offer. After a somewhat restful night’s sleep, I woke up, enjoyed a full breakfast, got ready, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station, where I boarded the bus to my next destination!

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A big thank-you goes out to Hostelz.com! I found out about the HI-Chicago Hostel through this site, and there you can find thousands more!

Accommodations, day trip, destinations, road trip, travel tips

Central Ohio: Amish Country and More

I just moved to Oregon a few weeks ago, but before that I spent a year (plus one week) living in Central Ohio. My sister Jen had been working at a orphanage mission in Mexico for part of that year as well. Upon returning to America, she wanted to visit me. Of course I was excited to see her again, and I was excited to be her tour guide for her first-ever visit to Ohio. But then I remembered…

I live in Central Ohio! What will we do?

Outside of Columbus, Central Ohio is a pretty middle-of-nowhere area. I lived in Marengo, which has a population of 342! But despite the lack of people, there are actually plenty of things to do! Some things may involve driving over an hour, but here are a few things Jen and I ended up doing:

President Warren G. Harding’s Home and Tomb, Marion

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Did you know Ohio has given our nation seven presidents? Warren G. Harding is one of two presidents that lived in Central Ohio, and even campaigned on the front porch of his home! We both enjoyed the first half of the guided tour of this historic house. You may be wondering why I only said we enjoyed the first half. You see, Jen passed out in the upstairs hallway! We missed the middle part as I was helping her to recover. After the color returned to her face, she rested in the gift shop and I returned for the last part of the tour.

At the end of the tour, we were both feeling great again, so we drove a few miles through downtown Marion to reach the tomb of President Harding and his wife. This tomb is something you’d expect to find in Washington, D.C.! Except here, there’s a lot less people, and security, so we felt free to walk around the memorial at our leisure.

The Columbus Zoo, Powell

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Despite being told multiple times that this zoo was really awesome and I needed to visit, this was actually my first time here. The last zoo I had been to was the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo over a year ago, and Jen had visited the San Francisco Zoo a few months prior. Even though these are considered the top two zoos in America, we both found the Columbus Zoo to be just as good! A new Africa exhibit had recently opened, and we ate there at a restaurant that overlooked the “savannah” filled with giraffes, lions, and other creatures. Collectively, our favorite animals were apes, red pandas, penguins, polar bears, and flamingos. However, the thing we liked best about the zoo were the statues of animals that we found throughout the park. We had to pose with every single one of them for pictures!

After spending most of the day at the zoo, we went to the nearby city of Powell for something sweet. Rita’s and Jeni’s both have excellent frozen treats!

President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Birthplace, Delaware

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This is more of a joke than an actual trip. While driving near Delaware (the Ohio city, not the state!), I asked Jen if she would be interested in swinging by President Hayes’ birthplace. I then proceeded to drive to a BP gas station. Once at the station, I announced “here we are!” She was confused. She thought I had stopped here to fill up the gas tank, but then I pointed to a memorial plaque. This gas station was indeed the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes!

Of course, back in his day, it wasn’t a gas station; it was his family’s home. Long after he grew up and moved out, his house was demolished, paved over, and transformed into the (British-owned!) gas station we see today.

Amish Country, Holmes County

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Now THIS is why people visit Central Ohio! Holmes County has the largest population of Amish, and many of them are welcoming to us “English” as we visit their shops, tours, and eateries. Because we arrived on a Sunday and the Amish take this day of rest very seriously, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. So we visited Guggisberg Cheese Factory (where Baby Swiss was invented), and then checked into Blessings Lodge.

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Blessings Lodge is located within walking distance of downtown Berlin, Ohio, and is a wonderful centralized location for everything going on in the heart of Amish Country. Although it has the conveniences of indoor plumbing, electricity, and cable television, it still reflects the Christian values that are shared with the Amish.
Each room at the Blessings Lodge is unique, and my sister and I enjoyed our stay at the “Faith” Simple Blessings Cabin. It was her first visit to Holmes County and my third, but it was the first time for both of us to stay at this cabin, which we agreed was our favorite part of this getaway! The porch offered amazing countryside views (and there were binoculars to gain a better perspective). The kitchen allowed us to save money by making our own meals, and we were surprised to be greeted with Amish cookies waiting for us on the kitchen table! The bathroom featured a Jacuzzi tub, and there were enough beds to sleep up to seven people. These were just a few of the amenities. The owners did an excellent job providing special touches to make the Blessings Cabin feel like home, such as games, books, and décor that can only be found in Amish Country.

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After a restful night’s sleep, we headed into the tourist area to make the most of our day. Lacking a plan, we decided to do anything that sounded interesting at the time. We began by walking around and visiting shops in Walnut Creek. This town has a street filled with all kinds of gift shops, a woodworking shop, and best of all, Coblentz Chocolate Factory! Just down the street was Der Dutchman, where we enjoyed an authentic Amish lunch.

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We then decided to tour Yoder’s Amish Home. It has a gift shop filled with Amish-made goods, a barn full of farm animals, and two houses that represent Amish living. Our tour guide was formerly Amish, and many of the employees here were practicing Amish themselves! It was very fun and educational.

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Our last stop was the cheese factory of all cheese factories: Heini’s Cheese Chalet! With samples of nearly every cheese they make, plus a variety of fudge samples, we didn’t even need dinner!

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Bridge of Dreams, Brinkhaven

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On the way to Holmes County, we saw a sign for Ohio’s Second Longest Covered Bridge. We decided that we would definitely stop by on the way back. I’m glad we remembered to! It was fun to drive across, even though it ended up not going anywhere and we eventually had to turn around and go back. Later, through researching online, I found out that this is called the Bridge of Dreams. It’s 370 feet long and was originally built in the 1920s. I also learned that Ohio is the state with the second-largest amount of covered bridges, coming in just behind Pennsylvania.

At the end of this week, I realized that Central Ohio actually has quite a bit to do! We didn’t even do it all! Here are a few other things I could not do when Jen was in town, but did on my own:

-Malabar Farm State Park, Lucas

-Mansfield Reformatory, Mansfield

-A slew of things in Columbus, such as COSI, Topiary Garden, German Village, Ohio State Campus, Art Museum, the site of the first Wendy’s, and the World’s Largest Gavel

Note: This post was made possible in part by Blessings Lodge.

day trip, destinations, tour

Mansfield Reformatory of Central Ohio

(Originally published July 6, 2014)

I got pulled over yesterday afternoon. And then I went to prison. No, the consequence for speeding isn’t THAT harsh; in fact, the whole reason I was driving in the first place was so I could go to prison. I guess I should explain…

Whenever I have an uninterrupted weekend off from my “real” job, I try to travel somewhere. Because of the holiday, I had a full 72 hours off, but in the midst of planning for some big upcoming trips and recovering from the adventures of the previous week, planning a Fourth of July trip wasn’t exactly on my mind. So there I was, on the birthday weekend of our nation, with nothing to do. After a bit of research, I decided to celebrate my freedom… by going to prison.

Mansfield, Ohio, isn’t too far away from my current home, but even though I’ve lived in the state for over 10 months now, this was one city I still hadn’t visited. It seems like there is lots to do here. There’s a Bible-themed wax museum, a carrousel park, and several beautiful natural parks and museums. But since this was only a spontaneous afternoon trip, I decided to choose one thing to be my main event in Mansfield. So of course, I had to choose the most unique thing I could find… the Mansfield Reformatory.

Since I was visiting a city that’s over 100 times bigger than the population of my current village, I decided to use this opportunity to run a few errands. (And yes, I got pulled over on my way there, and no, I don’t want to talk about it!) I found out where the bus station is, got gas that’s over twenty cents cheaper than anywhere else nearby, and scoured the clearance section of the Mansfield Kroger, which is what I always do whenever I’m near a new Kroger. Then I went to the Reformatory, which on the outside looks like a castle. The inside, however, looks much more grim.

The first part of the self-guided tour was of some offices and the warden’s living quarters. Because it hasn’t been used for years, It is very run-down. The negative thing about that is that there is chipping lead paint EVERYWHERE, making this tour unsafe for little kids and making me feel gross by the time I finished the tour. On the positive side, it did contribute to the historic charm, and for some, it allowed for ghost stories. Yes, they have lots of ghosts sightings and ghost hunts here, and there is even a “Ghost Hunt Manager” on staff! But of course I was much more interested in other aspects, such as the architecture. There were video kiosks situated around the Reformatory, and one mentioned how the staircases were stainless steel in order to be fireproof, but in order to look nice they were painted to look like wood. The videos also showed some scenes for Shawshank Redemption. That was one of the movies that was filmed largely in this building, along with Air Force One. In Air Force One, some of the extras were actual prisoners! I enjoyed going around the warden’s quarters to find scenes from Shawshank Redemption, which in the film was used as offices and conference rooms. Although I haven’t seen the movie before, this is the second place I’ve visited that was part of the set, so I kind of want to see it just so I can say “yeah, I’ve been there”. Here’s me recreating one scene from the movie:

After going through the offices and living quarters, which in itself took quite awhile, the tour led to rooms that the inmates were more likely to see. One of my favorite rooms was the chapel. It had some of the art preserved from when it was in operation, and although it looked fairly ugly now, you can tell that in its day it must have been one of the most beautiful rooms in the prison!

On the stage of the chapel, there was a window with the sign “photography through this window is strictly forbidden!” While I followed the rules, I was of course curious of what there was that I couldn’t photograph. You see, while the reformatory no longer holds prisoners, the newer correction facility right behind it certainly does. I spent quite some time just seeing what was going on, you could see hundreds of people in their uniforms spending time outside. I’m not sure why it was so intriguing, but it was the first time I really got a glimpse of a prison!

After peeking at the modern-day prison, I was soon led to an in-depth look at the old one. The Mansfield Reformatory has two cell blocks. The east one, also known as the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block, is six stories high with one hundred cells on each story- that held a total of 1200 inmates! The tour starts you out on the very top, and even though there was a fence to keep people from falling off (and perhaps preventing suicides back in the day), I was nervous the entire time! I was still frightened even as I went down the next couple of floors, but my longing to explore the cells helped me overcome it. Although all the cells look pretty much the same (except for the operator cells, where an employee would do things like open the cell doors), many of the cells are open to go inside, so of course I had to take some pictures of myself playing inmate!

Seeing the conditions that the inmates lived in was very sobering. I thought my bedroom was small, but the cells were half the size, with a toilet and sink, and shared with someone else! And there were thousands of people who lived here, and, according to one of the kiosk videos, some died here. They did have a library, which was way too small for the 1900 people staying there at any given time, plus it was used as a hospital when necessary. They could shower twice a week, but the public showers looked more like a sprayer you’d find in a barn. The original kitchen and dining area were oh so tiny, no way to make homemade food and certainly no time to taste it! After this I visited the smaller west cell block (only holding 700) and finally the solitary confinement, but that was certainly too saddening to take any pictures.

At the beginning and end of the tour, there were museum-type rooms that contained not only artifacts from the movies on the location, but from several apsects of the Reformatory. There were theatrical posters, cast scripts, a replica electric chair, and creative inventions made by the inmates using their limited resources. After nearly three hours, I knew that there was still so much to explore, but I was getting tired and the building would soon close. (Being trapped alone at night in this building is NOT on my to-do list!) Besides the standard gift shop, the tour ended with hand sanitizer (thank goodness!) and brochures for nearby attractions. I got some information for places that sounded interesting, and even found a coupon for a bulk food store I had heard of earlier. So I decided I would go to Pumpkin Seed, and I’m glad I did. They had all kinds of healthy food, and although some were pricier than what I’ve seen elsewhere, there were some very good deals. I bought discount peanuts and freshly-ground peanut butter, and then headed over to the Gorman Nature Center, where I enjoyed a bike ride/hike and contemplated whether or not I wanted to go the fireworks display that was in a state park fifteen miles away. When I realized that the reformatory itself made for a full day, I decided to head home, going exactly the speed limit the entire way. Besides, next week I’m going to a place where there will also be fireworks…and I’m sure the display will be much, much better. Stay tuned!