A scary black bear watches you at a regular interval along the road. Beware of wild animals, Do not step out of your vehicle, etc. are signs posted along the scenic drive. Nearly four hundred miles long cave passes under farms and towns. The windy city slumbers into winter. A sleepy capital prepares to be deserted. And silver white mountains stare you at your face. This is my whirlwind US trip this time, thanks to my son.
The tour from New York takes us to New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, where we spend the night in a small rural community. Next day, we reach the Summer White House, commuting through Virginia, West Virginia, and Virginia again. The Summer White House is located halfway through Shenandoah National Park, which extends in a narrow strip from West Virginia right down through Virginia.
Called the Brown House, which is indeed brown, is a small one-story cottage near a stream about an hour below the road that passes through the park. It has one large common room and a bedroom. This cottage used to be the Summer White House when Hoover used to be the US president from 1928 to 1932.
President Hoover loved to spend his summer in the Brown House when hot and mosquito-stricken Washington, DC, a swamp along the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia burned in the summer heat. His wife was into charitable activities and loved to live in the Brown House during summers.
A volunteer, his mustache dropping below his chin, gave a free sightseeing of the Brown House. He said President Hoover loved to fish in the stream nearby. You can still fish in the two streams flanking the Brown House. You should catch and release the native endangered species and catch and keep the invaders and abundant species. We trekked down from the road and back up on foot. You can also drive up there from the Washington, DC, which is about 75 miles southeast.
The park is covered with chestnut, northern red oak, birch, ash and linden trees. You drive through a scenic route for which you pay 30 dollars per car. Though 190 species of birds, including transient ones, and reptiles, fish, mammals, and insects are supposed to be the resident wild animals, we didn’t see any other than a few species of fish and gray squirrels.
Our next stop was Great Smokey Mountains National Park in southeastern Tennessee. Bobcats, eastern cougars, red foxes, black bears, coyotes, red wolves, and wild boars are supposedly the residents of the park, but we saw only white-tailed deer. The open view tower gave a panoramic view around it to the distant places, some covered with fog.
Andrew’s Bald, about an hour’s trek down from the tower, was disappointing. It was just a little patch of tree-less place from where you could see the park on three sides. The next destination was the real thing in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave. Longest cave in the world. Some 400 miles in length, nearly 200 miles longer than the next longest in Mexico.
At places it is so huge — wide and tall — you could organize a concert or an international meeting. Mammoth Dove is 192 feet high. In fact, in the old days, some concerts were put up in there after the mining operations were over. Saltpeter, which is used for making gunpowder, was extracted from the huge tunnel that opens to the Styx River. You pay 17 dollars per person for the 2-hour-long tour and feel the view was worth the money. There are carvings as old as 4,000 years on the cave’s wall.
Then to the windy city, driving through rural Kentucky and Louisville into Indiana and parts of Illinois. Non-whites were rarely visible in rural Kentucky, which looked poor but all white. No wonder, President Donald Trump, from the Republican Party, carried the state by a huge margin in the 2016 presidential elections. While you hardly see non-whites in rural Indiana, Indianapolis had many non-white faces.
And the urban Chicago had very few white faces. But there was little wind in the windy city during our stay there. Yes, the city was lulled by its growing cold. We entered Chicago through a dusty stretch of I-65 and encountered an unprecedented traffic, one of the scariest in the United States. At one point, we had to cross over 14 or 15 lanes from one end of the road to the other to reach our destination in the Oak Park area in the suburb. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant, and the spicy food with tons of chili burned my guts.
The Hancock Towers, 94 stories, the fourth tallest in Chicago, the former Sears and now Willis Towers being the tallest at 102 stories, had a panoramic view of the Michigan Lake and Chicago city. The walk along the lake was exhilarating.
Albany, the state capital of New York, was our next stop. It is a small town upstate New York. The State Capital, the Empire State Plaza and the Egg, a convention center of an egg’s shape were the main attractions in the town, where the majority of people, seen on the street, was non-whites. The Garden of the Gods, Estes National Park, Royal Gorge Bridge, and Deer Mountain Summit were the main attractions in Colorado, which was our next stop.
The Garden has brown sedimentary rocks. Estes National Park is ensconced in the Rocky Mountains. The Royal Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge in the world, and it spans two sides of the Arkansas River. The Deer Mountain Summit, which is at 10,030 feet, is at the head of a more than two-mile climb among the green pine forests. Once again, there was the scare of black bears at Estes National Park, where the Deer Mountain trekking route and summit are located.
The snow-capped Rockies welcome you right from Denver Airport. We were on the lookout for the mighty bears on the way up and down a snow-covered trail. While we were there and still fearful of the black beer, we witnessed one woman and one man climbing alone, while other people climbed in groups like us. I appreciated their courage. In the end, we flew back to New York without encountering any black bear.