Friday, July 10, 2009

One-And-A-Half Day Getaway

If you know me, you know I like to travel. While I would love to be one of those people that can just pack a car and hit the road without a care in the world, I can't do that. So little getaways now and then are wonderful.

So Tuesday afternoon, the destination was...........Ohio.

Really. Ohio. In fact, not just Ohio, but Cleveland. Really- Cleveland, Ohio. It is not all about misplaced museums, environmental disasters, and overpaid athletes. No way. There's lots to do.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Ever heard of it? If not, get there. What a fascinating place! It started as a National Recreation Area under the Ford Administration. In the last few years, it was changed to National Park status. After arriving on site, "tourism mode" was on. After simply looking at the park map, Blue Hen Falls sounded cool. No doubt about it - "cool" is an understatement. Hours could have spent dorking around there. Aside from the water spilling over the 15' falls and trickling over shale millions of years old, there were no sounds. No traffic. Basically, no people (except for that one young woman stealing rocks). Awesome. The place was reminiscent of some locations I have visited at Mammoth Caves National Park.

A shocker here - are you ready? Dinner was at a brewery! (No way!) Great Lakes Brewing Company got the call. Not only do they have great beer, but the whole place is basically pro-environment. You can read all about it here. They truly set the bar for environmental concerns and how to tackle them. The outdoor eating area created a truly awesome dining experience. (Of course, there was that minor technicality involving a House Sparrow. Fortunately for him, he crapped only on my shoulder. If he had done the deed in my mead, he'd would have been compost!) For the record, the Commodore Perry IPA (#591) and the Independence Ale ((#590) were both very good. The IPA was the better of the two. That dark straw color was so inviting. The medium body, crisp but short-lived carbonation bite followed by the sweet hoppy finish was really quite an experience. I would have it again in a heartbeat. The gift shop was excellent, too. Another beer cook book ended up my collection. I have NO IDEA how that happened!

The night was in Cleveland proper at the very affordable Comfort Inn.

Breakfast could just not be "continental". No way. It just couldn't happen. Feeling snooty, the most important meal of the day was at a coffee place right across the street from the brewery. It was scrambled eggs on a....a,um.....whatever that thing was called. Think "Egg McMuffin for the snooty". Very good.

The morning was spent at the Great Lakes Science Center where I had a chance to spend some time with my old buddy Chuck. You all have never met him. For that matter, I haven't either. Charles Darwin was the focus of a traveling exhibit co-sponsored by museums across the country. His life. His travels. His insight. It all came together in his Theory of Evolution. It was all there. I had dipped on the chance to see it in Chicago some time ago, so now was a chance to play catch-up. While everything was very well done, I so wanted to see things he used, not just things like he used. Unfortunately, many of items where mock-ups. I understand that has to happen to some extant, but a few of the real items from his collection would have been so awesome to see. The plant pressings were scans of the real things. Even just a few of the original 19th century specimens would have been incredible. Nevertheless, I strongly suggest everyone see this exhibit when you get the chance. In fact, I think it should be required. Yup - you can't vote until you have seen this exhibit, seen all the Star Wars movies, and your bird life list exceeds 50 species....

After a brief but well tour of the William G. Mather (it is not every day you get to tour a 600 foot lake freighter!), a course was plotted for the National Park again. A quick bite was had at the Winking Lizard in Peninsula. Quite an impressive beer list! There are "Lizards" all over the greater Cleveland area! A heaping pile of nachos (with chicken and gobs of sour cream!) goes down so much better with a Prairie Path Ale (#592) from the Two Brothers Brewing Company. The golden color of this beer was like nothing else. Other aspects of the beer were average (I gave it a three out of five), but that color?! Wow!

After that quick bite, Brandywine Falls was the next stop. Some literature suggests that it is the most impressive falls in the Lake Erie watershed. I can see why! At 60 feet in height, the geology here is like that of the Blue Hen Falls - water cascading over a sandstone shelf leading to an undercutting of the less resistant shale that lies beneath the sandstone. Unfortunatley, kicking around the bottom of the falls was not possible, but so what! One should consider going back in the fall when the leaves are vibrant. That must make for one hell of a sight!

A brief walk down the Towpath Trail was well worth it, too. The Ohio & Erie Canal, which runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was a 308-mile waterway connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This transportation route, which influenced local and national prosperity, was dug entirely by hand by mostly German and Irish immigrants. The Towpath Trail is exactly that - a path used by pack animals that towed the cargo boats up and down the canal. Today, it is a walking/biking path. (Watch out for those bikers - they will run you over!). The brief walk turned up a few bird gems, namely a Prothonotary Warbler and a Yellow-throated Warbler.

With a 2-hour drive in the future, a course was plotted. Home? Oh no. Not yet. First, the Buckeye Brewing Company in Lakewood....then home. #593, the Buckeye Heidi, was a pretty descent Pilsner. Not bad at all, but nothing to write home about. A real highlight here was not having a new beer, but knowing that a special one exists. After gleaning through dozens and dozens of beer on the very impressive beer list, I stumbled onto the "Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel". Quite a name, huh? What is the twist here? Well, it not unusual for some places to add coffee to their stouts and porters. The coffee in this beer came from the rear end of a "cat." I tried the actual coffee a few weeks back. I was prepared to buy a bottle and take it home (the whole beer menu has a "to go" option) but they didn't have any left. I know one beer I will be looking for in the future.

By 11pm, I was home. Seriously, folks: re-consider Cleveland.

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