Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Nature Of It All


The Nature Center at Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri is a rich learning opportunity established to showcase the park’s varied environments, diverse wildlife, and show its history from a small settlement founded around a spring-powered grist mill to one of Missouri’s top recreation destinations.


There are exhibits detailing the numerous springs in Missouri, how those springs function, and how Bennett Spring compares to the others. (Test answer: It’s the third largest, pumping out sixty-five million gallons of fresh water per day, enough to supply all of Kansas City, Missouri.





The center is free, open to the public, and offers educational programs for kids and adults throughout the peak season - March through November. There is a staff naturalist on site* to provide ongoing content and manage the park’s educational resources, including the park’s seven hiking trails.








There are several dioramas detailing the life and structure of caves, area wildlife, and insect life; a bubble-top look at the microscopic denizens of a drop of river water, and a large, fresh-water aquarium stocked with native species.

The center is a quality learning environment, with professionally-designed and constructed displays. It is ADA compliant and fully accessible.

The Bennett Spring State Park Nature Center is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The Center is closed Monday and Tuesday. 

For more information, you can call the Nature Center at (417) 532-3925 or visit on the web: https://mostateparks.com/location/56431/nature-center



*As of this writing, there is a temporary vacancy for the park naturalist position at Bennett Spring. The former staffer retired after many years. A new naturalist is due to start soon. Until then, Kath and I have the run of the place and have been working as best we can to provide the best answers for the park’s visitors’ questions.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rolling


Saturday was a twenty-four hour day for most people, but for Kath and me it seemed to drag on for a week. We had gone out to the rural super-secret location and picked up Highlander the day before and dragged him through afternoon traffic to set up camp at the Lowe's store where I had recently been employed. Our open house lasted a couple of hours, and we went back to the house to finish our packing, pitching and preparation for the big launch.

The next morning, this was sitting in front of my house:

Tug with Highlander - 50 feet of awesome!
Holy shit! It all suddenly seemed real. For the past year or two, this was an exercise in abstract thought. We could sell all our stuff, put the cat in the back seat, and travel the country in a fifth-wheel trailer. We went to RV shows, we visited dealers, we planned. Even after we bought the truck and the fifth-wheel, we still had the security of a '60s ranch-style house to fall back on.

Now, we were set to make it happen. The realtor's sign was up in the front yard, the contracts were signed, and we were frantically trying to pack the rest of the remains of our thirty-year adventure in suburban pioneering and get out of town before the new owner moved in - or before I worried myself into a shallow puddle of nervous energy at the base of the driveway.

People dropped by Saturday. Neighbors we hadn't seen in years suddenly surfaced, gave us high-fives and then slipped back into their burrows. Our daughters came over to help out, as did Kathi's brother Jim and his wife, Myrna.

Jim joked, "If anyone else comes over to help, you'll never get out of town." That's what it felt like. I decided to stay out of the way and spent the morning loading and prepping the trailer - torquing the nuts and bolts, disinfecting the fresh-water tank, flushing and refilling same until most of the taste of the winter anti-freeze was gone. Most.

My other function was to relentlessly question every ounce that went into the truck or trailer. Our trailer has a total cargo capacity of 2,662 pounds/1,207 Kg. "Cargo" as it's calculated for these things includes the weight of anything added to the baseline trailer weight. Dishes, clothes, guitars, cat food, the propane in the tanks, anything in thee fresh and waste water tanks, you get the idea. I was dead sure we would be sitting at a truck stop after weighing the rig, throwing canned goods and guitars into a shallow depression near the outer road in order to make our weight limit.

Meanwhile in the house without wheels, the sorting continued at a pace that my Type A personality could not cope with. Decisions were still being made as to what should go, and what should be donated, given to the girls, or sent to the overflowing trash bin. I voted trash for everything that didn't move on its own.

My plan: Finish packing and hit the road by noon. With a stop to top off the diesel tank, hit the scales to check our weight and  get back on the highway, we would be able to make our destination by four or five o'clock, still have plenty of light to get the trailer situated in the campground host site, leveled up and connected to utilities.

Nope. Noon came and went, as did one o'clock, then two o'clock. Three o'clock approached, and I finally invoked the cranky dad rule. I went to daughter number two and begged for her to intervene by shoving Kath out the door, and promising to follow up the next day with her sister for cleaning and trash removal.

With that assurance, they managed to convince Kath to come with me. We did all the goodbyes and put Moxie in the official navigator's position in the back seat, and Kathi and I started the rig rolling at 3:30 p.m. This is one of those life moments. After thirty years in one house, we made the sharp right turn at the end of the street and headed east, putting Kansas City in our rear-view mirrors.

Tug groaned under the added weight, but once rolling, performed like the workhorse he is. We worked our way through the streets of East Kansas City and made the turn onto eastbound I-70. The closest truck scales were at Oak Grove, Missouri, about 19 miles out.

I had weighed the truck, fully loaded, on its own two days before, so I knew what the combined gross weight should be, as well as the loaded pin weight for the hitch. We rolled onto the scale, paid the young man at the booth, and got our ticket.
Scale Tickets
This is a big deal. The trailer has a gross weight of 15,000 pounds inclusive. The tires are rated for this weight, the hitch has a weight rating, as does the truck and its tires. An overloaded rig is unsafe, unstable and likely to have a shorter lifespan for its tires and other components. As I said, I was losing sleep thinking about an overloaded system on our rollout day, and making everyone else's life miserable in the process.

I rolled off the scale, looked at the ticket and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had a nice margin of safety on trailer weight and hitch weight, and the trailer was underweight by 500 pounds.

At the truck stop
As I slowly unpuckered, we rolled to the pumps and topped off so we could get an accurate mileage figure, grabbed a large Mountain Dew for the road and started off. It was 4:30 p.m. We had 166 miles to cover. There was no way we were going to get to Bennett Spring State Park before dark.

We planned for a rest stop at a known large parking lot in Sedalia and headed out. We racked up the miles as the sun continued to sink lower in the west. I held out hope that we might actually make it to the park before dark, though I had calculated a 6:30 p.m. arrival. We called our contact at the park and let them know we were running extremely late.

Moxie, from her jumpseat perch, let me know that a litterbox break would be greatly appreciated.

We arrived at the park at exactly 6:30, and immediately made a couple of wrong turns, just to make things interesting. We drove to the park office. It was closed, but we decided to knock on the door, just in case. When we got out of the truck, we heard unsettling and eerie sounds. Music, of sorts, from a loudspeaker at a church across the street. The tape, had been stretched and warped over the years until the sound was that of an extraterrestrial choir come to earth. I was ready to call the whole thing off. It was just too spooky.

The Church of Damned Alien Song
Another phone call. We had missed our turn and were way off track. A ranger was promised. I got the rig turned around and headed back into the park. By this time it was dark. Completely, hand in front of your face dark. Headlights approached and we could see a Park Ranger's insignia on the side of the SUV.

He rolled down his window. "You must be the Simpsons!"

""Yes, we are! No one would lie about that." though by now I wasn't really that eager to admit anything.

"Follow me!" He turned around and got in front of our rig and we tracked along with him. The parade wound slowly through the park, then up a steep incline to our assigned campground. We were able, with his help, to back the whale-sized trailer into the pitch-black space, drop the jacks and prepare to make the park our address for the next few months.

We have a few days to get settled in before we receive our duty assignment in the park.

We're home.