Monday, July 26, 2010

Voting for a New IWS Logo

This is for members of the Indiana Wind Symphony only — I'm using this blog because it's easily available...

Here are the finalists for a new logo base on the feedback I've received for the two dozen or so logos I posted on Flickr. Please vote for the one you like best below.

Logo 1 -- Indiana Flag Theme


Logo 2 -- Phoenix Sans font


Logo 3 -- Cygnet Round font


Don't change the logo

[Update 7/29/2010: I'm going to call the voting now because we need to get the season brochure to the printer. The vote is evenly split between the Indiana Flag theme (#1) and the Phoenix Sans logo (#2). The third logo is a lot like the second, so I think it's safe to assume that, if we had a runoff between the first two, the majority of those who voted for #3 would vote for #2. I'm going to use that as a tie-breaker and call the Phoenix Sans logo the winner -- and the new logo of the Indiana Wind Symphony! Andy]

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Mammoth Vacation, Day 2

On Tuesday, we were up with the sun. We were visited in the morning by three young deer out getting their breakfast in the morning mist. Simply idyllic.

After a late hearty breakfast at the old traveler's standby — The Cracker Barrel — we went to a place called Guntown Mountain. The brochures called Guntown Mountain an Old West–themed amusement park set on the top of a hill; you reach it by chairlift.

I'm not going to include a link to their Web site (which hasn't been updated in a while anyway) because I don't want to encourage anyone to go there. It might once have been an amusement park, but it isn't anymore. I learned later from a conversation with the lady, womanning...the camp store that Guntown Mountan used to have some carnival rides, but they're gone now.
What they are now is a troupe of about two dozen employees putting on a series of Old West–style shows.

The chairlift ride was pleasant and relaxing — the best part of the park, in fact. When we got to the top, we found a ghost town. In one sense, it was a fake ghost town, but in another it was real: the place looked deserted. Apart from the bitter man who helped us off the chairlift and the gap-toothed man in the information booth, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

We walked to the end of the street (about 100 yards) and found their "Animal Farm" — goats, piglets, peacocks, roosters, a fuzzy black bunny, and a pony that, judging from the warning signs and the electrified fence, had no problem biting the hand that fed it. Or that didn't. We took a look at them all, got a picture with a ram, and then headed back.

We wandered into the "saloon" and discovered where all the people were. There was a can-can show, with some stilted comedy acts in between, on a small stage in front of maybe three dozen people sitting on iron seats around iron parlor tables. The boys were already whining that there wasn't anything fun. I couldn't blame them, but I wanted to do my best to get my money's worth, so we stayed (in the air conditioning, I might add) to watch the end of the act.

After the can-can show, they announced that the country music show would be starting in about 20 minutes in the "Opera House" across the street. To pass the time, we peeked in the "shops" along the street: a bank, a sheriff's office (where you could spend a minute in jail for $1), a general store, and a trader's shop (where an old Indian sat with his oxygen tank peddling dream catchers made from cheap, brightly colored plastic beads and fishing line). By that time, all the other guests had filed out of the saloon. A couple of kids were feeding the piglets from baby bottles (for only 50 cents for about two ounces of liquid), but most people were sitting in the shade of the overhanging roof of the saloon, waiting for the next show to begin.

And that's what Guntown Mountain really is. It isn't an amusement park, it's a series of shows. The people who pay to get in go to one show and then sit around while the same dozen performers change clothes and locations and put on the next show. And they weren't even good shows — I suppose they were about what you'd expect from a non-animatronic amusement park show. The country music show sang five or six covers, including an ironic country-western version of "Old-Time Rock 'n' Roll." My boys were not happy, and the "Opera House" smelled funny.

According to the schedule, a "live-action gunfight" was coming up next. When the country show ended, the customers once again gathered in the shade of the eaves and waited for the next thing to happen. The boys were still whining, but I wasn't going to leave this supposed Old West experience without seeing a gunfight.

Which was ridiculous. Unbelieveably so. They played a recording of a Johnny Cash-sounding narrator who explained what was going on in the street over the sounds of movie-western background music. And the CD skipped.

This is a prime example of ridiculosity of this place. They couldn't get (or simply didn't think to get) a live person to read a script into a microphone against some background music. Instead, they used a CD recording of a narrator that skipped. And the "gunfight" itself wasn't an OK Corral–type fight between a group of lawmen and a band of black hats; it was the story of two brothers who robbed a bank, and one got away. The one who got away returned the day his brother was to be hanged, but they both ended up being killed. It was about a 10-minute show with 10 second worth of gunplay.

The only thing more ridiculous than this sorry, rundown tourist trap is that I paid money to get into it.

We left after the gunfight.

At the base of the entrance to Guntown Mountain (and, I hope, unaffiliated with it), is a junk/antique store. This place had a few antiques and a lot of junk. an amazing amount of junk that people could find one reason or another to buy. It was practically a museum itself. Here, you could find old Japanese slot machines, rusty manual farm equipment, pocket knives of all shapes and sizes, homemade bird houses, Coca-Cola memorabilia, and Navajo blankets. It was like wandering through a museum.

That afternoon, we went on the Historic Tour of Mammoth Cave. I won't bother you with the history that we learned along the way; you can get that from their Web site. Suffice it to say that this was a pleasant, cool, 2½-hour walk with entirely too many people on it. The sheer numbers of people didn't inhibit enjoyment of the aactual hike (it was a more like hiking than spelunking), but those few times we did stop to hear about some of the history, we had to wait for five to ten minutes for the people at the back of the pack to catch up, which gave the boys time to complain.

The Historic Tour was great; I'd recommend it for people who like to hike. It was a little jarring, though, when at about two-thirds of the way through, we passed lighted, fully functional restrooms that had been carved out of the rock. For that moment, the whole thing seemed as fake as Guntown Mountain.

We were pretty tired by then, so we returned to the campsite and got a good fire going so we could roast hot dogs for dinner and then play a few board games. The deer came back around sunset, too, to see what was going on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Mammoth Vacation, Day 1

I got to spend last week with my boys, just the three of us. This year, we went on a camping excursion to Mammoth Cave National Park.

It wouldn't be a vacation with me if I didn't forget something. This year, it was my camera. I'm not a huge shutterbug, but I do like to snap a few shots every now and then to mark the occasion. I was forced to purchase a single-use camera at the camp store. A single use film camera. I hadn't realized it had been so long since I'd used a film camera, and I had forgotten the joy and, for some reason, anxiety that comes along with spinning that little clicking knob after taking a shot. I missed my digitial camera.

As I said, I'm not a huge shutterbug, so I didn't get many pictures — not enough to fill the camera. Eventually, I'll fill the camera, get some digital prints, and post some of them here. But for now, this'll be mostly unillustrated.

So anyway, we left Monday morning after breakfast. We lunched in Seymour and had a quick rest stop just south of Louisville. As we journeyed deeper into Kentucky, we combed over the handful of tourist brochures I had snagged at the rest stop. The Mammoth Cave schedule said that there was something called a "River Styx Tour" at 3:30. Both the boys have been reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, so Greek mythology is at the forefront of their minds. It looked like the gods of time might be with us, and we could make it there just in time to get on the tour.

We pulled into a parking spot just a few minutes after 3:30 and rushed into the visitors' center, where two things happened in quick succession. First, we learned that Kentucky is on Central Time, so it was actually just after 2:30 there. A whole hour before the tour started! (Time zones have never made a great deal of sense to me, and this makes it even worse.) Second, a quick trip through the ticket line revealed that the River Styx Tour was completely sold out.

Through Sunday.

So let this be a lesson if you're planning a visit to Mammoth Cave during peak vacation season: Buy your tickets early online. I, for one, am not a big planner when it comes to vacations, but I do hear that there are some people who schedule every waking second of a vacation. I assume that the River Styx tour that we missed included quite a few of this latter type of vacationer.

But no matter. I got us three tickets to the Discovery tour, the only self-guided cave tour. We checked in with the ranger, got ourselves a camp site, and set up the tent before returning to the mouth of the cave.

A snapshot of our camp site will eventually go here.

The neatest thing about Mammoth Cave in the summer — and caving in general — is the natural air conditioning underground. It was in the mid-nineties above ground, a steady mid-fifties below. A wonderful summer respite.

The Discovery Tour doesn't go very deeply into the cave, sticking to wider areas of the caverns. What's more, it's the starting and ending points of some of the longer, guided tours. The moral: Don't buy tickets for the Discovery Tour if you're going to buy tickets to one of the other tours that goes through there.

For my younger son, this was a first experience with caves. He was rather nervous, as I probably was the first time I went into a cave. My elder son, though, is now a Boy Scout. He's been dirty-kneed, head-lamped spelunking a couple times before, so this cool, dark, open space was a little tame for him. I was just happy to be out of the heat and finally having some vacation-time fun with my boys.

One of the other things that we found in our brochures was Lost River Cave. I had gone to Mammoth Cave on a family trip when I was younger. I remember that Mammoth Cave Nat'l Park had offered underground boat tours, but at the time, the water level was too high and the boat tour was closed.

Mammoth Cave doesn't offer boat tours anymore, so we hopped in the vacation-mobile and shot down to nearby Bowling Green, where we just managed to get tickets to the final boat tour of the day.

Vacationers: If you're looking for a souvenir or gift to take back with you, the gift shop at the Lost River Cave is a great place to go. They do have some kitschy stuff, but they also have some really wonderful keepsakes at prices you don't usually see in a gift shop. I was tempted to spend a lot of money here.

The boat tour itself was pretty cool, and at least one of my boys thought it was the best part of the vacation. For an adult, the history behind the cave is as interesting as the tour itself. You can find out more on their Web site, but the really interesting part doesn't start until the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy" section.

While we were on this tour, we found out why Mammoth Cave doesn't offer boat tours anymore. It seems that a rare species of blind cave shrimp was discovered in those caves. To protect the species, boat tours were discontinued. All of Mammoth Cave's boats were then sold to the Lost River Cave people, who now use them.

After that, it was a late dinner at The Olive Garden (love their new dishes, hate their new prices), firebuilding at the campsite, s'mores, and sleep. Well-earned sleep.