Johnstown Flood National Memorial

About an hour north of where we are staying near Somerset, Pennsylvania is the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. In our travels, we like to visit interesting places and especially National Parks and Landmarks. Prior to our stay in this area, we had vaguely heard of the Johnstown Flood, but certainly didn’t know the details. This disaster happened long before we were around in 1889.

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The Johnstown Flood occurred on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles upstream and 450 feet above  the town of Johnstown, PA. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 16 million tons from the reservoir known as Lake Conemaugh. The Lake was the site of an exclusive club for the rich and famous – The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club whose members included over 50 families of Pittsburgh steel, coal and railroad industrialists. Originally built for the railroad, the Club had modified the property taking out overflow spillways and building a road across the crest of the dam which compromised its integrity.

As the dam was breached and the flow of debris and wall of water followed the valley, the flood killed 2,209 people and caused $17 million of damage (about $453 million today).

After the flood, survivors suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempts to recover damages from the dam’s owners.

The National Park Service maintains a visitors center with a very dramatic film of the events and various displays.

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Adjacent to the Visitors Center is the Elias Unger house who was president of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club at the time of the disaster. It is not open to the public.

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Although not on the property, visitors can see the Clubhouse which is under renovation. We were lucky enough to arrive when a ranger was giving a tour and could gain access to the building. Otherwise it is currently closed to the public.

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We also saw what is left of the abutments for the dam.

DSC_5780 (Medium)This gave us a good prospective of where the lake, the dam where located and the Unger house.

Flight 93 National Memorial

On occasion, we happen upon one of these places. A place that affects us with awe and contemplation. A place that evokes feelings of patriotism and somber reflection. Gettysburg was like that – and in the same manner – the Flight 93 National Memorial is like that.

DSC_5764 (Medium)As we make our way across Pennsylvania, we are spending a few days in Somerset County. Curiously, this area has had 3 major disasters – the Johnstown Flood, the Que Creek Mine disaster and the crash of Flight 93 on 9/11.

This is the site of the crash of the fourth hijacked plane taken by terrorists on the morning of September 11, 2001.

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Flight 93 National Memorial is the nation’s memorial to the passengers and crew. The Visitors Center sits on the hill above the crash site. Its walls trace the flight path.

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Below, Memorial Plaza borders the crash site and consists of the impact site marked by a boulder and the debris field.

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The Wall of Names lists the names of passengers and crew lost that day.

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The fields and woods beyond the crash site are the final resting place with remains still present.

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The boulder marks the crash site.

It is thought that the terrorists plan was to crash flight 93 into the capital in Washington, DC. Because this flight’s takeoff  was delayed, there was a pause between the other three hijacked flights and after the hijackers took over, the passengers were able to phone family friends and authorities and learn that they were part of a bigger planned attack. Passengers and crew made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to retake the plane. 33 passengers and 7 crew members lost their lives in the unsuccessful attempt. They were, however successful in saving perhaps thousands of lives by avoiding the intended target and taking the plane down in an unpopulated area. The cockpit voice recorder captured the struggle for control of the plane.

At the Visitors Center you can listen to recordings of these calls. There are other moving exhibits including the display of all the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

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We were able to locate the name of our neighbor at the time, whose life was tragically cut short as a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

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We would high recommend a visit to the memorial in the Pennsylvania field.

So it is with great gratitude that we remember the heroes of Flight 93.

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Finding our Wild Side

We stayed 2 nights at the Dillon State Park near Zanesville, OH and while we were there we made the hour drive east to an area known as The Wilds.

And we are so happy we did.

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The Wilds is a 10,000 acre conservation center that works closely with the Columbus and Cincinnati Zoos, among others, and researchers all over the world to promote threatened and endangered species. Animals from all parts of the globe roam in expansive natural habitats. They offer a variety of tours and activities including zip-lining over the wild animals and overnight stays and camps.

We opted for the 2½ Open-air safari tour guided tour to see and learn about the animals. We felt a little like we were in Jurasic Park passing through the series of gates entering the wildlife area. We took a ton of pictures – here’s a sampling. (sorry there are a lot of pictures)

They have a large herd of American Bison

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We were entertained for quite some time by the Persian Onagers, wild asses indigenous to Iran and enjoyed seeing the baby. (and who doesn’t like a wild ass!)

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The tour dropped us off at the Lakeside Trail where we saw Red-Crowned Cranes from Asia. The Wilds program sends fertile eggs back to Russia in an attempt to repopulate the species.

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Here, we also saw Budgerigars (we call them parakeets) from Australia.

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Back on the open air bus and through a gate and we saw Przewalski’s Wild Horses. They became extinct in the 1960’s but zoo-based breeding has allowed the reintroduction to China and Mongolia.

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Down the road and through another series of gates we entered the Mid-sized Carnivore Conservation Center and had ½ hour to look around where the Cheetahs, African Wild Dogs and Dhole (Asian Wild Dogs) are kept. The Dohles were chilling out in the shade and were not interested in meeting any people today. We were able to see the two male cheetahs and they were quite impressive. We learned there are also 8 females living here.

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One of our favorite animals were the beautiful African Painted Dogs.

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We chuckled at this sign.

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The Grevy’s Zebras were being shy today and this is the best picture we could get of them.

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We saw some Sable Antelopes from Eastern Africa including a cute baby. They can be aggressive and some of them have lost one of their horns making them look a little lopsided.

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These animals look like common cattle but are actually Banteng from SE Asia

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This odd animal is the Sichuan Takin from Western China. (We thought its name sounded like an entre at a Chinese Restaurant.) The Wilds works with conservationists in China on better understanding these animals.

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The Ostrich were quite inquisitive and came up to the bus. Roni got up close and personal with this fellow.

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Another highlight was seeing the Masai and Reticulated giraffes.

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The Common Eland were attempting to keep cool on this very hot day.

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The Wilds is the only place outside of S Africa where 5 generations of Southern White Rhinos have been born.

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The Scimitar-Horned Oryx is extinct in the wild, but formerly from N Africa. There’s even a baby here.

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The male Bactrian Deer have some impressive racks.

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Bactrian Camels from Mongolia where shedding and looked pretty rough. One rubbed against our bus in an attempt to shed more hair. They didn’t smell too nice either.


The cute Pere David Deer have been extinct in the wild since the late 1800’s but formerly roamed all of mainland China. This is the big breeding male and some ladies swimming.

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We would highly recommend a visit to this interesting facility in the eastern hills of Ohio. Who knew?

FMCA International Rally

We have gathered with just shy of 3,000 of our closest friends.

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Everyone kept asking us questions about Indy since our nametags said we lived there.


Our first FMCA International Rally was fortunately held in Indianapolis, a place where we have been spending a lot of time lately. We’ve been members of the organization for about 4 years but have never attended one of their rallies. This was the largest (by far) of any rallies we have attended.

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It is being held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds close to downtown Indianapolis. 1450 motor coaches came in for the event. At first, we were overwhelmed by the scope of it all. Torrential downpours did not help matters much as a lot of the parking was in the sunken infield of the racetrack or in grass fields.

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The infield was underwater

We were assigned a spot as far away from the activities as you could possibly be and in a grass field.

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Our spot in lot FF mostly dry

Tram service was sporadic and unpredictable. We watched helplessly as several behemoths were stuck in the muck. Kudos to the members of the parking crew that labored on in the pouring rain and set up makeshift holding areas.

We attended a couple dozen seminars between the two of us and spent many hours in the vendor areas and new motorhome sales areas. They even brought in some of the big boys for members to tour such as Prevosts and Marathon Coaches.

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We were especially anxious to see the New Aires Motorhomes that are new to the Newmar line for 2018. (No kids, we didn’t make any major purchases.) In fact, our biggest purchase was on food, as no meals were provided with the rally. We attended the General Meeting and were introduced to the new FMCA officers.

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New Officers being sworn in

We reconnected with a few friends and that’s always nice. And, we met a lot of great people.

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RV’ers love their ice cream. The ice cream social.

We need to learn to pace ourselves and not try to see and do everything. The highlights of our week were going out to dinner with our Indy kids and watching our oldest grandchild in a play. She is quite the budding actress and we are very proud of her.

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Out to eat at Mama Carollas. Yummy.

We’ll hang out in Indy for a few more days and then plan to head East to Pennsylvania and Washington DC.