Finally home and a real computer. It’s nice to be home in my own bed and with my own files. I haven’t moved my digital presence totally onto the network so my own files and desktop and organization are not portable. It feels comfortable to be home.

I've sorted through the pictures and the main groups are up. This is a long, catch-up entry with descriptions and pointers.

First is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (pictures) which were, well, smoky. The haze is a natural phenomena and the park is full of hills, trees, camping, water falls and streams. A previous blog post was from Mingo Falls and later in the day we hiked in to see Laurel Falls (pictures). We hiked the mile to find a small falls filled with people. Some had obviously packed everything for a day of picnicking and splashing with the kids. A nice hike in the woods, though.

Just outside the park is Tuckaleechee Caverns (pictures). This is an old fashioned, family owned cavern roadside attraction. An easy walk through the well paved cavern with interesting rock formations.

For a little historical South, we stopped at The Hermitage (pictures). This is the farm Andrew Jackson retired to after service as the president of the United States. It's back in the time before secret service and security details. It's just a farm although, these days, they make a big deal about the slaves who lived there and made the farm work.

Keeping with the presidential theme, the next stop was the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site (pictures). Wikipedia has a concise description of the history of this monument. In our cynical age, it is hard to comprehend the adoration a log cabin received. Eventually, it was enshrined in a granet monument.

The next stop was to downtown St. Louis with a visit to the Arch. If you were following the news at that time, you would know that the central U.S. was surviving record floods and tornadoes. We weren't sure the arch park would be open but it was completely operational although some of the pictures do show the Mississippi overflowing it's banks onto the sidewalks. The trip up the Arch was bizarre. You get into these claustrophobia attack inducing little pods which then click and clunk as they take you to the top. Once at the top, you are in a small arched room with TINY windows to peer out over the city. It is clear that Disney was not consulted when they built it.

A lot of driving brought us to Jewel Cave National Monument (Wikipedia explains that a "national monument" is declared by the president without requiring the approval of Congress.) This gigantic system of caves now has an elevator for us softies to casually tour the underground. There are still people squeezing through the caves but we get to walk through the cool 56 degrees on concrete and aluminum walkways and enjoy the formations. It was hard taking pictures because the lights they used had widely different temperatures. That, and my little digital camera doesn't have a flash that goes more than a few feet. Some pictures did turn out.

Out of the ground and over to Yellowstone National Park (pictures). It was an amazingly beautiful day -- cool temperatures, bright sun, blue sky filled with white clouds. The park was showing itself off. Bison grazed (and clogged the roads) and the rush of melting snow filled the streams. Beautiful.

Well, how do you top Yellowstone? With a nuclear reactor, of course. Pictures. In the 1950's, a small reactor ("Experimental Breeder Reactor 1" or "EBR-1") in the middle of Idaho proved that nuclear reactors could create their own fuel ("breeding" plutonium) and generate electricity efficiently (output more than goes in). The DOE keeps the building open in the summer with tours by informed but otherwise very bored employees.

Up the road is an area of lava formations in the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Pictures.