Walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling

Back in July, I walked around Dallas in 107°F degree heat and it was so hot it felt like the insides of my eyes were boiling. I didn’t mind. I was happy. I love HOT weather, specifically dry HOT weather. Put me outside on a 100°F+ day, and I’ll stand in the heat until my head cracks open like a kernel of popcorn. Drop me in Texas on a 100°F+ day, and you’ll find me outside with a Shiner Bock beer and a pack of heat-loving chihuahuas — just as dumb as me — roasting their fontanels like chestnuts on an open fire.

That said, here are 10 Things to See or Do in Dallas during a Heatwave:

NUMBER 1: go see the The Giant Eyeball. There is a giant eyeball at the location: 1601 Main St, Dallas, TX 75201.

Dallas Eye Sculpture

NUMBER 2: get yourself some dried shrimp with their heads still attached at the 7-11. They don’t have these in New Jersey, so to me, they’re a novelty, and I find them interesting.

Bought this for the novelty of it. Will not eat.

Address: 1295 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 3: Pioneer Park Cemetary at Dusk. Pioneer Park is a quiet old cemetery, shaded by big oaks, and the occasional crepe myrtle. It is loaded with Megatibicen resh cicadas. Each night after work, I would grab a snack and some water, and head to the park and wait for the cicadas to sing at sunset. If you haven’t heard them sing, it’s kind of amazing. Other than the cicadas, which sing for just a half hour a day, the park is quiet, relative to the rest of the city. No one is there to hassle you, which I like.

A crepe myrtle at sunset.
Crepe Myrtle about 45 minutes from sunset

The squirrels are cute as well, and once they figure out you have snacks, they’ll follow you everywhere.
Dallas TX Cemetery Squirrels

Pay your respects to Baby Bowser:
Poor Baby Bowser, rest in peace

Is that a kid leaning up against that tomb? No, just an optical illusion.
Dallas -- above ground grave split by tree

Address: 1201 Marilla St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 4: the Cattle & Cowboys sculpture at Pioneer Plaza.

To the west of Pioneer Park Cemetary is Pioneer Plaza, which features about 40 realistically sized and rendered sculptures of cows and cowboys. If you’re in Dallas you must see it.

Metal cattle:
Dallas cattle sculpture

A cowboy looking towards the skyscrapers of Dallas that beef, oil and telecommunications helped to build.
Dallas

As I walked around Pioneer Park, the nearby Police Memorial, and City Hall, one person after another stopped to ask me where “the cattle” were, like I was a park ranger. Maybe it was how I comport myself that gives me an air of authority. I am the new mayor of Dallas.

Address: 1428 Young St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 5: Dallas Police Memorial. To me, it looks like something out of science fiction.
Dallas police memorial

Address: S Akard St. Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 6: Fountain Place (the diamond shaped building) is perhaps the most impressive building in Dallas because it is capable of vibrating through time and space and transporting reptilian travelers to our dimension. What?

Dallas 7-11 and "diamond" building

Address: Fountain Place, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 7: Dallas World Aquarium. BUT ONLY WHEN FAMILIES ARE NOT AROUND.

When you pack hundreds of people, on a 100°F day, into an attraction with a climate that resembles an actual jungle, where customers can only walk as fast as the person ahead of them, and one out of five have strollers or baby carriages, and the parents are ramming the strollers into your Achilles tendons… its a nightmare. “Oh look, a sloth”… good luck taking a photo as a herd of humanity gathers you up like a wave and pushes you down the path like a log down a flume.

Go on a day when it is not crowded and families are not around.

Blue frog will poison you. Don’t touch.
Blue frog at the Dallas World Aquarium... which is like a combination DMV and a pet shop. It was 110 degrees inside. You have to walk down winding narrow paths at 1 mile per century while kids scream and their parents ram your Achilles’ tendons with strollers.

Address: 1801 N Griffin St, Dallas, TX 75202.

NUMBER 8: Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Just look at the building, which looks like it should be a modern art museum by the shape of it. Stacks of collapsing twisted metal & glass. But don’t go in because it’s filled with thousands of families. Families love dinosaurs, and this place has them. Avoid, unless you are a family.

Perot museum in Dallas

Address: 2201 N Field St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 9: Dallas Museum of Art. The Dallas Museum of Art … because it is spacious, has fewer families than the Perot Museum or Dallas World Aquarium, and it is air-conditioned. Bonus points if you actually like art — I do — you may not.

Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico. Looks like the Etruscan Boar Vessel.
Elliptical bottle depicting a sprouting bean with a human face. 300-100 BC, Mexico

Address: 1717 N Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201.

NUMBER 10: The fountain at City Hall with the rotating red Pacman sculptures.

Dallas panorama

“The fountain”, as I call it, is a large, round artificial pond featuring water fountains, and rotating red Pacman-like structures. On a blazing-hot day, it looks quite refreshing.

One evening, I was exploring the grounds looking for evidence of cicadas and taking photos of the semi-futuristic City Hall when a figure in black appeared in the courtyard surrounding the fountain. Black pants and a hoodie. Shoulder-length black hair. From a distance, I couldn’t tell if the person was a man or woman. I kept my distance. The person approached the fountain, slid in and began to swim around. I envied this person’s bravery, and how cool and refreshed they must have felt. No fear of authorities, disease, or harm from the mechanical or electrical systems powering the dual, rotating, red Pacmen. Freedom. I just sat and watched and admired that person and thought “if I had shorts on, I would have gone in too.”

I’m pretty sure the person was a she, and she sat next to me on the flight back to Newark.

Address: 1500 Marilla St. Dallas, TX 75201

BONUS! TRAVEL PRO-TIPS!

  1. If you go someplace, and it’s full of kids and families, and you’re there alone, just go. Leave. It’s their space. You’ve entered a time and space that belongs to families. Go to a bar… or some other place for adults… and maybe come back when there are no families around. But just leave. You don’t belong there.
  2. If you have 10 hours to kill before a flight, do this: take all your stuff (luggage, unnecessary jackets, laptop), and bring it to a UPS or FedEx and ship it to your home or office — and then go out and enjoy the town. That’s what I do. It’s good advice.
  3. Dallas has a lot of refreshing looking fountains. On a hot summer day, they look very inviting. Will you go for a swim? Probably not.

Lots of lovely fountains in Dallas

10 things to see or do in Cleveland other than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

NUMBER 1: DEVOtional. In late July, I attended the DEVOtional event in Cleveland, Ohio. The DEVOtional is a 3-day event celebrating the band DEVO, with performances by DEVO cover bands, DEVO karaoke, vendors of DEVO merch, guest speakers (2018’s event featured Jerry Casale of DEVO), and mini-events like a 5K run. If you love DEVO, you owe it to yourself to attend this yearly extravaganza at least once.

Devo fans in Cleveland at the Devotional

Check their website for future locations.

NUMBER 2: The GIANT silver hand. The giant silver hand is currently over by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), last time I checked. I might have crawled to a new location.

Giant metal hand outside MOCA in Cleveland

Approximate address: Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 3: Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Look at the shape of that building. There are exhibits inside as well. Check their website for current exhibits and events. Rub your hands on it. It’s smooth.

MOCA

Address: 11400 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 4: The Peter B Lewis Building. Look at this building. Just look at it. Twisting metal and curving brick. It’s something else.

Peter B Lewis Building in Cleveland

Address: 11119 Bellflower Rd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 5: the world-famous Etruscan Boar Vessel. I was literally shaking when I saw it. Epic.

World famous Etruscan Boar Vessel

The rest of the museum is genuinely amazing as well. Top 10 museums I’ve ever been to. During the summer fo 2018, they had a massive Yayoi Kusama exhibit.

Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Cleveland museum

Address: inside the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 6: the Blue Morpho butterflies at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The Cleveland Botanical Garden itself is pretty awesome, but its huge butterfly pavilion is super amazing.

Morpho butterfly at rest (don't be shy, show your colors)

Address: 11030 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 7: the sculptures around Wade Lagoon. Wade Lagoon is a lake in Cleveland that is surrounded by many exceptional sculptures. My favorite are the mermaids.

Wade Lagoon Mermaids contemplate moving into the apartments across the street

Coordinates: 41.51°N 81.61°W. (Hint: it’s in front of the place the Etruscan Boar Vessel is in.)

NUMBER 8: Blue Arrow Records. This record store is located in the Waterloo section of Cleveland. They have a cat, t-shirts with the cat’s face on it (I bought one), and an awesome selection of used (and probably new) records. I’ve been to the Princeton Record Exchange, the Groovy Graveyard, Revilla Grooves & Gear and Curmudgeon Records, so I know what I’m talking about — it’s a great record store.

Blue Arrow Records in Cleveland

Address: 16001 Waterloo Rd, Cleveland, OH 44110.

NUMBER 9: the Axolotl in the basement of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It’s there, just chilling out. Trust me. Don’t hassle it though. Give it the peace and quiet it craves.

Axolotl

The rest of the museum is top notch. There’s an eagle named Spaghetti, a friendly raven, and a massive wildlife of Ohio exhibit in the basement (close to the Axolotl).

Address: 1 Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106.

NUMBER 10: B.A. Sweetie’s candy warehouse. I already wrote an entire article about that place.

at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Address: 6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129.

Middle Aged Man Hikes Above Ground Cave

fall My Hocking Hills story beings as many of my travel stories do: mapping periodical cicadas. I had heard that Hocking Hills park in Ohio was a hotspot for the rarest of the three 17 year cicada species (Magicicada septendecula), so I traveled there to check it out. The reports were true… the cicadas were there in abundance… but no one had told me about the cave.

I’m a sucker for a good cave. I see a sign for a cave and I’ll drive 100, no, make that 200 miles to see that cave. Case in point: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. Back in 2014 I was in Cincinnati, started heading home (east) for New Jersey, but the next thing you know I’m 208 miles south at a cave! Sure, I stopped at the Jim Beam distillery along the way, but I ended up at a cave.

While wandering through the Hocking Hills state park — clutching my video camera, listening for septendecula, trying not to stand out amongst the dozens of tourists milling about — I saw the sign: “Old Man Cave”. Suddenly the sounds of cicadas dissolved from my mind and all I could think was “cave”.

That’s the third paragraph that ends in cave. Get the point?

Surprisingly Old Man Cave is not a “traditional” below ground cave. It is an above ground cave, because it has no ceiling. Perhaps it had a ceiling at one time; perhaps it collapsed. Had you asked me, I would have guessed that it was actually a canyon. As you’ll see from my photos and video, it still looks like a cave — limestone rock sculpted by the erosion of water — but it also looks like a canyon.

To get to the cave you have to enter a tunnel (the most “traditional” cave-like part of the journey). At the mouth of the tunnel were two healthy-looking young men; before I could enter, one stopped me. “Are you sure you want to go into the cave? It’s a hard walk even for me.” He advised me to go through the tunnel, enjoy the view, and then turn around and go home. He wasn’t an employee of the park — just another tourist.

I had to pause, if just for a moment, and ask myself: “how decrepit is my appearance?” Yes, I know I look like Lucious Malfoy: clearly middle-aged, with bone-white hair. And certainly, I could stand to lose a few pounds (more like 20). “How feeble and near death do I appear?”

I thanked the young man for his advice and concern and entered the tunnel. Upon exiting, the view was amazing. It’s hard to capture the magnificence with a photograph. To the right there’s a massive limestone overhang, slick with moisture and stained with streaks of green algae; straight ahead the cave/canyon drops maybe a hundred feet to the cave floor. It’s spectacular. At that moment I thought, “I have to do this; I have to experience this, even if the young man is right and I will die trying.”

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

The Old Man Cave trail passes under the massive rock overhang, and then winds and twists along the side of the cave until you reach the bottom, at that point you can enjoy the view of the waterfall, and then you hike back up the other side and continue around until you reach the start.

Old Man Cave, Hocking Hills

The hike down is long, and the hardest part is maintaining your balance and not falling to your death while taking a photo. Core strength is important. The hike up requires leg strength and stamina, but it isn’t all that bad. There were a few septuagenarians and little kids hacking it — it was fine. No worries.

Video from my hike:

After the Old Man Cave, I took a break… grabbed some water… made a video of some bugs…

And then walked across this funky looking bridge…

Hocking Hills

And then hiked up a hill into the woods and recorded some cicada song.

Along the path back to my car there were a group of young dudes debating on whether they should hop a fence and go swimming in the stream below. They were having a serious debate — you might think they were getting up the nerve to talk to some young women — no, just going for an illegal swim.

Crossing back across the bridge I could hear them splash into the river below. I thought “good, they’re living life, and taking chances as they should”.

More info:

bison

The Land Between the Lakes, Part 1

Arrival

The Land Between the Lakes is a large National Park nestled between two long, artificial lakes. The park features 170,000 acres of forest & wetlands, bison, a planetarium, and every 13 years, Brood XXIII cicadas. The park offers virtually any type of boating & outdoor activity imaginable.

Imagine Manhattan if all the buildings were replaced by trees, and the rats were replaced by deer and bison — that is The Land Between the Lakes.

I arrived at the park just in time to hear some chorusing cicadas (they get quiet around 5 pm). In the background, weekend warriors raced their fishing boats up the lake — their engines making “bwaaaa bwa bwa bwup bwup” sounds as they struggled to keep pace with their captains’ pride.

Land Between the Lakes

Park

There were several hours of light left in the day, so I chose to enter the park before finding a hotel. I drove the speed limit, in an effort to drive slow enough to hear the cicadas I was listening for… much to the chagrin of everyone else driving on the park road. They flashed their lights and weaved in and out of lanes, all serpentine-like, in an attempt to cajole me to drive faster. But I was steadfast in my determination to travel the speed I desired. Eventually, these bullies of the road passed.

The road never seemed to end — mile after mile of forest-lined road. It was glorious.

Pig Truck Man

I managed to raise the ire of the driver of a giant, matt-black, pig-truck — once again by driving the speed limit. The giant, matt-black, pig-truck was like something out of Mad Max: Fury Road: it was a monster pickup truck, jacked-up about 3 feet higher than normal, pained matt-black, two huge stacks belching black, sooty smoke, with a pig nose for the grill, and lights for the nostrils. Most folks would be terrified by the sight of such a vehicle, two feet away from their bumper, but I was thrilled by it. I’m weaving, trying to get a photo, but failed. It was awesome though. Eventually, it passed. It would have been an honor to have been run off the road by the pig truck. All that said, I do look like exactly like Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road, so the guy probably thought I was his leader. He just wanted to say “Hi”.

Quest for Bison

I made it as far south as the self-guided Elk & Bison prairie tour, paid the $5 entry fee, and was very pleased to see these mighty creatures up close.

Stretching Bison

Bison at Land Between the Lakes

When I was a child I spend a lot of time around lakes, rivers, woodlands, and forests. I loved the smell of a country road after a rainstorm; the mirror finish of a lake; the lively communication of birds; the contrast of a red newt on soft green moss; and awe-inspiring views of lush, green valleys from the top of tall hills.

People find solace & peace in the pop culture & toys of their childhood — Star Wars, comic books, Frankenstein, Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, Donkey Kong, a Nirvana record, etc. For just a moment it allows them to go back in time, and escape from their troubles, worries, and responsibilities. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I find solace in nature. A National or State park is my Comicon.

Cave

Kentucky and the Wonders of Limestone

The limestone rock of Kentucky provides the world with two natural wonders: caves and water for Bourbon.

Caves, of course, are amazing subterranean geological formations often created by the seepage and flow of water through soft stone like limestone. Bourbon, of course, is an amazing American alcoholic beverage made from limestone-filtered water and corn.

I visited southern Kentucky in the spring of 2014, after documenting the emergence of Brood XXII cicadas in the northern part of the state. I had a few days to kill, so I headed south for a tour of the Jim Beam distillery, and then Mammoth Cave National Park.

Jim Beam

The Jim Beam distillery welcome center & tour is as perfect as you might imagine. When you visit, you’ll first notice the massive black barn-like buildings. These are used to hold the barrels of bourbon as the liquor matures.The buildings are spaced far enough apart so that if one catches fire, the flames won’t be able to reach the other buildings. Bourbon, like most booze, is highly flammable.

Jim Beam Distillery, Kentucky

The welcome center, emblazoned with the famous Jim Beam logo, resembles a cross between a country store and an old West saloon. The interior is essentially two floors of gift stores where you can purchase tour tickets, all varieties of Jim Beam bourbon, and many souvenirs. I was tempted to get the $200+ used Jim Beam barrel, but it wasn’t going to fit in my car. I chose to get the Jim Beam Maple, which the cashier recommended pouring in my morning coffee. The bathroom was modern (it did not resemble a barn) and very clean.

Jim Beam Distillery, Kentucky

Jim Beam samples.

The tour (spoilers ahead) takes you through the bourbon making process, from grain and water, through to the final product. The highlight was I got to pour my own bottle of Jim Beam Single Barrel. Along the way, I was treated to the sights, sounds and smells of a working distillery — lots of tanks for fermenting the mash, massive pipes, barrels, lots of wooden structure binding & framing it all together — all the stuff you might expect. The tour culminated with a tasting session, where I got to try three varieties of Jim Beam. I think Booker’s was my favorite.

Overall it was a pleasant afternoon, well-spent learning American booze history, and obtaining fine bourbon whiskey from the source.

Mammoth Cave & Travel Lodge

My retro hotel room, Mammoth Cave Park, Kentucky

Later that same day I arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park, too late for a cave tour, but early enough to book a room in their on-site hotel. I had the choice of a cabin or a room in the building attached to the tourist center. I opted for the later and was rewarded with a room that seemed like something out of the 1950s, or maybe early 1960. Definitely pre L.B.J. Brick interior walls, no wi-fi, old black and white photos of the cave. “Lodge” is the word I would use to describe it. It felt like an interior scene from the TV series Twin Peaks. I fantasized about winning the lottery and living there for the rest of my life (I’m sure I could get Wi-fi at the local Cracker Barrel… I think.)

Part of the fun of staying at the lodge was watching the antics of other people staying there. The best was watching people try to get a cell phone signal. I watched four guys each take turns helping each other climb a tree in hopes of getting a signal. They would boost their friend up, and invariably he would tumble to the ground. Guys, you’re in the middle of a National Park — no cell phone signals here. Actually, not being able to get a signal was nice — it is so rare to go a day without email, web, Twitter, Instagram, etc — it was like a two-day vacation from the 21st century.

Before sunset, I walked the nature trail surrounding the tourist center. It was fantastic and refreshing to walk amongst nature. Not too far from the “Lodge” I discovered the rear exit of the cave and sneaked in un-guided. The exit was about 40′ in circumference, and went down at an angle of about 35 degrees for a few hundred feet before reaching a point that was blocked off. Cool air flows from the cave exit, which is quite refreshing and awe-inspiring on a warm spring day.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

After a solid night of sleep in my amazing room, I had southern breakfast (grits, biscuits and white gravy) in the tourist center dining room. Breakfast was not free, as it was in a dining room (remember the rule: breakfast is only free if it is in the lobby). It was here that I had my first mind-blowing experience, which was hearing the southern-Kentucky accent. I’ve been to about two-thirds of the States, and southern-Kentucky has the most distinct accent I’ve encountered. It was thrilling — I kept asking for more coffee and water just to hear the waitress’ voice again.

Next, I booked the longest cave tour available. About 80 people and I boarded busses and set off for the cave. At the entrance of the cave, the ranger/tour guide laid out the rules of the tour, all of which were violated hundreds of times, by my observation:

  1. “Keep your child with you at all times.” Kids buzzed around in manic figure-eight patterns out of reach of their parent’s control.
  2. “Do not take photos and hold up the tour.” People took a million photos, causing the tour to be broken up into unreachable segments, or piling together like the arch of a caterpillar’s back.
  3. “Do not imitate Golem and say ‘My Precious’ when we turn the lights out to show you how dark the cave is.” Okay, this last one wasn’t really a rule, and I did it.

The long cave tour (spoilers ahead) takes you down hundreds of feet of cramped, jagged limestone on slippery steel stares. Then you travel, mostly horizontally, through the cave, until you reach the end and ascend. Only the end has drip-stone formations (stalactites and stalagmites), but it is worth the walk and wait. The tour guide told the story of the men who discovered, explored and dynamited open the cave, all to exploit is as a tourist attraction. Back in the day, their intent was to exploit the local caves for revenue. Sustainability and environmental impacts were not known or considered. Still, I have to admire the moxie and bravery of the men who blasted open the caves for future tourists and researchers.

The final stop of the tour had us wash our shoes in a special solution, to destroy a fungus which is killing the local bat population.

I spent the rest of the day hiking the woods around the tourist center. When I think back over the past few years of my favorite experiences, this was definitely one of them. Hiking the trails, stopping to stare in awe of the sun setting over a lush green valley. It is my “happy place” so to speak.

Salamander. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Green River. "The cave maker". Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Cave City and other local towns

Driving to Mammoth Cave National Park you’ll see an abundance of signs for antique stores and rock shops. You’ll also see a lot of people selling geodes on their front lawns — geodes being those ball-shaped rocks with (hopefully) crystals inside. People just set up tables and blankets on their lawns and sell geodes.

I visited the rock shop with the most billboards, which was Big Mike’s. Big Mike’s rock complex featured two shops, a “mystery house”, and a yard loaded with bins filled with chunks of colored glass. The colored glass is pretty to look at, and catches your eyes from the roadside, like tennis ball-sized hunks of a rainbow. I bought two crystal formations (no clue what they are) from one shop, and various Mammoth Cave souvenirs from the other.

Big Mike's Rock Shop

After the visit to Big Mike’s, I headed for local antique stores. Along the way, I discovered the wonder that is the combination souvenir/fireworks/knife store. I visited several and bought plenty of souvenirs, but no knives or fireworks. You see, I do have some self-control.

Barrel Dog, Cave City, Kentucky

Next, I hit a strip of antique stores on Broadway Street in Cave City. I ended up scoring an inexpensive Mandolin and many vinyl records. The most memorable store was Magaline’s Antique Mall, which is staffed by Magaline, who dresses in the style of “Hello Dolly” Levi, and a guy who looks remarkably like Donald Rumsfeld. They noticed my lack of a Kentucky accent, which led to a conversation about “Super Storm” Sandy, how Chris Christy would never be elected as president, and how the biggest problem with Washington is the influence of big business.

I visited Cracker Barrel for dinner ordered a half-dozen sides and nearly exploded with excitement over the waitress’ thick Kentucky accent. I left a way-too-large tip in appreciation.

One more night in the Lodge, and I left for New Jersey — a 15-hour ride fueled by Red Bull, candy and Powerman 5000. I got back in time to see the sunrise, and then I slept until 4 pm. But when I woke, I had some of that fine Jim Beam Maple Bourbon in hot coffee.