Hummingbird at Brookside

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The day after I saw the Question Mark butterfly at Brookside Gardens, I was back for another shift at the Wings of Fancy exhibit. This time the big ‘find’ out in the gardens was a hummingbird that was on the plants in the area just before the entrance to the exhibit’s caterpillar house. The bird would make a round visiting flowers…then sit.

That made it easy to get pictures. It is a female – probably a female ruby throated hummingbird. All the hummingbirds around here are feeding as much as they can…fattening for the migration flight.

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For those near Montgomery County, Maryland…this is the last weekend for the Wings of Fancy exhibit at Brookside for this year. If you want to see the butterfly exhibit, this is the last chance.  

Question Mark (Butterfly)

Earlier this week I was walking around Brookside Gardens and noticed a flash of orange in the mulch near the orb sculpture…under a Golden Rain Tree. I had my camera and managed to zoom in. It was a butterfly! When it closed its wings, it was well camouflaged in the mulch and dead leaves.

When I got home, I looked at my quick reference card - “Butterflies of the Western Chesapeake (Washington DC, Maryland, & Virginia.” I tentatively identified it as a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis). The picture on the card was of the underside of the wing (where the “?” is).

There were more pictures of the butterfly on the Maryland Biodiversity Project website and it was easy to confirm the identification. I also learned that the butterfly overwinters as an adults so might be seen in the early spring.

It’s been fun to talk to others that I volunteer with; many had not heard of the Question Mark butterfly!

Brookside Flowers – September 2019

There are a lot of things in bloom at Brookside Gardens in September. The weather is a little cooler and the Roses are blooming profusely again.

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The Angel’s Trumpets – that always remind me of long swirling skirts – are in all stages of their blooms. I like the colors of this one…the crème color with green highlights at the ‘waist’ and then the transition to melon at the ‘floor.’

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The Black Eyed Susan petals start out as tubes!

There are seeds forming a this point too. I always notice the dogwoods – bright red.

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This year I noticed the nuts on the Red Buckeye trees. At first, I thought they were some odd growths on the trees and there are not many of them; perhaps the trees are a little out of their natural range in Maryland.

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And then other flowers that I couldn’t resist photographing with my cell phone. The phone does very well with flower pictures if I can get close enough to the flower for the picture I want!

Some Insects at Brookside Gardens – September 2019

There are always plenty of plants to see during a walk at Brookside Gardens, but I’ve been looking for insects in a few of my short walks before starting my shift inside the butterfly exhibit. The weather has been pleasant…just warm enough for the insects to be active but not overly hot for a walk. I saw an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly along the walk toward the arrivals area for the butterfly exhibit.  

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A few feet away…about 30 seconds later…I saw a Hummingbird Moth Clearwing. What a great way to start the morning!

The next time I was at the gardens, I walked back to the same area. I photographed 2 different insects but they were not as showy as the dragonfly and hummingbird moth.

I headed up to the salvia garden to see if there were still any hummingbirds feeding on the plants there. I saw a couple of females but didn’t have the right camera to attempt to photograph them. I did see a Common Buckeye taking a break on a gravel path.

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The salvia garden is very popular with bees of all kinds. There were large bees that were nectar robbing because they were too big to get into the flower (sometimes the stems bent a little with the weight of the bee as well). They had shiny abdomens so were probably carpenter bees.

Hummingbirds

It was a little late for the hummingbirds at the north tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge last week. During the summer the feeders near Visitor Contact Station have a lot of ruby-throated hummingbirds; by this time of year, a few females and juveniles are left. They will soon all be migrating southward. At this point they are fattening up for the long flight. Next year my husband and I will go earlier in the season and – hopefully – have a chance to photograph both males and females.

While I was sitting on the bench waiting for the hummingbirds, I photographed some nearby milkweed seeds. The plants were looking the season: leaves curling and scared. I did see a good-sized Monarch caterpillar and a few milkweed tussock moths caterpillars as well. The seeds always draw my attention this time of year – the bright white of the fibers, the tight package of seeds in the pod and then the fluff bursting up and out…floating the seeds away in the fall breeze.

There was a sunflower that I photographed from the bench as well. The lighting was just right to naturally darken the background once I zoomed in to almost fill the frame with the flower.

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Overall – a good early fall morning at Patuxent Research Refuge.

Male and Female Tiger Swallowtails

We’ve had a good year for tiger swallowtails in our area. They seem to be the most numerous butterflies around but maybe it’s just that they are the largest of our native butterflies. Most of the host plants are trees. I like to think that the tulip poplars in the forest behind our house have been full of tiger swallowtail caterpillars this year although I haven’t seen any sign of them. They are big trees and the caterpillars impact the tree very little.

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I took lots of tiger swallowtail pictures earlier in the season. Now I have made a game for myself trying to find a male and female butterfly close enough together to be in the same picture. The females are the ones with the blue dust on their hind wings. The males have no blue.

The best of the side-by-side pictures is the one below!

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Battered Moth

Earlier this week when I was heading out to a volunteer shift at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit, I noticed something moving at the base of the red oak tree near our mailbox. I got out of my car to see what it was. There was a large moth flapping around on the ground among the remnants of day lily plants. I took several pictures with my phone and continued to Brookside.

When I got there, the staff helped me identify what I’d seen: a Polyphemus moth (read about the species at Maryland Biodiversity Project and Wikipedia). It’s a female because it doesn’t have the feather-looking antennae. It looked very battered and it died sometime after I left. I collected it when I got home and have it in my freezer…trying to decide what to do with it.

The caterpillars require about 60 days to grow enough to make a cocoon to go through the winter…so this is going to be cutting it close for the eggs this female probably laid in our oak tree. Some of the leaves on our oak (a food plant of the caterpillars) are already beginning to turn reddish brown. None of the branches are low enough for me to see any of the caterpillars in action unfortunately. I’ll still be watching the tree hoping to see one as they grow larger.

Wings of Fancy – August 2019

Two volunteer shifts at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit stand out this month. The first was a shorter shift before the exhibit was open to the general public. It was two hours for photographers. The shift was low key with not as many people in the exhibit and it was cooler because it was early in the morning. The temperature was low enough that many of the butterflies were still roosting rather than flying around.

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It was possible to get close enough for some quick pictures with my cell phone. There were at least two clear wings that were spotted.

Enjoy the slide show! By the end of the 2 hours, the temperature was warming and the morphos were flying. One paid a lot of attention to one of the camera bags.

After my shift I went back into the exhibit and took some pictures with a better camera. My favorite turned out to be a blue morpho that positioned itself perfectly on the ‘do not touch’ sign!

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The second shift was made special by a moth! At the beginning of the shift there was an Atlas Moth on the netting at the top of the conservatory…not a good place for a picture. As the shift went on it got hotter and hotter and the moth glided down to the foliage.  We had some time without visitors in the conservatory and I got a great picture. The clear ‘windows’ on the wings look green because of the green plants behind the moth.

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Outdoor Butterflies at Brookside

I always walk around a bit before my volunteer shift in Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit. It’s been easy to see butterflies out in the garden recently. I’ve been able to identify them via my photographs – comparing to the images in the Maryland Butterflies website.

The most numerous butterflies are the tiger swallowtails. I have already posted about them (here) but I did get a good shot of a dark morph (with strips showing in the bright light).

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There was a Pipevine Swallowtail that shared a flower for a few seconds with a Monarch butterfly. These swallowtails are smaller than the tiger swallowtails.

Among the smaller butterflies, the Pearl Crescent is plentiful

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As are the Silver Spotted Skippers.

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I took a picture of a dark butterfly…maybe a Wild Indigo Sooty Wing.

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In the walk up to the Caterpillar House of the exhibit there is a Pipevine with Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. There were so large…I couldn’t resist a picture!

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I saw a clearwing moth last time I was cutting flowers at my CSA but I haven’t seen any at Brookside yet this year….and haven’t gotten any pictures.

Summer Camp Volunteering- Week 4

The theme for last week’s Howard Count Conservancy’s summer camps was ‘Friends in Flight – Bees, Birds, Bats.’ For the activity at Mt Pleasant – I added ‘Butterflies’ to the Friends in Flight list – playing a Monarch Migration game (instructions here) with each of the three groups. The numbered and laminated cards were taped to colorful cones and mug box dice were used for the cards that needed them. The route of cones was set up on the bricked path in the Honors Garden because the grass was so wet everywhere.

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All the campers discovered that there are a lot of hazards along with way during migration….and most played the game about 3 times. We tallied the successful and unsuccessful migrations…with the unsuccessful being slightly ahead!

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At Belmont, I started the Zentangle® session with a discussion of blue jays and their feathers using some pictures.

Then the two groups of campers made mono-tangles with a feather-like pattern. For the first group (skewed toward the older in the 5-12 years old range), I used 3” square coasters and a finer point pen than they had used before. The younger group used Apprentice tiles and the Sharpie ultra-fine pens. Some, but not all, of the campers had been in the previous Zentangle sessions. Overall – it was an impressive week!

It was the last week of summer camp. I’ll take a little break – but am already looking forward to the fall field trips ramping up soon.

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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Monarch Butterfly Portraits

The number of Monarch Butterflies seem to be less this summer than last; it’s very sad. I’ve been taking portraits every time I see them dreading the year when we won’t see any at all.

Sometimes I get a zoomed picture and see the gender quite clearly. Males have a black spot on each hind wing.

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The females don’t have the spots. The thickness of the veins on the wings are another indicator. The males have skinny veins and the females have thicker ones.

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Blue Jay at the Birdbath

I was pleased to see a Blue Jay at our bird bath. Back in July, my husband I had found blue jay feathers to the side of our house and we didn’t see or hear them for several weeks. A week or so ago, we started hearing them again and then one came to the birdbath! I liked this picture because it shows the wing feathers so nicely…the blue with white bars on the flight feather, the more down-like feathers covering the top of the wing and the neck.

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This week is at the Howard County Conservancy Camps is about flight and I’m going to bring this picture and the feathers for the campers to look at closely….flight feathers up close. It’s a great supplement to the rest of the activity I have planned.

Summer Camp Volunteering- Week 3

The theme for last week’s Howard Count Conservancy’s summer camps was ‘Water Wizards.’ The campers at both Mt. Pleasant and Belmont made terrific water themed Zentangles®! I started out the sessions by briefly talking about the water cycle…how water moves on our planet and in the atmosphere….honed for the 5-12 years old campers. I projected a simple diagram of the water cycle from the NASA website….and then used the same set up to enable the campers to see how I drew some water themed patterns on pale blue cardstock (using the camera on the iPad which was hooked to a projector).

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There were three groups at Mt. Pleasant. They all enjoyed frogs eggs and tadpoles, raindrops making ripples in a pond, mist….and clouds. The youngest group made rainbows! I used 4.5-inch squares for the youngest group (last of the group of 3 mosaics below); the other two used 3.5-inch squares.

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At Belmont, the session was on a hot afternoon and the campers appreciated the time to cool off inside. I took a picture of the room before the campers arrived – the cool and calm before a flurry of activity.

After a short discussion of the water cycle, the room was filled with very focused campers making Zentangle patterns. One of the counselors came in and commented about how quiet the room was. It wasn’t silent exactly…everyone was just busy. The first mosaic were made by the older group and are 3.5-inch squares…and some that finished early made mini-tiles on 2-inch squares. The younger group used the larger 4.5-inch tiles. Both groups enjoyed frog eggs and tadpoles, cattails (or seaweed), raindrops into a pond, and mist.

Each week I do Zentangles, there are a few campers from prior weeks that know the Zentangle basics…and others that are new. All are keen to learn some patterns and are tickled with the tiles they create. There’s always a crowd around the mosaic at the end.

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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Summer Camp Volunteering – week 2

The theme for last week’s Howard Count Conservancy’s summer camps was ‘Fantastic Beasts.’ I spent a morning at Mt. Pleasant and the next morning at Belmont. At Mt. Pleasant there were three groups of campers….45 minutes for each. I used the dinosaur and mammal track rock found at NASA Goddard (saw it back when I was in the HOLLIE program) to initiate the conversation about extinct animals and fossils. There were some fossil shells from Calvert Cliffs and some of the campers had been there to explore themselves. I had on my ammonite shaped earrings too.

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Then for some action: Two pans of water, a measuring tape and white board. A person put one foot into each pan (shoes on) and then stepped out and walked normally. The measurement team (usually two campers) measured heal print to heal print to determine the walking stride length. We measured the walking stride of the tallest and shortest in each group (and then everyone else because everyone wanted to know their stride length…or game it and take extra-long steps!). In the oldest group of campers, we measured the running stride (heel first and on toes). It was a great activity to further explore what information can be gleaned from tracks.

We transitioned into evidence of animals living today with some whelk shells and egg cases found on a beach. Some campers were surprised that the whelks were animals that still live in the ocean along the east coast of the US.

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One of the junior counselors had participated in a dinosaur dig in Montana…and shared some pictures for her adventure with the campers.

It was a busy 45 minutes!

At Belmont, there were two groups of campers making Zentangle® tiles. I introduced the session using the NASA Goddard rock, the welk shells and my ammonite earrings….and then showed them patterns for beasts. The first group (younger) made octopus/jelly fish and tracks. The second group experimented with an ammonite type pattern, tracks and shells. The theropod tracks were the most popular. Many made some big therapod tracks and then some small ones (moms with babies). A variation from one camper: a therapod track….then a blank area where the therapod flew….then more tracks. One camper made mammal tracks. Both groups enjoyed adding colors after they made their patterns with the black Sharpie ultrafine pens.

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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Deer Treat

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Earlier this week I trimmed our cherry and plum tree – one long and horizontal branch from the cherry and a lot of little branches from the red-leafed plum. Both were low and making it more difficult for my husband to mow underneath the trees. I took the cut branches to the back of our yard (the edge of the forest).

The morning after my pruning – I noticed a doe and her fawn feasting on the still green leaves of the cherry branch where I had left it near the forest. It must have seemed like quiet a treat to get tasty leaves that were previously too high for them to reach. I took some pictures through the window of my summer office. They enjoyed the leaves long enough for my husband to see them too. Before they left, the doe sampled the plum leaves too; those leaves must have not tasted as good as the cherry leaves since the duo continued their amble back into the forest.

Brookside Gardens – July 2019

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Even though the weather has been very hot this month, there are still plenty of flowers at Brookside Gardens that are weathering the heat.

The buttonbushes have all stages of flowers and seed formation now.

The green cones are forming on the bald cypress.

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The butterfly weed seed pods are bursting open even as the Monarch caterpillars are munching on their leaves. The common milkweed pods are still green.

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There are quite a few butterflies out in the gardens enjoying the flowers. The tiger swallowtails particularly enjoy the Joe Pye Weed. Last weekend I noticed more Monarch butterflies in the gardens. Maybe these are arriving from Mexico although it certainly is later than usual.

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I walk around the gardens before my shifts at the Wings of Fancy exhibit. There were only two this month because of the travel I did during the first half of the month. There are plenty of things to see like chipmunks and milkweed bugs.

I even found a feather on a leaf that I could get close enough for a macro shot.

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In the exhibit, the caterpillars are eating and growing. There was a Palamedes swallowtail caterpillar that had a ‘sun worshipper’ pose on a ‘excessive heat’ day.

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There are plenty of Monarch caterpillars of all sizes on butterfly weed in the caterpillar house as well.

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Inside the conservatory, I don’t have much time to take pictures of butterflies (lots of visitors) but I did manage a few. One day it was so hot that even the butterflies were desperate for water (on the floor) and not flying as much.

Ten Little Celebrations – July 2019

July 2019 was a busy month with two weeks of the months a way from home and volunteering. We’re in the thick of summer!

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4th of July. There is the holiday celebrated with fireworks and food and family early in the month. I was in Texas rather than at home.

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Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. It’s thrilling to see a heron that I don’t see all that often…a serendipity sighting during a hike to celebrate.

Easy drive through Arkansas. I celebrated that the road through Arkansas on my way back to Maryland from Texas was a lot better than I expected – good road, no construction, no accidents.

Marigolds. I savored the flowers available for cutting when I go to pick up my CSA share every week. Marigolds are among my favorites….but the sunflowers and amaranth and zinnas are good too.

Pittsburgh to Springfield MO in a day. It was a long drive with my husband and I caravanning. We both celebrated when we arrived – tired but otherwise unscathed.

At home again. After being away for 2 weeks (not concurrently) I had several days celebrating just being at home again.

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Prius Prime. I celebrated my car that has excellent range and is easy to drive. It still feels a little new and it’s 2.5 years old! These recent road trips have added quite a few miles.

Surviving a very hot Wings of Fancy shift. I celebrated that having something cold at each break (grapes, popsicle, Gatorade) and drinking lots of water enabled me to be fine at the end of the shift….and even relaxed in my air conditioned car on the way home.

Summer campers making butterfly Zentangles. Celebrating sharing an activity with campers….enjoying their creations as much as they did.

Toad under the oak tree. There is a toad that is making its home in the day lily forest under the oak tree. I celebrated that our yard is providing suitable habitat (there was a very small black rat snake there too…which I am choosing to celebrate too…but I didn’t take time to get a picture).

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Zooming – July 2019

I probably use the zoom on my camera for most of my pictures. It allows me to frame the picture the way I want and to ‘see’ the environment better than I can with just my eyes. Sometimes I am at the limit of what my camera can do. For example – the tiger swallowtails are particularly numerous in my back yard this summer and I kept seeing then flying under the maple tree where my compost pile is located. I used my camera like binoculars to see that the swallowtails were ‘puddling’ in the compost pile after a rain. They must have been enjoying the nutrient rich water!

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There was a smallish robin that fluttered down from the maple and sat in the grass – just looking around for a few minutes before returned to the tree. It didn’t look or find a worm! Probably a fledging.

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On the hottest day of the summer (so far), a wasp got a drink from our bird bath. Sometimes I find wasps that have drowned in the bird bath but so far it hasn’t happened this year. Maybe they are getting better as just getting the drink that they need.

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Now enjoy the slide show of other zoomed pictures from this month:

  • Plane tree

  • Fireworks

  • Pocket prairie plants

  • Yellow crowned night heron

  • Great egret

  • Female cardinal

  • Fawn

  • Goldfinch

Red-Bellied and Downy Woodpecker Juveniles

A week ago, I saw two juvenile woodpeckers come to the bird feeder handing on my deck.

At first, I saw an adult Red-bellied Woodpecker coming to the feeder, get seeds then fly back to the maple tree.

Soon it became obvious that there was a fledgling because it followed the adult bird to the deck. The fledgling got as far as the railing and then flew back to the maple without attempting to get seed from the feeder. A few days later, I heard the fledging again and it seemed to still be following the parent…with a little more skill.

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There was a juvenile Downy Woodpecker at the feeder on the same day as I saw the fledgling red-bellied woodpecker. It is a Downy rather than Hairy Woodpecker because it has black spots on the white outer tail feathers.

I had seen a juvenile downy woodpecker back on June 9th which must have been from an earlier brood. It had the same clumsy flight pattern as the one I saw on July 19th.

The woods behind our have been good places for the woodpeckers this summer!

Road Trips to Springfield, Missouri

I’ve now made 3 road trips from Maryland to Springfield, Missouri  (one in June and 2 in July) so I am getting familiar with the route. It’s a two-day trip which I prefer to do with one slightly longer day. On one of the trips to Springfield we drove from near Pittsburgh to Springfield in one day….and I won’t do that again. Springfield, Ohio is a good midway point that my daughter picked (she liked the idea of going from Springfield MO to Springfield OH); it is my preference too.

I’ve learned where there is hard driving (lots of curves and trucks going at high speed) and where the current construction is. Hopefully the construction will be mostly done by the next time I go and there might be a better route through the Alleghenies that we’ll try.

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There are two favorite rest stops along the way. One is close to Springfield and focused on Route 66 which makes a diagonal path through Missouri from St. Louis angled toward Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have a map on the floor of the rest top.

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2)The other rest stop was in Indiana and I like it for two reasons: 1) It has plants that remind me of my grandparents in Oklahoma back in the 60s. They grew ‘rubber trees’ indoors in the winter then put them out in the flower beds near the house in the summer…almost burying the pots…then trimmed them back and brought them indoors for the next winter. This rest stop has the plants in the center planter inside the rest stop!

The rest stop also had ‘pocket wetlands’ on two sides. The red-winged blackbirds were numerous, and I heard frogs as well. The sky was threatening (thunderstorm imminent) and we were pushing to get to the hotel before the storm, so I didn’t have time to investigate more. Maybe next time. ..