Jul 12

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Leaving Black HillsWe left the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota wishing we had been able to spend more time here.  It is a truly beautiful part of the country.  Going West, the next State was Wyoming and, due to time constraints and the fact that we had previously visited Yellowstone National Park, we decided to give the Park a miss and continue to Montana and Glacier National Park.  However, we had one stop in Wyoming on our way through … Devils Tower.   Our main reason for stopping here was that Bill had seen the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Richard Dreyfuss) in which the Tower was featured.  Priscilla was somewhat unimpressed with this, not having seen the movie, but agreed to extend our stay in the delightful town of Spearfish, South Dakota, and take a day’s drive to the Tower.  It turned out to be an excellent decision!

As we drew near the little town of Hulet, we saw the top of the tower suddenly appear on the horizon some 10 miles (16 km) away.  Growing ever larger we came face to face with the 1,267ft  (386 meters) pillar rising dramatically from the prairie.  It was quite a sight to see and, to add to the spectacle, a couple of bison and a few Texas Longhorn cattle grazed in a field as we approached — and posed for photographs!Texas Longhorn

Devils Tower holds the distinction of being the first U.S. National Monument to be established in September 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt.  The Visitor Center at the base of the monument provides excellent information, and National Park Rangers were giving talks the day we were there.  Topics ranged from the geological composition of the Tower to wildlife and the cultural history of the area.  We learned that some 400,000 people visit Devils Tower each year and wondered how many of them had seen the movie!  There are a couple of walks around the Tower, the easiest being a little over a mile.

Although views from outside the National Park are impressive, the best view is at the Visitor Center.  It is well worth the entry fee of $11 per person but for those of us who are over 60 and have a National Parks Senior Pass (which we bought several years ago for $10 for the two of us) there is no charge.  Sometimes it pays to be ‘old’!

Devils Tower is also famous for being one of the best traditional crack climbing areas in North America and, according to the National Parks Service website     Hundreds of parallel cracks divide Devils Tower into large hexagonal columns, making it one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. The longest of these continuous cracks are almost 400 feet long and vary significantly in width”.  We were interested to learn that some routes are closed annually to protect nesting falcons.

Devils TowerAs you have probably guessed, there is a legend attached to Devils Tower and it varies depending on the Native American tribe.  Wikipedia has this version:  According to the Indian tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota, some girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. (Those are the marks which appear today on the sides of Devils Tower.) When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the star constellation the Pleiades.”

Another version is that two Sioux boys wandered far from their village and a huge bear called Mato saw them and wanted to eat them.  When he was about to reach them, the boys prayed to the Creator, Wakan Tanka to help them and the rock they were standing on rose so high that the bear could not reach them.  When the bear left, Wanblee, the eagle, helped the boys off the rock and took them back to their village.  Regardless of which legend is true, as you look at Devils Tower it certainly seems as if a huge bear has gouged the rock!

Priscilla at Devils TowerAt the end of the day, Priscilla agreed that the trip was well worthwhile although watching the movie is not on her “To Do” list right now!

What great memories we have of our stay in South Dakota and our day trip into Wyoming!  Enjoy some more photos here :  https://goo.gl/hHOiZg

Jul 08

Crazy Horse – A Monument to Native American People

George Washington Profile

George Washington Profile

Just 17 miles from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument.  You can tour both sites in one day but we decided to do them on different days so we could have time to absorb the information and truly appreciate the grandeur of both carvings.

Carving in the backround

Carving in the backround

The initiator of what has turned out to be the World’s Largest Mountain Carving was Native American Lakota Chief Standing Bear who approached Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to come to the Black Hills and carve a mountain, saying “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also”.

Korczak accepted the invitation and started work on the mountain in 1948.  He married his wife, Ruth, in 1950 and they had ten children.   The monument became a family affair.  Korczak worked on the project until his death in 1982 when his wife and children took over the leadership.  They set up the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and put together plans and scale models of the sculpture.  To this day, not a penny of Federal money has been used for this massive project.

The carving is meant to be more a memorial of the spirit of Crazy Horse than a likeness.  His left hand is reaching out to suggest his answer to a mocking question by a white man Where are your lands now?”  He is said to have replied “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Native American Dancer

Native American Dancer

We understand there is some controversy among the Native American people as to the appropriateness of this carving.  Apparently the family members were not consulted about choosing Crazy Horse before the carving was started.  Also, the Black Hills are considered sacred by the Lakota people and many feel they were not meant to be carved into images.

Because the Crazy Horse carving is far from finished, we did not feel the same sense of awe as we did at Mt. Rushmore.  However, when complete it will be massive 563 ft (171.6 meters) high and 641 ft (195.4 meters) long and we are sure will be a remarkable spectacle.  It is unclear when it will be finished and since the project depends solely on entry fees and individual contributions, it definitely won’t be in our lifetime!

Iron Mountain Road and The Needles Highway

As we drove through the Black Hills it was easy to see why they are considered sacred.  The scenery is breath-taking and one of the best ways to take it all in is on the Iron Mountain Road  The road was engineered to showcase the best of the landscape as well as Mount Rushmore. Due to the numerous curves, switchbacks and pigtails, the maximum speed we could go was 35 miles an hour which is exactly the point!  Although we saw a couple of RV’s on the road, we were glad we had left Lexy behind and were driving Suzi the Saturn!

TUNNEL Open for suprise

TUNNEL – Open for suprise

There are three one-lane tunnels that frame the Mt. Rushmore monument.  We stopped at all three of them to look and photograph.  We were advised that if we didn’t see it in front of us, we should look back … and we did!  The 17 mile (27.4 Km) road on a normal drive would take about 45 minutes.  While we were there road repairs were in progress which slowed us down even more.  With windows rolled down, waiting for the Pilot car to take us through the repairs, we had time to appreciate the Ponderosa pines, the brilliant blue skies and the bubbling creeks.  This is Nature at its best!

The Needle

The Needle

On our way back from Crazy Horse to our RV Park we drove along 14 miles (22.5 Km) of the Needles Highway which, since it passes through Custer State Park, requires a $15 entry fee. This National Scenic Byway has tight curves, narrow tunnels and impressive granite spires which seem to reach to the skies!  The highlight is the Eye of the Needle, a popular spot for rock climbers. Spectacular vistas appeared round every curve and we took advantage of the many stops along the way for more photographs!  We just couldn’t get enough of it and could easily have spent several more days exploring the area but it was time to continue our westward journey.

American Bison

Where the Antelope Play

Jun 29

The Black Hills

Mount Rushmore

IMG_5466

Mt Rushmore

In 1930 Sculptor, Gutzon Borglum said “… let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were.  Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away

A short distance west of the Badlands is the Mount Rushmore National Monument.  We spent nearly 5 hours at this National icon and took hundreds of photos from all different angles.  Of course, we had to do a Selfie and some much younger people were quite impressed, asking us where we bought it, etc. … not bad for a couple of ‘old’ folks!  It was a beautiful sunny, cool day with the clouds passing overhead changing the faces of the four Presidents every few minutes.

Throughout our trip we have been so impressed with the National Parks Service.  The sites are spotlessly clean, beautifully maintained and the Rangers are knowledgeable and ready to share their knowledge with anyone who is interested.

Here are some of the facts we found interesting:

The intent of the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was to create a monument that celebrated American achievement.  He believed that the four Presidents would be a lasting symbol of the United States and its principles of democracy and freedom.

     Birth (First President of the Nation)George Washington

     Expansion (the Louisiana Purchase) – Thomas Jefferson

     Preservation (saving the Union during the Civil War) – Abraham Lincoln

     Development (Conservation and the Panama Canal) – Theodore Roosevelt

Started in 1927, it took 14 years to complete the memorial.  Borglum’s son, Lincoln, declared it complete in 1941 following his father’s death, even though there still remained work to be done.  It is unfinished to this day.

IMG_1164

Gutzon Borglum

Borglum and 400 workers created this masterpiece at a cost of $989,992.32.  No one died while working on the mountain despite the fact that they used primitive equipment.

Workers walked 750 steps up the mountain each day, carrying their tools, to start work at 7:30am!  If they were late, Borglum fired them.  This was not an easy job!

90% of the carving was done with dynamite which removed the stone within six inches of the finished surfaces.  The final touches were done with Jackhammers and a process called ‘honeycombing’.  Finally, smaller hand-held pneumatic hammers created the smooth finish.

Each face is 60 ft. tall (18 meters), each eye is 11 ft. wide (3.35 meters), Washington’s nose is 21ft long (7.62 meters), all others are 20 ft. long (6 meters), Washington’s mouth is 18 ft. wide (5.5 meters).

Thomas Jefferson was originally carved to the left of George Washington however, after 18 months, it was decided the rock was too soft so the face was dynamited and placed on the right side of Washington.

State Flags

State Flag Walk

There are many ways to enjoy this Memorial.  We started with the introductory film about the creation of the monument shown in the Theatre in the Visitors Center.  Walking through the Avenue of Flags flying the flags of the states, districts, commonwealths and territories of the U.S., we stood on the Grand View Terrace trying to take in the enormity of the task that Borglum accomplished.  Before walking the Presidential Trail to the highest point below the carving, we spent time at the Artist’s studio where a National Parks Ranger gave a very interesting talk showing the equipment used to create this lasting Memorial.

We walked the Presidential Trail to the highest point … around 4,500 ft.  The closer you get, the more impressive it is.  Before we knew it, it was 3:00pm and we decided to drive the short distance to the little town of Keystone and have lunch.  The “Grizzly Creek” Restaurant proved to be the place for us.  We sat outside, listening to the creek flowing by, watched chipmunks scurrying around, enjoyed a craft beer and a delicious meal then headed back to our campground for a relaxing evening.  This is what our travel adventure is all about … taking the time to experience the sites and yet relaxing in small towns.

Tunnel to Monument

One of many Tunnels

If you enjoy scenic wilderness, you’ll love The Black Hills!    It’s a camper’s and hiker’s paradise filled with nature trails, sparkling creeks and wildlife.  The hills are covered mostly with Ponderosa pine forest which, like many Western States, is being affected by the pine beetle.   Once infested, the tree will slowly die.  As you look across the forest you’ll see red trees.  This is an indication that the trees have been attacked by the pine beetle and are dying. The National Parks Service is working hard to protect old growth forest by treating with a protective spray and also thinning the forest in an attempt to return the forest to a more sustainable condition.

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Crazy Horse

There are many things to do in the Black Hills but time constraints have limited us to the two most important Memorials – Mount Rushmore and The World’s Largest Mountain Carving now in progress  – Crazy Horse.  We’ll make our way there via two scenic roads (not for RV’s so we’ll drive Suzi!) Iron Mountain Road and The Needles Highway.

Jun 20

We’re Out West!

Those of you who are on Bill’s Face Book  know that we are in South Dakota right now … even though the last Blog we wrote was about part of our stay in Washington DC back in April!  Oh dear …. time surely has gotten away from us, hasn’t it?

Since then our days have been filled with sightseeing (and car shows!) in Pennsylvania, sightseeing and spending time with family in Michigan as well as Wisconsin, a side trip to Pender, a small town in Nebraska, to have our tow bar serviced.  While there we had a very interesting tour of the Blue Ox factory that makes the tow bar for recreational vehicles as well as commercial, agricultural and defense equipment.  And now here we are in South Dakota.  From time to time we’ll go back and bring you up to date on the highlights earlier in our trip.

Oh, by the way, since leaving St. Augustine, we’ve driven over 3,700 miles (5,954.57 kilometers).  Actually, let’s correct that …. Bill has driven the Coach 700 miles and, of course, he drives our tow car on the sightseeing trips, too!  So what has Priscilla been doing all this time?  Well … thanks to the GPS … not much! But we make a good team and so far are getting along quite well!

Corn PalaceAs we traveled to our next destination – The Badlands – we unfortunately had to miss “The World’s Only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, South Dakota!  By all accounts it is quite an amazing site.  Every year a committee selects the theme, an artist then designs the huge murals for the sides of the building.  Selected farmers plant corn of various colors to be used for the murals.  These murals are changed each year and workers use a template to create the finished product.  Apparently, some 500,000 people come each year to admire this work of art.  Sounds corny?  It’s one of the many quirky sites you find as you travel across this country.  Absolutely A-Maize-ing!

A-Maize-in

The Badlands National Park

BadlandsAs mentioned, our destination was The Badlands National Park and, since we have a National Parks Senior Pass, we were able to enter the Park without paying an entry fee.  As we approached the first overlook we were driving through the flat mixed grass prairie and had no idea what was ahead.  We stopped at the first overlook – Big Badlands Overlook – and as soon as we got out of the RV we were faced with the most amazing sight!  In fact – we were speechless … and very emotional.

Spread in front of us was a panorama of peaks, buttes and valleys painted in a myriad of colors that seemed to change in the sunlight and the shadows thrown by clouds.  This is just part of the Wall which extends for about sixty miles (96.5 kilometers) across the South Dakota plains.  Words really don’t do justice to the magnificence of the Badlands.  You just have to see it!  At times we felt we were on another planet – Mars, perhaps!  After standing there in awe for a while, we drove to our campground a few miles away and sat outside looking at a beautiful view of the Wall!  WOW!  We couldn’t wait for tomorrow to explore the other faces of the Badlands.

At the Visitor Center the next day we watched an informative 20 minute presentation about the Badlands and then drove the Loop Road.   We stopped at most of the many Outlooks, enjoying the different aspects of the landscape and having a picnic lunch at one of them. During our lunch break Bill saw the outline of a longhorn sheep standing atop a peak on the other side of a valley miles away!  He just stood there as if posing!  Further on we came across more longhorn sheep, the older ones looking pretty ratty while shedding their thick winter coats!  Watching them skipping across sheer cliffs makes one hold one’s breath in case they fall.  But, sure-footed as they are, they make it look easy.  We noticed that some of the sheep had collars which indicated that the Park Service was monitoring them.

Longhorn SheepErosion has caused this incredible landscape and it continues to erode 1 inch (3 centimeters) a year.  The biodiversity of this park is quite remarkable. The large mixed-grass prairie gives life to bison, prairie dogs, antelope and the black footed ferret among others, while the ragged cliffs of the Wall are home to longhorn sheep.  Many of these animals were reintroduced by the Park Service.  The Badlands is also a treasure trove of fossils which scientists continue to excavate and study today.  At the Visitor Center Paleontological Lab we watched paleontologists at work while they carefully worked on fossils.  They answered questions and helped us understand the scientific discoveries still being made.

Campgrounds ViewBack at our campground outside Interior – a town of 67 people! – we spent time trying to absorb everything we’d seen before getting ready for our short trip to The Black Hills the next day.

Jun 07

Our Exploration of America continues!

Appomattox, Virginia

IMG_0558When we started planning our trip we learned that a Reenactment would be taking place to mark the 150th Anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9 at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia, and we knew we had to be there, even though we are not die-hard Civil War fans!  This event effectively ended the Civil War, although other battles continued for several months.

The National Park Service was responsible for the entire Event and they did a fantastic job.  Throughout the event there were talks by civil war experts, demonstrations of the Stacking of Arms, Confederate and Union Artillery … and much more.  We found out later that more than 6,000 people (even some from overseas!) attended over the course of five days and we are sure there were at least 2,000 on April 9th when we were there to witness the Surrender of General Lee at the McLean House.

IMG_4011The morning was cold and foggy when we arrived … the exact conditions that the troops encountered 150 years ago!  We watched – and heard – as the Union and Confederate troops exchanged mortar fire, the smell of gunpowder and clouds of smoke billowing into the air.  As we walked through the Village, we saw the Union Army encampments, troops sleeping in make-shift tents, fires smoldering in the rain. Even some of the visitors were dressed in period clothes.  It was easy to lose yourself in the moment and time.

IMG_0559Every activity took place at exactly the same time as it did 150 years ago! The surrender meeting was from 1:30pm – 3:00pm at the McLean House.   It would normally have taken place at the Courthouse, however, this day 150 years ago was Palm Sunday and the Court House was closed.  Wilmer McLean offered his home for the meeting.  We saw Lee and Grant arrive and enter the house.  Then at 3:00pm, the surrender terms agreed upon, Lee mounted his horse and rode south to his encampment to the mournful sound of Auld Lang Syne.   We spectators stood in complete silence watching him ride away, aware of the magnitude of the moment.  We’ll never forget it.  This   is a great link for more information.

The cost of human life over the four years was unbelievable.  More people died in the American Civil War than the two World Wars combined…. 620,000 people…. often brothers against brothers.  But at last the country could start to heal and become “one nation” again.

Washington DC, the nation’s capital

IMG_4204Once again, our timing was Perfect!  We arrived at the peak of the Cherry blossoms and, based on our travel background, decided to buy a “hop-on-hop-off” Trolley ticket for at least the first day.  This would give us a feel for how we wanted to spend the remaining three days.  It was a bright sunny day and the sides of the trolley were open for us to get the best views of the city.  Our driver, who called himself “The Professor” did an excellent job of giving an explanation of the buildings and history of the monuments we passed.

The highlight of the day was driving around the Tidal Basin and seeing the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom.  What an amazing sight! Before we left, four days later, the peak was already over and many of the petals were on the ground. It’s well known that the Cherry trees were a gift from Japan and we learned that the first 2,000 trees were found to be infested with insects and nematodes and had to be destroyed.  A further donation of over 3,000 trees followed and were planted in 1912.  It‘s an interesting story

IMG_4274We decided to have Chinese food for lunch and asked “The Professor” for a recommendation.  He promptly replied “the Wok & Roll” in Chinatown!  He explained that this restaurant was located in a building that had at one time been a boarding house operated by Mary Surratt and that John Wilkes Boothe was staying there when planning the assassination of President Lincoln.  The food was good although a little pricey but there is something about having lunch in such an historic building!

Before heading home, we stopped at the National Portrait Gallery and enjoyed the impressive “America’s Presidents” collection.  We would have liked to explore more of the galleries but it had been a long day with quite a lot of walking.  We needed to conserve our energy for the next day and at our age we need to pace ourselves!

May 28

Our 2015 RV Travels – Part 1

Lexi and Suzi

We’ve been “on the road” now for almost two months and are currently in northern Michigan, heading for Wisconsin and points west.  Accompanying us on our trip are Lexi and Suzi!  Lexi is our trusty 30 foot B+ Lexington Coach (also known as a caravan to non-Americans) and Suzi, our Saturn Vue tow car (also known in RV circles as a “toad”!)  We’ll keep you up to date occasionally with highlights like this and provide links for those who want more information.

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island Hotel

Jekyll Island Hotel

We spent part of Easter weekend in Jekyll Island, Georgia, which was once the elite winter playground for the rich and famous such as the Rockefellers, Morgans and Pulitzers.  The Jekyll Island Club is the centerpiece of the Historic District and we were particularly interested in one of the private meeting rooms where a secret meeting took place in 1910 to establish the Federal Reserve.  Far from being a “Federal” enterprise, it was established by a few wealthy families in New York with the ultimate aim to protect their financial interests.

IMG_3917It is a fascinating story – and quite an eye-opener – and is available in print and audio at Amazon and  www.realityzone.com.

IMG_3938Our day ended with a visit to Driftwood Beach, where a ghostly forest of huge dead trees and driftwood creates a wild, beautiful yet surreal sight.  A great photo op!

Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Front of Monticello

Front of Monticello

Heading further north, our next stop was Monticello,   Thomas Jefferson’s home near Charlottesville, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson is known as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom.  He was the third President of the United States and the Founder of the University of Virginia.

We started at the Visitor Center and watched an informative film about the life and times of Jefferson.  He was a very accomplished and well-traveled man.  Thanks to his time living in Paris, it is believed he introduced the following delicacies to America:  Ice Cream, Macaroni and Cheese, French Fries and Waffles!

It is interesting to note that despite the fact Jefferson included the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he believed that black people were biologically inferior to whites and felt the two races could not live peacefully together in freedom.  He owned about 200 slaves during his lifetime and only freed a small number in his Will.

IMG_3963Bill loves to know “how things are made” and was in his element at an Exhibit showcasing how Monticello was built.  Completely self-taught, Jefferson’s knowledge of architecture and construction was amazing.  He designed and built every detail of the house and garden starting at age 26, and continued to redesign and rebuild for 40 years.

We visited on a cool but sunny spring day.  The guided tour of the house was pretty fast paced but we were able to appreciate the décor as well as the special innovations that Jefferson incorporated, such as the double pane windows and an ice house filled with blocks of ice in the winter for use in the summer.  His enquiring mind resulted in redesigning and changing many inventions of the day.  We saw the first copying machine… a device with two pens.  When Jefferson wrote with one, the other pen made a copy!    In the dining room there was a special dumbwaiter to bring wine directly from the cellar as well as a revolving cupboard where the food was brought up from the kitchen and rotated so the butler could place the platters on the sideboard.

Monticello LibraryBeing an avid reader, Jefferson kept his library of 6,700 books in a room in his private apartment.  In 1815 he sold his library to the country to pay debts that he had acquired.  This became the basis of the present Library of Congress, the original one having been destroyed by the British in the War of 1812.

A walk around the grounds and the fruit and vegetable garden led us to the Graveyard where Jefferson and other members of the family are buried.

By this time we were ready for a break and headed into town for a beer and lunch at South Street Brewery, Charlottesville’s longest running brewery and pub.  We were not disappointed!

Monticello

Jeffersons Monticello

Next time you pay for something with a nickel, take look at Monticello on the back of the coin!

May 01

NEW TRAVELS WITH RUBY

2015

Lexi and Suzi

Mar 04

There and Back!

Dateline Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

The blog below was written as we left Arizona on our way East to Florida.  We expected smooth driving and warming temperatures, however, today Monday March 4, we are iced in at Poche’s Fish-N-Camp RV Resort in Breaux Bridge, waiting for the ice to melt so we can continue to New Orleans!

Ice on the RVInterstate 10, the major Highway East, was closed this morning between where we are and Baton Rouge due to ice .  This morning our Toyota 4Runner and RV Trailer were covered in ice, the grass crunched underfoot, the picnic tables had icicles hanging from them and the trees where white.  This is a typical Southern USA ice storm and we are not too keen to move on until the temperatures rise above freezing and we can safely travel!

We arrived in the Hill Country last week too early for the bluebonnets.  It was cold and raining at Luckenbach so we had our ‘long neck’ while sitting in front of a heater in the bar. But the time we spent with friends in Sealy, Texas, made up for it all.  The weather cleared enough for us to enjoy a full day being chauffeured around the beautiful countryside and unique towns surrounding Sealy.  We stopped for lunch at Round Top’s famous restaurant, Royer'sRoyers, known for their amazing pies.  Our main course was so good – and big – that we didn’t have room to sample a pie!  You could spend a month in the restaurant just looking at the walls which are covered with photos, letters, posters …. you name it!  It’s a local hang-out as well as a must stop for visitors!  The town hosts music festivals, antique and art shows which attract people from near and far.  Round Top is the kind of place one can so easily miss unless a ‘local’ introduces you to its many charms.

With that little update, here is the blog as written when leaving Phoenix:

After almost eight months on the road our compass is now set towards the East!  When we started on our RV Trailer journey from Florida in June 2013 we had no idea where “There” would be … but we did know where “Back” would be!

“There” turned out to be the Phoenix Metropolitan area in Arizona where we spent three months as “Winter Visitors” enjoying somewhat balmy weather (the Canadians loved it!) The Valley is a vast area of 16,573 sq. miles (37,744 sq. km) with a permanent population of over  4 million people (according to a 2010 survey) that swells by some 45,000 when the “Winter Visitors” start to arrive in November and stay until the end of April and into May.   Statistics for the 2012/2013 season show gross sales of $24.6 Billion for lodging, restaurants, retail and amusements, so you can see why  the State loves its “Winter Visitors”!

P1110989Our three months there were memorable for many reasons. Bill was able to spend quality time with a friend of his from the early years in Michigan.  They are both car nuts and the two guys spent time talking about “the good old days”, working on restoring two 1962 Plymouths and a 1956 Thunderbird as well as showcasing his friend’s beautiful 1937 Ford at local car shows.  The relationship became a little more competitive when they raced at the Go Kart Race Track and “Billy Bob” finished with a better score!  Bill and his friend convinced two couples from Michigan (more car nuts!) to spend a week in the Phoenix area.  More car shows for the boys, a spa day and relaxing around the pool for the girls and much laughter reliving the old times!  We were sad to see them go and they were not looking forward to going back to frigid temperatures after a week in the warmth of the southwest.

Priscilla reconnected with a long-time girlfriend now living in Scottsdale and enjoyed time reminiscing about ‘the good old days in Dallas’ and enjoying Thai and Indian meals together!

 The best way to explore an area is to have ‘native speaking’ guides!  We were lucky our friends had lived there for over 30 years and know the area intimately. They gave us guided tours of several sites and recommended many others.  Because of this we were able to get an insider’s feel for the area.   What a gift!  The only problem was that we were so busy we didn’t  find the time to blog about our experiences.

We also met some great people at the RV Resort who made sure we felt welcome the moment we arrived.  The Countryside RVmajority of the residents spend 4 to 6 months each year at the Resort, returning to their homes ‘up north’ for the summer months.  Some drive their RVs and park onsite, while others settle into a Park Model that they own or rent.  Most of the people we met were from Western Canada and the Western US States.  We were the only people from Florida and got used to fielding the question: “Florida?  What are you doing here?!” Our answer was always:  “We took a wrong turn!”

Three months sounds like a long time for us to stay in one place but all too soon we were saying our “Goodbyes” to old and new friends.  To be honest, we both felt emotionally drained as we drove away and yet we knew that over the horizon lay another adventure for us.  We just had to make it to the first stop, Benson, Arizona, some 160 miles down the road!  But that will wait for another time. We will return to Arizona in future blogs to share our experiences there … some of them high on our “favorite places” list!

usa-interstate10-map

For now, we want you to know we are headed back to Florida and our route will take us along I-10 for the most part.  We’ll make a brief trip across the border to Mexico and then spend a week (or more!) crossing the great State of Texas!  Although not on the National Register, our goal is to stop at Luckenbach to enjoy a long neck under the tree and listen to some good ole country and western music!  Of course, this all depends on the weather, which has not been South-friendly this winter!  We’ll visit  friends in Sealy, Texas, just West of Houston, and we hope the blue bonnets will be out in the Hill Country.

cafe du monde

We can’t drive past New Orleans without stopping for a Café au Lait and Beignets at the Café du Monde  plus enjoying some excellent gumbo, Étouffée and, of course, Jazz on Bourbon Street!  So a couple of days there is on the cards.  After that we figure we should check out Florida’s State Capitol, Tallahassee, and maybe see if any of our elected officials are actually working!  Who knows … we may be surprised?!

Once we are back in Florida we’ll share some memories of our trip as we “Look through our Rear View Mirror”.   What an amazing nine months it has been!  Everywhere we went we encountered another unforgettable experience, met interesting people, learned about different lifestyles and we realize that if we traveled this great country for the next ten years we’d still be learning and appreciating.

So what’s next for us once we get Back?  Even we don’t know!  But we do know that something will present itself and we’ll be off exploring new territories and pushing ourselves to do more and learn more about this country and the world around us.  So stay tuned!

Dec 03

Oklahoma – Oil and Art

Have you ever wondered why the State of Oklahoma is known as the “Sooner” State?   To be honest, we hadn’t given it much thought but the answer is quite interesting!

On April 22, 1889, the first day homesteading was permitted, 50,000 people swarmed into the area. Those who tried to beat the noon starting gun were called “Sooners” hence the state’s nickname.  According to the Oklahoma Historical Society  The Homestead Act of 1862 and later homestead legislation provided the mechanism for transferring federal land to private ownership. The act was applied in Oklahoma after 1889. A popular movement for distributing free land in the West had begun in the 1850s and resulted in the passage of the Homestead Act in May 1862. According to statute, a citizen over twenty-one years of age and head of a family could claim up to 160 acres of surveyed, unclaimed public domain. Title to the land could be established after the homesteader resided on the land for five years, made certain improvements, and paid claim registration fees. So, now you know!

As we moved westward across Oklahoma, we passed the Nut House (where we stopped to buy some delicious fudge!) and the Blue Whale, once part of a well-attended swimming hole (both recommended stops for Route 66ers!).  A few miles further on, we passed the Port of Catoosa, billed as the furthest inland river/sea port in the United States.  From here, even today, products from the American heartland can start their journey to the rest of the world.  Before following Route 66 through Tulsa, the second largest city in Oklahoma, we spent time at the Gilcrease Museum, named for William Thomas Gilcrease .

Gilcrease Museum (link)

We’ve called this Blog “Oil and Art” for a reason.  According to Wikipedia  “Oil in Oklahoma was first discovered, by accident, in 1859, near Salina in the U.S. state of Oklahoma in a well that had been drilled for salt. For the decade before Oklahoma became a state, in 1907, Oklahoma was the largest oil producer in the world.”

William Thomas Gilcrease was one of those who benefited from this abundance of oil.  “At age nine, Gilcrease’s 1/8 Creek heritage entitled him to receive 160 acres (650,000 m²) located about twenty miles (32 km) southwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1905, drillers struck oil in the area. His land, sitting astride the huge Glenn Pool Reserve, made Gilcrease a multi-millionaire by the time he was twenty.”

Gilcrease was not the only person blessed with this abundance of oil.  As we traveled across the state it was obvious that Oklahoma has benefited from the generosity of the ‘oil barons’ who have shared, and continue to share, their wealth in the form of philanthropic ventures, museums and more.

The Gilcrease Museum claims to have the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West.  Indeed, its galleries are filled with one masterpiece after another.  We spent over two hours without even venturing into the basement to explore the artifact archives, which we understand are extensive.

We started our tour by watching a video presentation on the origins of the museum and learned that William Thomas Gilcrease, twice married, twice divorced and father of two sons and a daughter, was an avid traveler.  His trips to Europe inspired him to start his own art collection and a friend advised him to collect American Western Art rather than paying the high prices demanded for European art works.  His collection grew over the years and it was his purchase of Dr. Philip G. Cole’s western art collection in 1944 that brought him over 600 works of art, including works by Remington and Russell, as well as photographs, books, etc.  We understand that today the Museum collection consists of over 10,000 works of art, not to mention rare books and documents including the only surviving certified Declaration of Independence!

Unfortunately, in the 1950’s Gilcrease ran into financial difficulties due to the declining price of oil and he found himself unable to meet payments on his debt.  He was forced to offer his collection for sale and, in fact, Amon Carter from Texas tried to buy a part of the collection.  Gilcrease refused and the city of Tulsa took the necessary steps to ensure that the collection remained in the city. Thomas Gilcrease died in May 1962 but his legacy continues.  And what a legacy it is!

And now to something completely different!  (Any Monty Python fans out there?!)

Having overloaded our brains with Western American Art and bought a beautiful Dream Catcher in the gift shop (that now hangs in our RV) we decided to head downtown and drive part of the original Route 66.  At almost 2pm we drove past Lola’s Caravan – a neat Airstream converted to a Food Truck!  Flowers adorned the outside of the Airstream and there was welcoming street-side seating.  Although it was late we decided to turn around and see if they were still serving lunch.  We were in luck!  Lola and her daughter prepare delicious food from their commercial kitchen at this location as well as other venues including private functions.  We enjoyed a mixed green salad and a ‘Gypsy Caravan Taco’. It’s great to see a couple of entrepreneurs using their talents (and hard work) to bring good food to so many people. We need to Like Lola’s FB page!P1080624

What could be better than a day filled with Food for the Mind and Food for the Body and sharing it with someone you care for?

We’ve got more about the state of Oklahoma to share with you at a later date.  For now we’re headed to Texas “A whole nuther country!”

Photos:  http://goo.gl/UM6ymN

 

Nov 23

Oklahoma: Land of Cowboys, Native Americans, Oil and … Will Rogers

I think we can be forgiven for deciding to leave Missouri as soon as possible after our experience in St. Louis. We know we missed some important Route 66 attractions but time was slipping by and we needed to pick up the pace a little.

OK map

Heading for Oklahoma, we stopped for one night at an RV Park in Phillipsburg, Missouri, some 174 miles (280 km) from St. Louis.  We didn’t need “full service” but were guided to our site to hook up to water and power.  We feel that every RV Park should offer this extra service.  It gives one a warm-fuzzy feeling for a Park owner or staff member to make sure that you are in the right site and lined up correctly to the utilities. Having been in a service Industry (travel) for a long time, we know that little extras like this make all the difference!

Next morning we met our next door RVers who were also traveling Route 66.  This was the third time they had traveled parts of the Mother Road and were gracious enough to share their experiences and recommendations with us.  In fact, they showed us the book they use to guide them to the best attractions – EZ66 Guide For Travelers   and, in the course of our conversation, they said they had an older edition which they gave us!  These are the kinds of people you meet along the way when you travel … particularly in an RV!  With the combination of the eBook we had with us, our new EZ66 Guide (and, of course, Google) we couldn’t go wrong!  Thank you, Robert and Janet and Happy Trails to you both!

Oklahoma

rte 66 OKRoute 66 runs for around 400 miles through Oklahoma which is interesting because if you look at a map, and draw a line between Chicago and Los Angeles, you’ll notice that it bypasses Oklahoma completely!  The person responsible for making sure that Oklahoma featured prominently on Route 66 was Cyrus Avery who, back in the 1920s, worked long and hard to ensure that his State would not only benefit from the dollars spent by the many travelers using the road, but it would also place the State on the map.  Avery was anxious to change the perceptions about Oklahoma which had only achieved statehood in 1907.  Prior to that time it was simply known as “Indian Territory”, home to the tribes that had been relocated here by the Trail of Tears. He also had an ulterior motive – to promote his own businesses to the travelers!

According to America on the Move  “Cyrus Avery, a businessman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is credited with creating the identity of Route 66. Avery saw the need for better roads through his state, and as chairman of the state highway commission, he helped plan the national system of numbered highways. His proposal for a highway from Chicago to Los Angeles along a southwestern route was approved and designated U.S. 66 in 1926. Avery founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association and coined the route’s nickname, “Main Street of America.”

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Oklahoma”?  Since it’s the gateway to the “Great American West”, we think Native Americans (there are 39 different tribal nations in Oklahoma) and Cowboys (we’re not sure how many … but we saw lots!) and, of course, Oil (derricks all over the place – even next door to our Oklahoma City RV Park!)  During our visit we learned that Oklahoma is the 20th largest and the 28th most populous of the 50 states and its name comes from the Choctaw Indian words “okla” and “humma” which means “red people”.  We knew we’d have a great opportunity to explore the State by following Route 66.

We parked our trailer in Claremore, some 15 miles east of Tulsa and ended up spending a week there!  The RV Park was a State operated park located on the grounds of the Exposition Center.  This was the first time we had stayed in a State RV Park and we soon realized that, apart from having no Wi-Fi, it was a great place to be.  We hit it off with the camp hosts immediately and ended up parked in the site next to them.  The restrooms were OK (not the best showers) but everything was clean.  When we were not sightseeing we drove to the modern and well equipped Library and used their Wi-Fi to access the Internet.

Concret Totem PoleOne of the Route 66 attractions that caught our eye was Totem Pole Park in the small town of Foyil, a short drive from Claremore.  Thanks to Bill’s research we realized that our dates coincided with the annual Fund Raising BBQ at the Park so we set off to enjoy the event.  The Totem Pole Park was the creation of Ted Gallloway who spent eleven years (from 1937-1948) building and painting concrete Totem Poles as a tribute to the American Indian.  The centerpiece Totem Pole rises to a height of 90ft (27.4m) and features 200 carved pictures, with four 9 foot Indians near the top, each one representing a different tribe.  Not only did he create the concrete totem poles, he was also a talented wood carver.  The gift shop, located in the eleven-sided Fiddle House, contains hundreds of fiddles carved by Ted Galloway.  Also on display is some beautiful furniture he and his students made. The lady at the gift shop was happy to share details of his life with us

New Friends at the BBQWe were enjoying our excellent BBQ meal sitting in the sun at a picnic bench when suddenly we were joined by three couples from the area who had realized we were visitors and wanted to make us feel welcome.  Our lively conversation with them included anecdotes of their lives in Oklahoma, their travels and RV experiences.  It was obvious that they were proud Oklahomans and we learned a lot from them.  One of their recommendations was that we drive to the nearby town of Chelsea to see an original Sears Roebuck pre-cut house which was purchased in Chicago in 1913 for $16 and delivered by rail!  It is now on the market for $150,000. How times have changed!

Will RogersWhen we booked our RV site in Claremore we had no idea that this was home to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. To be honest, we didn’t know much about Will Rogers, except for a few of his sayings, probably the most famous being “I never met a man I didn’t like”.  (Sounds like Bill, doesn’t it?!) Another very appropriate quote that we like is “With Congress, every time they make a joke, it’s a law.  Every time they make a law, it’s a joke.”  Sounds as if Congress hasn’t changed much since his day!

According to Wikipedia  William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers was an American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor. He was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s.

What do you know about Will Rogers?

Where was Will Rogers born?

What was his early stage name?

How many movies did he make?

How and where did he die?

What’s your favorite Will Rogers’ saying?

We learned answers to these questions – and much more – during our visit to this excellent Museum.  We started by watching two short documentaries about Will’s life, one of which was narrated by Bob Hope.  These set the stage for the rest of the exhibits – twelve galleries filled with mementoes of his life, his personal collections of art and saddles, his humor and his talent.  What an interesting life he lived! Everywhere we went after that we came across his name on street signs, roads Will Rogers Rte 66(Route 66 is also called Will Rogers Highway in Oklahoma), buildings – you name it. He certainly left his mark on Oklahoma and, indeed, across America!

What a great start to our exploration of Oklahoma!   Now on to our next stops – Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

 

Photos:

Worlds Largest Totem Pole:

Rte 66 Missouri to Claremore:

Will Rogers Museum:

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