Sunday, October 30, 2011


After a few days in Dallas and since we couldn’t get tickets to the World Series we decided to head south to the beach? Having never been to Padre Island we wanted to see it. We planned to stay at the National Seashore campground and talk long walks on the secluded beach. We got an early start for the 425 drive. We were a little concerned about getting a spot in the campground because there have been lots of snowbirds heading south.

After passing through Corpus Christi, we crossed the causeway onto the island. I thought it was somewhat strange that there wasn’t any traffic, nor did we see anyone in an RV. As we drove the approach road to the entrance to the National Seashore, a distance of about 8 miles, we saw no other cars. Very strange. When we pulled up to the entrance station the ranger on duty opened the window as I handed him my senior pass. As I held it out for him to see he asked in a sort of condescending voice, “What to you have there?” I told him it was my senior pass and we were hoping that there was still some room in the campground. “Are you sure you want to go there?” he asked with raised eyebrows. I said, “We haven't driven 425 miles in hopes of finding mountains.” He then said that we could have the whole campground to ourselves as there was no one there. He explained that there was a red tide. “I guess we can’t go swimming then?’’ About this time in our conversation I noticed that my eyes were burning and I could feel a tingling on my tongue. Then I started coughing. He responded by telling us all about Red Tide.

Red tide here in Texas causes all kinds of things to happen. Coughing, burning in the eyes, tingling of the tongue and the inside of the mouth, and if you make skin contact with the tide, rash. The ranger said we were welcome to stay if we wanted to experience all these things but suggested it was best if we went inland or perhaps to Galveston. We ended up in an RV park in town not anywhere near the beach.

While in Corpus Christi I toured the USS Lexington, a World War II aircraft carrier. Smaller than the USS Midway in San Diego where I volunteer, but much the same. The Lexington has more displays, but they don’t have an audio guide like the Midway. Lots of information about different sea battles in WWII with lots of artifacts.

Well, since we couldn’t go to the beach, we headed north to San Antonio. We stopped for lunch at Texas Pride BBQ another place featured on Triple “D”. I heard tell that Texas is famous for its brisket and smoked meats so we just had to find out for ourselves.  Located in an old 1040's gas station, it is truly out in the middle of no where.  You wait your turn at the counter and when it’s your turn and place your order, the meat is sliced off the brisket or the ribs off the rack and wrapped in butcher paper. It is then place in a plastic soda bottle case along with the sides you ordered. You then carry your purchase to the dining room filled with picnic tables where you unwrap your food and eat it right off the butcher paper. We topped it all off with peach cobbler that was really good. The BBQ wasn’t too bad either.

We stayed outside of San Antonio Canyon Lake. Another very nice campground operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. This area is what they call “Hill Country”. It’s very dry due to the past summers heat and drought causing an extreme fire hazard. They won’t even let you use a gas BBQ or camp strove in the campground.


On our first full day here, we headed into the city and went to the The Alamo and the River Walk. Everyone knows something about the Alamo and those who died there. Today it is considered a shrine to those who died there. Only a small part of the original buildings exist today. The assault by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army in 1836 is the most important part of the Alamo’s history, but its history goes back much further. In 1724, construction of the Alamo began. Originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly seventy years. In the early 1800’s the Spanish military stationed a cavalry unit at the Alamo. The first hospital in Texas was established in the Alamo. In December 1835 the Alamo was attacked by Texan Revolutionaries and taken from the Mexican Army.

On March 6, 1836 Santa Anna began his assault before daybreak. Cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Regrouping, the Mexicans scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Once inside, they turned captured cannon on the barracks and church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The fighting continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo.

San Antonio is also famous from its river walk along the San Antonio River. Below the street level in the downtown, its banks are lined with restaurants and shops. Walkways on both sides of the river allow you stroll along the shaded path or if you prefer you can take the water taxi. Really beautiful in the daytime, must be something at night with all the trees lit up.

Since we were in Hill Country we paid a visit to the LBJ Ranch. Yes, that ranch. After the death of Lady Bird Johnson in 2007, the ranch was deeded to the American People and is overseen by the National Park Service. You can tour the ranch in your car with an accompanying CD. Then for $2 you can go on a short tour of the Texas While House.

The ranch is still a working ranch, growing grain and hay for the Hereford cattle being raised there. You are free to walk around the outside of the house. On a rise overlooking the Pedernales River the house is surrounded by huge mature oaks which shade the front of the house. Johnson sometimes held cabinet meetings under the trees in the front yard. I was easy to see why as President, LBJ preferred being at his ranch in Texas over being at the White House in Washington.

This is one of LBS's neighbors and now a Texas State Park.  It is a demonstration farm where volunteers operate the farm as it was in the early 1900's.  They milk the cows each morning, make butter and cheese, butcher the hogs, smoke the bacon with no modern conveniences.  Very interesting tour given by those working there.



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dallas/Fort Worth

Here we are in the Great State of Texas where, according to native Texans, everything is bigger.  So to see if this is true we went to the State Fair of Texas, which according to the hype is the biggest state fair in the country.  We took the train into Dallas and transferred to the trolley for a stress free ride to the fair.  We decided to go on Thursday as it was senior day, so we got to bypass the $15 admission and got in for free.  So saving $30 is pretty big.  To purchase just about everything at the fair you have to purchase tickets and then redeem them with the vendor of your choice.  We used the $30 we saved and spent it on tickets.  Being senior day the movement around the fair was pretty slow, with the exception of those in their motorized chairs.  Lots of big excitement dodging them folks.

This is Big Tex, who greets you at the fair.  He speaks, but I couldn't understand what he was saying, perhaps it's his accent.  You know how those Texans talk.  He is big though.

They've got an Aremotor Windmill at the fair, but it's no bigger than the one in my front yard.  Nice paint job though.

There are some pretty big rides at the fair.  I can't ride most of them because the of the centrifugal force.  On a ride where everything in your stomach is pushed down as it goes around and at the end of the ride it's the big heave-oh, if you get my drift.  They claim that the Farris wheel at the fair is the biggest in the country.  We bypassed the rides.

There is a big presence of the Dallas Police at the fair.  Many are posted in theses elevated boxes.


Food is really big at the fair.  In fact there are more places to buy food at the Texas State Fair than in the greater Dallas - Fort Worth area.  They have the biggest offering of fried items.  Besides the normal French fries and fried chicken, there is fried bubble gum, cookie dough, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Snicker Bars, smores, beer, wine, margaritas, coke, pralines, latte, ice cream, banana splits, chicken fried bacon, butter, peaches and cream, Frito pie, pumpkin pie, pineapple upside down cake, salsa and Han's Fired Kraut Ball.  So Texas is biggest in the fried food category and in the accompanying clogged artery category.  Tried the deep fried cookie dough.  Hard to get it down because it's so rich.  Did leave a big lump in my belly.

Actually we weren't very impressed with the fair.  A big area for the car show, which was just a bunch of new cars from various manufactures.  A pretty big area for vendors selling pots and pan and the like.  We didn't hit the animal area because of the big smell.  There was no industrial arts, photographs, and crafts which at the Del Mar Fair are judged and awarded ribbons.  The Cotton Bowl is on the fair grounds which takes up a pretty big area.  All in all a pretty big disappointment.

The next day we went to the Fort Worth Stockyards where we saw some big cows with big horns.  For the drovers heading longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth which was soon known as “Cowtown” and had its own disreputable entertainment district several blocks south of the Courthouse area that was known all over the West as Hell’s Half Acre.

We arrived in time to watch the cattle drive which occurs twice a day.  We happened to be there when they were having a Cowboy Gathering.  We watched as 20 chuckwagons were paraded down the street.  They then set up in front of the Live Stock Exchange for their annual cookoff.  All the food will be prepared over wood fires and in cast iron dutch ovens.


In the evening we met friends Nick and Dianna at Uncle Bucks Steakhouse and Brewery in Grapevine for dinner.  Uncle Buck is connected to Outdoor World part of the Bass Pro Shop Chain of really big sporting goods store.  Of course the've got stores all over the states, not just in Texas.  We had a great dinner and visit, catching up on the latest goings on in both our families.

Next up on this adventure will continue in Texas.  We're heading south to Corpus Christi and Padre Island, which I understand has a really big beach.

Monday, October 17, 2011



Any trip to Oklahoma City has to include a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum if for nothing else to be reminded that terrorism can come from within.  Although I am not a fan of the news media, after the memorial and museum were completed, Tom Brokow of NBC news said something to the effect that every citizen of this country should visit the memorial as a requirement for their citizenship.  Truer word couldn't have been spoken.

Our visit was a very moving experience, from the reflecting pool and Field of Empty Chairs, to the stories of those who survived and rescuers who arrived at the scene.  The magnitude of the explosion was unbelievable.  What was noticeable to me upon first entering the Memorial was the quiet. So hushed a place, yet many people milling about.  A National Park Ranger there to answer questions was speaking in hushed tones.  I don't frequent memorials, art exhibits or architectural tributes, so I don't know if quiet is common. I suspect that it is. But the hush here was quite simply a display of reverence. It was a show of respect for the people who died on what Oklahomans call sacred ground. It was a symbol of the return of dignity to the 168 people who were violently stripped of it five years ago.

Everywhere, there are memories of the dead.  The field of empty chairs are individual monuments. Large chairs for the adults; small chairs for the children. All memorialize those who lost their lives. Look to the west and there's the makeshift chain link memorial, an element of the Memorial originally constructed when the area was first sealed off five years ago. Today, people still adorn the fence with stuffed animals, teddy bears, flowers, pictures and other items.

Each of the 168 chairs symbolize a life lost, with smaller chairs representing the 19 childern killed.  Arranged in nine rows, one for each floor of the building, they placed according to the floor on which those killed were working or visiting. 

The Museum is in the former Journal Record Building, built in 1923.  This building was directly across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and withstood the direct impact of the blast.  It was heavily damaged, but structurally sound.  The Museum takes you on a chronological, self guided tour through the story of April 19, 1995 and the days, weeks and years that followed the bombing.

At the time of the bombing at 9:02 AM, there was a Oklahoma Water Resources Board meeting taking place across the street from the Murrah Building.  This meeting was recorded.  As a visitor you enter into a reproduction of the meeting room and hear the meeting being called to order.  Two minutes into the recording you hear the explosion, all the lights go out and you hear the confusion in the room.  Them a translucent wall illuminates with photographs of the 168 persons who died that day.

You continue through the museum you follow a timeline of the events of that day and days that follow.  Exhibits include many eyewitness accounts from survivors and rescuers who tell of their experiences that day.  News footage of the carnage and the ensuing efforts to rescue people plays a part in the story.  There are displays of personal effects found in the buildings debris found while search teams were sifting for evidence.

This is a steel door that was taking from the Journal Record building across the street from the explosion.  Below are the tattered remains of mini-blinds taken from the same building.

This broken bell was also found in the rubble.  It's owner is unknown but shows his or hers sense of patriotism.  Below a no parking sign from a street nearby.

Many of the oral accounts recorded in the exhibit, recount the shear frustration felt by many of the first responders.  They had never experienced anything of this magnitude.  The photo below says it all.

After rescue efforts were completed, then the investigations began.  Many items of the evidence found in the building and the surrounding area are on display.

Licence plate from the Ryder truck rented by Timothy McVeigh.  Below is a wheel rim from the truck.  It was a hidden vin number from the rear axel of the truck which identified it as a Ryder rental truck rented by McVeigh.

On of the last displays in the museum are small boxes with photos of each of the victims.  Inside each box is something that belonged to each of them or represents who they were.  Notice the box of tissue on the bench.

This message was spray painted on the wall of the Journal Records Building by Oklahoma Bomb Disposal Unit 5.  The inscriptiong remains today.


I encourage everybody who reads this, to make it a point to visit Oklahoma City sometime in their lives.  As Tom Bokaw said, each citizen of this county should visit as a requirement of their citizenship.  I sure the same can now be said of Gound Zero in New York.  For me, the only place that stirs emotions in me to this magnitude is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


At Davenport we made a right turn and followed the Mississippi south towards St Louis. We crossed the river and stayed on the Illinois side at Pere Marquette State Park, a really nice campground near Grafton, IL. Once again a nice bike path along the river all the way to Alton, IL, about 20 miles from the campground.


We spent part of a day in St. Louis and any visit there has to include the Gateway Arch. To get to the top you take a 4 minute ride inside of a small capsule. Not for the claustrophobic, but great views from the top. The other reason for a stop in St. Louis is to resupply as there is a Costco, something lacking in Iowa.


On a drive on the Illinois side of the river we happened upon an auction a decided to stop a watch for a while.  As we listened to the auctioneer it became apparent that although he was speaking fast, he wasn't really saying anything much of the time.  Take a listen.

One day took a tour of one of the locks on the river.  Some of these locks a long enough to hold a 15 barge tow, but as I learned, any size smaller can use the locks.  While taking my tour, a canoe was allowed to pass through.

Next we made another right turn and headed west. We made a stop in Van Buren, Missouri. Van Buren is a small town in the middle of the Ozarks on the Current River. The river is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The Current and Jacks Forks Rivers are spring fed and very clear. No white water in these rivers, so we brought out the inflatable kayak. I parked the truck several miles down steam and hitched a ride back to our RV park with the RV park owner. We then spent about 3 hours on a peaceful float though some very scenic country. With the clear water we could watch the fish and turtles swimming beneath us. With this being the off season, we only saw one boat the entire time. We are told that in the summertime, the area is very popular with folks floating or canoeing down the rivers. The area businesses make their living off the summer season.


We also spent part of a day just exploring the area. We went to Alley Spring and its mill along with Big Spring. Both springs feed the Current and Jack Forks Rivers and are a very vivid light blue. Alley Spring comes up out of the ground in a large pool at the rate of 80 million gallons a day. Big Spring surfaces at the base of a cliff and discharges 286 million gallons a day. That’s a whole lot of water!




We currently in Tulsa, OK for a couple of days before heading to Oklahoma City to visit some of Cathie's relatives.

Monday, October 03, 2011



We did a lot of bike riding in Omaha. It’s another city with miles of paved flat bike trails. We were hoping to ride the trail along the Missouri River but much of it was underwater, still flooded from the spring thaw.

While in Omaha, we just had to hit one of the six restaurants featured on Triple D. (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives). We picked Big Mama's Kitchen located in the cafeteria of an old high school. Known for down home comfort soul food, it’s popular with the locals. When we got there just before lunchtime, there were just a few tables left open. We each ordered the special, Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes, and cornbread. I opted for a side of Macaroni and Cheese, while Cathie chose Stir Fried Cabbage. We topped it off by sharing a slice of Peanut Butter Pie. We waddled out fully satisfied, promising ourselves a 20 mile bike ride in the morning.


In downtown Omaha, there is a series of sculptures depicting a wagon train crossing the plains. It’s very detailed with larger than life settlers, their wagons and animals. The sculptures tell a story of the journey west and are spread over six blocks of downtown. First there are the wagons, with the wagon master on a high point overlooking the wagon train. There is a hunter bringing his kill to feed the members of the group. There are men helping a wagon through the mud.

The approaching wagon train spooks the buffalo herd that stampedes ahead of the train.

And lastly the buffalo scare a flock of geese on a lake causing them to take flight.

After just under a week in the Omaha area, we continued out trip east. Next up, Des Moines. We found another great campground on Saylorville Lake, operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. Again huge sites with lots of grass and trees overlooking the lake. With our Golden Age Passport, just $9 a night. Once again great bike paths. One day we rode the 11 miles along the Des Moines River into the city for lunch. A beautiful shaded paved trail and level just like we like it.

We spent most of one day checking out the Bridges of Madison County. Although we didn’t run into Clint Eastwood or Fay Dunaway, we did manage to find 5 covered bridges. The county seat of Madison County is Winterset, the birthplace of John Wayne. The town is typical of many Midwest towns, with a square surrounded by shops and the courthouse in the center. Winterset seemed to be thriving, but many towns we passed through are dying, with vacant storefronts in the town center.

We moved on, arriving on the Mississippi at the Quad Cities. Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side of the river and Rock Island and Moline on the Illinois side. We found another county park, Buffalo Shores just south of Davenport. With a site right on the river, we can sit and watch the barge traffic on the river. We also crossed the river and at Rock Island we watched as barges passed through the locks. Again nice bike trails in the area, one along the Mississippi. We spent a couple of days on two wheels touring the area.



Here's some barge facts you probably didn't know.  Barges hold a whole bunch of stuff and lots of it.  Corn, wheat, coal, sand, gravel just to name a few. As an example, one tug can push 15 barges, 3 across, five barges long.  A fifteen barge tow is too big to fit in most locks on the Mississippi, so the barges are split and pushed through in two passes.  So how much does 15 barges hold?  How about 26,250 tons or 937,387 bushels of corn.  If that doesn't do it for you, here's another way to look at it.  Fifteen barges hold the same amount as 240 rail cars.  A typical freight train is 100 cars long.  For you truckers out there, fifteen barges is equivalent to 1050 semi truck trailers.  Still don't get it.  A fifteen barge tow is 1/4 of a mile long, 240 rail cars are 2.53 miles long, and 1050 truck trailers is almost 14 miles long.  How do I know all this stuff?  Hey, I measured them.




One day we drove up river to LeClaire, Iowa. LeClaire is the home of Antique Archeology, the antique store made famous by the owners, Mike and Frank of the History Channel show, American Pickers. As an antique store, it really bombed. Most of the limited items in the store were only on display and not for sale. Lots of overpriced T-shirts, hats and other stuff with their logo. Quite a disappointment.