Friday, April 29, 2011

Just Wild About Harry

We have moved to the Campus RV Park in Independence, Missouri near Kansas City so we could visit the library and home of President Harry S. Truman. Truman was raised here and after serving in WWI was elected County Judge (Administrator) in 1922. In 1934 he was elected to the US Senate and served until 1944 when he was chosen to run as Franklin D. Roosevelt's Vice President.

This is the home of his wife Bess' family where the Trumans lived their entire life from the time they were married in 1919, except when he was serving in Washington, DC. After leaving the White House in 1953 the Trumans got on a train and returned to Independence for the rest of their lives. Truman never took advantage of his time as President by serving on corporate boards or lending his name to products because he thought that would be demeaning to the office. His only retirement income was his small military pension until, five years after he left office, Congress passed a pension law to help him out financially. Harry died at the age of 88 in 1972 and Bess in 1982 at the age of 97. She is the oldest surviving First Lady. The house is exactly as it was when they lived here because Bess willed the house to the government upon her death. Harry's clothes were still in the closets and his coat, cane and famous hat were hanging by the door. There were over 50,000 items on the property including a 1972 Chrysler Truman had purchased six months before he died. No interior pictures are allowed but a few can be seen on the park service site.
Here we are with all the people who were on the tour. It was a great personal tour with a very well informed park service ranger. The ranger was also fortunate to be working the day presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama visited in 2008 and was quite pleased to be able to take him on a private tour.

Another day we visited the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. The library traces his life from his birth in Lamar, MO through his childhood in Independence, to his political rise to the Presidency and his return to Independence for the remainder of his life. The lower level of the library focuses on his family, early years, political career, the 82 days he was Vice President and his post presidency life. Above is one of his cars, his Democratic Convention delegate tags, White House china, a hat from the Truman Walking Club and the type of artillery that was under his command in WWI.

This is part of the Truman walking trail in Independence. Top right is the Clinton Drugstore Building were Harry got his first job. Top left is the Church where Bess and Harry were married. Bottom left is a law office with a painting of Truman. Bottom right is a statue of Truman in front of the Jackson Courthouse where Truman oversaw the 1932 renovation and expansion. The outline in the middle is on all the signs showing the Truman related attractions in Independence.

This is about Truman's first four months as President from April 12, when he was sworn in, to VJ Day on August 15. In that time the war with Germany ended, the United Nations Charter was signed, the Potsdam Conference with Great Britain and the Soviet Union was held, and the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan to end the war. All of this by a President who had only met twice with Roosevelt during his 82 days as vice president. Another section deals with the controversy about the dropping of the atomic bombs. Personally, I have always felt this was the correct decision because I may not have been born as my father was preparing to be sent to Asia for the invasion of Japan which would have been necessary if Truman had not made this choice.

Another sections deals with postwar America. Many of the things in this display are right out of my childhood.

These sections dealt with the recognition of the new Jewish state of Israel, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe (pic of PA native George Marshall) and the Truman Doctrine to contain communism. The 594 miniature planes suspended from the ceiling symbolize the Berlin Airlift that kept Berlin from falling into Soviet hands after WWII.

This is a display of the 1948 Presidential election when Truman overcame a divided Democratic Party (the segregationist Southerners supported Strom Thurmond) with his Whistle Stop Tour of the country. This is the election that produced the famous Chicago newspaper headline Dewey Defeats Truman.

Another section deals with America's fear of the spread of "the bomb" and Communism to other countries. There was the false fear spread by Senator Joe McCarthy that there were Communists infiltrating the US government. He was like today's "Birthers" and Give Em Hell Harry referred to him as a son of a bitch. This false fear did bring a low point to the Truman Presidency when he signed a law requiring people to sign a loyalty oath to hold a job. There was a section on the Korean War and Truman's firing of popular general Douglas MacArthur.

This is a replica of the Oval Office in the White House as it appeared during Truman's time in office. The famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign tells the story of the decisions Truman had to make that led the country through a very difficult time in our history from ending WWII, to the post war economic boom, to setting our path as the world leader we are today. The Truman family had to move out of the White House during his term because it was in such bad shape that his piano started to come through the floor. Only the exterior walls were left standing while the entire interior was rebuilt.

This is the courtyard and eternal flame where the Trumans and their daughter and son-in-law are buried. Across the courtyard is his office where he greeted visitors after his retirement. One of those important visitors was President Lyndon Johnson who came to the library to sign Medicare into law in 1965. He wanted Truman to be at the signing since Truman had proposed universal health care during his time in office. I bet the Repubs will go to the temples of Wall Street for the signing if they get their way and repeal this law that allows our parents and so many others to live their senior years without the fear of how their medical bills will be paid.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Tallgrass to the Land of OZ

Our plan was to add Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri to our state map on the way north, but we were not really sure what we wanted to see in Kansas. That was until Sandy, a former co-worker, sent me the book, Prairy Erth, by William Least Heat-Moon. After reading the book I knew that Chase County in the Flint Hills and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve were a must see. We stayed at the Council Grove COE campground which is a great base for exploring the area. The drive to the park was all on two lane roads. This was typical of the roads we traveled, narrow with rolling hills and almost no traffic. There were only a few very small towns, but many farms and ranches along the way. There were also thousands of acres of burned prairie grass and the smell of smoke in the air.

The town of Council Grove was an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail.

Top is the Last Chance Store, the old calaboose, remains of an elm tree that was on property owned by George Custer, of Little Big Horn shame, and a Madonna of the Trail statue, one of twelve Madonnas across the US. Middle is a Santa Fe Trail wagon and the Hays House that was built in 1857 and is the oldest continually operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Bottom is the Guardian of the Grove statue, that honors the Native American Kaw and Kansa Tribes, the remains of the Council Oak and the old M-K-T railroad depot. Council Grove was a major stop on the Santa Fe Trail as it was the last place where pioneers could get supplies and where trees were available if wagons needed to be repaired. The town's name comes from the grove of trees where, in 1825, a council was held by representatives of the US and the Osage Indians to sign a treaty that allowed Americans and Mexicans free passage along the trail.

Much of the book talks about the town of Cottonwood Falls. This is Broadway and the Chase County Courthouse. There is not really much in the town but the 10 room Grand Central Hotel is the state's only Four Diamond hotel. We got out on to some of the country (dirt) roads to see more of the places Heat-Moon wrote about. He really is a very talented author having the ability to write an interesting 600 page book on this very sparsely populated county.
The main attraction near Cottonwood Falls is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Only about 4% of the prairie that once stretched from Texas to the Dakotas remains. Much of the 4% is in the Flint Hills because the stones in the soil meant the land was not good for farming. It was good for ranching which was not that different from the grazing of the buffalo. This made it an ideal place to restore the land to its natural state of tallgrass prairie. Part of the preserve is the Spring Hill Ranch that was built in the late 1870's. Most of the buildings on the Ranch were built with native stone. Top left was my favorite, the three hole stone outhouse, middle is the Second Empire architecture ranch house that was built into the side of the hill to take advantage of the earth's natural insulation and also gave a safe place to go during a tornado. Right is the Lower Fox Creek School that was built in 1882 on ranch property. Bottom are the stone chicken coop and the huge three story stone barn.

The black area is a section of prairie being burned. Ranchers and the park burn the grass every year or two to keep out invasive plants and to encourage new growth. The idea of burning the grass was learned from the Indians who noticed the buffalo herds would move into areas that had recently burned from natural causes to graze on the new growth so they began setting fires to bring the herds to them.

This is a good example of the effect of the burning. The brown grass was not burned this spring while the green is new grass that is growing where the prairie was burned just last month.

The pictures do not come close to capturing the vastness of this land. You can see for miles and miles. One day we hiked out into the prairie and after we crossed the first ridge other than the trail we could not see any sign of human habitation. The small dark spots near the green are the fourteen buffalo that have just been put on the preserve. This is as close as we got but we saw signs of their presence everywhere.

A few common things we saw in the area.

Top an up close look at a prairie fire, one of many stone fences, and a bird. Middle is a small snake. Bottom are a few flowers that were just starting to bloom and in the middle, one of the many signs of buffalo we saw. The background shows the very rock landscape. We enjoyed this area much more than we thought we would even though it was too early in the spring to see blooming new grasses or the tallgrass that will be there in the summer.

We added another day to our stay so we could drive to Wamego to tour the OZ Museum. Above are a few of the characters from the books, plays and movies surrounding the all important OZ. (Not really, OZ was a fake and I am for real.) This is a very well done, small museum that does a great job of telling little known info about the author, L. Frank Baum, the stars and the making of the movie. Did you know Baum got the name OZ from the drawers of his file cabinet, one labeled A - N and the other O - Z. Many people wanted Shirley Temple to play Dorothy. ToTo (Terry) got stepped on during filming causing a delay while the dog recovered. The original Tin Man was Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies, Barnaby Jones), but the silver powder of the costume made him sick so both he and the powder were replaced. And, these are just a few of the very interesting tidbits. There is even an OZ Winery in town that offers a selection of appropriately named vintages (Oil Can, Ruby Sippers, Flying Monkey, etc.) If you are driving across Kansas on I-70 Wamego is a worthwhile stop.

That same day we drove into Manhattan and found the Tallgrass Brewing Co. where we did a tasting and bought a few of their great craft beers. There are some very neat stops in Kansas.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Route 66 & Wright, Mix, of Storms

We left OKC planning to drive a portion of Route 66 on our way to a stop in Bartlesville for a short stay at the Riverside RV Resort. We ended up extending our stay to let a line of threatening storms pass before moving into Kansas. In hindsight, this may not have been the best choice as we were surrounded by several tornadoes that were not as bad at our planned destination. We did weather the storm, but it did turn fatal east of us. We discovered that while you see tornado watches covering large areas the tornados are usually small, less than a mile wide, and short lived events.
We did "Get Our Kicks" on Route 66. Oklahoma has more drivable miles of the Mother Road than any other state and we passed several old landmarks. Left is the only wooden round barn in the state and an old Phillips 66 station. The pop bottle is at a store called Pops where they had a huge selection of pop. Bottom is one of the historical signs under a picture of the original pavement paralleling the newer road and right is an old motel sign. This was a great drive even though there were a few sections of the old road that were quite narrow in the motorhome. We came to Bartlesville to tour the Price Tower, the only skyscraper built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Over the years we have been to several Wright buildings including the Marin County Civic Center in California, Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, Taliesin West in Arizona, and Fallingwater, and Kentuck Knob in Pennsylvania. The tower was built in 1956 as a mixed use retail, office and apartment building by H.C. Price Pipeline Company. As with most Wright buildings everything from the building, to the furniture, to the trash cans were designed by Wright. The 19 story building was built with each floor being cantilevered from the center tower that held four very small elevators. There is no skeletal superstructure holding up the outside walls. Today it houses the Price Tower Arts Center, the Inn at Price Tower and a restaurant and bar on the 16th floor. There was a very good exhibit of the work of artist and architect Bruce Goff at the arts center. Goff was the person who recommended H. C. Price pursue Frank Lloyd Wright as architect for his new office building.
Left is one of the rooms at the inn. They go for $145 or you can stay in a two story suite for $245. The price includes a tour and breakfast so it's really not too steep for a chance to sleep in a museum. Center is the bar, Copper, that takes its name from all the copper Wright used on both the inside and the exterior. We had a drink and a snack at the bar. Right is one of the original apartments that were all two floors with a loft bedroom and a private elevator. As with most Wright designs the bath and kitchen were very small and there was only one closet which was very tiny and the one we saw had a window. Go figure?? Only five of the eight apartments were ever rented as the cost was $325 a month at a time when a house in town could be rented for $75.
This is the penthouse office of Mr. Price. A really small room for someone who had the money to have this unique building constructed. Because the rooms were all built with 30 and 60 degree angles, all the furniture had to be built to fit these unusual shapes. The tower was originally designed to be built in New York City but that project was never constructed. When it was built here Wright called it "The tree that escaped the crowded forest". If you are a Wright fan this building is a must see.
Across the street from the tower is the Bartlesville Community Center, designed by Wesley Peters, former Taliesin West chief architect. The center seats over 17,000 and along with the tower shows the wealth that oil has brought to this little city. Bartlesville was the home of Phillips 66 founder Frank Phillips. In driving around there are many very large expensive homes. There are buffalo statues located all over town painted with different themes. This one, with the famous Wright design, was located in the park between the Price Tower and Community Center.
In April 2009 while traveling in Arizona I saw a sign that marked the spot where cowboy movie star Tom Mix was killed in an automobile accident. Nanc's reaction was, "Who is Tom Mix?" Well, after our visit to Oklahoma, she now knows more about Mix than most people. We saw a display on Tom at the Cowboy Museum, we saw the Blue Belle Bar in Guthrie where he tended bar and here we visited the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey. Tom was once the sheriff here and made a local girl the third of his five wives. This is an excellent and extensive display as his entire collection of pictures and artifacts were acquired by the museum in the 1960's. Above left, his famous horse Tony he road in his movies and one of several saddles and some of his clothes. Center is the 2010 USPS stamp that honored Mix, William S. Hart, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry in the Cowboys of the Silver Screen series. Right is part of his gun collection and the entrance to the small theater where you can watch old Mix movies and watch a film on his very colorful life. The background is a mural on the museum. They even have a copy of the 1940 Dubois, Pennsylvania newspaper with the story of the state's native son's death. If you are into the old cowboy movies this is a worthwhile stop. They even have RV friendly parking. Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Wow, the weather here in Oklahoma sure can be scary. We stayed an extra day so we would not be driving through a line of storms going to Kansas. We then stayed another day because they were calling for west (cross) winds with 50 mph gusts. The t-shirt they sell at the park says it all. We did miss the worst of it and only got some hail and a lot of rain. That said, we did close the sides and when they reported a severe thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes was heading toward Bartlesville we went to the shelter, a block room in the center of the office. We were greeted by four other customers and the staff who showed me where the beer was on tap. Um, not too bad!! We have been under tornado warnings in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and now here. We have been luckier than our friends Wallace and Wanda who lost their rig to a storm in Georgia. We have enjoyed our stay in Oklahoma but we will be glad to get away from this crazy weather that seems to be following us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

OKC is A-- OK!

We continued to explore the OK City area. We found several good restaurants and brew pubs in the city. Bricktown is an old warehouse district that has been turned into a commercial development of bars, a convention center, restaurants, motels and an arena. This area seems to be doing very well even in today's economy. Bricktown Brewery has a small selection of their own micro beers while the Tapwerks offers an extensive selection of over 100 drafts and even more available in bottles. Both had a nice selection of pub grub.
Near Bricktown is a sculpture depicting the 1889 Oklahoma land rush. The sculpture is not expected to be finished for several years as more pieces are added. The land rush took place on April 22, 1889 when "unassigned land" in Indian Territory was opened to homesteaders who could claim up to 160 acres to farm. More than 50,000 people took part in the rush and the few who hid in the unassigned areas and claimed the best land became known as Sooners, because they left sooner than was allowed. The sculpture and Bricktown are great places to visit. Another day we drove to Guthrie, the first capital of Oklahoma, that has the largest collection of Victorian Buildings on the National Registry in the US. Guthrie was one of the sites where people could register their land rush claim at the government land office and the town grew from nothing to a city of 10,000 overnight. This is where the expression "doing a land office business" came from. Within four months of the rush there were 6 banks, 16 barbers and blacksmiths, 17 carpenters, 15 hotels, 80 restaurants (bars) and 81 lawyers listed in the City Directory. Above is the Pollard Theatre and Inn on the corner of one of several blocks of restored and well preserved buildings.
A few of the buildings in Guthrie. Top is the Rite Masonic Temple which is one of the largest in the world. It cost $2.6 million in the 1920's when it was built during the oil boom. Middle left is the Carnegie Library, the first in Oklahoma. Middle right is the State Capital Publishing Building where the territorial and early statehood printing was done. Bottom left is a city block. Bottom right is the Blue Belle Saloon a bar where actor Tom Mix once worked.

The statue is the marriage of a cowboy and an Indian that represents the union of the two territories to become the state of Oklahoma. Bottom left are a few of the fiddles in the Double Stop Fiddle Shop. Center top is Ray Dorwart a local boot maker. To make a pair of boots Ray takes eight different measurements of each foot and makes a set of lasts for every costumer. Each pair takes forty hours and costs $2800.00. He is so busy he has an eight month waiting list. Bottom right is an 1890's dental office, oh the pain!! Top right is the Frontier Drugstore Museum, an interesting stop that had everything on display from bottles of Wildroot Cream Oil, like my father used, to Hadacol, a "snake oil" made by Dudley J. LeBlanc from Erath, Loiusiana. All of these places are worth a look if you pass through Guthrie.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum offers a great look into life in the West. There are several galleries of Western art with many works by Charles Russell, Frederic Remington and others. (no pics allowed) Above are a few of the Indian artifacts on a map of all the native cultures in North America. The statue, The End of the Trail, at the entrance symbolizes sadness of the Indians as the buffaloes were hunted to near extinction, thus ending their way of life.
This gallery shows the movie cowboys and how the life was depicted in the Western shows. The statue is Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne, whose home we visited in Winterset, Iowa. The top pictures are William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Gene Autry and Milburn Stone. Bottom are Tom Mix, Will Rogers and Walter Brennan. This room sure brought back memories of watching Saturday morning TV as a kid.
This gallery was about the cattle drives and was what the real cowboy life was all about. The drives brought thousands of cattle from the west to markets where they could be shipped to the consumers in the East. There were saddles, a chuckwagon, branding irons and many other artifacts. There is a huge display of barbed wire that enabled farmers to put up cheap fences ending the way of life of driving the cattle across open land.
Other galleries were about rodeos and the cavalry. There is a small 1900 Western cattle town, Prosperity Junction, that has all the buildings you would have found there including a saloon, school, livery stable, bank and many other buildings. The museum gives a great look into the cowboy life and the Western cattle culture.
Another interesting place in OKC is Stockyard City. Here you can watch the cattle auction on Sunday and Monday (we didn't), buy all the Western clothes you need (we didn't), enjoy the art (we did) or have a great steak (I did). We ate at the Cattleman's Steakhouse, a 100 year old restaurant, where the Double Deuce handcrafted beer and the strip steak were absolutely wonderful. The 33 brand in the restaurant symbolizes the "hard six" double threes rancher Gene Wade rolled at a dice game in 1945 to win the restaurant. The cafe part of the building has looked the same for over fifty years so ask to be seated there if you visit.

We had a great time in Oklahoma City. This is a place we will return to in the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

OKC National Memorial & Museum

We are staying at the Elks Lodge in Midwest City, Oklahoma while exploring the Oklahoma City area. A must see is the memorial honoring those who were killed, those who survived and those who worked to rescue the injured after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 at 9:02 AM. The memorial and museum do an excellent job of telling the story of the tragedy of that day, the rescue efforts and the capture and conviction of the terrorists who carried out this terrible act of cowardice against innocent people. While most have a mental image of the destroyed federal building, a total of 312 buildings were damaged in the explosion, including 14 that had to be torn down.
At the entrance to the museum is the Children's Area that is backed with hand-painted tiles sent to Oklahoma City in 1995 by children to illustrate their caring. The surface has slates where visitors are encouraged to leave a message written with chalk. Above is the area with a group of students leaving their thoughts about their visit. The displays begin with a history of the building and surrounding area. You then enter a room where you hear a recording of a meeting that was taking place in a nearby building at the moment of the explosion. At the moment of the loud blast the lights flicker and go out and pictures of the 168 people, including 19 children, who where killed appear on the wall. The pictures above are from the Gallery of Honor which displays all those killed. A personal artifact from each family is also displayed.
The next gallery shows the chaos that followed during the rescue and police investigation that were happening immediately after the explosion. The statue (left) is based on the Pulitzer prize winning photo (right). Top left is the axle from the truck used to deliver the bomb. It was a key piece of evidence that lead to the arrest of the terrorists only two days after their cowardly act. Another area honors the efforts of the rescuers who came from all over the country and worked for weeks until the bodies of the last three victims were found on May 29. The flags displayed were flying on the building and in the plaza on April 19.
Other areas tell the stories of the 650 people who where injured and survived. The American Elm which was in front of the building and took the full force of the explosion has become the symbol of survival and has been named The Survivor Tree. The plaques on the only remaining part of the original building list the names of the survivors. Some of the survivor's stories are unbelievable. One woman was at a table in a meeting with seven others who literally disappeared before her eyes at the moment of the blast. All were killed. Another survivor had just finished her business and was in the back of the building at 9:02. She felt and heard the explosion but hailed a cab that took her to the airport where she got on a plane to Atlanta only to get off the plane to see the news of what had nearly happened to her. Among the stories are those who heroically aided workers until rescuers arrived. One was a blind man who worked in the snack bar who lead others through the blinding dust to safety.
The part of the memorial managed by the park service is on the actual site of the building and the street where the truck was parked. There are 168 chairs honoring the dead that are arranged by the floor they were on that day. There are five chairs on the side for those who were killed in other buildings and on the street. Each bronze and stone chair has a glass base engraved with the name of the victim.
The chairs of the 19 children are smaller than the others. Most of the children were in the day care center located on the second floor at the front of the building. The reflecting pool has a gate on each end. The west gate with 9:03 represents the moment of change and hope that came from the horror of the day and the bombing.

On the east end of the reflecting pool the gate has 9:01 to represent the innocence of the city before the attack. The lights under the chairs are beacons of hope. We returned to see the memorial at dusk and found it to be worth seeing at that time as the lighting helps set the somber mood that is appropriate for this memorial
Shown above is the outside of the west gate with a picture of the fence where people leave mementos of remembrance. All items are kept and catalogued. On the right is the Jesus Wept statue that is across the street. His back is turned on the site and his head is bowed with his hands covering his eyes. This memorial is very well done and is a great reminder that acts of violence against our government are really acts of cowardice against individuals.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough & Bill

The plan when we left Betty's was to stay one night at Wally World in Shreveport but when we arrived there we were told they no longer allowed RV parking at this store. Oh well, it was still fairly early in the day so we took our rig and our money up the road to the Texarkana, AR store. This is a unique little city where the border with Texas runs up the middle of State Line Avenue. You can travel from one state to the other just by crossing the street. From there we moved on the Castle Keepers RV Park in Murfreesboro. This is a new (14 site) park that is a great place to stay when exploring the area. BEWARE, if you want a glass of wine or a beer you need to have it with you as Murfreesboro is in the middle of several "dry" counties. Gayle, the owner, is very nice and helpful and has a nice little park which she was constantly working on the whole time we were there.
All along the roads the wild wisteria is in full bloom. We took a hike from the park and saw the Little Missouri River (left), and the great view from the hill (right). We have not been on a hill this high since we left WashPA last fall. Top is an old quarry that filled with water when they made a mistake while cutting out the stone. There is supposed to be a locomotive that they could not get out before the flooding filled the quarry.
The main reason we wanted to visit this area was to go to the Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in the world where anyone can look for these precious gems and keep anything they find. Twenty eight diamonds larger than five carats and more than 17,000 of at least one carat have been found here since it became a park in 1972. The largest was a 16.37 gem found in 1975. We tried both the dry (top) and wet (bottom) methods and the only thing we found was a tiny piece of quartz. It was fun and this is a great place to play in the dirt and if you are really lucky maybe even find a valuable stone.
Not everyone here is a casual miner. There are several people who pay a monthly fee and look for gems as a hobby or even a job. The man on the right has found over forty diamonds including a 2.43 carat clear white diamond which he showed to me. The guy at the top has found more than 100 gems. As you can see by all the buckets this is a hard, labor intensive job of digging, then washing and finally searching through the gravel for worthwhile stones. Most finds are much less then 50 point (half carat) stones. Shovels mark the spots where the big ones have been found. The background shows the various ways people look for gems.
We traveled to a place called Hope on another leg of the Billgrimage we stared in 2008 when we visited Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hope is where the birthplace home of Bill Clinton has become the newest park service historical site. It just became part of the park service in January and the official dedication will be next week on the 16th. This was Bill's grandparents home where he and his mother lived because his father was killed in an automobile accident before he was born. The house next door was the home of his friend Vince Foster who went to Washington with him to serve as his chief counsel.
The interior is decorated with period furniture and much of it reminded me of my own childhood, especially the Hopalong Cassidy pictures and bedspread. It was like stepping back in time into the homes of my friends and family. I guess I must be getting old when the things of my youth are considered historical. Bill was a guy who was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth in a time when many young people truly believed you could grow up to be President. His rise to becoming the most powerful person on Earth is a great story. A sign in the visitor center may say it all, "Bill did not spring from the ground a president. He was raised." Hope is also the home of former governor Mike Huckabee and there is a small exhibit about him at the visitors center.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Good Times and Good Byes

We wrapped up our stay (the longest we have spent in one place) at Betty's with more of the good times we enjoy so much. We met Valerie and Richard in Lafayette for lunch one last time. We are hoping to see them this summer when we travel through Michigan. We finally stayed in one place long enough to get the washer/dryer repaired. We used the mobile service of Good Shepard RV in Breaux Bridge. After a couple of false starts Mitch got the appliance and a couple of other things repaired. So now we will be spending less time at the laundromat. We also did one more casino trip so we could return our past winnings.

One of our favorite things about this place is the music, especially the Cajun Jam Sessions every Saturday afternoon. This last week's was at the Museum Cafe in Erath where two of the tables were filled with people from Betty's. This was the first time we heard Rick on the squeeze box and he was great. Rodney got several of the ladies on the dance floor. This was our last chance to see our dear friend Ollie. She told us she graduated from Erath High School in 1945 in a class of 13. Ten of her classmates are still alive. It must have something to do with the Cajun lifestyle. I have to agree, as my blood pressure has been way down during our visit. We will miss talking with Ollie and look forward to seeing her on her favorite stool when we return. Another favorite thing about this place is the food we get to try. Bryan Champagne, the swamp tour guy, gave Betty ten pounds of gator and she fried some of it and made the rest in a sauce picante. It was much better than the gator I had in Florida a couple of years ago. Even Nanc tried a little as it is an animal that spends part of its life in the water. Everyone also contributed side dishes for a great tasting potluck.

One day we did a road trip on the Creole Nature Trail to Louisiana's Outback, the large swampy area along the Gulf of Mexico. We saw many animals along the way and at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. Above is a black-necked stilt, some mallards, a heron, egrets, several glossy ibis, a stink pot turtle, a black and a yellow crowned heron together and of course a large gator. We also saw white pelicans and many roseate spoonbills but did not get good pics. This is a great road trip to see a lot of wildlife.

This area was totally devastated by Hurricane Rita several years ago and there is still much evidence of the destruction. Many of the buildings including the school are new and are built up off the ground. Others are being raised and refurbished. There is a heavy oil industry presence here and several offshore rigs can be seen from the beach. Along the way we saw the small beginnings of a swamp fire that we often see throughout Southern Louisiana. Rutherford Beach is one of the few places you can get to the gulf waters. We were the only people on the beach and found many interesting shells. You can take a ferry into Texas on this route so we will have to travel this way in the RV in the future.

One of the traditions at Betty's is her famous folk art that is ever growing and changing. The bottle tree had just taken root when the Mardi Gras gang arrived and was fully grown by the time they departed. The gator is a live root by the pavilion and the new garden sprouted with more art where Betty removed some overgrown plants. As Betty says, "It's folk art and if you don't like it, folk you."

Of course there is often music performed by guests at the park. Top are Wayne and Larry and bottom are Judy Bailey as she serenades Jim & Cookie for a dance on Jim's birthday and Dan playing some blues. Even though my musical talent ends with cd's and the radio, I do love listening to all the different musicians who play at Betty's

We extended our stay when we learned there were plans for a surprise birthday party for Betty on the 30th. Her birthday is the 31st but the casino doubles your "free" money that day so the party was held the day before. Also, Marvin told us the party would be our going away party the evening after we had departed. We showed him and got stuck in Betty's web one more time.

Without a doubt Betty's is our most favorite place and this visit just reinforced that thought. We had a great time with our old friends, including a visit from Tom and Georgie, our get togethers with Valerie and Richard, all the people who were at Betty's whom we have met there or on the road previously. We plan to see many of them on our travels. Tony and MaryBeth in Michigan, Jim and Cookie at the Escapade, Jim and Bobbie in Q and maybe even Marvin if he gets those wheels turning. As always happens at Betty's, we made many new friends who we are looking forward to seeing in the future. We may see Dan and Merlene as they travel through PA and George and CeCe if we make it to Oshkosh. We met so many people that I can't mention them all but thanks to all for making our stay more enjoyable and, of course, a special thanks to Betty because without her none of this would be possible. She truly is the best.

Even though this is our favorite place, our house is on wheels so we are back on the road. We decided not to do the Final Four and are now near the Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas. The "plan" is to visit Oklahoma City, the tall grass prairie in Kansas, Branson, Kansas City and St. Louis on our way to Michigan to have the rig serviced at Spartan Chassis in early May. We then will be staying in PA for a month before heading west while we keep Running Down Our Dream. What a wonderful life.