Saturday, May 28, 2011

Back in PA

We are back in PA for a few weeks to do doctors and dentist as well as reconnect with old friends and family. We have each had appointments and so far, unlike last spring when Nanc had knee surgery, all is well. We are staying at Pine Cove Beach Resort about 20 miles from Washington because at the place we stayed in the past the electricity was so bad we could not run our AC and we believe it caused damage to the washer/dryer because of low power. The weather the first week was not very good with rain almost every day but it has been better lately with highs in the 80's expected for the holiday weekend. I have been lazy and did not get pics of everyone we have gotten together with so far. I am running behind with the blog and there was a problem with google where I had trouble getting on.

We brought back a LOT of beads from Mardi Gras and shared a few with the lunch group. Top left is Becky and Sandy, right is Lena and Linda and bottom is Paul and John. We also gave two boxes of beads to my old colleagues at school. They were ooohing and aaahing so much I hope they share them with the kids. It was great seeing all of them and catching up with what has been happening here.
One of our favorite things about being in PA is the chance to go fishing at Pymatuning. We had a great weekend of weather and fishing with Mike and Sherri at their cottage and going out on their pontoon boat. We caught quite a few perch, catfish and walleye and enjoyed the time together.

At the lake we had a real thrill when we saw this eagle swoop down and pick a fish out of the water. Click on the pic to enlarge it and you can see the fish in the eagle's claws.

In addition to old friends we also saw some new ones when Dan and Merlene, who we met at Betty's, stopped by for a couple days. It was nice enough that we ate dinner on the patio of the Speers Grill overlooking the Monongahela River. Many, many times we meet up with RV friends along the way and it is always great to share our adventures.

Dan and Merlene did a day trip to Pittsburgh to tour PNC Park and to see the view of the city from Mt. Washington. They were surprised at the beauty of Western PA. Being from California they could not believe how much water there is and how green everything is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tulips & Tie Rods

We had an appointment at Spartan Chassis for the annual service and inspection. We like to go to Spartan when it fits our travel plans because they are so thorough in checking everything out and our rig is seven years old. Well, the inspection turned up bad tie rods and ball joints so we ended up staying an extra day to have that work done. They did a new alignment but a tire has worn because of the problem so we now have a slight pull and we may have to get the tires rotated. We will drive to PA to see how it handles and, if need be, will plan to travel back this way on our way west to have that done. This is one of those times when the "camping is free" but you learn that is a relative term when you get the bill. Oh well, the work is done and we are back on the road. Nanc told me we were near Holland and we could add another country to our map while they were doing the work, so we drove to Holland only to discover it is a town in Michigan. It was a great day with so many tulips in bloom everywhere.

At the Veldheer Tulip Garden and DeKlomp Factory they produce 5 million bulbs a year and have 3/4 of a million flowers in bloom. The variety of color is really beyond belief.
This is one of those places where words cannot describe the beauty and each picture is worth a thousand words. Just enjoy.

Nanc among the blooms.

A small windmill in the garden.

Who knew there were so many varieties?

You can buy a pair of klompen (wooden shoes) that are made in the factory. The wooden shoes were used in Holland because leather was too expensive and would not last in the damp Dutch fields. In the top two pics Elmer is making shoes the old fashion way, by hand. He said it takes about four hours for each pair starting with a block of wood that is first cut into the shape of the shoe and then hollowed out. In the factory they can make a pair in fifteen minutes. Bottom left a machine using a jig shapes the outside from a block of poplar in a few minutes. I am holding the results of the first step. These are then dried for about a month before the inside is cut out by another machine (middle). You can also buy hand crafted delftware here from the only remaining factory in the US that produces the famous blue and white earthenware. This was a very interesting stop.

Statue of a Dutch couple and, of course, more tulips in a park in Holland.

One of the six miles of streets in Holland that are designated as "tulip lanes." We were here the day of the Tulip Festival parade but we skipped all those festivities.

The De Zwaan (the swan) in the Windmill Island Gardens was originally built in the Netherlands in 1761. It was the last authentic windmill the Dutch allowed to be taken out of the country.

The Holland Lighthouse (Big Red) is on the shore of Lake Michigan at the entrance to Holland Harbor. The drive to the lighthouse is through a beautiful area with many homes along the water. We had a great time in Holland and recommend it as a must see if you are here in the spring.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Land of Lincoln

We moved to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield to continue our tour of Presidential sites. Springfield was the home of Abraham Lincoln for the 25 years before he moved to Washington to become President in 1861 and became his final resting place following his assassination in 1865. While in Springfield he became a successful lawyer and served in the Illinois legislature and the US House of Representatives. Lincoln married Mary Todd and his four sons were born here. One son, Edward, died here in 1850 and another son, Willie, died in the White House in 1862. His youngest son, Tad, died in 1871 while Robert, the only child to live beyond his teens, served as Secretary of War and was president of the Pullman Car Company.

Lincoln's Springfield home.

Abe's home was originally one story but as his family grew and he prospered as a lawyer a second floor was added. The park service has done a great job of restoring the neighborhood around Lincoln's Home. In the four surrounding blocks the homes that were there when Lincoln lived here appear as they did at that time, while those built more recently have been removed. You get a real feel for what the area looked like when the Lincoln's lived here.
There are only a few original furnishings in the home as the Lincolns rented the house and took most of their personal belongings to Washington when he was elected President. Mary would not live in the house following his death. The home is typical of an upper middle class family of the time.

Some of the places around Springfield that are tied to the history of Lincoln. Top is the train station were he gave his farewell speech when they left in 1861 and the old state capitol building where he served in the legislature. Middle is a statue of the Lincolns in front of his law office and bottom are some of the restored homes in his old neighborhood.

The Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The tomb was dedicated in 1874 and is the final resting place of Lincoln, his wife Mary, sons Edward, Willie and Tad. Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The granite obelisk rises 117 feet and is surrounded by statues that represent the four Civil War services infantry, navy, artillery and cavalry. The military statues were cast with metal from cannons. There is a statue of Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation and a plaque with an eagle holding the broken chain of human slavery in its beak.

The burial chamber.

There are reduced scale reproductions of several Lincoln statues and excerpts of several of his speeches in the halls leading to the chamber. It is said that rubbing the nose of the statue outside will bring good luck and we are never ones to pass that kind of opportunity.

A must see in Springfield is the new Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum that opened in 2005. There are two very well done multi-media presentations, one on the role of the library and the other about Lincoln during the Civil War. The log cabin is the entrance to the exhibit on Abe's early life that includes the tragedies he suffered growing up when his mother, his first love and a son died. It follows his life as he educates himself and passes the bar and his political career, both successful and unsuccessful. This includes his debates with Stephen Douglas who defeated Lincoln in a run for the US Senate but lost the Presidential election to Abe two years later.

The Lincoln family in front of the White House that is the entrance to the exhibits about Lincoln's time as President. Standing on the left is John Wilkes Booth. This area deals with how Lincoln's election lead to the secession of the Southern states and the burden of leadership the Civil War placed on Lincoln. A must see exhibit condenses the war to four minutes with each second representing a week. A map shows how land changed hands and tracks the causalities that added up to over 1.5 million. There are exhibits about the assassination and a large room with the casket as it lie in state in the Illinois capitol. This museum is very well done and should be on the to do list of all Americans who want to understand how this great man saved the country we know.

As with most places we visit there always seems to be a reason to return. In Springfield it is the Dana-Thomas House that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is undergoing a major renovation and is not open at this time.

The Arch

We stayed at the Elks Lodge in Oakville so we could visit St. Louis and see the arch. This is a great stop at only $5.00 a night but the power is 15 amp so in the summer if you need AC it may not be so great. Our goal was to visit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that includes the old courthouse, a museum and, of course, the arch.

The first day we visited downtown it was overcast and a little rainy so we opted to tour the old courthouse. The courthouse was the site of the Dred Scott case in 1846. Scott, a slave, had lived for a time with his owner in Illinois, a free state, were he should have been able to gain his freedom. When he was moved back to Missouri he sued for his freedom based on the precedent that having lived in a free state gave him his right to freedom. The case finally made it to the US Supreme Court that ruled in 1856 that slaves were property and had no rights as citizens so Scott could not sue for his freedom. The ruling also ended the prohibition on slavery in the territories and prohibited Congress from regulating slavery anywhere. Scott was emancipated by his original owners following the decision. This decision lead to the rise of the Republican party, the election of Lincoln and the Civil War.

The building is architecturally interesting and has a display of St. Louis history from the first French settlers to the present.

In 1965 while on a cross country trip with my grandparents I saw the arch before the two legs were joined. Since then I have wanted to return and take the tram to the top. The idea for a monument to honor St. Louis as the Gateway to the West went back to the 1930's. The arch was designed in 1947 and construction began in 1963. It is a great engineering feat and a must see is the movie about the construction and the problems they overcame.

At 630 feet the arch is the tallest structure in the park service. This relief compares the height of other natural and man made sites to the arch and honors those that designed and built it. Nanc tells me the name of the architect, Eero Saarinen, is often in crossword puzzles.

Looking down from the top at the Mississippi. The water here was receding a little during the couple of days we saw it. The road to the right of the shadow was under water on our first visit.

Here we are at the top. This ride is not for the claustrophobic as the tram cars are very tight. Each holds five people and the entrance is only five feet high. The tram is part cable car, part elevator and part Ferris wheel. If it breaks down there is a 1076 step stairway in each leg that can be used to get down.

At the top the curve of the arch is very evident. That is Nanc from the knees up off in the distance. There are 16 small windows on each side of the observation area.

There is a great view of the Mississippi, St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois from the top.

Under the arch is a museum that tells the story of Westward Expansion with the exhibits arranged by decade telling what occurred throughout the US as states were added through the century. It starts with the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery and other explorers. It then shows how the West was settled to the point where, by the end of the 1800's, the census bureau declared there was no more frontier left in the continental United States. It also tells what happened to the Indian culture because of this expansion. The exhibits covered many of the same events we have seen on our recent travels from the cowboy culture and cattle drives to the trails followed by pioneers heading West.

Some of the animals that were important during Western Expansion. This is a great stop and the ride to the top of the arch is wonderful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Independence, Trails, KC

After learning the SKP park in Branson was half under water we changed our plans again and extended our stay in Independence. There is plenty to do here and it is very close to downtown Kansas City. We made a couple of trips into the city and enjoyed some of the sights and, of course, the food. The Midwest is not a great place to be a vegan like Nanc but for a meat eater like me it was wonderful. KC is known for its barbecue and after a combo of pork, beef ribs and burnt tips at Jack Stack Barbecue I can attest to the quality, mmmmmmmmm!

A few of sights in Independence.

Clockwise from the top left is the 1827 Log Courthouse that for forty years was the last courthouse between here and the Pacific and where Harry Truman held court in the 1930's. Middle is the Truman Depot that was the final stop of Truman's 1948 Whistlestop Campaign and where 8500 people welcomed Harry and Bess home at the end of his term in 1953. Next is the Auditorium and Temple of the Community of Christ, a Mormon sect, that towers over the city. The two stones at the bottom mark the beginning of the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails and a statue of President Andrew Jackson for whom Jackson County is named.
Here are a few of the many large, grand homes in Independence. Top left is the Bingham Waggoner Estate, Center is the Vaile Mansion and bottom right is the home where Bess Truman was born. The other two are just a couple of neat houses we liked. There is a Truman Historic Walking Trail around the city that includes many of these places.

We visited the National Frontier Trails Museum that celebrates Independence as the "Queen City of the Trails". The Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails all started here in the 1800's. The museum starts with the story of Lewis and Clark's Expedition and then the trappers and traders who opened the early paths that lead to America's Western Expansion. It has separate exhibits on each trail and the role Independence played as the staring point. Above is a statue of Jim Bridger an early mountain man and trapper. The top wagon is a Pennsylvania built Conestoga Wagon like those used by traders on the Santa Fe Trail. The bottom smaller wagon is more like the ones used by the pioneers. You can take a oral history tour around the city in this wagon. The rattler shows only one of the many dangers these travelers encountered along the trail. The background is a quilt with each block done in a different pattern made by local groups to celebrate the opening of the museum.

Top right is how Independence looked as a trail head town and left is the plaza in Santa Fe, Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail was more of a trade route than a road used by people moving west to settle. Bottom center is a Independence wheelwright shop with trail trash travellers discarded to lighten their loads on either side. The Oregon Trail was used by those going to settle on the fertile farm land of that territory. The California trail opened with the discovery of gold there in 1848 and followed the Oregon trail to a cut off point in Idaho. One of the stories in the museum was about Ezra Meeker who worked in the early 1900's to preserve the Oregon Trail. Meeker traveled the trail to Oregon in 1852. Then, to promote the trail's preservation traveled it Eastward in 1906. Before he died in 1928 he made three more trips, one in a wagon, then by automobile, and finally by airplane in 1924. This museum is a great stop to learn about those early pioneers who settled the West.

KC is known for its jazz and blues music so we went to the Blue Room in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District for a great session. Two museums we will have to check out in the future are the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. We also made a stop at the corner made famous in the song, Goin to Kansas City, 12th Street & Vine. Because of urban renewal the corner is now in a park where sculptures reflecting the music heritage of the city are still being added.

In the 1920's KC was known as the Paris of the Plains and as you can see from this Peep Show going on downtown there today that tradition continues. Today the city is famous for its many fountains. Some we found were not working but here are a couple that were. Kansas City and surrounding areas have much to offer for everyone.