Friday, September 27, 2013

The Other Las Vegas and a Visit to Historic Fort Union

We moved on to historic Las Vegas, (NM not NV) a small city that grew as an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail.  The city is where the high plains that you see looking East meet the mountains to the West.  Las Vegas has more than 900 buildings that are registered as National Historical Landmarks.  Las Vegas is also the spot where US General Kearney claimed the territory for the United States during the Mexican American War.  Because the city is so well preserved it has been the site of many movies from Tom Mix's in the early 1900's, to Easy Rider in 1968 and True Grit in 2010.  More the fifty films have been shot here. 
The Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1882, is a fine example of the towns architecture that is more Victorian, Queen Anne and Renaissance Revival than Southwestern.  The hotel has hosted many famous and infamous, from Doc Holiday and Billy the Kid to a reunion for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. 
There are many well preserved old buildings around the beautiful town square.
Looking down the street from the square, the old storefronts are all in great shape.
These three old cars parked on the square would have fit in at any time in the last 75 years.  If you want to step back in time, Las Vegas is a great stop. 
Give me a home where ...... the antelope roam.  We really know we are "out West" when we begin to see antelope along the highway.
We did a short road trip to Fort Union National Monument and the Santa Fe National Historical Trail.  After this area became part of the United States in 1846 there was a need to build a fort to protect the Santa Fe Trail.  The trail was the only route of commerce to the new US territory.  The fort was built where the longer but safer Mountain Route met the shorter but more dangerous Cimarron Branch of the trail.  
The first of three forts was built in 1851.  We were lucky to be there on one of only two days a year when the remains of the original fort are open to the public because the site is surrounded by private land.  This fort was typical of other western army forts that we have visited.  It was a small community where soldiers were stationed, but not built as a fortification that needed to have walls to protect it from an attack.
With the start of the Civil War in 1861 most regular troops from Fort Union were sent East.  With New Mexico volunteers the base commander built the second fort, a more defensible star shaped earthen fortification.  The fort never saw action because soldiers from here stopped the Confederate invasion at the Battle of Glorieta Pass.  After the defeat, the Confederates withdrew to Texas ending all Civil War action in the Southwest.  The star shaped fort was then abandoned. 
A few artifacts from the soldiers life at Fort Union.  The background shows the wagon ruts of the Santa Fe Trail.
A typical encampment of the frontiers soldiers when they were in the field.
A third and final Fort Union was built starting in 1863.  This is the remains of the hospital that was the largest medical facility within 500 miles.  The hospital served both military and civilians.
Looking across the plains at the remains of the last Fort Union.  This is what a traveler would have seen as they were approaching the fort after traveling across miles of plains.
The remains of the officers' row.  The homes were much larger than those for enlisted troops' families and the barracks for the other soldiers. 
The parade ground of the fort.  The grass is much greener than usual because of all the flooding rain they have gotten lately.
The few standing walls are being saved with a special adobe compound.
Remains of the Mechanic Corral where repairs were made to travelers' wagons. 
The only stone building was the military prison.  Of all the frontier forts we have visited, Fort Union is the only one that does not have any restored buildings that would give you a better look at the life on the frontier. 
On our last evening in Las Vegas we were sure we were seeing one of those New Mexico UFO's (Roswell like) when we saw this huge glow in the sky.  Very cool!!  When we put the binoculars on it we saw that it was another New Mexico phenomenon, a big gas balloon.  If you are into old, historic towns, make sure you put Las Vegas, NM on your list.  We really enjoyed the visit.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cadillacs & Big Steaks

We moved on to Amarillo, TX while checking out a bit more of Route 66.  I can honestly say I hate driving across Texas.  We have done it several times and the almost 900 mile crossing on I-10 is terrible.  Well, I think I found the solution. If you go via the panhandle you can cross the state in 3 1/2 hours not 3 1/2 days, much better.  We did stop in in the middle to check a couple of things off our bucket list. 
The Cadillac Ranch is an interesting bit of art that was installed in 1974 and then moved to its current location in 1997 to get it further from town.  It is on private land in a farmer's field.  The same person owns the land at both places. 
When you walk through this painted gate to get to the cars you know you are in for a unique experience.  The tradition to spray paint the cars has extended to the gate. 
If you don't bring your own paint, no problem.  A couple of people who were leaving passed their cans on to us and there were also cans lying around that you could use.  Here is Nanc with the mark she left for the public to view.  WOW, she never thought she would ever be someone who painted graffiti on anything!!! 
From time to time they cover all the old graffiti to give the taggers a fresh palette.  They have also been repainted for TV commercials and once they were painted pink for property owner Stanley Marsh's wife's birthday. 
No area of the cars have been left untouched.
If you have ever wanted to spray paint something this is the place to do it without getting into trouble.  A word of warning, make sure you are standing up wind or you may become part of the art.
If you are driving I-40 or Route 66 make sure you stop and see the Cadillac Ranch.
The Cadillac theme even extends to the nearby RV park, though we did not stay there.
A big old steam locomotive that used to travel through Amarillo.  All RVers have close relationships with railroads because so many RV parks seem to be along the tracks. 
Another must see in Amarillo is the Big Texan.  Even the motel has the Old West theme.
This is the restaurant that has been made famous for its "free" 72 ounce steak.  It is only free if you eat the whole thing, including all the sides, in one hour.  We were hoping we would get the opportunity to watch someone try, but there were no takers while we were there.
And here it is, top left.  It looks more like a roast than a steak.  It comes with salad, shrimp, and baked potato.  You are allowed to cut up the steak and take one taste before the clock starts.  If you fail to finish everything within one hour it will cost you $72.00.  This is my meal, which was the 25% version, with an 18 ounce steak and all the other fixins.  Bottom left is all I could eat of the little one so I'm glad I didn't go for the "big cut".
You can see what happens to non meat eaters here.  Nanc can't even fill the chair.  I did enjoy my meal, and had a good steak salad at home a couple of days later.  If you are traveling through this area the Big Texan is a pretty neat stop.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

OKC & Route 66

We moved Westward and spent a few days in Oklahoma City.  We have been here before and here are our blog entries about the National Cowboy and Heritage Museum and the OKC National Memorial and Museum.  This stay we toured the capitol and enjoyed the Bricktown area. 
On both visits we stayed at the Midwest City Elks lodge that is a great location with one exception, as you can see above.  The lodge is directly under the flight path for Tinker Air Force Base and when the wind is right there are planes landing for a good part of the day.  This is a KC 135 refueling plane that I got to fly in when I was teaching.  Very neat.  There were also AWAC, fighters and even a B-52 zooming overhead.  It was not really to bad as we were gone for most of the day and they do not fly very late into the night.
We did travel a bit of Route 66 in Oklahoma.  Here are a few old sights we saw along the way.  Most of these places don't have good spots to park an RV so we did not stop very often.
The Gold Dome Building in OKC on Route 66 was built in 1958 as a bank building.  It was designed by Buckminister Fuller whose work we have seen at other places on the road.  The geodesic dome creates a wide open interior where walls can be built without worrying about structural supports. Very neat and very innovative for the times.
Another old Route 66 icon is the Milk Bottle Building.  It was originally a small grocery.  Unfortunately both of these building are now empty.
This statue in the Bricktown area depicts the 1889 land rush when "unassigned land" in Indian Territory was opened to settlement.  Not only was the land supposed to belong to the Native Americans, but many people cheated and snuck into the area sooner then allowed to get the best land, thus the origin of the Oklahoma Sooners.
Some of the public art in the Bricktown area.  There is a short canal that has water taxis.  This is a very nice urban renewal area with restaurants, hotels, convention center, arena and ball park.
The ball park has statues of Oklahoma natives who played Major League Baseball including Mickey Mantle (left), Johnny Bench (right) and brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner who played on the 1927 Pirates World Series Champions team.  No I did not see the Waners play.
Unlike Branson there was free entertainment in Bricktown.
We did not start touring state capitol buildings when we went on the road, but we now try to do that anytime we are in a capital city.  The Oklahoma capitol was completed in 1917 without the planned dome because they ran out of money.  The dome was added in 2002 in time for the states 2007 centennial celebration. 
  The artwork in capitol complexes usually tells a lot about the state's history and that is true here.  Top are the flags of the Indian Nations, left is a cowboy breaking a horse, right is a Native American and center is an oil well.  There are still working wells pumping oil on the capitol grounds.
Portraits of a few famous Oklahomans that are in the capitol.  Left to right are Wiley Post, Jim Thorpe, Woody Guthrie and of course Will Rogers.  Visiting a capitol building is a great way to learn a bit of the state's history.  We are glad we returned to OKC to see a bit more of this city's history.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Branson & Eureka Springs

We moved on to Branson, a place we tried to visit a couple of years ago but could not because of flooding.  Other than knowing that Branson had many music venues, we did not really know what to expect.  What we found was almost 100 different shows in theaters that cost $25 to $30 dollars each and no music in small club settings.  Many of the performances are legends shows where they do there best to look, act and sound like the real thing.  That did not really appeal to us.  Branson is all about tourism with several malls and your typical stores selling imported junk.  That said we did enjoy a few days exploring the area and kicking back.  
We are near Branson Landing, an up scale shopping area with a few restaurants.  A highlight there is the fire and water show.  We always love car shows and went to a unique one at the landing.  All the cars had to be orphans, that were no longer produced.  Studebaker had the most cars there, but there were a few others.
This is one of only 94 Playboys built in the late 1940's.  The magazine and club took its name from the car not the other way around.
The Studebaker Avanti was only produced in 1962 & 63.  It is a very neat sporty looking car that I can remember seeing on the road.
A hot rod Studebaker.
Studebaker convertible.
The Chevrolet Corvair was produced from 1960 to 1969.  It was the only mass produced rear engine American car.
Another Corvair.  This was the automobile that started the car safety movement when Ralph Nader wrote "Unsafe at any Speed" about the need for cars to hold up better in a crash.
The Studebaker Silver Hawk was a sleek looking car.
This was my favorite, an REO Speed Wagon.  I did not realize that REO had made pick ups, I always thought they were a big truck company.  We talked to the owner and he was real proud of this little beauty.
Studebaker Commander.
Another Avanti.
How about this MG.  Nanc and I actually thought about buying one of these when we were first married.  We decided not to when my uncle, who did our car repairs, said he would not work on that foreign junk.
Studebaker Lark.
Studebaker Truck.
The Chrysler Desoto was produced from 1928 to 1961.  My family had a 1958 Desoto.  These cars were like big boats.
Another Studebaker Truck.  Seeing all these Studebakers made me wish we had gone to their museum in South Bend when we were there.  Oh well, it is now on our to do list.
With almost 100 shows to choose from we were not sure which one to see.  We then got a message from our friends Tom and Georgie who were listening to music at Al & Rubens in WashPA.  One of the guys in the band recommended we see Six.  It was a good choice and we were not disappointed.  The six brother put on a very entertaining show.  If you are looking for a Branson experience we recommend seeing Six.
We did a day trip to Eureka Springs, AR.  This is a neat little Ozark Mountain town that started as a hot springs resort.  The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The streets meander up and down the side of the mountains.
In the 1960's many Hippies moved to Eureka Springs so it is now a very eclectic place with many neat shops selling original art and a variety of public art.  It is a place where you can find people warning you of the evils of sin across the street from a store selling furry handcuffs and other unmentionables.
One of the many well preserved Victorian buildings.  We enjoyed our afternoon in Eureka Springs and may have to return to explore a bit more.