Thursday, November 29, 2012

Texas Hill Country

We are now parked in Georgetown, Texas which is located about 30 miles north of Austin.  We had one very cold and windy day a couple of days ago, but we were assured by a local that Georgetown lies below the snow belt.  When Dallas and Fort Worth get snow this area does not, except very rarely.  We  headed out to the west yesterday in our little car.  The first town we drove through, Jonestown, had a sign proclaiming that it was the "Gateway to the Hill Country".  Our first goal of the day was to hike in Balcones Canyonlands, a national wildlife refuge.  There we took the Cactus Rock Trail which traverses through the habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.  Unfortunately for us the bird's presence here is noted only March through May.  Immediately upon hiking into the refuge I was struck by the fact that we were in a different type of forest, the likes of which we had not been in for many months.  Here we were seeing cactus, and many small shrubs, not the tall pines of the north country.  Our trail is pictured below.
We had a trail guide which identified some of the trees and other plants of the park, the trees are mainly oaks and junipers.  Fortunately we are still far enough north that we can enjoy some fall colors.
In the above picture John is pointing out a southern red oak, also called a Spanish oak.  His shirt is close to the colors of that tree, I just could not pass up taking that picture.  What an interesting splotch of red in an otherwise gray environment!  Many trees in the refuge have now lost their leaves and the small shrub plants are dried up.  As the oak trees, the green foliage of the junipers and cedar sedge plants also provide a bit of color, as well as the prickly pear cactus.  Our trail led us to the high slopes of the refuge where we received a grand vista of the hill country, a picture of which I have at the beginning of this posting.  Before I close this. I just want to note a few other interesting items which we encountered yesterday.  We passed a street called "No Name".  A section of the highway we were on yesterday had a road sign noting that we were on a "winding road through urban area".  We drove through the town called Marble Falls where we found neither a falls or marble, but the largest granite quarry of its kind in the United States.  The granite dome there stands 866 feet high.  Around the quarry we saw many large slabs of finished granite wrapped in plastic, possibly ready for shipment out.  We saw little activity in the quarry and wondered whether the slow-down in construction of new homes has affected the granite production.   The Colorado River runs through Marble Falls, outside of the town we saw L.B. Johnson Lake, pictured below. Large rocky bluffs surround this side of the lake.  And on our way home we drove through the small town of Bertram.  A sign near the town proudly proclaims that it has an annual Oatmeal Festival.  I do hope that that unusual festival happens during the cool months of winter, not in the dog days of a Texas summer!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fort Worth Water Gardens

We are now parked in a Grand Prairie city park near Joe Pool Lake.  It is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area - a place which was not in our plans to be parked.  Apparently there is a Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins foot ball game going on this week-end, so all the recreational vehicle parks are full.    Had we known, we would have reserved a spot ahead of time.  But it has turned out to be all the better for us.  In the park where we are located there are lots of beautiful trees and no city noise.  A neighbor said a skunk walked past his campfire the other evening.  Yesterday I saw a coyote walking close to our home- that sure made our cat sit up and take notice!  John and I were in this area a couple of years ago, so we have already seen a lot of the tourist sites of Dallas and Fort Worth.  However, we have not seen the Water Gardens located in downtown Fort Worth.  That is where we headed out to visit on Wednesday. The gardens have  lakes, forests and a mountain.  The mountain is in reality concrete sandblasted tiers rising 20 feet above the ground.  As you may imagine, this is not the real deal, only a sense of it.  The gardens do contain over 500 species of plants and trees.  One of the architects of the park, Philip Johnson, referred to the story of "Alice in Wonderland" in his description of his design of the Water Garden.  He wanted visitors of the park to have the experience of growing bigger and also smaller with never having a clue as to when that would happen.  I felt very small standing in the pool pictured below.  The pool  has a circular waterfall tumbling 38 feet down multiple tiers into a pool surrounded by stepping stones.  It also gave me a dizzy feeling just hearing the water rushing under and flowing around me.
 There is another pond with aerated water which has 40 special nozzles spraying water above the surface of the pool.  Also in the park is a quiet pool, which is surrounded by bald cypress trees.
 My attention was draw to the cypress trees because a lot of them have their leaves gone and they just do not look too pretty at this time of the year. Then I noticed the cypress knees which are coming up in different areas around the pool and causing cracks in the concrete.  In the picture below you can see dark spots in the concrete, those are cypress knees.
I wondered why bald cypress trees would be planted in a concrete place where their knees cannot push up into the soft earth.  While I was puzzling over that conundrum a young man asked me what was the date.  After I answered that question he volunteered the information that he had just been released from prison after 4 years.  He was in need of food and starting to feel that maybe he would be better off back in prison.  He showed me his identification card to explain why he asked what day it was.  I noticed that his birth date was November 28.  There was something else on the card which glared out at me.  In the middle of the card in bold print was the word OFFENDER.  Now why are ex-convicts issued that kind of an identification card?  Why not give them a card without those words so they can possibly get on with their life?  Not to even mention that it is demoralizing!  But just maybe, like my question regarding the cypress trees, I do not have the full picture.  The rest of our afternoon was spent at the Kimball Art Museum.  We timed our visit there so we could join a docent led tour of the museum.  Most interesting to me on that guided tour was Michelangelo's first painting, done by him at the age of 13 years.  We were told by our guide that the painter went to a fish market and there got his ideas for the demons which he painted into the picture.  The art work, "Torment of Saint Anthony" is a picture of the saint surrounded by devils.  One demon has squidlike wings.  It is quite an impressive piece to be drawn by so young a boy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our walking tour of Texarkana, Arkansas

We had a beautiful drive down through Arkansas on Friday.  Highway 71 took us through the Ouachita Mountains and national forest by the same name.  Many trees now have their leaves off, but some still have their yellow and red leaves which, with a bright sun shining on them, gave quite a show of autumnal beauty.  I do not know where they were cutting trees, but many fully loaded logging trucks passed us.  We are now parked outside of Texarkana, a town on the Arkansas and Texas borders.  There is a street in Texarkana called State Line, which we walked along on our tour of the city Saturday.  On one side of the street is Texas, and, upon crossing the street, we were in Arkansas.  In downtown Texarkana are two municipal buildings which have to deal with this unusual conundrum.  The Bi-State Justice building is home for 20 city, county, and state judicial and law enforcement agencies.  Because the building is located in two states, special legislation by both Arkansas and Texas created unique legal jurisdiction applicable to just inside the building.  It is the only such facility of its kind in the world.  Another unique building straddling the State Line is the Post Office and Courthouse.  The Federal Building sits in two zip codes, its official address is listed as Texarkana, U.S.A. 75501.  There is a special photographer's island outside the building where a picture may be taken of it.  As with the Bi-State building, two different state flags fly in front of it.
On our tour of the city we came upon what use to be called Saenger Theater.  It opened in 1924 and brings the best of Broadway to the town.. Through the generosity of a native son H.Ross Perot and his sister Belle Perot, it has been saved and restored.  It is now known as the Perot Theater.  Glenn Campbell was to perform there Saturday night,  we stopped at the box office and were informed that we still could get tickets for that evenings performance.  We decided to pass on that, however.  We had other things on our agenda for the rest of the day and the price for tickets was a bit steep.
We spent most of our afternoon in Texarkana at the Ace of Clubs House.  It is a 22-sided house built in 1885 and first owned by James H. Draughon.  Legend has it that his winning card was the ace of clubs, and the house was bought from the winnings from a poker game.  Architecturally the Italian Victorian home has three octagonal wings and one rectangular wing that join to form the distinct shape of a "club".  We had a fascinating guided tour of the home which is filled with furnishings of the late 1800s-1940s.  Most interesting to see is the shoe collection of the last lady of the house, Octavia Moore.  On display in her bedroom are the 500 shoes she purchased over 60 years from Neiman Marcus.  Also on or tour of the city is a Scot Joplin mural, the "Father of Ragtime Music" (his tounger years were spent in Texarkana). A hero of  Texas is Jim Bowie, there is a monument of him on the Texas half of the town.  At the Texarkana Regional Arts Center there is an outdoor display celebrating the centennial observance of the Girl Scouts of America.  In this past year we have seen similar displays in recognition of this milestone across the country, but this one seems to be the best of what we have seen.  The panels were created by 50 Diamond Girl Scouts and their leaders.  The girls, ranging in age from 5 to 18, created images representing Girl Scout symbols and events.  Pictured below is a portion of the many panels on display.  This is only some of the highlights which we saw touring Texarkana.  We had a great time touring it on foot, especially since there were little to no cars on its streets.  Quite often it seemed silly to even observe the stop lights!  The downtown was pretty much devoid of any activity, maybe that is not all that unusual in a town where many have moved out of the inner city.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Van Buren, Arkansas

Our home is currently parked in this little burg.  Van Buren is just across the Arkansas River from Fort Smith.  Our first stop Thursday was Logtown Hill.  During the Civil War Federal artillary was positioned near the crest of the hill to take the town and shell the steamboats docked at the riverfront.   Residents of the town were witness to the retreat of the Rebel Army through Van Buren.  Story has it that after the war veterans sat and talked on opposite sides of Main Street, depending on which side they supported.  The Visitor's Center was our next stop where we picked up a guide for the historic buildings on Main Street.
The building on the corner in the above picture is the King Opera House, built in 1891 in the Victorian architectural style.  Jenny Lind and William Jennings Bryant performed here.
 According to a town brochure the Crawford County Bank Building, pictured above, was the "epitome of Victorian elegance" when it opened its doors in 1889.  Also on Main Street use to be the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company's distribution place.  The 1892 building still has on its facade the trademark "A and Eagle" of the company.  There are many more historic buildings on Main Street, I just mentioned a few.  And what is amazing to me is that Van Buren is still a vibrant town, many of the old buildings have shops and restaurants in them today.  And, last of all, I do want to mention the Crawford County Courthouse, also on Main Street.  It was rebuilt in the late 1800s and is the oldest functioning courthouse west of the Mississippi. The fountain contains the statue of Hebe, Greek Goddess of Youth and Happiness.  A sign here notes that the Butterfield Stage Route between St.Louis and San Francisco ran down Main Street and crossed the river at this point.
We had a great time touring the town and it was getting late in the day when we were done.  Had we known that our next stop was going to be as equally impressive, maybe we would have moved through the town a bit faster.  That stop was at the Drennen-Scott House.  John Drennen's dad fought for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  John Drennen, a local merchant, was one of the founders of Van Buren, and  he owned the town's only ferry.  He was one of the federal agents appointed to over-see the Five Civilized Tribes.  Story also has it that a young slave girl of his was taken from him by the Underground Railroad.  He was a Confederate sympathizer and left town when the Union Army came in, returning home after the war.  His house, a sprawling one-story frame house, overlooks the Arkansas River.  We were fortunate that our guide, a descendent of John Drennen,  happened to be volunteering there on Thursday.  She shared with us her memories of visiting her great aunt at the home when she was a young child.  The Drennen family owned the home until 20005 when it was sold to the University of Arkansas.  The interior decorations and all of its antebellum furnishings has remained in the house through the years.  Highlights include a freize that was displayed in the Arkansas House at the 1893 Chicago's World Fair, a 1740s grandfather clock,  and a Steinway piano manufactured in 1860. The house, pictured below, has had additions added to it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fort Smith National Historic Site

When we drove into Fort Smith yesterday we had no idea of what we were looking for, other than the historic district.  We ended up on the grounds of the old fort, built from 1938-42.  It was fortified with stone walls which were 12 feet high and 2 feet thick.  Fort Smith was the last of its kind, after 1840 frontier forts were not built with such fortification because they were too costly to build.  During the Civil War the fort was fired on once, it was an attempt by the Confederate troops in 1864 to take back the city from the Union army.  They were not successful.  After the Civil War the military closed the little used fort.   However, for over 80 years the fort was used by the federal government to establish and maintain order in Indian Territory, land which was set apart for them in 1828 and which would become Oklahoma.  Pictured below is one of the buildings which first served the fort as a military barracks..  In the late 1800s it became a jail and a Federal Courthouse for Western Arkansas.  Currently there is a wonderful museum in the old courthouse with exhibits pertaining to the jail which use to be in its basement, as well as a replica of Judge Parker's courtroom.  He held the bench for 21 years, settling thousands of disputes and violence between Indians and non-Indians.  In Western novels and films he was known as the "Hanging Judge".
The most interesting exhibit in the museum for me was one pertaining to the Native Indians and the Trail of Tears.  I finally learned who the "Civilized Tribes" were and why that designation was important.   In the early 1800s Native Indians from the southeastern part of our country were required to become "civilized".  Our government expected  them to become Christians, learn the English language and agricultural techniques.  Five tribes did that (the Seminole,Cherokee,Creek,Choctaw,and Chickasaw).  They also established their own schools, lived in cabins and dressed in what would be considered appropriate clothes.  The picture below depicts this quite well.  However, all the assimilation and accommodation had gained them nothing and they were moved to the Indian Territory across the border from Arkansas.   
 Somewhere in our travels  John and I were at a Civil War battle site at which it was noted that troops from the Five Civilized Tribes fought with the Union Army. However, as I learned at this museum, that did not even give the "Civilized Tribes" any brownie points.  Although they had fought on both sides of the war, the government considered considered all tribes as defeated enemies.  They were told that their rights had been forfeited, and their property could be confiscated.  African Americans had their freedom, American Indians did not.  An 1865 Fort Smith Council was held to improve relations with the tribes, nothing was resolved except the suggestion made by a Choctaw Chief that the Indian Territory be called "Oklahoma", meaning "Land of the Red Man".  In 1889 the Indian Territory was opened up for a land grab by people other than the American Indians and the process of statehood for Oklahoma was started.  Judge Parker was the only one to urge statehood for the Five Tribes, but to no avail.  We spent more time than planned in the museum and the sun was starting to set as we toured the grounds of the fort.  The Riverfront Trail took us along the Arkansas River. In this area the original fort was built in 1817.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Devil's Den State Park, Arkansas

It has taken us a bit longer than expected, but we are now in the northwestern corner of Arkansas.  Deep in a valley of the rugged Boston Mountains is the Devil's Den State Park.  The mountains are the southern end of the Ozark Highlands.  Below is a picture of those mountains which I took at Lake Fort Smith Park.
John commented that he was tired of looking at old homes and he was ready for some hiking.  Devil's Den  is 2,500-acre park with some very spectacular Ozark Mountain scenery, some say that it is the best in Arkansas.  It seemed the natural place for us to go for hiking, and we chose the most popular trail of the park.  Devil's Den Trail took us over rugged rocky paths between high sandstone bluffs.  Weathering and erosion have created the Swiss cheese look to the rock formation pictured below.
Crevices and caves are another feature of this park.  Geologists believe that the crevices are a result of a major slide from the south of this area.  The crevice pictured below is only a small part of the larger crack between two huge rock formations. A photo just does not do it justice.  Light and shadows at that time of day did not help either.  It was quite impressive and unlike anything we had ever seen.
The narrow steep-walled cave pictured below is the Devil's Den, for which the park is named. Some say it use to be a hideout for outlaws, but no one knows for sure.
Another feature of the trail is the Devil's Icebox.  Large fractures as the "Icebox" were formed as cracks within the Atoka sandstone became enlarged as the large rock mass slid.  During the summer air flowing out of this cave may feel cool to hot, sweaty hikers- hence the name "Icebox".  It was a cool day for us and the air flowing out felt warm to us.  Actually most caves in the park keep an even temperature of 55-60 degrees year- round.  In the picture below John is checking out the "Icebox".
It would have been interesting to have explored some of the caves along the trail, but they are all currently closed to the public.  Park rangers are fearful of the white-nose syndrome.  It is a non-native cold-loving fungus which is destroying large bat populations.  Fortunately it is not in this park.  One other note, as we entered the park we saw what we thought was a road runner.  We did not think they could be this far south but a park ranger assured us that they have been spotted in the park.

Monday, November 12, 2012

George Washington Carver National Monument

This monument lies south of Carthage outside of the small town of  Diamond, Missouri.  George W. Carver was born in this area in 1864 to a slave woman.  As I mentioned in my last posting, guerrilla warfare was rampant along the Kansas-Missouri border during the Civil War.  The infant child and his mother were caught up in this turmoil when they were kidnapped by outlaws.  Only George was later found in Arkansas and returned to his owner, Moses Carver and his wife Susan.  They raised George as their foster child.  The Carver Monument has the graveyard where that couple is buried, as well as the second home in which they lived.  By the time they lived in that home (pictured below) George was attending school in Kansas. He did return to this home at various times over the years to visit his foster parents.   I had expected to see a large plantation house, but Moses and his wife were farmers and Mary, the mother of George, was the only slave they owned.  The approximate area of the slave cabin in which George was born is noted in the park.
All I could remember about George W. Carver from my school days was that he found many uses for peanuts.  However, at the visitor center I discovered there was so much more to the man.  As a small boy he was frail and unable to be as active as other boys his age.  Consequently he learned sewing and cooking.  His time was also spent with music and painting.  As he became older he spent time in the woods collecting what he called his "floral beauties".  He soon gained a reputation as a plant doctor. The Boy Carver statue, pictured below, rests in a natural area of the park much like the area George loved to explore.  Another interesting story about George's childhood was that there was no colored Sunday school for him to attend.  He asked a friend how to pray, and that was the start of a life-long relationship with his Lord.
As there were no schools for the colored in the country, at about the age of 11 years it was necessary for George to leave home and board with a family in the nearby town of Neosho.  He was later rejected from college because of his race, but eventually found a college that accepted him in Iowa.  He earned a Bachelor Degree of  Agriculture and a Masters degree in 1896.  He did discover more than 300 uses for the peanut plant, but equally notable were his years of teaching African American farmers how to free themselves from the tyranny of king cotton at Tuskegee Institute, Ala.  George convinced Southern farmers to grow soil-enriching crops as peanuts and soybeans, in addition to cotton. His teaching embraced the notion that nature produced no waste, he was a consummate recycler.  He continued to paint and discovered that Alabama's clays produced beautiful pigments when mixed with starches,oils,and pastes. George patented a processing for creating over 500 colors.   He also was a great humanitarian and became a symbol of inter-racial cooperation.  It was impressive to me what that man did in his lifetime!   As the park's brochure noted: "it is not so much his specific achievements as the humane philosophy behind them that defines the man". 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Carthage, Missouri

This small Missouri town of about 15,000 people has an impressive 160 years of history.  After perusing the travel brochures on this town we decided that a visit here calls for more than a two day stay.  Our first stop in the town was the town square where we were immediately drawn to the courthouse.  It is the second most photographed building in Missouri, after the St.Louis Gateway Arch.  Architecturally it is an impressive building, constructed of stone from a local quarry.  It was built from 1894-95.
In the lobby of the courthouse is a mural "Forged in Fire" by Lowell Davis.  The mural tells of the history of Jasper County, as well as the men and women crucial to its history.  Carthage was totally destroyed by fire by the Confederate Army in 1864 during temporary absence of the Union garrison.  In 1861 was the first battle of Carthage, when the Union army was defeated.  That was the first major land battle of the Civil War.  Over thirteen engagements plus constant terror from guerrillas continued for the next few years in the Carthage region.  At the second Battle of Carthage in 1863 the Confederates were pushed out of Carthage  into Arkansas.  Subjection to the constant terror of war changed the lives of the townspeople.  One such person was a lady by the name of Myra Shirley.  Embittered by the death of her brother, who was killed by Union troops, she joined up with several guerrillas and became known as Belle Starr, Queen of the Outlaws.  She can be seen sitting on her horse in the middle of the mural "Forged in Fire", pictured  below.
Only one house was left standing after Carthage was burned.  The house was used for a short time by a commander of the Confederate Army in 1863.  It is the Kendrick farm, which is pictured below.
Within ten years after the war 6,000 people called Carthage home.  And it was the wealth lying under the land which made possible an industrial boom for the town at the turn of the century- namely zinc,lead and limestone.  Many of the large beautiful Victorian-styled homes built during that time can still be seen in the town today.  After touring the courthouse John and I took a driving tour of the town to see those old homes, the first of which was where R. Marlin Perkins was born in 1905.  His house was not as spectacular as the rest of the older homes, however, so I will post instead a picture of the Hill House built in 1887.  Our guide book Through the Years Carthage Missouri describes it as having a "round turret, corbelled out from the wall with a candle-snuffer roof ".  To me it is just plain awesome!

Precious Moments Chapel

After leaving St.Louis we had spent a couple of days in Farmington visiting John's family.  On Thursday we left Farmington and drove west across Missouri.  In southern Missouri is the beginning of the Ozarks and our trip Thursday took us through those rolling hills dotted with wooded acres and farmland. It was a beautiful autumn drive.  We had planned to drive straight through into Arkansas, however, the weather turned warm and we learned that in the Carthage, Missouri there are some places which we had not as yet visited.  For all of our years living in Missouri, we had not seen the Precious Moments Chapel and Gardens.
Surely everyone is familiar with those whimsical creatures created by Samuel Butcher!  His career over the years went from child evangelism to card illustrator to sculptor of the beautiful figurines we know as Precious Moments.  Samuel Butcher also constructed a chapel where he painted his Precious Moments children  into Biblical scenes of the Old and New Testament.  Pictured below is the sanctuary of the chapel.
Mr. Butcher call his large painting at the front of the chapel Hallelujah Square.  It is a heavenly scene filled with children, the only adult in the center of the picture is Jesus.  On the ceiling are painted cherubs and clouds.  The chapel has been dubbed "America's Sistine Chapel".  For John and I it is reminiscent of the Sistine, but in many ways it is so different.  Precious Moments Chapel has as its over-riding theme the innocence of children with their simple and trusting faith.  It is a message of hope and peace.  In the chapel is also a series of stained glass windows, one set has as its theme Psalm 23, the other that of the Beatitudes.
There is a lot of natural beauty surrounding the Chapel.  The Chapel Terrace overlooks Center Creek which flows serenely along the property.  While standing on the terrace we saw a natural opening into the hillside.  Near the cave on a sign were printed the words of the resurrection story:   "He is not here for he is risen as he said".  The artist, Samuel Butcher, is now in his seventies.  We were given to understand that, even though his home is located near the chapel,  he also spends some of his time in the Philippines.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Missouri River Greenway

The tires for our motor home have come in and we had them installed today.  Hooray, we are now a bit closer to our goal of heading south!  My sister Julia suggested that we check out the Missouri River Greenway Trail while we are waiting on our tires, as the trail is just down the road from the tire shop.  That turned out to be an excellent suggestion.  Hard to believe that there is any trail left in the St.Louis area which we have not covered, but the Greenway Trails have just come about in the past ten years.  An interpretive sign along the trail explained the building of the "river ring".  It is a system of 8 hiking trails along a number of rivers such as the Mississippi, Meramec and the Missouri.  The goal is to have all the Greenway Trails eventually connect to each other.  I think it is an exciting concept and we look forward to checking them all out in the future.  The trail we visited today is along the Missouri River in Bridgeton, Missouri.
  As we walked along the river we could easily see historic St.Charles across the river.  We have been on the Katy Trail and the riverfront park on that side of the river.  It was interesting to see those familiar landmarks from a new vantage point.  Below is a picture of old St.Charles and its waterfront.
The Missouri River Greenway is a paved trail which winds through a forest.  Many of the trees in that forest have proven to be a tasty meal for beavers. 
And it is not the small trees which the beavers are chewing on, as you may notice by the circumference of the tree pictured above.  It is a very large tree, which will probably soon be cut down by park rangers.  We noticed several large trees, chewed on like the one above, which have been cut down and now lie along the trail path.  We did not see any beavers in action, but we did see quite a few woodpeckers hammering on the dead trees.  Also, perched on a tree over the river we espied a lone night heron.
 Before closing here I want to share with you what we learned from an interpretive sign along the trail about the road on which this park is located, namely St. Charles Rock Road.  Before it became a paved road it was a path which Native Americans took when they traveled between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  When Louis Blanchette established the village of St.Charles in 1769 he named it the road to St.Charles. In 1837 it was a toll road.  Just after the Civil War the road was paved with compressed layers of stone to make a hard surface.  Thereafter it was know as the Rock Road, as well as St.Charles Rock Road.  In 1921 it became the first concrete highway in the state, and today it is the oldest highway in Missouri.  Hope I have not bored you with this information, but I found it very fascinating as I have traveled on the Rock Road for about 35 years and knew nothing of its impressive history!