Monday, March 14, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Plans in jello, that’s for sure!

We started our travels Saturday destined for Bennett Springs State Park in Missouri, a comfortable 200 mile drive. We planned to stay there for a couple of days, then go to Beaver Dam State Park in Carlinville, IL for awhile where we could pick up our mail from our son. This would mean maybe about one more week on the road before home to Quincy.

When we got near the cutoff to turn south off of US 54 to Bennett it just past noon. Too early to be settling in? On a whim, I pulled out the trusty android and started checking other options, distances and campgrounds. In fact, we were making great time and could even be back in Quincy before dark if we didn't stop. Suddenly with a lovely driving day that just made perfect sense.

As it turns out, I’m writing this on Monday and have just seen on the weather that along yesterdays' route Jefferson City, Mo, got an unexpected NINE inches of snow overnight. Boy did we luck out in making that last minute change in plans!

We pulled in front to our house at 5:30 with 380 miles covered for the day. We agreed to unload nothing but necessities and the refrigerator after the long travel day.

It wasn’t but a few minutes later when our neighbor, John, came out to invite us to dinner at their house. John’s wife, Stacy is recovering from ankle surgery and so he played chef with some awesome steaks on the grill. John had taken on the Herculean effort of snow removal at our place when the big snow hit in January and so we had brought them back a case of a variety of wines from California. We ended up sitting at their house far too late considering Stacy needed her sleep but had a really enjoyable evening. It was a reminder of how great it is to be back home in our wonderful neighborhood with our great hometown friends. Just like our RV friends, seems our neighbors weren’t going to let us cook on a travel day!

We’ll head down to our son’s house in Carlinville by the weekend to pick up mail so I can get our taxes done.

Other than that our next several weeks will probably be pretty boring compared to the last 10 weeks, so I won't be blogging much until we are back on the road again.

Thanks for joining us on our first trip to the gorgeous Southwest!

I’m already working through the details of our next adventure!

Hugs, C

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Toronto, KS: Crossed Timbers State Park

On Thursday, March 10th, the forecast called for a one-day break in the high winds so we took the opportunity to head farther East. The distance between the two Kansas State Parks, Meade State Park and Cross Timbers State Park is 271 miles. The route is almost entirely two-lane US 54, which is a comfortable highway for motorhome travel with pretty classic Kansas scenery as you see below.


We arrived about 2pm at the Cross Timbers State Park. They have campground hosts this time of year which is a bit unusual. Apparently this nice couple has been there pretty much full time for ten years. Once again, we had the park to ourselves except for the folks that worked there. It turns out it was lucky we arrived early because before it was over with we moved in to 4 different sites—a new record for us!

At Escapade several years ago we invested in a Progressive Electrical Surge and Voltage Protection Unit that Ken hardwired into our motorhome electrical system. He felt strongly about this from both a safety perspective and to keep the coach's electrical systems from getting fried by dirty power. There's now been several occasions where we think this system has more than paid for itself. In this case, it was throwing an error code that there was a bad ground, when Ken hooked up the 50 amp. We tried 3 different full hookup sites with the same problem every time. Finally we pulled in to a 50 amp site where the water was not yet turned on and the electric showed clean. Ken contacted the park maintenance crew and found out we were the first folks to use those sites for months. Since we were the only folks in the park Ken just lined up all his fresh water hose and hooked up across the road to one of the full hookup sites.


Now add to this that what appeared to be perfectly level sites were actually leaning to the left enough that we had to use several boards under the tires on the driver side in order to keep them from hanging in mid-air once the rig was leveled. And, I think, just to add that last little bit of aggravation, this big gorgeous stray dog, all young and frisky, decided to come play in the middle of all of this.


We had put both dogs on tie-outs and suddenly everybody was getting all tied up in each other and a little snippy. Once I got our dogs back inside, ‘Red’, the name we ended up giving the stray decided to adopt Ken and was under foot everywhere he turned. Red had no collar and visited us often in our two days here. It was pretty obvious that if we didn’t already have too many dogs in the family, Red and Ken would have been hard to separate.

Don’t get me wrong, despite the set up difficulties, Ken and I both fell in love with this park. It’s very well-maintained. We’ll give them a pass on the electrical issue since they were give to respond, had someone who quickly understood the issue, and were very apologetic that they hadn’t gotten the electric checked out for the season yet. They have brand new shower houses, a beautiful lake and a swimming beach. We can’t imagine why this park hasn’t had reviews on but we have already made sure to get it out there.

Of course, spending hours at what should have been a five-minute setup were the perfect excuse to eat out. We figured that might be easier said than done in this rather remote area. The park is just outside the tiny town of Toronto, KS, where we found only two small cafes on the short main drag, and only one, Courtney’s Places, was open.


Courtney saved the day! Talk about a gem in the wilderness! Courtney’s turned out to be the best restaurant we’ve visited in our 10 weeks on the road (and if you’ve been following us you know we’ve been to a lot of restaurants!) From the outside you expect to be walking in to a typical smalltown ‘hole-in-the-wall’ cafe. What you find is a pizza parlor on one side with a beautifully appointed Italian ‘pasta house’ on the other.


Courtney apologized at the start that her waiter was out that night but she did her best to cover all the bases. She offers 3 different entrees each evening, one appetizer, salad, homemade breadsticks, several desserts and a full bar. We went all out trying all the courses, except when it came to desert we were sadly just too full. Ken had a special Italian sausage and pepper dish with a really tasty marinara sauce over pasta. I had the chicken alfredo. The food was awesome, even the house merlot was very good. There was one other table filled besides our’s in the pasta house which appears to be able to hold up to 50.


Courtney said that she is usually full on Friday and Saturday nights and has become a destination restaurant for folks several hours away. This is not a cheap place to eat if you are doing the Italian pasta house. If we’d had time we would have tried the pizza which appeared reasonably priced and I’m expecting is awesome based on everything else. If you are going to go to Courtney’s I’d try Wednesday or Thursday evening when you get a chance to meet and talk to this really neat lady named Courtney.

On Friday, we were once again looking at 35-40 mph wind gusts and so planned to explore the state park instead of going back on the road. Ah, the joys of ‘anytiming’ -- no need to hurry, get there when we get there.

The park has many nice walking trails. Ken took the pups for a jaunt down one called Ancient Oaks. He forgot the camera but did take a few shots with his phone so we could get a feel for what it was like.


It was good that I didn’t make an attempt at this trail since it was very rocky and uneven.


The main features of this trail are the post oaks along the way which are up to 300 years old.

These trees only grow to be 40 foot tall and really don’t look any different than any other oaks in the area.

However, they do a good job on the trail of pointing out the ancient oaks and providing historical comparisons to give you a sense for how old they are.


Toronto Dam on this lake is used primarily for flood control. Apparently a few years back there was a 100-year flood here and they used the dam to keep the brunt of the damage (as you see at the left) in the park rather than across the towns and farmland in the area.

At he height of the trail there was a large open area providing a view for many miles across the lake.


Later in the afternoon, Ken opened up the jeep top and we enjoyed a tour of our corner of the lake, checking out the rest of the campground.


They are spending a lot of money on this park. There are new restrooms and shower houses, and several of these cabins that appear to be new. I got nosy and looked through the windows. They have full kitchens, baths, bedroom, living and loft areas in that small space.


This is the view from the cabin above. I’m thinking it would be a gorgeous place to watch the sunset over the lake. It was still pretty breezy when we were there mid-afternoon, as you can see by the whitecaps on the water.


By evening the winds had died down and so we grilled chicken and cabbage while enjoying some time on the patio.

If you are looking for a route across Kansas, other than the interstate, we’d highly recommend US 54 and the Cross Timber and Meade State Parks.

Hugs, C

Friday, March 11, 2011

Meade, KS: Spending my Birthday 100 Years in the Past

On Wednesday, March 9th, we knew, with predicted win gusts of 35 mph, we had an excuse not to get back on the road.

Instead, we decided to do some exploring in the little town of Meade, KS.  

The Meade County Historical Museum is said to be one of the finest in Southwest Kansas.






It is designed to depict the lifestyle of early settlers, letting you walk down a typical Kansas main street of the 1900’s.










There’s the General Store.





I was fascinated by the sample of items for sale.  My mother always marked the renderings from butchering ‘Good Lard’ when she put them in the freezer but, I guess,  I never realized you could also buy ‘Bad Lard’.  










It was fun looking around mama’s kitchen.  






Notice the little potty chair’ in the child’s room.  We questioned whether they actually used  that bed-warmer in a crib.  I know you want baby to stay warm but with hot coals under the mattress?  World has certainly changed a lot when it comes to child safety!


The doctor’s office made us happy to be born a hundred years later!



There were some interesting stories to go along with the different rooms.  For example, to go along with the jail house is the story of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde and their Highway Robbery at Meade Park.


One of my favorite pieces in the museum was this permanent wave machine.  I honestly thought it was some sort of electric chair until I red the captions.  And we think women now days go to extremes to follow fashion!


Not everything portrayed was related to life in town.  For example, the reconstruction below shows what the sod houses built by settlers out n on the plains looked like.  Those really thick walls could withstand a lot of wind and insulate well from cold and heat.






It was also really interesting to see a reproduction of what the inside of a covered wagon would have looked like.  I guess this would be considered the predecessor to the travel trailer!








One story I found particularly sad was on the wall below.  Meade was a central point for a lot of the buffalo hunting that went on in those days.  Apparently one of the largest kills recorded took place right here in Meade County when one hunter killed 120 head of buffalo in just 40 minutes.


Unfortunately, Meade was also a central in the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. (Picture below taken from photo in the museum).


The Meade County Museum is free with donations appreciated.  It is to this kind of non-profit organization that Ken and I love to donate, as they are truly in the work of feeding the spirit and enhancing the lives of those they serve, in this case through an appreciation of the day-to-day lives of our ancestors in a creative way that visitors can really step in to.

From the museum, we travelled a few blocks down the road to the Dalton Gang Hideout, considered Meade’s major attraction.  In this case, there was a $4 admission fee.   There really wasn’t a great deal to see here but the curator on staff when we were there was worth the price of admission.  He had tremendous in depth knowledge of cowboy/outlaw history in this area, and was also very active in re-enactments, most often playing the role of Doc Holiday.  Most of our time here was simply spent talking to him and hearing a lot about the various relationships between some of the famous outlaws.  For example, the Dalton Brothers were first cousins to the Youngers, who in turn rode with the James brothers.   Apparently it was not at all unusual for these guys to be sheriffs, deputies and US Marshalls one day and then turn to a life of crime when they got tired of getting shot at for little pay.  This was, in fact, the case with the Daltons.

The house shown below belonged to their sister, Eva.


It turns out that a tunnel had been build between this house and the barn some 90 feet away.  Today they’ve rebuilt that tunnel so visitors can actually walk the distance.  Back then it was nothing more than about 4 feet high, mostly dirt and a hodge podge of quickly assembled timber supports.  It’s thought that the Dalton brothers and some of their cohorts dug out this tunnel in only a few days in order to allow themselves access to the comforts of their sister’s home without detection.


My favorite part of the story is that the tunnel was never detected while Dalton’s sister lived there  and the owners after her moved in not knowing it was there.  They found out, with a shock, when a man suddenly seemed to appear out of nowhere in the middle of the house as they sat down for the evening meal.  Apparently he did not realize this was no longer an outlaw ‘safe house’ and very quickly made his departure back through the tunnel, which they only then uncovered.   That puts a whole new twist on the phrase “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”!

Apparently, the Dalton brothers, four of whom were actually known to become outlaws, were never really hated and feared as we today might think of criminals.  They had somewhat of a ‘Robin Hood’ reputation, stealing from the rich railroads.  In fact, they’d never robbed a bank or actually killed anyone in the commission of their crimes until the fateful day in 1892 when Bob Dalton set out to best his cousin and “beat anything Jesse James ever did--rob two banks at once, in broad daylight”.  Well, that’s Bob and his brother, Grat, in the center of the photo below, with two others of gang, all shot dead when some of the Coffeyville townspeople caught on to the bank robberies in progress, and shot it out with the gang as they ran for their horses.  One other brother, Emmett, was shot 23 times but still survived only to be caught, tried, sentenced and given a life sentence.  He was pardoned after 14 years and ended up in California working as an actor and writing a book about his family.  (Picture below is my picture taken of one of the pictures in the museum).





While there’s  not a lot to see in the Dalton Hideout museum, there are items from the area that aren’t related to the Dalton’s, such as this two-headed calf, which definitely fits with our love of finding the quirky attractions along the roads less traveled!










As if,spending the day walking through Kansas history and coming face-to-face with a two-headed cow wasn’t enough of a memorable birthday, Ken was nice enough to put together a special birthday dinner for the two of us back at the rig.



He did steaks on the grill, along with grilled garlic/butter asparagus and rice with a nice bottle of Merlot on the side.








He even had a little chocolate cake and insisted on candles as well!


A very memorable birthday indeed!

Hugs, C

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Albuquerque, NM to Lake Meade State Park, KS

(Meade, KS) Saturday, March 5th, we travelled 232 miles from Holbrook, AZ to Albuquerque, NM, ending the trek at the Enchanted Trails RV Park.

This RV park is basically a parking lot with full hookups, but, since we only planned a one night stay, it worked fine for us,with cost including tax and add-on for 50-amp totaling $18 with Passport America membership. The park is adjacent to a Camping World and we were in need of a replacement for our pressure regulator. Actually, Ken ended up getting he regulator cheaper at another RV supply house a little farther down the road.


One interesting feature of this RV park is that they rent out vintage campers and matching antique autos to pull them. I bet those would be fun for a weekend and certainly catch people’s attention in a campground!


I had been to Albuquerque twice and Ken once when my niece, Michelle, lived here. One thing we had missed on those trips was a visit to ‘Old Town’.


There are lots of unique little boutiques and galleries nestled in to little market courtyards just off the main streets of Old Town.

Our intent was to wander the shops of Old Town and then pick out a restaurant for dinner when we’d tired of walking. However, most of the restaurants we came across were either lunch-time cafes or featured Mexican / Southwest cuisine which (I can hardly believe I’m saying this) we’d had enough of for this trip.

We finally happened upon the High Noon Restaurant and Saloon. It turned out that once we were inside we realized we had eaten at this restaurant when we were in Albuquerque for Michelle’s wedding. That time we had done lunch here after a visit to the nearby New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, another local attraction we really enjoyed. Since we always like to try new restaurants this was sort of an ….oops!! Considering the hundreds of restaurants in Albuquerque, what’s the likelihood we walk in to one of the two or three we were at in year’s past? Oh well, it turned out fine. The good news is, that the service and the food were excellent, the bad news was the prices were significantly more than we were planning to spend.


As you can see from the presentation of Ken’s Pine Nut Crusted Pork Chop to the left, this is more of a special occasion restaurant for us than a Saturday night, “let eat out’ place. Of course, that didn’t mean we didn’t thoroughly enjoy a very nice dining experience.

The next morning we were on the road by 9 a.m. planning to try to out-run the incoming weather front bringing high winds and rain/snow.

Our original destination was Ute Park Lake, NM. However, when we arrived at the turn-off to the park, we did not have any Sprint cell phone or data coverage. At that point, we decided,, since it was still early afternoon we’d try to make it farther down the road.

It turned out that we drove one of our top five longest treks in one day, crossing 4 states, from New Mexico, through, Texas and Oklahoma and on to Liberal, KS, a total of 388 miles. Pretty good for folks that usually only do 200 miles a day!

We found a highly rated little cafe just past Liberal called the Cattlemen’s Cafe, great home cooking at really reasonable prices which helped make up for our splurge the night before. We don’t usually stop to eat with the rig but this place had a large lot so it was all good.


We also knew that the Western Star RV Ranch I’d found, just down Hwy 54 a bit, had pull thru sites and after 400 miles on the road, and plans to leave immediately the next day, we liked the idea of not having to unhook the jeep.

Ken and I would both highly recommend Highway 54 as a route if you want to get away from the monotony of the interstates. Likewise, we were very happy both with the restaurant and the overnight RV park we found in the Liberal. Again, the RV park is nothing but a gravel lot, but its new, with level sites, good hookups and easy on/off the highway for $25.

When we awoke Monday morning, there were high winds expected by mid-day followed by a few days of really ugly weather. We decided to head only 18 miles down the road and hunker down in Lake Meade State Park for a few days.

We were very happy with this decision. The folks at the park office couldn’t have been nicer. They told us to pick out whatever site we wanted since we were the only people in the whole park! They also gave us some suggestions of where we might be least impacted by the wind.


The site we chose was a pull through with 50 amp service, water and a nice view of the lake. We are paying $23.90 per night here which includes separate day-use charge for jeep, premium site charge and tax.


Sox thought is was the best place ever because it had real live grass below those leaves. After 2 months in the desert, this little lady was rolling around in absolute heaven!

With no one else around, Ken and I found it a great place to take long quiet walks with the dogs.



A lot of ducks were coming in, apparently, like us, looking for a good roosting spot to wait out the coming bad weather.

Here’s the view we had back toward the motorhome from farther down the lake.


A heron high in the trees above seemed undaunted by humans invading his territory.


By Monday evening, the winds were picking up and we went to sleep to the sound of the rain. Tuesday morning the rain continued.


I was really grateful that Ken did more than his share of dog walking duty so I didn’t have to get wet!

Ken did some vacuuming while I made a nice hot batch of Italian Sausage Soup. We could not find any evidence of a laundromat in Meade but after lunch Ken was getting stir crazy and decided to load up the wash baskets and head in to town for awhile. He went in to the local pharmacy and asked. Sure enough, there was a small coin operated laundry located behind the local tavern. While he was gone, it began to snow big fluffy flakes so I enjoyed the beautiful view outside my window, along with a hot cup of tea, while working through my list of outstanding to-do’s on my laptop.

The weather front has been less fierce but slower than originally forecast. This means we will probably stay here at Lake Meade for one more day and then follow the warmer weather Northeast on Thursday when there are lesser wind gusts forecast.

Hugs, C

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

Since Ken and I were children we have both been intrigued by stories and photos of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  Today was our day for first-hand experience in the Petrified Forest National Park.


We first stopped at the visitor’s center to watch the 20 minute video and pick up information.

We then began the 28 mile scenic drive.


The beginning of the drive is in the Painted Desert.




It’s said that on a clear day, you can see for 100 miles here!


In this section we visited the old Painted Desert Inn was built over an even earlier Stone Tree House as a Civilian Conservation Corp project in 1937.  Today it serves as a museum and bookstore with patios out to more beautiful vistas.  





The interior is maintained in much its original form with furniture and equipment from when it was an active inn back in the 20’s and 30’s.  There are several Indian murals by Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie, that were done in 1947.

The Petrified Forest National Park contains some of the best examples of petroglyphs (made by chiseling)  and pictographs (painted) of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples dated back to estimated 1000-1350 AD.  These peoples were the ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni tribes.



After our visit to the desert in we finished our drive through the Painted Desert on the north side of I-40.




On the south side of I-40 the drive continues through the Painted Desert but the colors and formations change.



The area below is aptly named, The Tepees.  The colored layers in this section is really striking.


We stopped to walk around Puerco Pueblo which is an ancient 100-room pueblo thought to have been inhabited in about 1250AD by as my as 1200 people.


It is near this pueblo that some of the most detailed petroglyphs are located.


It’s at this point, about halfway in the 28 mile drive that we began to encounter the first obvious remnants of the Petrified Forest.




We stopped at various points along this part of the drive to get closer to the petrified logs.




Unfortunately, over the years, a lot of the petrified wood has been pilfered.  These objects are now considered archeological treasures on national park land and collection or removal is considered a federal crime that can be punishable by imprisonment.




The Rainbow Forest Museum is located near the end of the scenic drive.


Here’s Ken  getting to know some of the prehistoric beasts that existed at the same Triassic Period petrified trees found in the park.


I found the pictorials in the museum for helpful in understanding the evolution of these creatures from this period some 200 million years ago.  This was so long ago that they were considered the ancestors of dinosaurs.


The graphic below also made it more obvious how the logs ended up without limbs in the formations they’re found in today, considering that this desert area was once a large open waterway.


So there it is, the end to another wonderful day of exploring!


Hugs, C