April, 2020 – Wichita, Kansas

To all of my readers who like to keep up with our traveling adventures, enjoy learning about all the places, both historical and natural, that we have explored, there is not much to talk about during the month of April.  We spent the month staying at All Seasons RV Park near Wichita, Kansas waiting out the Covid 19 pandemic.  Our days were filled with maintaining social distancing, which for us amounted to staying in and around the RV.  Once or twice a week we would walk around the area behind the RVs with mowed trails to get some exercise.  Once every couple of weeks Kal did laundry and I cleaned the RV and every few days we would grab our home made masks and brave infection at the grocery store.

Near the end of the month, we did get really brave and drove and hour and a half northwest to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.  Maintaining social distancing was very easy as we saw only a few vehicles in the refuge and one couple doing some fishing.  We spent a very nice, cool spring day outside looking for wildlife in a very interesting location in central Kansas.  Even though we both grew up in the area, neither of us were familiar with this unique location.  Quivira National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1955 and consists of over 22,000 acres of salt marshes and sand dunes.  Yes, I said salt marshes!!  It may be hundreds of miles from the closest ocean, but depending upon the water levels can have a similar salinity to the oceans.  Back in geological times Kansas was the center of an inland sea that led to extensive salt deposits.  In fact, the main industry in Hutchison, just to the southeast of the marshes, is salt production.  They have some of the riches salt deposits in the world within a hundred feet of the surface.  These salt deposits seep into the marshes and mix with rainwater and runoff to create some very salty water.  In addition, low sand dunes dot the landscape between the marshes, which are also a unique feature of the region.  Finally, this area of Kansas is within the transition zone between the Eastern and Western prairies so you have both the long grass of the eastern and short grass of the western along with a mix of species.  For instance, you find both white tailed deer and mule deer within the refuge.  There is also a prairie dog town on the refuge which is more common to the west.  On top of all this, the refuge is a critical location for waterfowl migration since water is generally scarce throughout the prairies.  Unfortunately, we were too late in the spring to see the sand crane and Canadian geese migrations which is suppose to number in the thousands of birds in the fall and spring.  However, we did see a large number of ducks, wading birds, and diving birds of various species in the marsh.  Of course, the Visitor Center was closed due to the pandemic, however, there were brochures outside the center so we had a map of the refuge.  We started with a short walk up on an observation platform on the Little Salt Marsh.  Most of the rest of the day was spent driving the 15 mile Auto Drive with many stops on both the Little and Big Salt Marsh.  There is also a 1.5 mile hiking trail called the Migrants Mile Trail.  It consists of an inner loop that is paved and level with an offshoot grassy trail that goes over a sand dune.  The walk is an easy trail through the grasses and hedgerows that dot the refuge.  After our hike we left the Drive Tour to cut to the east along the edge of the refuge and north along dirt county roads to the location of the black tailed prairie dog town.  The town comes right up to the road, so you can see a number of dogs from the road without having to walk out into the town.  We spent a good half hour watching the dogs digging, foraging, and watching for predators.  Then it was back to the Drive Tour as it went along the edge of the Big Salt Marsh.  It was certainly a great day spent outside and we stopped for a late lunch getting take out at a MacDonalds in Hutchinson that we ate at the location of the first well that discovered the salt deposits back in 1887.

I suppose the other purpose of this blog is to record our thoughts and experiences, so the rest of this blog is about the Covid 19 pandemic.  The month of April began with just a few reported cases in the state of Kansas and ended with thousands.  However, we did not know the real infection rate as testing was still around 10 per thousand in Kansas by the end of April.  By the beginning of the month deaths nationwide was in the hundreds and by the end it was over 60,000.  The worst was in New York City, but there were other hotspots.  With nearly all the states in lockdown, the economy was collapsing and President Trump was all about reopening the country, even calling for rebellion against some of the Democratic governors who were being extra cautious.  However, without reasonable testing there was no way to know if it was time to reopen the economy or not, especially with the 1-2 week delay in finding out the cost of these decisions when we have to wait for hospitalization numbers or deaths.  President Trump absolutely refuses to use his office to nationalize the production of “personal protection equipment” such as masks, shields, and ventilators, as well as, the shortages of swabs and reagents for the testing kits.  Instead, he left it all up to the states who spent outrageous funds trying to obtain supplies all month.  While his actions seemed criminal, he was at least consistent in shifting blame while maintaining his rhetoric about how good a job he was doing.  He consistently underpredicted the outcome of the pandemic having to revise his estimates of the number of deaths and the length of time until it would be before we could “return to normal.”  However, he kept pushing and by the end of the month nearly every state had begun to reopen the state, all without any idea of the current situation or the impact of their decisions.  Over the next month we will see the outcome of this decision and I fear it will not be good.  Consequently, we have no plans to move from our location for at least the next month.

On a personal note, we are doing fine physically and financially.  Since we are staying for a month at a time we are actually saving money on site fees and diesel fuel.  Staying at home all month also saved on nearly everything else as well.  So far, state retirement and social security are solid.  Of course, my IRA has taken a beating, but we did not need to draw from it so we can wait for the stock market to come back.  Our oldest daughter was furlough from Disney about the middle of the month and she is still waiting for unemployment payments to start.  However, we have her covered so she will be fine.  Our middle daughter still has her job as a hospital pharmacist and the brewery is limping along, especially since they got one of the first loans for small businesses.  All of their employees are being paid and they are stilling making beer for wholesale and local or mail order deliveries, which have picked up.  So they are doing fine.  My son is still being paid for his job, although he spent most of the month at home.  So far, they are fine financially.  AND everyone is still healthy in our immediate family.

The only good thing in this whole terrible situation is that everyone has the ability and time to be in closer contact.  Over the month we have gotten all of Kal’s family together online, as well as, my family.  It was the first time in over a decade that my sister and two brothers have spent time together.  We have also downloaded a card playing app on our devices and by the end of the month it was nearly a daily occurrence to get together as a family to play some spades.  It has been a great experience I will always remember.  We have spent more time with all of them then we have for years.  I just wish so many wouldn’t have to die or get seriously ill for us to have this opportunity.

March 2020 – Wichita, Kansas

Once we decided to move to Wichita to hunker down during the pandemic, we were anxious to get there.  Our biggest concern was they would restrict travel if we waited any longer.  Instead of waiting until Monday, we decided to take off on Friday as soon as the weather cleared.  We had a reservation at All Seasons RV Park which is between Goddard and Wichita, just a few miles from where Kal grew up.  When we got a call from them while we were on the road I was afraid they were having to cancel our reservation for some reason.  However, their call was to confirm our reservation and to inform us that they could extend it to two months.  It was a very welcome call, indeed.  They also informed us that they would tape our receipt and map on the screen door of the office so we could limit contact.  The drive north to Wichita was uneventful since it was nearly all along interstate highways (I40 and I35).  Just short of the Kansas border we exited I-35 since it became a turnpike and we did not want to deal with paying tolls with the RV.  This is not a problem as there are US highways that parallel the interstate and are nearly as fast.  The trip was long, taking nearly 7 hours, so we were tired when we pulled into the park around 4:00 in the afternoon.  The sites in the park may all be pull-thrus, but that did not mean they were easy to get into.  Kal initially pulled the RV into our site in good shape except the wheels sunk into a soft spot on the edge of the site.  After checking with the owners about the site, I pulled the RV on out and circled around to try to come in from the other direction.  However, a tree on the corner of the site made this impossible, so I pulled back around to come in from the original direction positioning the RV on the other side of the site.  After backing the RV up a couple of times to straighten it up, we were set for the foreseeable future.  The sites in the park are very narrow and we shared a 6 foot wide “front yard” and picnic table with our neighbor.  Our neighbors work on a pipeline so are gone most of the day unless it rains.  They are nice young men and we should get along fine.  Most of the sites in the park are filled with seasonals and long term workers in the area with only about 6 sites for overnights.  Over the next couple of weeks these sites would fill up most nights with snowbirds trying to get home before the pandemic shuts them down.

Campsite

When we got to Wichita, there were just a few confirmed cases in the state and only 1 in Wichita itself.  However, testing was still nearly non-existent so they had no real idea of how many were infected.  Within the next few days, Wichita put in place a “stay at home” order except for groceries, pharmacies, and essential businesses.  By the following Sunday the order became state wide.  Positive cases continued to rise steadily but without the explosion other locations such as New York and New Orleans were experiencing.  As ordered we stayed at the RV as much as possible, although in the first week we did meet with Floyce, a high school friend for lunch and a walk in Sedgwick County Park.  We also took a couple of hikes in the trails at the park, which is interesting.  For hiking trails in their red cedar field, they have moved a number of interconnecting paths.  You can get in a mile hike easily without repeating any of the paths.  Except for this and trips to Walmart, Dillons, or Walgreens we stayed at home.  Thankfully the free WiFi in the park is excellent and the TV reception had over 40 channels available.  We really had a good place to spend the next couple of months.  Unfortunately we can not visit our many friends and family in the area until this pandemic is over.

Through the rest of March the pandemic continued to worsen throughout the country, including Kansas.  By the end of the month the situation in Wichita was not too bad yet with less than 50 cases.  However, it is likely to get much worse.  Unfortunately, President Trump was not being much help.  Except for an opportunity to let off some steam yelling at him, I don’t see that he has done anything to help the situation.  Regardless of all the ass kissers he has surrounding him, his actions and policies have all be reactive, not proactive and at least two weeks late which is a LONG time for this pandemic.  His mixed messages, uninformed and dangerous predictions, and inability to utilize the federal government leaving it to the states to battle each other for critical supplies, shows a complete lack of leadership we so desperately need at this time.  Congress did pass a huge relief package that will certainly help if it ever gets out to those that need it.  By the end of March it was still a promise while unemployment exceeds that during the Great Depression and the unemployment offices overloaded.  So far, our kids are doing all right with Disney continuing to pay Jenny’s salary, William’s job classified as essential, and Hi-Wire Brewery staying afloat with drive-thru or delivery service and online orders.  We did learn that our nephew Jared in Birmingham came down with the virus and had a rough few days, but is now recovering.  Otherwise, everyone is still healthy and worried about the future.

March, 2020 – Salisaw, Oklahoma

Our trip north from the Broken Bow – Idabel area to the Kerr Reservoir near Fort Smith, Arkansas was along US highways as they wound their way through the Ouachita Mountains in eastern Oklahoma.  Consequently, the trip was slow and took over 3 hours.  However, the rain stopped early in the morning and held off until we made the trip and got set up at Applegate Cove Campground on the Kerr Reservoir.  This was another nice COE campground, this time on the Arkansas River.  However, the campground was beginning to show its age as the paved road in the campground was narrow with tight corners that made it a bit of a challenge to pull the RV around to our site.  They also do not have an entrance gate and expect you to make online reservation for your site, even if you just show up.  Fortunately, we had a site reserved and it was not difficult to locate and get pulled around.  It took a couple of shots to back the RV into the site to avoid the trees, but we got in the site in good shape.  Later the campground host came around to welcome us and give us our tag for the truck.

Originally our plans were to visit Fort Smith National National Historic Site and other historic sites in the area during the week.  However, by this point we were more concerned about the impacts the pandemic was going to have on our lifestyle.  The number of cases in Oklahoma and Kansas was less than 10, but the early history in Washington and now New York was that it could climb quickly.  We were in a campground without a sewer hookup so any long term stay was out of the question.  We were also concerned that they would put a travel ban in place keeping us from moving.  So we decided to “bit the bullet” and move immediately up to Wichita where we had family and friends.  This was nearly a month before we had planned on moving to Wichita, but we felt we just could not wait.  Therefore, while Kal went into Salisaw to do the laundry, I spent Tuesday reworking our plans.  I found a campground near Goddard that could reserve a spot for at least a month, which I jumped at.  Goddard is just west of Wichita and the location would be within a couple of miles of where Kal grew up.  I also cancelled our reservation for the following week in a state park.  It was interesting that they were surprised as to my reason for the cancellation as I suspect that had not had anyone cancel due to a pandemic before!  I suspect I would not be the last one.  Due to the projected storms on Wednesday and Thursday, we planned to make the 6 hour trip north to Wichita on Friday.  So we spent the next two days riding out the rain and wind at the campground getting increasingly worried about the pandemic and frustrated with the government response, which according to President Trump was not going to be that bad.  He needs to pull his head out of the sand and listen to his experts!!!!!  Next stop will be Wichita for the foreseeable future.

March, 2020 – Idabel, Oklahoma

The trip west from Arkansas was along US highways back to the Broken Bow and Idabel area, just north of Texarkana where we were just a week ago.  We were taking our time moving north to give spring a chance to catch up with us.  Pine Creek Cove Campground is another Corps of Engineers campground on the shores of Pine Creek Lake.  Once again we did not have any reservation, however, there were plenty of sites available.  The campground is small with less than 50 sites and it is laid out in three small loops.  We got a site on the newest loop which meant all of them were paved.  I was able to back the RV easily into the site and we quickly got set up.  The only draw back to the campground was the absence of trees as they had all been removed after a storm and the bathroom was a single pit toilet.  There was a modern bathroom at the dump station near the entrance, however, we just used the pit toilet, which was at least cleaned regularly.  With no trees we were once again exposed to the wind which rocked the trailer during the storms later in the week.

Campsite

However, Tuesday was a nice day so we went out in search of a hike.  We began our search at the Little River National Wildlife Refuge.  Our GPS took us to a dirt road that was closed with no buildings in sight.  There was suppose to be a Visitor Center/Headquarters on the property so we drove around the edges of the refuge looking for another location.  We never found anything and without at least a map of the refuge we were concerned about trusting the roads after all the rain the past few weeks.  So instead we headed on north to Beavers Bend State Park.  This turned out to be a major state park with multiple facilities and opportunities for outdoor recreation.  It is advertised as one of the more popular state parks in Oklahoma and that is certainly true.  There were a lot of families with young children in the park making it difficult to find a parking space for our huge truck.  And this was during the middle of the week.  We guessed that Texas must be having its spring break since most of the car tags were from Texas.  In any case, we found a parking spot we could get in across the road from the Forest Heritage Center Museum.  It was also fairly crowded but still an interesting place to visit.  They had a number of exhibits about the history of forests in the region beginning with prehistoric times and up through commercial forestry practices of today.  Especially since I am already very knowledgeable about Oklahoma forestry since I got my undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State, it was fun refreshing my memory.  After spending about an hour in the museum we walked back to the truck and ate some lunch.  Then we went to explore the Forest Heritage Trail alongside Beaver Creek.  There was so much foot traffic along the trail and creek that the path itself was difficult to see, however, it did not really matters.  There were quite a few families enjoying wading in the creek as it was a nice warm March day.  We enjoyed a leisurely stroll only the creek ourselves.

Wednesday was again a nice day with rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, so we headed out to explore Fort Towson State Historic Site.  Fort Towson was established in 1824, before the Trail of Tears, to quell problems between the Indians and settlers moving in from the Arkansas Territory.  It also served as an outpost between the US and Mexico, which at that time controlled Texas.  During the 1830s it served as the gateway for settlers going to Texas as the Mexican government was encouraging them.  However, after the Texas Revolution in 1836 it became an outpost between the US and the Republic of Texas.  This was also the period that the Choctaw Indians were forced to migrate from Mississippi and Fort Towson was the point of dispersal.  The fort was also an important staging area during the Mexican War in 1846.  Finally, as the frontier moved west the fort was abandoned in 1856.  Today, there is not much left of the fort except for the foundations of the buildings.  There has been numerous archeological digs in the fort over the years and all the buildings have been located.  There is a very nice museum at the site with a detailed history of the area and fort.  I was very surprised to learn that while most of the Choctaw Indians choose to live on small farms in a life style similar to where they came from, some established large plantations with anti-bellum homes and slaves, both African-American and Indians.  After exploring the museum it is a short walk to the ruins of the fort where there are interpretive signs about each building.

Since it only took a couple of hours to explore the museum and fort, we took advantage of a suggestion from the volunteer at the museum.  He suggested we explore the ruins of the town of Doaksville, which was just north of the town of Fort Towson.  Doaksville was the Choctaw village that grew up near Fort Towson.  From 1831 until the railroads came in the 1879s, Doaksville was a major town in Indian Territory.  In fact, in 1850, it was the largest town in the territory and from 1860 to 1863 it was the capital of the Choctaw Nation.  However, the Civil War ruined agriculture and commerce in the area and when the railroad bypassed Doaksville for the town of Fort Towson to the south, it spelled the end to the town.  Today, little is left of Doaksville except for some photographs and building foundations.  The state historical society has erected a nice walkway through the ruins and interpretive signs about them.  It was very interesting addition to our exploration of Fort Towson, although it would have been difficult to find without directions from the volunteer at the historic site.  There are no signs on the highway for it and we even had trouble finding the pathway as it begins on the backside of Fort Towson cemetery.  However, it was well worth the effort and earns a spot in our list of hidden jewels.

As predicted the weather turned wet on Thursday so we stayed in the campground and on Friday travel back to the casino in Broken Bow.  Whereas, we came out slightly ahead the last time we were at this casino two weeks ago, our luck ran more to normal and we came out with about half of our stake.

The weather on Saturday was marginally better so we headed to Idabel and the Museum of the Red River.  This was another suggestion from the volunteer at Fort Towson and we expected to be treated to some detailed history of the Red River.  However, this museum was not about the history of the region.  Instead it is a cultural center and repository of art and cultural items from all over the world.  Originally it was focused on the southwest Indian culture, however, it soon expanded to all of the Americas and eventually around the world.  They have artwork, pottery, baskets, and other items that are thousands of years old to modern day objects.  It is also the home of the Oklahoma dinosaur which was a large predator, similar to a T-Rex.  Although the original fossils were found locally, they were not constructed of crystals and turned out to be very fragile.  Therefore a cast of the dinosaur is on display.  While it was not what we expected we enjoyed a couple of hours wandering around and admiring the art work.  I would certainly recommend it for anyone interested in Indian art and pottery.

Sunday was again spent in the campground watching the growing concern over the pandemic.  For those of you reading this blog be aware that this will be the last post for a while that will be focused on our journeys.  As the concern and disruption of society caused by the virus grows, it will become our entire focus.  By the end of the week we were getting concerned about being allowed to travel and were close to deciding it was time to find a place to hunker down for a couple of months and it was certainly not going to be in a isolated campground!

March, 2020 – Murfreesboro, Arkansas

The trip northeast into Arkansas was an easy trip along I-30 and then north on US and state highways to Lake Greeson and our next location at Cowhide Cove Campground.  The road down into the campground was 10 miles into the wilderness of the Ozarks winding down to the lake that even included a hairpin turn.  Since the COE campground had just opened up for the season, we were hopeful that it was actually open.  For the next month the sites were all first-come-first-served, so we did not have any reservations.  If it was not open, then I was not sure how we were going to get turned around on this winding mountain road.  We pulled up to the campground host that were just outside the entrance to the campground and thankfully they were at home and the campground was open.  At the time there was just one other RV in the campground so we had our choice of campsites.  We found out from the campground host that the water was to be turned on the next day, which would not be too much of a problem as long it was not more than a couple of days since we did not have any water in our fresh tank.  We choose a site on the top of the ridge with views of the lake on both sides of the RV since the campground was along a peninsula into the lake.  The site we choose had a wide entrance so we were able to back the RV in with no problem and got set up for the week.

Campsite

By Monday evening the weather had turned wet with light rain that continued through Tuesday.  So we spent the day in the campground while I worked on this blog and watched the contractors chase down all the water valves and get our water going.  Wednesday was still wet during periods throughout the day so we decided to combine two activities: laundry and a trip to a casino.  We drove nearly an hour to Hot Springs and found a nice laundry right across the road from the casino.  Cleaning the clothes took only a couple of hours and after walking next door to Arby’s for lunch, we crossed the street into the casino.  Oaklawn Racing and Gaming was currently undergoing some major additions of an additional hotel and parking garage.  Therefore we had to park a considerable distance from the entrance, however, they provided shuttle buses that took us under the construction to the casino entrance.  This casino is huge with hundreds of slot machines, gaming tables, and poker venues.  We found plenty to keep us playing for a couple of hours.  Unlike the previous casino experience, I did horribly losing nearly all the money I brought in.  Fortunately, Kal did marginally better so we did not lose our entire stake.  While this was not nearly as much fun as winning, it was still an enjoyable afternoon.

Since I “helped” Kal do the laundry, which entailed about 5 minutes of helping her fold clothes, she returned the favor on Thursday and watched me clean the RV.  After spending the day in the campground we headed back to Hot Springs on Friday to the National Park which was the main reason we came to the area.  We have both been to Hot Springs National Park in the past, but it had been decades and it had changed a lot.  The National Park has an interesting history that dates back to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  The springs had been known about well before that including Hernando de Soto in 1541 and Father Marquette and Jolliet in 1673.  In fact, President Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the region in 1804.  After Arkansas became a territory in 1819, the Legislature requested the site be protected by the federal government.  It took them 12 years, but in 1832 Congress designated the area as Hot Springs Reservation as the first to be protected for public use.  Since then the area has been under to protection of the Federal Government and was transferred to the National Park System in 1921.  The Federal Government has protected the springs making certain that the water remains unpolluted and free to the public.  They have leased land at the base of the springs to private ownerships to establish public baths with a flow of over half a million gallons a year.  The stream was covered with stone arches and most of the 43 springs have been capped with the water from the hot springs collected and distributed by the park. It is the geology of the area that make the hot springs possible.  The hot springs are in a gap between Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain in the Ouachita Mountains.  The same forces that created the mountains tilted the shale creating channels upwards from the depths.  Rainwater percolates down through the rocks to 4,500 to 7,000 feet deep, moving at a rate of about a foot a year.  The water is heated due to pressure and natural radioactive decay.  Due to artesian pressure the water is forced back to the surface between two thrust faults in the rock.  Since the water is not heated by volcanic sources, it does not have the sulfur smell commonly associated with hot springs.  In fact, it is very clean and is some of the only water that is safe and pleasant to drink in the United States.  Therapeutic baths were all the rage at the turn of the century and reached its peak in the 1940s. The bathhouses have come and gone over the years, but at one time there were over two dozen operating in Hot Springs.  They ranged from very ornate bathhouses to simple public facilities and even included a couple for the black servants.  The nine remaining bathhouses make up “Bathhouse Row” which is the centerpiece of the National Park.  Two of them, Quapaw and Buckstaff still operate as bathhouses.  The others have been transformed into other businesses.  The Fordyce is the Visitor Center and Museum, the Lamar is the gift shop, the Ozark is an art cultural center, and the Superior and Hale are a brewery and restaurant, respectively.  Th Maurice has been upgraded and is currently accepting proposals for a future business.  Each of the bathhouses have a distinctive style and interesting history.

When we arrived at the National Park our first challenge was to find a parking spot for our monstrous truck.  Most National Parks have parking lots associated with them, but since the Fordyce is in the middle of Bathhouse Row, there was no parking.  Kal made a turn down Fountain Street checking for a spot along the road and we were caught making the one way trip up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain.  The road up the mountain is the old carriage road and winds back and forth with one hairpin turn after another all the way to the top.  At the top is the Hot Springs Mountain Tower which towers 1000 feet above the trees.  We finally found a parking spot and got out to enjoy the view before heading back down to town.  Not knowing how long it was going to take in town, we decided not to go up the tower itself.  We did get information about parking in town and headed to the free parking garage just a block from Bathhouse Row.  Kal hates parking garages and we certainly felt that we would hit the cement roof in a number of places.  There was no way we would be able to park into any of the single spots as this truck has to have at least two places in order to get it parked.  Thankfully, the top of the parking garage was still fairly empty so we were able to get parked easily.  Now it was a simple walk to Bathhouse Row.  When we were here decades ago, I remember a simple tour of the first floor of a bathhouse which gave you some idea of the heyday of bathing, however, a lot has changed since then.  They have put a lot of work and money into renovating the Fordyce into its glory of the 1940s.  The entire building, all three floors and the basement, have been redone.  You can either take a guided tour, however, we decided to just do a personal tour of the facilities.  With all the interpretive signs it was as good as a guided tour.  In the basement you can view one of the actual hot springs under the building.  The first floor is the bathing rooms, separate for females and males.  While the female area was simple tubs and showers, the male area was ornate with fountains, statues, and stained glass ceilings.  The second floor was the changing rooms, message rooms, and other therapeutic treatments.  There was even sunbathing areas out on the roof where men and women could relax in the sun, although the women areas was on the shady side of the building so they would not get too much sun.  The third floor was the real prize.  The front is an ornate parlor for the women and game room for the men.  The back was an amazing gymnasium, which was also considered essential for health.  We spent a couple of hours just touring the building which is well worth seeing.  After our personal tour we walked down to the Superior Bathhouse, which is now a brewery, for lunch.  We sampled their beers and had a nice lunch of sandwiches.  After lunch we walked up to the Grand Promenade which is a brick walkway up and behind Bathhouse Row.  Along our pleasant stroll we saw a lot of their capped wells and even the location of the old bandstand that would play music to waft over the visitors to the bathhouses.  At the end of the Grand Promenade is a drinking fountain where you can sample the water, which is very good, and fill up jugs to take home.  This is an amazing place and a must see if you enjoy history in an ornate setting.

We stayed in the campground over the weekend, catching Auburn’s basketball game on Saturday as they got ready for the upcoming SEC tournament.

February, 2020 – Texarkana, Texas

The trip northeast from Dallas to Texarkana was mostly along I-30 so the trip itself went very quickly and easily.  We arrived at our next Corps of Engineers campground, just shy of Texarkana, by early afternoon.  We had originally intended to stay just a week, heading into Arkansas the following week.  However, once we determined that the COE and state parks in Arkansas and Oklahoma did not open for the season until March, we decided to extend our stay for two weeks.  Since the site we were on had a sewer hookup, this was possible.  For the first week, the campground was mostly empty, although it began to pick up during the second week and when we left the campground was still about 20% full.  We also found out why the parks further north do not open until March and the weather the first week was cold and wet.  In fact for the first three days it rained at least part of the day and it was a cold rain.  Consequently we did not do anything but stay in the campground until the weather improved on Friday.  The only notable thing that happened was a mother dog who was obviously nursing puppies showed up at our neighbors camper.  They attempted to find the pups with no luck and it was assumed she had lost them from the heavy rains.  They took the dog with them when they left, which was very good of them as she had likely been abandoned in the first place.  There was also a white cat in the park that they left food for when they left.  Consequently, we got adopted by the cat after they left, even though we never fed it.  However, every night and morning for the next week there was this cat living under our truck that would come out for Kal to pet and to rub on my legs.  I am not a cat person since I am allergic to them, and refused to give it any attention.  This did not stop it from rubbing on my legs and following me around anytime I stepped out doors.  We did find out that it was a long time resident of the park, so we did not feel too bad leaving it behind.

The weather on Friday was not great, but certainly much better than the preceding three days, so we headed to Hope, Arkansas to check out the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site (what a name!).  President Clinton only actually lived in Hope, Arkansas for the first four years of his life before his mother and new step-father moved to Hot Springs.  However, he continued to have family in Hope and would return for summer vacations and holidays and considers Hope to be his hometown.  He was born William Jefferson Blythe in 1946, however, his father was killed in a car accident three months before his birth.  Consequently, his mother, Virginia moved to Hope where he was raised by his grandparents while she went to nursing school in New Orleans.  He spent his first four years of life living in a modest sized two story house with his grandparents, who instilled in him a love of learning and true equality between the races.  Even though Hope, Arkansas was a typical segregated southern town in the 1940s, his grandfather would extend credit to anyone in town at his grocery store, regardless of race,  The only drawback to his life there, as far as I could tell, was the proximity of a VERY busy railroad track just across the road.  Hope is the crossroads of seven railroad lines and is still a very busy and noisy place to live.  The NPS Rangers conduct tours of the house and we had our own private tour.  They have put a lot of money into renovating the house which was in sad shape and refurnishing it with 1940 period pieces.  It was a nice tour, however, it does not take very long to look into a six room house.  We were done in less than two hours and heading back to the campsite for the afternoon.

Saturday started out to be a very nice day with lots of sunshine so we headed into downtown Texarkana to watch their Mardi Gras parade.  We parked the truck well in advance of the parade along the street and walked a couple of blocks to the parade route.  As it turned out, the parade actually circled around and ended up on the other side of our truck.  So we were now stuck inside the parade route and would have to wait until it was over to get out.  At our location they had some music playing and kids were out in the grassy area playing football and other games.  It was fun to watch as we waited for the parade to start.  This parade reminded me more of other small town parades, as most of the “floats” were nothing more than cars and trucks with people throwing out beads and candy.  We weren’t interested in collecting any of this, so we pitched in and provided candy and necklaces for the little kids around us that were too young to be up front.  It was a lot of fun, even though by the time of the parade the weather had clouded over and became chilly.  Once the parade passed our location we had to wait until it circled all the way around so we could leave.  Thankfully there was a very nice Mexican restaurant close to where we had parked the truck, so we had a nice meal while the parade ended and the crowd cleared out.

By Sunday, it was absolutely essential that we got some laundry done, so we found a laundramat in Texarkana and got this chore taken care of.  Monday was another reasonably nice day so we drove back into Arkansas on the hunt for a nice hike.  Our first attempt was Historic Washington State Park, but once we got there we found it was just an old historic town that was completely closed up for the week!  So we decided to drive back to the west to check out Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  While we did find a hiking trail on the Refuge, we had already spent most of the morning driving around southwestern Arkansas.  So we ate lunch in the truck before heading out on the trail.  The trail wound along the side of Bridge Creek, until it looped around to the road.  However, as we approached the road the trail became a shallow creek due to all the rain the previous week!!  We thought about it since it was not far to the road, however, finally decided not to risk it and turned around to hike back to the truck.  Thus we turned a 1 mile loop trail into a 1.5 mile hike along the creek.  Not too bad, especially with the many interpretive signs along the trail.  However, once we got back to the truck the coming cold front had begun to move in and by evening the rain had returned.

We spent the next day in the campground as we returned to intermittent showers all day, so on Wednesday we headed north into Oklahoma to check out the Choctaw Casino in Broken Bow.  Unlike the Choctaw Casino in Durant, this casino is of modest size right along the highway.  Still it was nice venue to spend a couple of hours playing the slot machines.  The only problem with the casino was a power problem whenever they had high winds, which I would guess if fairly often.  After spending nearly a half hour waiting for a slot machine to reboot twice before I could cash out, our day turned around.  The very next machine gave me a major jackpot banking nearly $80, which is a lot when I am only betting $0.20-$0.30 at a time!  I continued to do well putting away $20 a couple of more times and $4 to $5 multiple times.  Kal even did alright managing to lose only about $20.  Consequently, for once we came out with just under $50 ahead for the afternoon.  After a nice congratulatory lunch at a local Pizza Hut, we headed back to the campground a winner.

Since the combination of the weather and the fact that it was over an hour to any other venue or park we were interested in, we spent the rest of the time relaxing in the campground.  As the weather finally got nice and warm on the weekend, we did get out for a two mile hike on a trail in the COE park.  While the first part of the hike was along paved roads searching for the trailhead, once we found the beginning point out by the entrance station, it was a nice easy walk winding through the forest back to our campsite.

February, 2020 – Dallas, Texas

As we continued to travel north in Texas our next stop was once again the Dallas area, so we decided to stay again in Lavonia Park on Lake Lavon where we spent most of November.  We even stayed in the same exact site as we knew we could reach the sewer hookup.  The only difference is the bathroom within walking distance was now closed undergoing repairs.  Although we had to drive to other bathroom every day, it was now open and brand new.  Consequently, it was very nice and clean even though the road to it needs to be repaved.  Especially since we had already spent nearly a month, we did not have anything to do in the area.  This was good since the weather most of the week was cold and rainy.  All I accomplished all week was a little work on this blog and making reservations.  I discovered that the COE and state parks in Oklahoma and Arkansas were all closed until March, so I extended our next stay at Texarkana to two weeks and we will plan on taking our chances without reservations for a few weeks after that.  As long as the parks are open we should have no problem with finding a first-come-first-served site.  In fact, next year I intend to spend more time in southern Texas as there is no reason to be traveling north this quickly.  The weather in northern Texas during February is still too cold and wet.  We may as well wait until March to begin moving north.  On Friday, we spent they day visiting with Mark, Pam, Michelle, and their family.

Campsite

Saturday was different as we packed an overnight bag and headed to Owasso, Oklahoma which is just north of Tulsa.  A close second cousin of Kal’s had passed away so we surprised everyone by showing up at the memorial service on Saturday.  After the service, they invited us to stay for the church dinner for the family.  It was a nice meal and Kal had the opportunity to swap family stories of growing up together.  We stayed the night in a motel and headed back to Dallas on Sunday.  On the way back we stopped at the Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma for a few hours of gambling.  As usual, we did all right losing around $20 in total.  It made for a nice break in the 4.5 hour drive back to Dallas.

February, 2020 – Waco, Texas

The trip north on Monday was an easy drive along mostly US highways to Waco where we got set up at another COE campground right on the edge of Waco, Midway Park.  As with most COE campgrounds, this was another very nice campground.  I had a bit of trouble getting the RV backed into the site due to the trees, but on my second attempt was able to get it lined up and backed into the site.  We had a nice view of Waco Lake from our site and a great covered picnic table that was nice when it rained.  The main advantage to this campground was the location.  It was right on the edge of Waco, so we had all the amenities of a large town, yet it was far enough from the main highway that it was quiet and you felt like you were in the country.  We had great TV reception and internet access all week, so Kal was happy.  The downside was that the fan on our propane heater had quit on Friday.  The weather was mild all weekend, so not having a heater was not too bad.  The fireplace heater was sufficient and it was not uncomfortable at night.  However, the weather forecast had a cold front on the way with cold rain and the possibility of snow or even ice!  We did some searching over the weekend and I found an RV repairman in Waco that would come out and take a look once we got in on Monday.  He even called while we were on the road to see when we could get in.  However, when I called him once we got set up, he would not be able to get to us until Tuesday.  While the weather was now getting colder, it was not too bad Monday night in the RV.

Campsite

I called the repairman the first thing Tuesday morning and found out that he was busy with the fixing some breaks and along with other issues was not likely to be able to get to us that day.  With the weather turning colder and predictions for near freezing temperatures Tuesday night I decided we had to call someone else.  The volunteers at the park gave us a recommendation of an RV repair service at the local RV park in Waco.  So I gave them a call and they were not sure they would be able to get to us on Tuesday.  We waited in the RV all day with the hope they could fit us in.  By 5:00 we had given up and made reservations for a motel room for the night.  Just as we were getting ready to leave, a repairman showed up.  It didn’t take him too long to access the unit and determine that it was not the fan, but the control board.  When he got the board out it was obvious that a connection on the board had shorted out.  By bypassing the board he was able to get the fan to run, so it looked like it was just the board.  He thought they had a replacement in stock and left for the night.  We also left and had a nice night in a warm motel room.

As predicted the temperatures dropped to near freezing, so the RV was very cold when we got there Wednesday morning.  We turned on the fireplace heater, but it was obvious it was going to be a long time warming up the RV to a liveable condition.  So we headed to the local Walmart and bought a small ceramic heater that we hoped would not overload the 30 amp service.  Thankfully, there was no problem running both heaters and by mid-afternoon the RV had warmed up to be somewhat comfortable so long as we kept our coats on.  By late afternoon we got concerned that the repairman had not shown up, so we decided to spend another night in the motel.  Weather prediction was for cold rain with the possibility of snow or ice overnight with temperatures well below freezing.  By 6, there was still no repairman so I unhooked the water from the RV and we headed back to the motel for another warm night inside.

As predicted we did get a dusting of snow overnight and it was very cold.  We got breakfast and headed to the RV to start warming it up again.  Once we got to the campsite I called the RV shop to find out what was going on.  It turned out that they had to order to control board, which had just got in.  Around 10, the repairman showed up and soon had our new control board installed.  With all the heaters now in operation, it was just a couple of hours before the RV was once again warm enough to live in.

SnowInCampground

Now that we did not have to wait around for a repairman and the weather was warming up again, we decided to get out on Friday.  We still wanted to be indoors so we headed to Baylor University in Waco to the official Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.  This museum turned out to be a great idea as it had extensive exhibits with details about the entire history of the Texas Rangers.  We started off with a great show made for the History Channel about the Texas Rangers and then spent the next couple of hours in the museum.  If you are like me, you know the Texas Rangers from shows like The Lone Ranger or Walker, Texas Ranger or one of the many movies about the Texas Rangers.  The true history is much more interesting with periods of success and failures.  The Texas Rangers were formalized in 1835 by Stephen F. Austin after he returned from imprisonment in Mexico.  There job was to protect the settlers from the many bandits and Indians raiding the frontier.  They served with distinction in the Texas Revolution and were expanded once Texas became a Republic.  There job continued to be protection of the frontier from bandits and Indians.  In 1846, Texas joined the US and the Mexican-American War broke out.  With their experience on the frontier the Rangers were instrumental in the success of the US Army against the Mexicans acting as scouts, spies, and guerilla warfare.  Their success in the war made them famous, but since now it was the job of the US Army to protect the frontier it would appear they would be out of business in the new state.  By the 1850s this was obviously not the case as the US Army was spread to then to adequately protect the settlers on the frontier.  So the Rangers were expanded again and had great success against the Indian raiding parties, expanding the frontier into western Texas.  However, the Civil War put an end to this as the individuals in the Rangers joined the Confederate Army and the Rangers became a collection of individuals that could not be drafted due to age or disabilites.  Thus the area they could protect greatly diminished during the Civil War pushing east to the area around Waco.  The period of Reconstruction following the Civil War was even worse on the Rangers as they were disbanded in favor of a Union controlled force known as the Texas State Police.  After a couple of years of trying to enforce some very unpopular laws, the Texas State Police was disbanded after Reconstruction came to an end.  Once again the US Army was not very successful in dealing with lawlessness on the frontier and the Texas Rangers were reconstituted with a special force known as the Frontier Battalion.  With adequate funding this Frontier Battalion was successful in once again taming the frontier and pushing their influence westward.  By the 20th Century, the Texas frontiers had become much more settled, however, the Mexican Revolution in 1910 allowed the border to explode in violence.  For a decade there was violence along the bordertowns and thousands were killed.  There were atrocities on both sides and the Texas Rangers suffered, since their new recruits were untrained and little better than criminals themselves.  In 1919, the Texas legislature launched a full investigation into the situation and the Rangers were purged and reorganized.  All special Ranger organizations were disbanded and better oversight was put in place.  Once again the Rangers benefited and acquitted themselves as a strictly law enforcement agency.  They dealt with a number of lawless communities that sprung up during the oil boom in the 1920s through the 1950s.  The Great Depression caused the downsizing of law enforcement all across the US and the Rangers were no different.  In fact, Texas became a safe harbor for Depression era gangsters such as Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly.  It was the job of the Rangers to deal with them which included the killing of Bonnie and Clyde.  In 1935, the Texas Rangers were again overhauled with new guidelines on training and promotions that have made them a premier law enforcement agency in the world.

We greatly enjoyed exploring this history of the Texas Rangers, although the number of firearms in the exhibits was overpowering.  There are over 2500 guns, rifles, etc in the museum.  This is also the location of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, where each inductee has an exhibit that includes their firearm and often their saddle.  I have to admit that by the time I made it to the Hall of Fame, I was burned out and did not spend much time on all the famous Texas Rangers.  However, the exhibit they had devoted to “The Lone Ranger” was interesting.  I do think it was one of Kal’s favorite place in the museum.

Saturday was another nice day, so we headed back out to spend some of the day outside.  Just north of Waco is the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  As the name implies, this is the site of a large collection of mammoths that date back 65,000 years.  The bones were first discovered in 1978 and since then they have discovered at least 19 mammoths, a camel, alligator, antelope, and even a tooth from a saber tooth tiger.  These are not the wooly mammoths from the ice age.  Instead they are the Columbian mammoth which were adapted to warmer climates and savannas in the southern US and Central America.  Along with a large male, they have also found a nursery herd with young mammoths that they believed were trapped in a single flooding event.  From my standpoint, the best aspect of the site is that many of these bones are still in place.  The first bones they found were encased in plaster and taken to be studied at Baylor University.  However, the later discoveries are still right where they were found.  They have covered the site with a metal building to protect the bones by maintaining a constant temperature and humidity.  From the bridge over the dig you can see the bones in situ, just as they were found.  You can see the rib cage, backbone of the mammoths along with skulls and tusks, which are still ivory!  This is great place to visit, especially since you have to take a tour to see the bones, where you learn a lot more about the history of the dig and what is known about the mammoths from the tour guide.  The tour only lasts 45 minutes, so Kal and I also hiked a short nature trail on the 100 acre site before heading back to the campground.

Sunday we spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV before heading north again towards Dallas.

January, 2020 – College Station, Texas

The most challenging part of the trip north from Houston was getting around Houston.  As long as there is no traffic jams on the interstates, the trip around the city is not too bad, although the traffic itself is more than we want to deal with.  After getting around Houston the trip to Brenham and on to Summerville Lake and Yequa Creek Park was a nice drive.  It was early afternoon when we pulled into our campsite and got settled in.  The first thing we noticed was the large deer herd that frequented the park in the evenings and mornings every day.  They were obviously used to humans camping in the park as they would wander within 10 feet foraging for grass in the open areas.  This was a very nice park on the shores of Summerville Lake and we were looking forward to spending a week away from Houston.

Tuesday was a cool day with rain in the forecast late in the day, so we drove north to College Station to explore the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  As we had been to College Station multiple times in the past while William was attending Texas A&M, we were most interested in visiting the Presidential Museum for the second time.  Our impression of the museum was the same as the previous time we had visited the museum.  This is one of the best Presidential Museums we have seen with great exhibits covering the life and career of President Bush.  They even handed us a personal audio system that we carried around in the museum.  This system added a lot to the experience as it gave additional information about many of the exhibits, often presented by President Bush himself.  I learned a lot about his experiences as a Navy pilot during World War II where he was shot down and rescued.  I finally learned about why he moved to Texas as a young man to make his fortune in the oil business.  His early life took up about half of the museum, with the remainder focused on his public life.  I learned about his contributions as a Congressman, the UN Ambassador, the Chief Liaison to China, and as Director of the CIA.  I already knew a good bit about his career as the Vice-President to President Reagan and as our 41st President.  Still the exhibits were interesting and informative.  After spending over 2 hours in the museum we went outside to walk around a nice fishing pond to the gravesite of President Bush and First-Lady Barbara Bush.  It was a great day and we talked about what we had learned all the way back to the campsite.

As forecasted the weather on Wednesday turned nasty with rain, wind, and plummeting temperatures.  I began to wonder if we had made a mistake moving north this quickly as we saw our first subfreezing temperatures.  The weather did not improve until the weekend, so on Saturday we headed east to the Washington-on-the-Brazos.  This small town, which is now a ghost town, was the location of the Convention of 1836 where delegates from every town in Texas met to declare independence from Mexico and draft a constitution to establish the Republic of Texas.  They met on March 1, 1836 and on March 2 approved a Declaration of Independence.  At the same time General Santa Anna was besieging the Alamo which would fall on March 6.  The delegates knew they were in danger since the Alamo is only a two day ride from Washington-on-the-Brazos.  They continued to work day and night to draft a Constitution which General Santa Anna slowly moved there way destroying everything in his path.  On March 17 they finished the Constitution, just in time to escape south ahead of the Mexican Army to Galveston Island.  Trying to finally crush the revolution, Santa Anna split his forces and took a small force north to cut off Sam Houston from escaping as well.  They met on April 21 at the Battle of San Jacinto where the Mexicans were surprised and destroyed including the capture of Santa Anna himself.  This effectively ended the war and the delegates returned to Washington-on-the-Brazos to ratify the Constitution.  The town leaders lobbied to make it the new capital of the Republic, however, the leaders of the revolution decided on Waterloo, which was renamed Austin.  In 1842, President Sam Houston moved the capital to Washington-on-the-Brazos until 1845 to protect the government from an attempt by Mexico to reclaim Texas.  Even with this influx of commerce to the town, Washington-on-the-Brazos was doomed to their decision to continue their focus on river commerce instead of embracing the railroads that soon took over commerce.  The town quickly died and disappeared.  Today it is just a ghost town.

The Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site now protects the original location of this historic town.  They have even rebuilt the frame building known as Independence Hall and there is a short walking trail through the center of town down to the ferry crossing of the Brazos River.  While there is only a small museum about the town, there is also the much larger museum called “The Star of the Republic Museum.”  This is a very nice museum with some great exhibits about the entire history of Texas from prehistoric times to the present.  By itself, it is well worth the visit.  In the park is also the Barrington Living Farm where interpreters demonstrate the daily chores of large farms in the mid-1800s.  They have heritage chickens, pigs, cows, and oxen at the farm as well.  While interesting, all the time we had spent walking around the town and exploring the history museum, did not give us much time at the Living Farm.  We missed out on their cooking demonstration although we had a nice chat with the interpreter about life on the farm.  It was a end of a very good day and our week in central Texas.

January, 2020 – Houston, Texas

While this post is named Houston, our actual destination for the next two weeks is the small town south of Houston called Pearland.  Especially since it is on the south side of town, our drive was just about 1.5 hours from Galveston Island.  Nearly all of the trip was along I-45 so it was an easy trip and we arrived early in the afternoon.  We were staying at Pearwood RV Park, which is located about 5 miles off the interstate next to a small regional airport that was used primarily for helicopter training while we were there.  Every nice day had helicopters taking off and buzzing around the area.  Pearwood is a highly rated RV Park, of which it is well deserved.  They are in the process of opening up a new section to the park that will more than double its size.  However, it is still a work in progress as they are still completing the swimming pool, offices, and pond in the new section.  So there was mud and construction vehicles all around that area.  Assuming it will be similar to the landscaped pond in the old section, it is going to be very nice when they get done.  We were the very first guests to use our site in the new section and over the next two weeks, this new section nearly filled up with RVs.  They had recently laid in new sod, which looked great, but was very uneven and soupy with all the rain.  It stayed that way the entire time we were there.  I could certainly recommend this RV park in the future as it will eventually be very nice.  My only complaint is that I wished they had angled the sites more as it was nearly a 90 degree turn to back in.  Especially since there was deep mud on the other side of the road with the pond, it made it difficult to back in.  Thankfully, the road was two lanes and therefore wide and they provided a concrete area for an additional vehicle so at least the entry point into the site was wide as well.  I must be getting pretty good with backing up the RV as I was able to get it into the site in one try.  I did have to pull forward to the edge of the mud a couple of times to straighten out the approach since they did not angle it enough.

Our whole purpose with staying for two weeks here was to get new tires installed on the RV.  Before coming I had made an appointment with a local commercial tire place in Houston for first thing Tuesday morning.  Not knowing how long it would take to drive 15 miles into Houston, we decided to not unhook the RV from the truck.  This made for an interesting night with the RV at a definite angle, but we both managed to not roll out of bed during the night.  Early Tuesday morning, before the sun was up, we put in the slides and pulled the RV into the Houston traffic.  It was good that we left so early as it took nearly 45 minutes to make the 15 minute drive.  Initially we passed right by the shop as the only sign they had was for Cooper Tires and there was barely enough room to pull the trailer into the parking lot.  We pulled into a laundry parking lot a few blocks beyond it and called to get directions.  Sure enough, this tiny shop was our location to we got the RV turned around in the parking lot and headed back to pull in beside a another trailer.  Come to find out they had sold the tires they had for us to another customer on Monday, so there was a delay as they got another set from a tire dealer.  While this was going on, Kal and I went across the street to a local diner for breakfast.  After we ate, we found them busy installing our tires right there in the parking lot!! Obviously this shop was set up more to install tires along the side of a highway as we saw multiple trucks being dispatched as calls came in.  In any case, they did not take long to install a new set of tires.  I was surprised to find out they don’t balance trailer tires since the weight of the RV would keep the tires from wobbling anyway, or at least that was what they told me.  In any case, by midmorning we were done and on our way back to the RV Park.  When we pulled in, the Park Manager met us and offered to help us back the RV into the site.  I did not want to tell him that I did it myself with no problem the day before, but accept his help.  Following his directions I tried three times to back the RV into the site with no luck.  With many years experience driving a large rig, he offered to back it in for me and I let the “expert” take the wheel.  It took him another four attempts to back the RV in, once putting the RV tires into the grass where they promptly sunk in deep, nearly jackknifing the trailer trying to turn it too sharp, and finally putting the entire front end of the truck into the mud across the road before he got it safely into the site.  Frankly, I was glad to see all the problems.  I guess I am getting pretty good at this, at least with my RV and truck.  I know how fast the RV is going to turn and when to begin straightening out the truck to follow it into a site.

Over the next few days the weather was cloudy and cool, but no rain.  So I took advantage of the situation and cleaned the roof, the exterior of the RV and the truck.  We also did laundry and I cleaned the inside of the RV.  Sunday was Kal’s birthday so we did drive into a nearby Applebee’s for a steak lunch while we watched the Kansas City NFL playoff game.

Monday was Martin Luther Holiday so we headed south to the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center.  For anyone who remembers the Apollo Missions to the moon or the Space Shuttle, the Command Center at Houston is a big part of these memories.  Except for the launches and landings (or splashdowns) all of the TV came out of these Command Centers.  We expected to see mock ups of these Command Center, however, we saw a whole lot more than we anticipated.  The museum is a celebration of NASA and manned spaceflight from Mercury, through Apollo, to the Space Shuttle, Skylab, and the International Space Station and even exhibits about the future missions to Mars.  I did not realize there were 135 Space Shuttle Missions, but they had an entire wall of photographs of every astronaut team from Mercury to the present.  They also have a sample of the space suits and other memorabilia on display.  You can even touch a moon rock.  In any case, we spent so much time in the museum and eating lunch that we did not allow enough time for the tram rides.  They have two tram rides, each taking over an hour, and we only had time for one of them.  We choose to visit the training facility, so off we went on a chilly winter day around the many testing and storage buildings on the Center to their training facility where astronauts get familiar with full scale mock ups of their space vehicles.  Of course, now the mock ups are for future trips back to the moon in preparation for the Mars mission.  They also are testing out robots to be used on these missions.  The end of the tour is a stop at the last Apollo rocket that was scheduled to go to the moon before the program was canceled.  I have seen Apollo rockets before, but it was always from a distance with the rocket set vertically.  Here they have the rocket laid out on the ground and you get to walk around it, almost close enough to touch it.  You get a true measure of its enormous size!!  After the tram ride we headed outside to the Independence Space Shuttle that they have positioned on top of the modified 747 used to transport it.  You may not remember the Independence, I certainly didn’t, but it was the Space Shuttle they used to test landing procedures by launching it off the 747.  You get the opportunity to walk inside the Space Shuttle and get a feeling for the very cramped living space and huge cargo bay.  There are also exhibits within the 747 which has been totally stripped of everything inside except for a couple of seats!!  Without all the insulation it would get very cold inside before they launched the shuttle.  It was a full day of remembering our past in space flight and looking to the future, all without seeing a mock up of the Command Center as we had expected!

Tuesday was another nice day so we headed east to the San Jacinto Battle State Historic Site.  This is the site of the final and decisive battle for Texas Independence from Mexico.  Back in March of 1836, President Santa Anna, the dictator of Mexico, led a large army into Texas to put an end to the rebellion.  On March 6, 1836 the Alamo fell to Santa Anna and all the defenders were killed.  Santa Anna began moving east destroying everything in his path taking Goliad on March 27, again ordering all the surrendering Texans executed.  These two actions further enraged the Texans volunteers under the command of Sam Houston, especially since Houston refused to fight and retreated over 120 miles east away from the Mexican army.  He was labeled a coward by his men who began deserting reducing his army to about 800 from a high of over 1200.  Believing the revolution was nearly finished, Santa Anna began dividing his forces.  On April 14, the new Texan government escaped from New Washington to Galveston Island just as Santa Anna’s forces arrives.  He decides to quickly move north towards Lynchburg to cut off Houston who he believed was attempting to also escape to Galveston Island.  However, Houston had learned that the force moving against him was also about 900 soldiers and he finally had the conditions he was waiting for.  Therefore, he quickly moved east to Lynch’s Landing on Buffalo Bayou arriving on April 16 just ahead of Santa Anna.  Both forces made camp not 500 yards from each other.  Over night the Mexicans built defensive breastworks using anything they could lay their hands on and prepared to wait, especially since Houston had chosen a position he could not retreat from due to the bayou.  However, Santa Anna also chose a location for his camp that was not defensible with only limited lines for retreat on the backside of a small ridge between him and the Texans.  He also did not post sentries.  Early the next morning Santa Anna was reinforced with an additional 500 men, who were not only green recruits but had also been on the march for 24 hours.  He allowed them to sleep in the afternoon and everyone took a break.  However, Houston was not resting.  In the morning he sent his cavalry around the Mexicans to destroy the only bridge available for their retreat.  In the afternoon, he sent his cavalry around to the extreme left end of the Mexican camp and managed to move his two cannons to within 200 yards of the breastworks.  His men advanced quietly through the tall grass to within a few yards of the Mexicans.  At 4:30 the cannons opened fire and the men charged the barricades.  The Mexicans were caught completely by surprise, many of them either sleeping or taking baths.  The battle, if you can call it that, lasted 18 minutes before the Mexicans were in wild retreat into the marshes.  Yelling cries of “Remember the Alamo” or “Remember Goliad” the Texans killed any Mexican soldiers they could chase down.  In total they killed more Mexicans that died at the Alamo or Goliad combined while only 7 Texans died.  However, the true victory was that they captured Santa Anna himself.  There was still over 4000 Mexican soldiers in Texas.  However, they negotiated with Santa Anna who ordered all the soldiers to withdraw.  Thus, this one battle basically ended the Texas Revolution which became the Republic of Texas.

Today the battlefield is commemorated by a HUGE (567 feet) stone tower, which is the tallest stone monument in the world being 14 feet higher than the Washington Monument.  Just another example of how Texas always has the largest of everything :).  It is truly an impressive structure towering over the marshes of the battlefield and the Port of Houston with its huge refinery complexes.  Within the tower they have a great movie about the history of the revolution and San Jacinto Battle and some great exhibits of each time period from colonization through the World Wars.  There is also an elevator that carries you to an enclosed observation platform that provides stunning views in all directions.  Finally, there is a short driving tour, since the battlefield was so small, from the Texan camp next to the Houston Port where you can watch all manner of barges and ships, to the Mexican breastworks and marshes they attempted to escape into.

After eating lunch watching the barges we headed over to the USS Texas, the last surviving dreadnought class battleship from World War I.  While physically docked within the San Jacinto Battle State Historic Site, it is actually its own State Historic Site.  The Texas saw action during both world wars being decommissioned in 1948.  It functioned as an escort vessel early in World War II, but also participated in the North Africa landing and Normandy Invasion.  It was then transferred to the Pacific where it participated in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okanawa.  I am sure it has a great story to tell, unfortunately, it is in the process of major repairs and was not open for visitors.  So we got a few pictures from the shore before heading back to the campground.

Wednesday and Thursday were stormy so we just stayed in the campground where I found time to begin getting caught up on this blog and making some reservations for February.  The weather was much nicer on Thursday so we headed south back to the coast to explore the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a 14,000 acre refuge to protect fresh and salt water habitats for migratory waterfowl and neotropical birds.  They have miles of hiking trails, however, after slogging our way through the 0.6 mile Great Slough Trail near the Discovery Center we decided to stick to the roads.  We did see a number of waterfowl (ducks, egrets, heron, etc) along and in the Great Slough while we hiked.  However, the muddy sections of the trail was just too much.  However, we really enjoyed the 7 mile auto tour on the refuge.  On one side of the road would be a freshwater slough or lake and the other side would be salt marshes along the Intercoastal Waterway.  We did not see as many birds as we expected from the literature where the refuge is supposed to be “filled up” with geese, ducks, and other waterfowl.  Still it was a nice afternoon and we enjoyed the drive.

The weekend was again spent relaxing in the campground doing laundry and writing on this blog for a few hours.