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.