Sunday, October 29, 2006

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - 5,421 Miles

Carlsbad Caverns was a surprise to me. We have been in quite a few caves and I thought it would be just another cave. Now I can see why people come from all over the world to see this wonderful place. What makes it different is the size and the way the cave was formed. Most caves are formed by moving water. Carlsbad was formed by acidic water water dissolving limestone. It is like the cave was hollowed out of the rock then decorated over time with the usual speleothems by water seeping into the cave. There were not many rock falls that usually litter the floor of the caves I have seen. The walkways and lighting were exceptionally well done. We used the audio guides and were glad we did.

Our first tour was of the King's Palace. Thee is an extra charge for this tour. No, we didn't see any pictures or statues of Elvis or speleothems that resembled the King. It was a ranger escorted tour. Our guide, Carrie, was informative and discussed in detailed the history of the cave, its formation, the speleothems, and lots of interesting tidbits about the cave. At one point she turned off the lights. It is an amazing feeling to be in total darkness. During that period I thought about blind people and how peaceful it was once I got accustomed to it. Carrie lit a lighter and showed us how the cave looked to the first explorers because all they had for light was coal oil lamps. Surprisingly I could see quite a bit.

We had a quick lunch at the surface and then toured the Big Room, the standard 1.5 hour tour that comes with the park admission charge. We took our time and had most the cave to ourselves. On the trail we were passed by lots of speed walkers. I was surprised that no one was jogging. Carlsbad Caverns is not an easy place to get to. It is pretty much out in the middle of Nowhere so people have to go through quite a bit of trouble and expense to get to it. For people to race through it like it was a mall seems sort of sacreligious to me.

We also enjoyed a ranger slide presentation about the geology of the area. Finally we waited a couple of hours to watch the famous bat flight out of the natural entrance of the cave. Almost just as interesting was the return to the cave of the Cave Swallows. They circled above then dived at high speeds into the cave. The last swallows entered the cave just a few minutes before the bats emerged. Most of the bats have wisely moved south at this time of the year so the display was not as spectacular as it must be in the summer months. We adopted a bat to support bat research and plan to build some bat houses when we get home.

This is a must see attraction. The facilities are getting a little old and dated but I understand that there is a plan to redo and update all the facilities. Right now, as an American, I am a little ashamed that our foreign visitors who have spent tons of money to come this wonder see National Park facilities that are somewhat seedy and actually have a musty smell.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Carlsbad, NM - 5,375 Miles

Seven got behind the wheel of the RV today for the first time since she scraped one of the compartment doors the first week after we bought it. We were driving up from Fort Stockton on US 285 and the road was straight but crowned. The crown made it hard for a first time driver but Seven did really well. After we turned into the campground Seven turned the RV over to me to park it.

Carlsbad RV Park is a full service park with all the amenities. It is located in Carlsbad, NM, on US 180 on the road to Carlsbad Caverns. The only problem I have with park is that the lots are too small. The park allows for this by assigning every other spot. If someone moved into next to us they would have hit our open awning. We were going to spend just one night here but changed our mind. We will stay 3 nights now.

Tomorrow we will tour Carlsbad Caverns.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fort Stockton, TX - 5,235 Miles

Why did we stop here? Darn good question. We had just finished our longest drive of the summer - 290 miles. The last 50 miles of it in a stiff cross wind. I was tired and we had to stop.

Parkview RV Park is a Passport America park and had electricity, WiFi, and water so we stopped. Otherwise we would have dry camped. It is not a pretty park. It may be the crab grass capitol of the world. One liter pop bottles partially filled with water served as sewer pipe covers. One electrical hookup was in a box being using by a neighboring RV and ours was attached to a light pole wide open to the elements. The WiFi was outstanding - no trees.

Fort Stockton is a little cattle and farm community with no pretensions of being anything fancy. City planning and beautification were subjects probably far from the city fathers' minds. Its biggest claim to fame I believe is the large statue of a roadrunner. Why? I didn't ask. It was the world's largest statue of a roadrunner but I think it isn't anymore.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fredericksburg, TX - 4,973 Miles

Fredericksburg Texas is a typical touristy town. Lots of old stone buildings built by early German immigrants who settled this area. Their sturdy buildings have been converted from homes and basic farming community businesses into boutiques, restaurants, and gift stores with the usual flower boxes out front in the windows. That is, I guess, progress. The surrounding farms and ranches look prosperous and well-kept.

Fredericksburg is the home of the The National Museum of the Pacific War which is a complex of buildings and courtyards with memorial walls honoring individuals as well as ships. I didn't see any of the vessels I sailed on back in my Marine Corps days. Troop ships like APA-228, the Rockbridge, are not as glamourous as cruisers and destroyers I guess. Some of the ships I was on did serve heroically in WWII so they should qualify I think for a small spot on the wall. Maybe it is there and I just didn't see it. The Admiral Nimitz part of the museum was undergoing renovation so we did not get to visit it.

The museum is very well done. The organization and the displays are great. The exhibits effectively told the story of Pacific War. There were so many pictures and artifacts that I had never seen before it was almost overwhelming. We spent about an hour in the museum when we realized that a presentation was going to start at another museum a couple blocks away. When we came back we spent another 2 hours at the museum and had to be asked to leave just as we were finishing the exhibit on Japan's surrender. Fascinating material.

One interesting place was the Plaza of Presidents. It had places for 3-5 more memorials to our Presidents but stopped with Bush 41. The museum website says that the memorials on the plaza were to honor Presidents serving in WWII. I really wonder if that was true given the amount of space remaining in the plaza. The next president we all know was a draft dodger and I can't imagine a committee of old grizzled combat vets honoring him with a memorial.

We needed a campground and didn't want to go looking for one that met our criteria - cheap - so we elected to stay at Camp Wally. Fortunately on the east side of the parking lot there were some level areas. The rest of the parking lot was pretty steep for RV camping. It was quiet thank goodness. We were tuckered out.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lavonia Park, TX - 4,600 Miles

After staying at three straight Corps of Engineers camp grounds we were due to hit a loser. Lavonia Park is in a great place, right on Lavon Lake. The camp sites were far apart and had water and electricity. The only problem with them was that none of the sites were even close to level. We tried every combination of boards we had to get the RV level without success. We were hacked because we drove down a road with a 2 ton limit after avoiding another road that had a sign on it saying it was closed (it wasn't) to get to this park. Relucantly we pulled out after trying to level up in a couple of sites.

And the roads to the park...... The absolute worst roads we have traveled so far. Apparently road building in Texas is not a science. The roads were literally falling apart. I had to swing into another lane several times to avoid places where the road was disappearing into the ditch beside the road. Texas TxDot either uses terrible road construction techniques or believes in doing road building on the cheap or a combination of both.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Clear Springs Recreation Area, TX - 4,444 Miles

We drove at night for the first time to get to Clear Springs Recreation Area, a Corps of Engineers campground on Wright Patman Lake. We got to the campground at 9:30pm after driving a trecherous one lane road - Clear Springs Road. We thought that we would hang up the RV on the railroad tracks when we crossed them. The gate to the campground was closed and we didn't have the password. A lady was coming out so Seven flagged her down and she somehow got her password to work and let us in. We found an empty spot and set up in record time. A long day and long drive in trying conditions. I hate driving at night.

The next morning I walked the campground, birdwatching. I walked along the lake looking for shore birds. I did see a large flock of American Pelicans and a small flock of egrets. The park was pretty full. The camping spots were surrounded by large pines making using DirecTV impossible. The sites are large and level.

Crater of Diamonds State Park - 4,365 Miles

The leaves in Arkansas were starting to display some of tbe color that will dazzle other's eyes in a couple of weeks.

I kept pronouncing Mur-frees-boro, Murphys-boro and Seven kept correcting me. Weird name. The town looked like a nice small town though. I have noticed that the quality of housing in Arkansas is way above what I expected. People from Kansas and Missouri look down their noses at their neighbors to the south so I expected weatherbeaten houses with tin roofs and chickens and pigs living under the front porch. Nothing is further from the truth. I really didn't see many houses with cars jacked up in the front yard. Mostly solid homes with neat yards just like everywhere else we have been.

The Crater of Diamonds State Park is located east of Murfreesboro so we stopped at an abandoned store and unhitched and rode the toad out to the park. The park is a great place to visit. The field where diamond hunters can look for diamonds has a nice couple of buildings that explain why diamonds are in Arkansas and how to find them. There are lots of stories about people who have had success finding diamonds. The park rangers sell or rent equipment that can be used to look for diamonds. The field is plowed monthly I think. For as long as the park has been there I would think that all the diamonds have been found. They haven't been.

We didn't look for diamonds although we were sorely tempted to do so. It was still raining somewhat and the fields were really muddy. The mud didn't prevent others from looking for small stones. There was a place where boots and equipment could be cleaned.

There is a nice campground here too.

We planned our route out of Murfreesboro to avoid going through Hope, AR for obvious reasons.

Hot Springs, AR - 4,305 Miles

We weren't going to spend the night in Hot Springs, but we stopped at the Gulpha Gulch Campground in the Hot Springs National Park just to check it out. It is a great place to camp but there are no hookups. We have decided that rather pay for a campground spot without hookups we would dry camp at Wal-Mart. We would forego the ambiance of a real camp ground in order to save a few bucks.

After our quick look-see at Gulpha Gulch we drove down Central and turned into Fountain Street. We came to a warning sign that said that RVs over 20 feet were prohibited from driving up to the tower. Unfortunately it was at the entrance of the park and not at the turnoff to Fountain Street so we had to unhook the toad and turn the RV around.

Central, the main bath house row, has bath houses on one side and stores, everything from cheap trinket shops to nice jewelry stores, on the other. We found some free parking behind the stores and spent an hour or two checking out the stores and the Fordyce Bath House. The Fordyce is run by the National Park Service and has been restored. The procedure people visiting the baths went through to use the facilities to their fullest was a lot different than I expected. A full treatment could take a half of a day. I have had steam baths a long time ago in a YMCA in Huntsville, AL. No, don't go there. YMCAs at that time offered a lot of great things for kids. Now I wouldn't go into a YMCA, let alone send a kid into one.

Just in case you think Wal-Mart underpays its help today, this letter from a bath house operator will be an eye opener.

It rained all day today. We haven't had rain to deal with this entire trip so it was a new experience for us.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Arkansas State Fair - 4,275 Miles

The Arkansas State Fair is for people who like midway rides and games. A full 50% of the fair grounds seems to be devoted to separating the rubes from their money by offering the usual rides and silly and crooked games. The fair grounds are clean and well-maintained. The people directing traffic and working there are friendly and helpful.

We checked out the Industrial Building that was full of a wide variety of booths that sold ideas or goods. Government agencies were represented by the Fish and Game people and the police from local to state levels. I cannot believe that the handwriting analysis people still are making enough money at their game to keep showing up at fairs.

We were strolling down the midway and stopped at a ride that Seven was kidding me about not riding. I do not ride rides. Seven had to have 3 children in order to have someone to ride the rides with. I get sick and, frankly, ride safety worries me. The rides are put together and maintained by people with less than a 3rd grade education. To wit: the ride we were watching started falling apart right before our eyes. It was shaking and making loud noises. Soon a part separated and was tangling in the air and a large piston rod bent. A father whose kids were on the ride was watching all this and was going crazy and was screaming at the operator to stop the ride. The operator was looking at him like he was cazy and finally got up and realized something terrible was happening and turned the machine off. Seven thought the ride was about to topple over. No one was hurt and all the kids got safely off. My doubts about the safety of these things was reaffirmed. For life.

One other shocking thing was the price of risking your life on the rides. Some cost 5 tickets or 5 bucks. It is incredible someone would pay $5 to ride one of those rides for a minute or two. There are lots of discount deals availabel to savvy fair goers so the top price of $5 per ride is probably not entirely accurate.

We enjoyed the pig races although the races weren't as interesting as the names they had for the pigs in the race. Lard Butt, Pork Chop, Sarah Jessica Porker, Brittney Squeals, Dale Earnhog (the pig wearing the #3 blanket of course), etc. They race to get Oreo cookies. I would too.

The Arts and Crafts building was small but contained a lot of great stuff. There are a lot of talented people out there producing quality items like quilts, paintings, clothing, photographs, and canned goods. We saw a huge watermelon that must have easily weighed over 100 lbs. Why it won 2nd and not first place in the watermelon competition is a mystery to me. I wanted to volunteer to be a cookie judge but the officials were busy judging some other foodstuffs.

Maumelle Park, Arkansas - 4,261 Miles

We were sad to leave Toad Suck Park. It is such a pretty place. The campground hosts assured us that Maumelle Park was just as beautiful and he was right. It is a larger park with plenty of camping sites by the river. We cruised the campground and found one, #20, in the corner of the park along the river. Great site. It is not surrounded by trees but with the temperatures in the 40s this morning who cares? The park is on Pinnacle Valley Road and is a COE or US Army Corps of Engineers park. The fee for us Golden Agers is $9 per night for a 30 amp spot. Nice.

I got the tire problem on the CRV solved last night at a Wal-Mart in Conway. Had to replace one tire that had sidewall damage that was causing it to leak. The tire guy told me I could take it to a place that did sidewall patches but to be safe I replaced it.

Now our satellite system is acting up. Ugh-ga-bugga. We can get OTA TV from Little Rock so we are not completely shut out.

We came to Maumelle Park so we could go to the Arkansas State Fair today. We will take off for that after Seven's soap is over. We might stay here for a couple of days. It is a great park.

Little Rock, AR - 4,225 Miles

We drove into Little Rock from Toad Suck Park 2 times. The first day we saw the State Capitol, the Central High School Museum, Mt Holly Cemetery, and the Governor's Mansion. The second day we stopped at the Old State House Museum, the Historic Arkansas Museum, and took a ride on the trolley.

The 4 drives from Toad Suck into Little Rock and back involved 3 traffic jams on I-40. 1 out of 4 ain't bad as they say.

We enjoyed our tour of the State Capitol. Tours of such buildings seem to be always available. The question is who to ask about them. We have lucked out several times and have received great tours. Most tour guides know a lot about the building and are eager to share interesting tidbits about the building's history. It always makes me feel a little sad to see a building like the Arkansas State Capitol building and its towering dome because the Arizona State Capitol Building's dome is really small. It is entirely made out of copper but still it is almost invisible except to the practiced eye.

We were told by someone we ran across that the governor's mansion was in a 'bad' neighborhood and that a few years ago someone ran and promised to move it to a better location. All the historical societies rose up and screamed bloody murder and the guy wasn't elected. It is not in a bad neighbor but in what I'd call a transitional neighborhood. On the street behind the mansion there are some really modest houses with protective bars on their windows. In the front yard there was a play house that was a scaled down version of the mansion. We thought it was a play house for Chelsea Clinton when she lived there. We happened to see a guy with a backpack and camo pants walking by so we asked him it was Chelsea's. He said 'who knows and who cares?' with a big smile on his face. We all laughed. Most of the people we met in Little Rock had little use for President Clinton.

The Historic Arkansas Museum tour took us through buildings restored to what they look like during the 1800's. It was really interesting. One building was sort of a pioneer Motel 6. Another had a printing press and another contained the kitchen. Our guide was very good and friendly and the exhibits were very interesting. The museum also contained an exhibit of purses that were from a local woman's collection. It was amazing. A photographer and his assistants were there photographing purses for a magazine. He refused my offer to swap cameras with him.

The Old State House Museum was located in the building that once served as the state capitol building. The building is a testament to doing things on the cheap. The original plans for the building were pretty extragavent in the opinion of the people at the time and were cut back. Way back. As a result the building has had to go through many renovations to keep it from falling down. President Clinton had a big party in the front yard on election night in 2000 when he was elected the first time. There are two Clinton rooms in the museum - one just for Bill and the other that includes other governor's wives but is dominated by Hillary. Neither mention his impeachment. Clinton may not be the most popular person in Little Rock but he certainly brings in the tourist dollars.

The Central High School Museum is located in a restored gas station across from Central High School which is still in use. The museum recounts the time in 1957 when Federal Courts forced the integration of the school. Federal troops from the 82nd Airborne Division were called in to restore order since Gov Faulbus used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black students from entering the school. 9 brave kids, accompanied by armed soldiers, eventually entered the school. There is a new museum under construction across the street. I was about the same age as the Central High Nine and remember the news stories on TV very well.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Conway, AR - 4,075 Miles

50 miles isn't far to go in one day but we were ready for a good stop with hookups. The name Toad Suck Park jumped out at me from the map and because it was around 35 miles from Little Rock we said 'why not'. We pulled off the interstate and immediately came across a Honda dealership. The toad, our CRV, needed tire repairs and without a lugnut lock key we couldn't remove the tires. I searched Springfield without success and knew I would have to try some places in Little Rock for one. On a whim, we pulled into the Honda place and lo and behold the parts guy pulled out a case with 10-12 of them in it. We went out to the CRV and found which one fit our CRV. He sold it to me for $18 and said he would order another to replace the one he sold me out of his case. So now we could take care of any tire problems we might have in the future. Yay. I love Honda.

Walking out of the Honda place I ran into a salesperson (or did he run into me?). We chatted for some time. His name was Dave Laughlin so I asked him if he was related to Don of Laughlin, NV fame. He said no but said that he did live in Las Vegas for some time. He said it was the only time in his life he didn't have to spell his last name for people. He also told me that Toad Suck Park was a favorite of his and told me where it was.

Toad Suck Park is due west of Conway on AR State Road 60. It is on the Arkansas River and is probably the most beautiful park we have stayed in. It is a Corps of Engineer park. Our Golden Age pass was good and we only paid $10 a night. We are going to stay 2 nights. We are right on the water and under a bunch of tall oak trees. The oak trees pelt the RV with acorns but it is a pleasant sound when a nut hits then rolls off. The trees are so dense we had problems getting the satellite dish up and running so Seven could see her soap.

The Arkansas River is the winter home of lots of eagles. I may have seen one today but didn't have the binocs handy to check it out. Definitely a large bird.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Russellville, AR - 4,023 Miles

We had to stop at Camp Wally in Russellville. The only campground in town we could find was full and my shoulders were shot from all the mountain driving I did on the way down from Branson. Maps are deceiving. What looks like a straight line on a map sometimes is a wicked series of switchbacks in real life. And since we choose to go on the back roads if we have a choice we pay the price occasionally.

We turned off of US-65 onto AR State Road 123 and was driving down some major twisty-turny narrow roads through some beautiful Ozark countryside when we came to a sign that said something about hairpin curves and no trucks. Of course, being a male, I blew right past it, confident I could take our 50 feet plus of vehicles around anything including hairpin curves. Nothing in Arkansas could equal those in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that we had experienced and survived. So I thought, but Seven wasn't so sure and made me take an ice cream bar break in a little bitty country store in Mt Judea. The young lady at the cash register said she was glad we stopped and came in because she and her friend were just talking about us and hoping we weren't heading down the road towards the curves. She said we wouldn't make it. So we turned around (after getting hung up in the post office parking lot and having to unhitched the toad) and headed back to the turnoff to AR State Road 374. Seven suggested we take a short cut on County Road 74. County Road? It looked like an overgrown driveway. 374 was a nice road but took us a tad out of our way. We finally got to AR State Road 7 and took off. I bet we averaged 35 miles an hour for the entire trip from Branson to Russellville. Was there one straightaway?

We didn't see much of Russellville. Camp Wally (US-64 and Elmira) was great. We were out back and it was quiet once the tire and lube area shut down for the night. We walked over to the nearby Ryan's Restaurant for supper. It stunk.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast and stopped at a food processing plant down the road from Camp Wally to see if they gave plant tours. They didn't so we hit I-40 to head for our next stop. My shoulders were too sore to do anymore mountain driving.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Branson MO - 3,877 Miles

If someone visits Branson, the reputed country music capitol of the world, they are suppose to see some country music shows. There are lots of them to choose from - 500 at my estimate. It was our intention to go to a show or two but we decided not to. I like country music but am not INTO IT and could care less about the silly slapstick humor or smaltzy productions usually present at these things. It is very predictable stuff and somewhat boring in my opinion.

The apparently unregulated commericalism here in Branson is stomach turning. Large, garnish signs are everywhere. The Ozarks is a beautiful place but you can't drive a mile without seeing a large sign touting some show or attraction. My eyes get tired of it after a while. Everyone is out to get our money.

While here we did get to see some people who at one point in Seven's life and mine were important. One of my friends settled here with her husband to lead a perfect life - she and her husband own a fly fishing shop. When we stopped in to say hello Carolyn was working on tying a fly for a customer while her husband stand was out fishing. Several customers stopped in while we were there and I could tell Carolyn was still the ever optimistic and happy Carolyn and that everyone loved her. It was great to see her and I could tell she really didn't really want to dreg up all the past - we both had nice careers with the same company that ended on sour notes. Who wants to remember the bad stuff? Especially when there is so much good stuff to recall.

Seven's high school friend, Kay, lives in Kimberling City which is near Branson. So instead of seeing some country singers strut their stuff we drove the winding roads over to Kay's house. Kay was a bridesmaid in our wedding. After we left Kay's house the obvious question we had still wasn't answered - why Kimberling City? We arrived unannounced but Kay and her husband were gracious hosts and we spent several hours talking. Kay's house overlooks the lake and has been extensively remodeled by her husband who is a real worker bee. From the IKEA book shelves in the office to their home theater room we enjoyed seeing all their improvements. A great visit with nice people.

We are moving on today. Where? Don't know for sure. South. It is cold here. At least for us Arizonians.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Springfield, MO - 3,820 Miles

Seven's beautiful sister lives in Springfield with her two daughters that attend Drury University. Kristen lives in a nice subdivision that has narrow streets that wind up and down hills. We decided to spend the first night at Camp Wally near I-44 and MO-13 that was temporary home to about 10 RVs and 5 trucks. The next morning we were going to move to a place near Kristen's house that was probably the most level 50 feet of roadway in the subdivision. We checked with the neighbors of course.

The first night we hustled over the Missouri University (we still think of it as SW Missouri State University) to watch one of our former neighbor's daughters play in a soccer match against Indiana State University. It was fun and free. It was good seeing the neighbors again and their beautiful and talented daughter who was a fullback for the Lady Bears.

The toad is having problems keeping air in two tires and I went over to Wal-Mart to get them check and repaired if necessary. Then there was the shock: lug nut locks and no tool with which to unlock them. Bummer. I spent all day trying to find someone or something to unlock them with. Wal-Mart had a set of unlocking tools but guess which size was missing? Double bummer.

Another night here and then we take off for Branson. We will probably spend a day or two there and then head for Little Rock to see what all that money Slick Willy got for pardons bought.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Centerview, MO - 3,700 Miles

Seven's parents and brother live in Centerview. Her parents operate a 320 acre farm there, raising cattle and horses. They bought the farm back in the 1950's just in time for the drought of 1953-4. They struggled to make a go of it during Seven's childhood. Remember the old joke? Know how to make a million dollars farming? Start with ten million. That was almost true for them at that time. Of course things got better.

We spent 7 days at the farm. We waited a couple of days for Seven's brother and sister-in-law to get back from a trip to Florida before leaving. We set a new record, 14 days, for going without water or sewer hookups. We had to go over to Knob Noster Park to dump our tanks several days after we got there.

We lived in Centerview and nearby Warrensburg when we were first married. We had a small apartment in Centerview, right across the street from the grain elevator, then we bought a 40 acre farm next to Seven's parent's place, lived in a garage converted into an apartment on Pine Street in Warrensburg, and finally in a small brick house on Broad Street in Warrensburg.

Central Missouri State University is changing its name again. When Seven and I went there it was Central Missouri State College then it changed to its present name and now it will be the University of Central Missouri. Big whoop. So all the clothing in the Student Union with CMSU on it is on sale. I got 20% off a nice sweat shirt for Seven with Central Missouri State University on it. I wear Chiefs, KU and In and Out clothing. CMSU used to have a nice little campus. Now it looks like a big parking lot with parking lots on every piece of vacant land around the campus.

Seven's parents do not cook much any more so we ate out almost everyday we were there. We ate at all the local places it seems.

We got to visit our son's 1972 Dodge Charger while we were there. It is parked at Seven's parent's farm. It is slowly rusting away. I made several attempts to sell it for him without success. Great looking car. Has new transmission that is 8 years old with less than 100 miles on it.

Knob Noster State Park, where we went to dump, looked beautiful. Lots of nice camping spots with electrical and water hookups. The park is east of Warrensburg on Road BB near Whiteman AFB.