Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hill Country Christmas

Merry Christmas from Texas Hill Country! We are woefully behind with this blog. But, hey, we've been busy! We'll fill in the blanks of the last month soon. But, this is a timely post that we just couldn't pass by. We hope you and yours are enjoying a very Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Our home for the holidays is Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville. This very comfortable place is definitely decked out.

Bullwinkle is all snug in a his lovely spot with all the trimmings, and a view, too.

Our site overlooks a pretty creek where we have enjoyed some colorful sunsets. We're so fortunate to have friends close by. John and Sandy have been here for a couple of weeks and fellow former Kansas Citians Steve and Cathy stopped by for the week on their way south. We've enjoyed good times and nice weather, which is an extra special holiday treat.

San Antonio's Riverwalk was dressed in its holiday finery when Sandy and John joined us on a park-organized trip one recent evening. We strolled the waterway, enjoyed some tasty barbeque and watched the the lights and luminaries come to life. It was all very festive.

Our Christmas Eve was spent in the company of friends as we gathered at Steve and Cathy's for some holiday cheer. Today we drove to Austin to enjoy a holiday dinner with Paul's cousins and family. We are so blessed to have family and friends with whom we can celebrate the season.

Tonight on the way back to Kerrville, we stopped in Johnson City to see the one-million light display at the headquarters of the local electric company. This illuminated forest was something to see, and brought a perfect end to a wonderful holiday.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enchanted Rock

One of the things we "saved" for our winter visit to Hill Country was a trip to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. We had heard that it's a pretty special place to spend the day, take in the interesting formations, and (oh yeah) climb. Today was the day to check the place out. John, Sandy and Steve joined us for the hour or so drive north for a short, but not so little, hike.

Here's a good look at the rock from the start of the trail. This enormous pink granite formation covers approximately 620 acres and rises 425 feet above the surrounding terrain on the just over a half-mile long trail. Sounds like a pretty decent hike. Doesn't it?

This is a closeup look of the previous picture, focusing on the top of the rock. Can you spot the "ants" in this picture? Actually, those are hikers. They're just a mere 425 feet above us.

Just after stepping off the trail, we came to a fork. We opted for the Summit Trail to the top. Soon at least one of us would be wishing we'd taken the level Loop Trail around the monadnock.

On the way up, we enjoyed the view of neighboring Turkey Peak. The most notable element of this photo, however, is the 45-degree angle of the "trail" in the foreground.

After the steep but short climb, we treated ourselves to an hour or so at the summit to enjoy the 360-degree views.

From here, we could see miles and miles of Texas. Literally!

Oh yeah, we almost forgot. We still had to go down! Thankfully, everyone made the trek down as easily as the climb up. Back at the trailhead, we decided we had all earned a late lunch at Coopers BBQ in nearby Llano. After an afternoon of climbing, it was a well-deserved treat.

Along the road to Llano, we spotted several signs like this one. Finally, an exasperated Paul joked, "I keep seeing these signs, but I haven't seen anybody yet!"

Yes, here in Hill Country, we are so easily entertained.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November in Kansas City

As is always the case, our time in Kansas City has flown by. Staying a month, we thought for sure we'd get to do everything we wanted. But, once again, we're heading out of town with friends unseen and to-dos not done. We'll just have to stay longer next time!

A highlight of our November stay was spending a few days showing our traveling friends Leslie and Mike around. We met this fun pair in Idaho last Summer, and were thrilled when they decided to make Kansas City a stop on their route west to spend the holidays in Utah. It was a real treat to play tourist in our old hometown on a couple of picture perfect days.

That top photo of the Kansas City skyline was taken from this spot, The Liberty Memorial. Dedicated in 1926 to honor the memory of 418 Kansas Citians who lost their lives in World War I, today the memorial houses the official World War I Museum of the United States. The museum opened in 2006.

On the south end of the Liberty Memorial mall sits the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The building, which opened in 2008, sits on the former site of the hospital where Mary was born and later worked. We just had to go inside and take a look at what's happening on Memorial Drive these days.

The first floor of the Fed houses The Money Museum, which features educational and interactive displays about the nation's financial system and the duties of the Federal Reserve. A highlight of our tour was a peek into the operations in the cash vault, where cameras were off limits. We watched robots tote carts of currency around. This display sums up the contents of a cart full of $100 notes: $40 million. Any way you look at it, that's a big pile of cash!

Where else can you pick up some free money? The Federal Reserve offers each visitor a free bag of shredded money. Estimated value when these bucks were in circulation: $140. Today's street value: $0. But, it's a great souvenir. And, admission to the museum is free.

Down the hill from Memorial Drive is the crown jewel of Kansas City landmarks: Union Station. Built in 1914, the massive beaux arts style station served as a major transportation hub for decades. On the morning of June 17, 1933, Union Station was the backdrop of the Kansas City Massacre, where four law enforcement officers and fugitive Frank Nash were shot and killed.

At its peak during World War II, tens of thousands of passengers passed through the station's Grand Hall each year. Things are considerably quieter today. (If you click on the photo for a closer view you can look for Paul, sitting on a bench.)

The North Waiting Room could hold 10,000 people coming to and from the trains down below. Many arriving passengers would meet their party under the six-foot wide clock that still hangs from the arched entryway to the station's Grand Hall.

Some 95 feet above the floor of the grand hall hangs one of three 3,500-pound chandeliers set in colorful ceiling panels. As train travel diminished, so did the hustle and bustle of Union Station. The station closed in the 1980s and fell into a sad state of disrepair. In 1996, voters on both sides of the state line passed a tax initiative to fund the station's renovation, which was completed in 1999.

Looking north from the station, we could see several construction cranes downtown. In most of the cities we've traveled in this year, that's been a rare sight. As the song goes, it looks like everything is up-to-date in Kansas City!

Another stop on our tour was the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO. Leslie and Mike had never been here before. And, we hadn't paid a visit since we were kids.

When you step inside the museum you are greeted by this massive mural by Thomas Hart Benton. It's been years, but we both remembered this!

The replica of the Truman Oval Office reflects the style of the late '40s and early '50s. Telephones and televisions have sure changed dramatically since then!

The library displays many "treasures" of the Truman years, including this famous copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune.

Harry Truman was famous for this saying, which he displayed on his desk. But, do you know what the President placed on the side of the plaque that faced him?

"I'm from Missouri" was an ever-present and grounding reminder for the President.

Of all the items on display, we all got a chuckle out of this. In the corner of an invitation to his own Inauguration, Truman scribbled: "Weather permitting I hope to be present."

Speaking of weather, we've seen a dramatic change in the weather in Kansas City this month. Temperatures have dropped, and there is talk of flurries in the forecast. It's been a wonderful month, but it's definitely time to head South while the weather still permits.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back to Thompson

We spent another day wrestling the wind across Iowa and blew into Thompson on Friday afternoon. Things look quite a bit different at Gary and Francile's farm since we were here in August. Most of the trees have lost their leaves, the crops have been harvested and most activities are about preparing for Winter. Of course, when you have a balmy day in late October, it's a perfect day to get out and enjoy the tree swing one last time.

Our dear friends welcomed us to a family Thanksgiving feast they hosted Saturday afternoon. Besides the turkey and all the trimmings, the big event was that their granddaughter lost a tooth. Now, all the wants for Christmas is her two front teeth! She was delighted to discover the tooth fairy got the memo that she was spending the weekend here in Iowa. With new treasures in her pockets, Anika was grinning ear to ear. What a wonderful smile!

After all of that food and fun, everybody was ready for a good night's rest. Little Coffee (who isn't quite so little anymore) got a head start. She's a championship napper (and purrer)! Many thanks to Gary and Francile for making us feel like family. It's been so wonderful to see y'all again!

This afternoon we bid our friends farewell and made the quick trip to Forest City. Tonight we're parked at "Camp Winnebago" before we check Bullwinkle into the "hospital" in the morning. While he's at Winnebago a few days getting some warranty work done, we'll be exploring nearby Clear Lake.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Iowa City

We decided to take a break in our 900-mile sojourn to Winnebago and spend a couple of nights resting up in Iowa City. This destination was an easy pick for us. We love to visit capitals, colleges and towns we've never been to before. And, Iowa City is all three. Plus, this is the town where Paul's parents met many years ago. So, we owe a lot to Iowa City! It definitely deserved a stop. Some 400 miles after leaving Whittington bright and early yesterday, we blew into Colony Country Campground, a lovely little mom-and-pop campground just north of town. Just take a look at those flags. We really did blow in! That's the kind of weather that makes driving a 40-foot rolling billboard tons of fun.

After a good night's rest and an early lunch at the tasty Bluebird Diner, we strolled over to the University of Iowa campus. The campus sits adjacent to Iowa City's bustling downtown district, making the college and the town inseparable. (It's very nice!) The centerpiece of the campus is the Old Capitol Building. This historic landmark served as Iowa's last territorial capitol, and its first state capitol. When the state government moved the capital to Des Moines in 1857, this stately building became part of the University of Iowa.

We stepped inside and were cheerfully greeted by Vilda, a lovely docent who provided a very interesting an informative tour. She explained that the University moved out of the building in 1970 and embarked on a six-year effort to restore the capitol to its statehouse splendor. A 2001 fire closed the building for six years. The former statehouse reopened to the public in 2006 as a museum. The interior paint colors are all circa early Iowa statehood. The very red walls of the old state house chamber cast a warm glow on the rows of representative desks adorned with candlesticks and quills.

The building's prominent architectural feature is its unique reverse spiral staircase at its center, which extends from the ground floor to the second floor. Vilda guided us upstairs for a peak at several former state office buildings.

The old governor's office is available to modern day Iowa Governors who need to conduct state business in Iowa City.

The President's Office is furnished just as it was when the University moved the president's office out in 1970. With big windows and a fireplace in the corner, this cavernous space is quite cozy.

A bookcase across the office contains several books. On the bottom shelf we spotted a row of Hawkeye yearbooks from back in the day when Paul's parents attended school here. We could look, but as much as we wanted to take a peek inside, we could not touch.

Like most colleges at the time, the University of Iowa campus was the site of protests in the late '60s and early '70s. That turbulent time is featured in an exhibit in the ground floor gallery. "Chaos and Creation on the Pentacrest" highlights the impact on the university.

This May 12, 1971 memo from the Office of the President advised students to avoid protests and stick to their studies.

The exhibit also features a University of Iowa dorm room, circa 1968. Pretty trippy! Just to the left of the lamp near the bed is the requisite pile of collegiate clothing on the floor. The very scary thing about this display is the number of "antiques" that we could easily identify, like the Polaroid Swinger camera!

With our capitol tour complete, we strolled around the rest of the Pentacrest, a collection of five campus buildings, including the capitol, that sit on a four-block-sized parcel. Schaeffer Hall, located on the southeast portion of the Pentacrest, is a spot where Paul's dad spent many hours as a student.

We suspect Dad and Mom spent some time just across the street from Schaeffer Hall, here at The Airliner. Paul's dad told us to check out this old haunt, so we did! This hotspot has been keeping Hawkeyes fed and watered since 1944.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day on campus. This picture perfect October day sure didn't hurt, but there's a lot to like about Iowa City. We'll definitely be back.

As much as we'd love to stick around for awhile, we're getting kicked out of here tomorrow. Iowa is hosting Wisconsin for a big game this weekend, and our cozy campground is booked. So, we're moving north for a weekend of fun with friends before we take Bullwinkle back to Winnebago.

Meanwhile, Go Hawkeyes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whittington Revisited

We passed up a return to Paducah so we could stick around with our friends at Defeated Creek as long as possible. Paducah's National Quilt Museum will have to wait for next time!

After saying so long to our friends and leaving Defeated, we headed west to Nashville then north into Illinois. We're making tracks to make a date for our moose. Bullwinkle has an appointment at Winnebago in Forest City on Monday. With 900 miles to cover between now and then, we decided to make our first stop at one of our favorite "overnight" campgrounds in southern Illinois.

Whittington Woods Campground in Whittington, IL is the perfect blend of easy access and a quiet getaway. It's a great place to park after a long day of driving to get a good night's rest before the next long day. We found this gem last November on our beeline return to Kansas City and vowed to return. We're glad we did.

Tomorrow, on to Iowa!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Defeated Creek

Sometimes a question is best answered with a picture. This is my answer to the question, "Mary, what'cha been doing the last couple of weeks?"

We are parked in this beautiful spot in our now favorite campground. Defeated Creek COE Campground is located about 10 miles northeast of the tiny Tennessee town of Carthage. Our site sits on the shore of Cordell Hull Lake, which is the reason I've spent as much time as I can parked in a recliner enjoying the view. (And, oh yeah, maybe I've read a few pages on my Kindle.) This place is simply the best!

This stunning campground is the "home park" for our friends Lisa and Tony, who live just minutes away. I met Lisa online a couple of years ago and have been promising to visit her and her family here in Tennessee since. We almost made it last year, but had to bypass this stop to get our ailing moose to Kansas City. Lisa extended an invitation to her RVing friends to join her family at Defeated during her Fall break. We all made our reservations six months ago (This place is understandably that popular.) and descended on Defeated en masse. Lisa and Tony and their son Tez were the most wonderful hosts. (How did I miss getting a picture of their younger son Rick? That cute little boy moves pretty fast!)

As much as we love the scenery around here, the chance to spend time with Lisa and her family and a bunch of our RVing friends is the real reason we came.

We hadn't seen our friends John and Sandy since June in Sacramento. These brave folks didn't know anyone else heading to Defeated. (And, they came anyway!) Of course, they fit right in and will leave here with many new friends. 

It was a treat to catch up with Jim and Ellie and their adventures since we met them in Jerome in April. Ellie did an outstanding job of leading our impromptu morning line dancing class. And, Jim opened their patio to all the football fans in the group. No matter the outcome, these games were great to watch with friends.

Fellow native Kansans Mac and Netters have been busy since we saw them in Texas last winter (and in frigid Kansas City before that!). These two mixed up some mighty fine fajitas!

We met Leno and Kevin in Texas, too. They are looking good, as always. And, so is their beautiful rig. Kevin set the standard in our group for the most sparkling RV. That's probably why theirs was usually the place we gathered at happy hour. We just followed the light!

More of the clan we connected with in Texas! Chuck and Kathy got lucky and were able to extend their stay beyond a couple of days. We're so glad!

We sure met a lot of nice folks in Texas, including Nolan and Donna. It was great to see them again.

Doug and JoAnn (aka Filmore's Folks) came over from their new favorite town, Asheville. It's one of ours, too! It was great to catch up with them since first meeting them in Rockport.

We hadn't seen Jenny since our stop in Spokane in August 2009. Lots of good things have been happening for her. She calls Tennessee home these days and beamed as she introduced us to her new husband Don. Congratulations, you two!

It was our pleasure to meet Cindy and Ken for the first time. We follow each other's blogs and finally got to meet the people behind the words. Nice to meet you both!

Our not-so-small gathering attracted the attention of other RVing friends who were camped not too far away. It was a special treat to finally meet Darrell and Judy, whom we've known "virtually" for quite awhile. Thanks so much for coming over to visit. We look forward to seeing you again down the road.

Darrell and Judy brought along their friends, Gene and Judi. Turns out we have mutual RVing friends, and actually missed this lovely couple by just a few days when we stopped at Port Orford last year to visit our dear friends Gordon and Juanita.

With all these good folks around there was lots of wonderful conversation and gobs of laughter. And, of course, there was plenty of good food. After dark, Tony treated us to his fine campfire building skills. (We're definitely going to miss those campfires!)

One evening Lisa and Tony's friends, the Hackett boys, stopped by the campfire to play and sing. They're very good! Thanks, guys!!!

It's been a very special couple of weeks. Mother Nature has brought on a brilliant display of fall color during our visit. Some days I swear you could literally see the leaves change!

From the first hints of Fall color... a variety of shades... full brilliance. Stunning!

As the sun sets on our visit to this very special place, we thank our friends for a very special time. We are leaving here rested, refreshed and filled with cherished memories.

We wish everyone safe travels and look forward to seeing you here again next time, if not sooner.