Traipsing Around Topeka

Another beautiful state capitol building to tour!   I walked all around it for awhile, just taking in the great architecture and flower plantings.  This building was under construction for 37 years and completed in 1903.  I really like the color of the dome which is covered with copper sheeting.

Entering this building was a different experience than the capitol in Lincoln. In Lincoln I just wandered in the building with nobody to check me in.  Not even a security guard at the door.   In the Kansas state capitol, I had to go through a security checkpoint and even have my bag checked.  There was no gift shop at the Nebraska capitol but here in Kansas there was a gift shop bustling with tourists buying souvenirs.  The tour inside the capitol was very interesting and we got to walk around several different floors.  Below are pictures of the dome and inside the elegant Senate Gallery.

We visited the National Park Historic Site of Brown vs. Board of Education.  This museum is housed in a former elementary school where black children attended during the time of segregation.  Having the museum in a former school site really added to the experience.

The museum highlights the landmark Supreme Court case that arose due to separate educational facilities for whites and blacks.  The case challenged the doctrine of “separate but equal” and argued that separate educational facilities was unconstitutional and a denial of “equal protection of the laws” under the 14th amendment.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal had no place and that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal.  This ruling opened the modern civil rights movement for African Americans and laid the foundation for similar movements by other minority groups.  In spite of the Supreme Court decision, there was great resistance for over 10 years.  Through sign boards, photographs and video screens the museum shows the long struggle for Civil Rights.

It was interesting to read that in some areas of the country including Topeka, black schools did have similar facilities and resources as white schools.  Unfortunately, some black schools in the south were housed in dilapidated buildings with little educational resources or materials.  Above is a photograph comparing two supposed “separate but equal” schools in South Carolina.  As I write this I am looking forward to visiting the Little Rock Central High School site in Arkansas where nine black students first attended an all white school.

We visited the Kansas Historical Society Museum which contained many exhibits.   Above is a picture of the oldest locomotive from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the 1880’s.  There was also information about Indian tribes, for example the name Kansas comes from the Kansa tribe.  We learned about the pioneer trails, settling the frontier and the Civil War.  Prior to this war, Congress declared that the Kansas Territory should decide if they wanted to be a free or slave state.  Both sides fought bitterly over this.  This museum has a nice collection of pre Civil War and Civil War flags.  Below is a picture of one of them from 1857 along with a cannon from 1856.

The museum also covers modern times and even has a fast food exhibit.  The White Castle company from Kansas that makes the small square hamburgers was the first hamburger chain in America in 1921.  Pizza Hut, the largest pizza chain also started in Kansas.  I figured Mark who loves McDonald’s sausage biscuits would like this old McDonald’s sign from the first McDonald’s restaurant in Topeka in 1961.  It featured “Speedee” as a mascot before Ronald McDonald.

The museum has an interesting temporary exhibit – the largest mural made from M&M’s in the world.  The Mars candy factory in Topeka is the only factory that makes caramel M&M’s and created the mural to celebrate this new flavor.  Visitors are able to try and guess the number of M&M’s and the winner gets some kind of prize.  I wonder if Mark or I will be winners (doubtful).  We tried a small bag and I thought they were the best M&M’s I’ve had.

Nearby Lake Shawnee is a gem created in 1935 by the WPA.    It features numerous recreational activities.

We enjoyed playing disc golf and walking through the beautiful botanical garden.  In the picture below Mark takes aim and lets fly.  Can you spot the disc?

While there, I picked up one of many large round alien looking fruits from under a tree.  I learned it is the fruit of the Osage Orange tree which grows in the Great Plains.   It was named for the Osage Indian tribe who used the wood for making their bows.  Settlers planted the trees for fencing.  The fruit has an orange smell and although the flesh is not edible, squirrels love eating the seeds inside.

Mark and I like old time eateries and Bobo’s Drive-In, started in 1948 is one of the oldest in Topeka.  Bobo’s is still serving customers either at curb service or inside their tiny diner.  In the 1950’s customers were supposed to flash their car lights if they wanted curb service and burgers were only 30 cents.  Apple pie, an unusual offering for a burger joint has been a favorite menu item here since the restaurant opened.  Mark and I both had their hamburgers and they smash the patties very flat while grilling.  It was good food and still pretty cheap eats.

As always, thanks for reading – any comments or suggestions on how we can  improve the blog are appreciated!

How’s it Going? Beth

Mark asked me to write on three different topics of our life so far as full time RVers:  1). First impressions of full time RVing; 2) How do I like traveling and 3) What are the challenges so far.  We are each going to cover these topics separately and it may be interesting to see how they compare.

1) Full time RVing has gone quite well with little problems.  I tend to be a worrier and want things to go smoothly.  I worry about finding a good place for us to stay and if the route we are traveling is the best one for us to take.   I worry if we are staying too short of a time or too long.   So far these things have not been an issue.  Every place we have stayed has been good and the places we have traveled have been interesting with plenty to do and see.  Full time RVing and carrying our house with us has given us the chance to “play” tourist almost every day, experience and learn new things.  I get to think each day about where I want to go next and what activities to do.   I marvel at this opportunity we have and don’t want to lose sight of that or take it for granted.  Living in a small trailer full time is working out even though we don’t have much space.  We have the things we need and do not go without.  As minimalists have found, you don’t need a lot of belongings in life, you can learn to do with less and be satisfied.

2). I love traveling and could happily go sightseeing every day!  At least at this point in time.  Although I don’t mind some down time and relaxing, my mind is usually filled with all the places we could be seeing or the activities available.  I knew before we left that I would really enjoy the traveling and exploring.  I was worried about leaving family, friends and my daily life behind which is the most difficult part of full time RVing.  I wish I didn’t have to be so far from those I care about!  I don’t seem to miss my home or think about it much.  It might be nice at times to sit on my comfortable couch and chair rather than a thin, rather hard RV cushion seat and back.  Being able to spread out my things and have storage space for everything would also be nice.  Having more kitchen counters and cupboards for cook ware and gadgets would also come in handy.  But I don’t think often of those things because the traveling is worth the inconveniences.  It will be interesting to see how I feel in several more months!

3). One of the challenges I face as we are on the road is deciding which places to see and which ones to pass up.  This is so difficult as I want to see almost everything!  I find I have to “let go” and realize that I cannot explore every where we go as we don’t stay long enough.  I have to make priorities of what would be the best for us with the time and energy we have.   I try to plan to see and do things that are unique, educational and will be interesting for Mark and I.  Mark and I are different in many ways – had to take this picture of him as he loves Diet Coke and I wouldn’t touch the stuff!

Mark and I have a different level of interest in traveling.  I want to see everything and sightsee every day and Mark doesn’t have the need to see everything and would probably not be disappointed to pass up many of the things we do stop to see.  Mark is often done looking at a point of interest before I am and then I feel bad that I am holding him up. Mark always tells me to take my time and that he is fine sitting, waiting and relaxing.  He says he enjoys the down time.  We are different in that I get excited about a new place I have seen and Mark gets excited about a new hobby or finding something for one of his hobbies at a store we come to in our travels.

Mark has a different schedule than I do.  He likes to sleep later and gets going slower.  I want to get going sooner although I am definitely not a morning person either.    Mark is happy to hang out more at the trailer than I am.   I could sightsee from morning to dark, trying to get everything in.  In spite of the challenges we are able to work it out.  I get to see lots of new places and Mark still gets to pursue his hobbies while on the road.  We try to be supportive of the other’s interests.  Mark does have an ongoing sense of humor!  He sent the picture below to family members via text and titled it “tempting.”  It was fortunate that day that he loved seeing the sights at this Civil War Battlefield.   No sitting on benches for him!

Thanks for reading this!  In my next post I will continue to write about our travel experiences while in Kansas.

How’s it going? Mark


We have been going now 2 months and I thought it might be fun if Beth and I checked in on how’s it going without seeing what the other one said.  We are so different in our thinking I bet it will be interesting.  So I picked three questions or topics and we will both write.  The questions/topics are 1) How is RV life? 2) How is traveling/sight seeing? and 3) What are the challenges so far?  So here goes mine…

  1. RVing

The first two months of RVing have really not been bad.  Beth and I have divided up the work with me taking physical care of the RV and her doing all the planning/routing/reserving.  We have pulled the trailer over 3,000 miles and stayed at 16 or 17 different parks without a major problem.  The trailer is easy to pull  and easy to set up and take down.  So far we have always stayed at places with full hookups so that has helped.

The trailer is actually pretty comfortable and it is really nice having all the upkeep of a house and yard.  I will do some posts and show the trailer and how we have adapted to it.  We bought a nice mattress right away because the ones that come with them are pretty bad.  I think I sleep better now.  Showering is not bad and I actually kind of like the water on and off during a shower.  The hot water seems just right and there is plenty for us to both shower.  Cooking (when we do it) is not too much different.  Before it seemed we would use dishes and keep going until the dishwasher was full then run it.  Now we just use a bowl then wash it and put it away.

As far as clothes I really like it!  For and old retiree like me the fewer clothes the better.  Jeans and a tee shirt is my uniform.  I keep a shirt around for going somewhere and 1 or 2 can last me for weeks.  A little spot for my shorts and socks and I am good.  Trailer fashion works for me.

The one thing I will say is that Beth does a terrific job on her side of planning and arranging!  We have really stayed in some good places.  The drives were a little long at first but now we have slowed quite a bit.

2. Traveling/Sight Seeing

I’ll talk more about this when I do my “Opposites Attract” blog but I really don’t like to travel much.  I never did much growing up and most likely wouldn’t travel if not for Beth.  That surprises people a lot.  I explain by saying that I don’t like to travel, but I love going places with Beth.  That being said the 2 months of travel have been really fun.  Beth comes up with great places to go and see.  They are interesting (mostly) and easy.  We go to places that are not crowded and easy to get to.  I have a pretty good collection of pictures( where our truck is the only vehicle in the parking lot.  It has also been interesting that places we go seem to go together.  Like we went to a museum that had WWII aircraft then went to the Truman Library that talked about his role in the bombings.  We go to a lot of history type places and it has been fun learning.  Beth tries take it all in, but I take a smaller path.  There were people living in the East and they took some paths to go West.  Do I really need to know more?  Names? Dates? Wagon models? I don’t think so.  For me a good museum has parking spaces big enough for the truck, some stuff to see and a nice gift shop at the end, preferably that sells Diet Coke and has a comfortable bench.   I can park, stroll through, see some things and be refreshed while waiting for Beth to finish her studies.

So, traveling, even for the non-traveler, has been good, but only having Beth along.

3. Challenges

For me there are 2 real challenges to this so far.  The first and by far biggest is the eating.

Eating well with this lifestyle is very hard.  As we travel there are so many good, new, interesting places to eat and they generally don’t specialize in healthy food.  I realize I have a choice, but going to a top BBQ place and ordering just the cole slaw is hard.  Plus, our oppositeism comes in here too.  I really love breakfast and Beth is a lunch/dinner fan so we wind up going to both a lot, some for her some for me.  Also, cooking takes time and cooking in a small space even longer.  Many days we are out and away early and back late so there is little time to quality cook.  The other downside is that eating out is really expensive.  We are doing ok on a budget except for eating out which is like 4 times over.  We are getting better, but still have a long way to go.

Number 2 challenge for me has been the pace.  We have done a whole lot in these 2 months.  For me, sometimes, too much.  For me there is a difference between being on vacation and living in an RV.  I used to say that Beth on vacation covered more ground than the space shuttle.  She would have 5,6,7 things planned for 1 day.  It is hard to keep that up.  I think we are doing much better now and most days the pace feels good.  I also know it is hard for Beth to pick which things we CAN”T see.  There is just too much.

(Another thing that is a huge downside is being away from family and friends.  I can’t say enough about that.  Using technology helps a little, but there is no fix for not being around the ones we love.  Can’t talk too much about this one.)

So eating better and finding a good balance for our time are 2 areas that I think we can still work on.

Over all, Exploring with Beth has been a lot of fun and gets better as time goes by. We worked hard for a long time planning and preparing and it seems to be paying off.   Some times I think my RV part is too easy and there will have to be problems.  We’ll just have to deal with them as they come.

We both feel very lucky to be able to travel together like this and are thankful for every day.

So, I hope this was a little interesting.  I am really curious as to what Beth will say.  She works hard on her blogging and will struggle with this one for hours I am sure.  We really appreciate all you that connect with us by reading and especially by leaving comments.  Please let us know how we might make this interesting and any questions or topics you might have.


Beth is pretty trustworthy and so I will go ahead and post this with her promise not to look until she has posted hers.  Should be fun.

Airplanes, Arbor Day and on to Kansas

On a very rainy Thursday we visited the Strategic Air Command and Space Museum in Ashland, between Lincoln and Omaha.  This museum has one of the largest collections of Air Force planes and missiles located in two huge hangars.  We have been to two other aircraft/space museums in Seattle and Washington D.C.  On both visits I found it challenging to retain all the information about so many planes.  This time I decided to just enjoy walking among and below the large aircraft in the hangars.  Mark says in this case, “ignorance is bliss.”  As a bonus the museum was hosting a car show and it was fun to see the classic cars underneath the aircraft.

One of the museum’s more famous aircraft is the SR-71A, a reconnaissance plane first used in 1966 and one of the world’s fastest at 2,193 MPH.  It can fly from London to Los Angeles in 3 hours, 47 minutes.  That is my kind of plane as I don’t like flying and like to spend as little time aboard as possible!  As a reconnaissance plane, this aircraft carried photographic equipment that could survey 100,000 square miles of the earth’s surface in one hour from a height of 80,000 feet!  The first aircraft put on display here, the plane was moved in and then the atrium was built around it.

We checked out a number of historic planes – one used in the bombing of Tokyo, another in the famous Berlin Airlift and one was the type that parashooters jumped out of on Dday.  We saw an airplane that was the same type that dropped the atom bombs on Japan.  Below is a picture of Mark in front of this plane.

One of my favorite exhibits featured a man from Omaha who served in Band of Brothers, Easy Company during World War II.  This miniseries was one of the few war movies I could actually sit through and enjoy since I am not a fan.   Another interesting exhibit showed information about a bomber plant built in Omaha for the WWII war effort.  Posters encouraged women to come work at the plant and build planes.  Perhaps the most unusual display was a sculpture called “The Towers” which consists of 1, 452 neckties hung from a steel wire frame 28 feet tall.  The sculpture represents the lives lost in the collapse of the North Tower during the September 11 twin towers attack.

The next day we left Lincoln and drove south toward Kansas for a stop at Arbor Lodge State Historic Park in Nebraska City.  In 1872, J. Sterling Morton initiated Arbor Day, the tree planter’s holiday and over 1,000,000 trees were planted in Nebraska.  In the Great Plains there were few trees so he encouraged tree planting to beautify the landscape and help the environment.   In 1885, Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska with April 22 chosen to honor Mr. Morton’s birthday.  Morton became Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland and served from 1893 – 1897.  Today, all 50 states and even some countries celebrate Arbor Day with the date depending on the best time to plant trees.

Arbor Lodge completed in 1902 was the home of the Morton family.  I enjoyed walked through this beautiful 52 room mansion furnished with a collection of the family’s belongings.  There was even a set of 1890 dinnerware in the dining room featuring a “Plant Trees” design.

As can be expected, the home is surrounded by a forest of trees.  There are signs near some of the trees denoting the dates when members of the Morton family planted them.  The grounds around the house were so beautiful and peaceful it was a great place to walk and enjoy nature.

Among the crops and orchards Morton planted were apple trees.   It was great to visit during the apple harvest time.   A tractor pulled wagon ride with a tour guide took us on back roads around the farm so we could see the orchards as well as the forest.

We stopped for some apple picking at the preservation forest which has obscure apple trees, some varieties several hundred years old that are no longer marketed.  In the picture below, the apple being picked is called “Winter Banana” and this type of tree originated in 1876 in Indiana.

Arbor Farm has a variety of activities for families including Tree Adventure with a 50 foot treehouse, trails through the forest and even “Trees in the Movies” highlighting trees in Hollywood films.  Visitors can even take home a free sapling encased in a protective tube.  Encouragement for the public to plant trees continues here.

There is a cafe and market that features apple pie, apple cider and apples.  Of course I had to leave with a bag of apples.  Apples are one of my favorite fruits and I eat one almost every day!

From Nebraska City we drove on to Topeka Kansas, our first time traveling in this state.  It was nice to add a new state to our list!    We found our RV park to be spotlessly clean and the sites spacious.  The park had one amenity new to us – a storm shelter in the restroom facility.   A reminder that in Kansas, shelter from tornadoes is a necessity!

The best BBQ place in the area is located right outside the park’s gates.  We timed our arrival perfectly as it was Friday night, the only night of the week that Lonnie’s BBQ is open for dinner.  Lonnie’s has limited hours only being open two hours a day for lunch and one night a week for dinner.  The location of the restaurant is rather different too because it is more on the outskirts of town and not near other businesses.  That was fine with us because we have never had such a great restaurant so close to where we were RVing.  We were told that people start lining up awhile before the restaurant opens because he only makes a certain amount and the food goes fast.  Mark had the “Q-cup,” one of the specialties that includes a choice of three BBQ meats, beans, cheesy potatoe casserole and cole slaw all piled on top of each other in a big bowl.  I ordered ribs and Lonnie himself brought the foil package of smoked ribs out for me to see and asked if they looked all right.  They looked great and tasted even better!

Lonnie came out to chat with us and told us that the band Kansas was playing that night and he had tickets he would give us.  He went around checking to see if everyone was enjoying the food.   As we were finishing eating he came and asked us if we liked spumoni.  He said that “it was really good ice cream but really hard to get around here but that he got three gallons from a friend.”  He and his serving staff were soon passing out bowls of ice cream to anyone that was left in the restaurant.  By that time much of the food had run out so the crowd had thinned considerably.  He even offered seconds on ice cream.   Lonnie’s friendliness continued as he walked out with us to the gate of the RV park talking on even though he had a restaurant to close for the night.

That night I was happy that our RV park had no trees near the sites.  We sat outside and watched clouds float across the full moon.  Then later as a storm rolled in we were treated to a terrific thunder and lightning show.

Thanks for spending time with us.  Next time I will talk about sightseeing in Topeka.

Planning Our Route and Finding the Best Places to Stay

When Mark and I decided to sell our house and travel full time, we decided he would be in charge of the truck and trailer and be the driver.  He describes himself as the “Driver and Baggage Handler.”  My strengths are not in the realm of RV maintenance or set up.  I am the trip planner – where to go, how long to stay and what to see.  I love researching travel possibilities.  I read anything I can find on the places we are planning to go.  For me, deciding where to stay is probably the hardest part of traveling.

When we left California I had a general idea of the route I wanted us to take across the United States.  Our plan was to travel to the Midwest and explore through the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  In November I wanted to head south into Louisiana for the month and then travel into Mississippi.  By early December, I hoped to reach Alabama and Florida so we could be in the warmer gulf states for the winter.   So far our time frame is working out fairly well although I can see how easy it is to get distracted when I want to stay longer in the states we travel through.  I find myself often thinking how nice it would be to take a different direction from our route, or spend more time checking out other towns and nearby cities.   In a way, it is helpful to have upcoming colder weather keeping us on schedule as we don’t want to experience a snowy winter in the trailer!

I don’t make camping reservations way ahead of time, because I want the flexibility to change our itinerary.  Booking too far in advance would make the trip rigid and limit our possibilities. I usually make reservations several days to a week in advance for the next stop and rarely go beyond that.  Only once did I make a reservation for the same day and that was for a quick overnight stop.  We have never showed up at an RV park with the hope that they have a vacancy.  That would make the trip too stressful.

I am so thankful to live in the internet age.   I can’t imagine traveling without all the information that is available.  The ability to look up potential places with my IPhone wherever I may be is priceless.   It is so much easier to compare the different RV parks and decide which looks better for us.   I always rely on reviews from other travelers with Trip Advisor my favorite resource.  I am a big fan of Trip Advisor and really appreciate being able to read what other people have experienced.  I also check reviews on the Good Sam site as well as Yahoo or Yelp if Trip Advisor does not have many reviews.   In addition I check the websites of the parks to see what they offer as far as locations and amenities.  Photos are very helpful, both on Trip Advisor and park websites.  We also use google maps for aerial views of the park and surrounding area.  You Tube can be a great resource as a number of parks have videos by the owners or by visitors and they give a good idea of how the park is laid out and amenities.   Below is a picture of the clubhouse at the lovely park we stayed at in Sparks/Reno area.  Clubhouses are great for a place to hang out away from the trailer,  but only a few places we have stayed at have had them.

If an RV park does not have a helpful website and there are few informative reviews, then I probably won’t book a stay there.  It is a little intimidating for me to call and book a park that I know very little about.  Only one time while traveling through Nevada did we book a site by phone for one night and when we got to the site just couldn’t stay there.  The rest of the parks where we have stayed have been good and met our needs.

The first impression upon entering a park can be meaningful.  Some parks seem great right away but a few have not.  One example is a KOA park in Petaluma, California where we stayed a year ago.  Although the park was very highly rated, I didn’t have a good feeling shortly after driving in.  That feeling stayed with me the whole weekend.  Below is a picture of a park in Carthage, Missouri that I really liked from the moment we drove in.

When I read reviews, I know that the experiences of some RVers are not necessarily important to us.  For example, one common complaint is that the Wifi was poor or non-existent.  We have our own hot spot so as long as there is phone reception we have internet connection. (Yeah to Matt for the suggestion!).  Only one time have we not had phone reception or internet connection.  We have decided that if at times we do not have good connections we will just make do, either without the reception or by driving into town where there is a connection.  Another complaint is the poor state of the bathrooms including shower facilities.  As we are fully self contained this is not a concern for us.  Poor customer service at parks annoys some reviewers and I agree that can be a let down.  We experienced that once in our travels and it did make our stay not as pleasant.

My first concern in choosing a park is location as I want us to be fairly close to the attractions and sights where we plan to spend time.  The second consideration is does the park have full hookups (power, water and sewer).  So far we have always stayed at full hook up parks.  Some day we plan to boondock at a spot without hookups, maybe even braving a Walmart parking lot. Lastly, I think about the size of the sites.  If people complain about how small and close the sites are, that is a concern for us.  Being jammed up close to another RV is not comfortable and takes away from the camping experience.   This happened to us the very first time we took our first trailer out.  We camped in the historic gold rush  town of Columbia, California.  Our site was so small that we had three RV’s closely surrounding us, almost close enough to touch.  Luckily everyone was pretty quiet and polite.  The picture below is from Kansas.  This park had the largest amount of space between RV’s of any place we have stayed.  As a bonus there was lots of green grass.  What a great place!

One of my pet peeves –  RV parks are often near major highways or roads.   I get tired of listening to the noise and want to be in a more secluded location.  Unfortunately that is where most parks are located so I am learning to deal with it.  Another noise issue for some can be trains.   Luckily Mark and I love trains so while many of our sites lately have been within earshot of trains, we don’t mind and even enjoy hearing them pass by.  The track below ran right by our site in Independence.

One of the fun things about full time RVing is the anticipation of what the next place will be like and that keeps it fresh.  All in all, there is something good about every park we have stayed at.  If nothing else, they are the means for us to be able to explore and learn about a new area.  I realize that our traveling is not about the RV parks but the experiences that we have wherever we land.  Making a decision about which park to stay might be difficult, but once we arrive and unhook that trailer, there are new things for us to see and I am excited for the opportunity!

Thanks for reading and commenting!  In my next post I hope to write about finishing up Nebraska and heading to Kansas.

8 Weeks!

I’ll say it again…hard to believe!  Its been 8 weeks.  The picture above was taken in the Walmart parking lot in Modesto just minutes after we left the house.  We had been literally just stuffing things in the trailer to get out in time.  We drove over to Walmart to park and to at least make sure nothing was getting tossed around in the trailer.  We then drove to Santa Nella to spend the night and begin our explorations.

It has gone by fast. 8 weeks.  Over 3,000 miles pulling the trailer.  17 campsites.

It has been fun!  We both feel very lucky and blessed to have the chance to do this.  It has been great writing the blog (or watching Beth write).  Thanks to all who are following.

Adventure is out there and we are having great fun finding it!

Omaha Ramblings

The city of Omaha, largest in Nebraska is only an hour east of Lincoln so it was easy to get to for a few day trips.  I was looking forward to visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo,  considered one of the best zoos in the nation.  We went on a  Monday and luckily there were few other visitors.   This zoo has some interesting features including a huge dome housing the world’s largest indoor desert with plant and animal life from around the world.  Above is a picture from inside the dome.   The largest aquarium in a zoo is also located here and features a shark tunnel where large fish swim above and around you.  I especially loved seeing the penguin exhibit with 80 active penguins swimming and hanging out.

The zoo has a Madagascar exhibit with several kinds of lemurs and Baobab trees.  I couldn’t help but think about my son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma while looking at the beautifully colored lemurs like the Red Ruffed one pictured below.  They lived on the island of Madagascar for six months while volunteering on the Mercy Ship and really enjoyed seeing lemurs in the wild.

Anorther delightful area of the zoo was the huge outdoor aviary with birds like roseate spoonbills and ibises flying from tree to tree.  A boardwalk takes you on a path around the enclosure.

After our all day zoo adventure we drove to the town of Bellevue near Omaha where Mark visited a game store.  (Finding a great game store is always a bonus for Mark on our travels).  We had dinner at a great restaurant called Quick Bites Soul Food.  Turned out to be fun and delicious as the owner was a real character and he served some great food.  While taking our order he asked us if we wanted an appetizer.  I mentioned the fried pickles but he said he was out of those but could fix us up some fried green tomatoes.  We agreed and several minutes later he came from out back with green tomatoes in his hand.   He said that he had a garden and was growing greens and cabbage as well.  When he asked Mark if he wanted his pork chops smothered and Mark looked puzzled, he teased him and said, “Don’t you know that means covered with gravy?”  We ordered fried chicken and pork chops with sides of fried okra, macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes.  We also tried coconut cake and peach cobbler for dessert.

We drove down the road from the restaurant to find the Missouri River.  An old truss bridge still collects a toll and carries drivers over to Iowa.  We walked a paved path along the river near a city park and I discovered a sign noting the Lewis and Clark expedition had landed in this area in 1804.  It was the expedition’s first stop in Nebraska and they took a five day break from their difficult trek up the river.

A fun discovery at this park was an Interpretive art wall commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  School children in the 10 states visited by the explorers made drawings depicting events from the expedition.  The drawings were then made into tiles and placed on both sides of the wall along with a timeline description of the expedition’s journey.

Our second day trip to Omaha began with a stop at Boys Town, founded by Father Flanagan in 1917.  The story of how this remarkable man founded the town is quite amazing.  He believed that boys had the right to be valued, to have the basic necessities of life and have protection.  His saying:  “There are no bad boys, there is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking,” summed up his reason for starting the home.  He began in a large  house in the city of Omaha with five boys assigned to his care by the court.

He was eventually able to move outside of the city in 1921 and purchase a farm which continues as the location for Boys Town today.  The town is self sufficient and assists children and teens that have special needs and behaviors by providing care in specialized homes as well as counseling and community support.  We drove around the town and the homes, schools, community centers and churches are beautiful brick buildings in a park like setting.  We were able to visit the museum with informational displays on the history of Boys Town, the church where Father Flanagan is buried and the historic home where Father Flanagan first lived.  Below is a picture of the Flanagan home:

After Boys Town we headed to the Durham Museum located in the Union train station in downtown Omaha.  The building was completed as a station in 1931 and the last train departed from the station in 1971 when the station closed its doors.  The restored building is magnificent inside, especially the Great Hall or main waiting room featuring a 60 foot high ceiling.

Throughout the station are 12 life size figures representing passengers from the 1930’s time period.  When you get close to them a recording plays as if the figure is speaking.

The building houses the museum downstairs and is full of historical displays regarding the city.  I never realized what a busy place Omaha was – livestock industry (Omaha steaks), banking, an International Exposition in 1898, breweries, railroads, pioneers getting outfitted to head out west, steamboats and many other things.  There are furnished train cars, train engines, a trolley car, recreated businesses and homes.   There was so much to see that it took me awhile to finish the exhibits.  You might recall from a previous post that Mark is often waiting on benches for me.  Here is how I found him on this day:

A great ending to the museum is a treat at the soda fountain which was in existence when the train opened in 1931.  The soda fountain looks pretty much the same and has the original counters, stools, cabinets as it did back then.  In the picture below I am waiting for a root beer float.

We walked from the Durham to the Old Market neighborhood, Omaha’s most historic with cobblestone streets, shops and restaurants.  My favorite part of the market was this old alley called “The Old Market Passageway.”  If I had a shop or restaurant, I would love for it to be in here.

Thanks for spending the time checking out this post.  Next time I plan to talk about how I choose RV sites while traveling.


Lincoln Nebraska – Capitol, Cornhusker, Mammoths and Thunderstorms

Leaving Valentine we drove east across Nebraska to the city of Lincoln.  The scenery changed dramatically from Sandhills and open ranch land to miles and miles of corn fields.  I have never seen so many corn fields in a state before.  I can understand why the University of Nebraska located in Lincoln is called the “Cornhuskers.”  The University is big in Lincoln – Cornhusker football is huge.  We were lucky that there was no home game the weekend we wanted to stay in the RV park as they are always booked way in advance.  The stadium seats 81,000 and has been sold out every game since 1962, over 350 games.  We were told during Cornhusker games the stadium is the third largest city in Nebraska!  We saw many people in Lincoln wearing their Cornhusker pride in shirts, jackets, sweatshirts; the town is a bright red!   I have to confess though, that I have never been a football fan and do not follow any of the teams.  Below is a picture of the stadium.

We stayed eight nights in Lincoln and it was a good stay in a pretty nice town.  Our RV park was very different than what we left in Valentine which was outside of town, surrounded by farm fields and quiet.  In Lincoln we were surrounded by interstates!  The park is actually quite pretty, shaded with many trees and in a nice setting, but the freeways are right next door and cars are zooming.  When I walked around the first day we arrived, I saw a couple sitting in chairs outside their motor home and they were at the edge of the park and very close to the freeway above them.  They looked relaxed and happy, not bothered by the noise.  This is a top rated RV park because it has many amenities.  I guess you can get use to the freeway noise after awhile.  Luckily we were in the middle of the park and therefore further away from the traffic.

Lincoln is the capitol of Nebraska and I have to say I love visiting state capitol buildings.  I have seen about 15 of them during my travels, although some only from the outside.  This building features a 400 foot tower that is the second highest behind Louisiana.

I was surprised that on a Saturday morning I could just walk into the building without any security or staff at the door and wander around.  The building is magnificent inside and you can learn a lot about a state from the capitol and a capitol tour.  There is always a great deal of artwork and historical information depicting important events, people and places.

Lincoln has about 10 museums and of the three we visited,  the Nebraska State Museum was the best.  The museum features an incredible collection of prehistoric fossils including skeletons of camels, horses, llamas, wolverines, dogs, rhinoceros and giant land tortoises.   Remains of more than 10,000 extinct elephants have been found in Nebraska, but most of the state has not been carefully explored for fossils.  We read that if you live in this state, the odds are one in ten that you have an elephant fossil beneath your house!  Below is a picture of some of the elephant skeletons:

The museum also has mammoth skeletons found in Nebraska including the largest mounted mammoth in any American museum.  Mammoth were considered the largest mammals known to have walked the Great Plains.   Chickens on a Nebraska farm in 1922 actually “discovered” this mammoth’s bones by continually pecking at something in the ground.

The museum was featuring an interesting exhibit honoring the 90th birthday of “Miss Mie,” a Japanese friendship ambassador doll that has been part of the collection since 1928.  The doll came to the United States from Japan in 1927 when 58 friendship dolls were sent to the 48 states.  The dolls were gifts to American children in exchange for the American blue eyed dolls given to the children of Japan.  The dolls were to teach tolerance and understanding to children and improve strained relationships between the two countries.  The day we were at the museum a party was being held for Miss Mie with speeches, cupcakes, traditional Japanese music,  origami crafts and Japanese calligraphy with brush painting.

After our museum visit we wandered around the University campus to see the buildings and the many outdoor sculptures.  My favorite is this sculpture called “Torn Notebook” which I find quite clever and applicable to being on a school campus.  I am sure that many students at one time or another would like to tear up their paperwork in frustration!

I first began to realize the power of Midwest storms while staying here.  In California and especially the Central Valley weather was predictable, mild and generally sunny most of the time. Thunderstorms and rain occur regularly here and the thunder and lightning can put on quite a show.  Once in the middle of the night I was awake in bed listening to a particularly ferocious thunderstorm.  The thunder was so loud and roaring and the rain pounding so hard on the trailer that I felt like a small kid who wants to crawl under the bed and hide!  Although our trailer is fairly well insulated, you can really hear a rainstorm pounding on the roof.

Mark and I like to take walks and there was a city park with paths very close to where we were staying.  It was here that we noticed the disc golf course and saw several people making the rounds.  We decided it would be a great way to get some exercise so we headed to Scheel’s Sporting Goods store, bought some discs and gave it a try.  Although challenging for us (especially me who has little throwing ability), we thought it was fun and decided we would try different disc courses in the towns and cities where we land during our travels.

The butterflies are migrating!  During an afternoon at the lovely sunken garden in Lincoln I was surprised and pleased to see so many butterflies covering the flowering plants and bushes.  It was a butterfly extravaganza!  Lots of butterflies continued to be a treat as we traveled around the Midwest.

As always, thank you for reading.  In my next post I will talk about a few day trips we made to the city of Omaha.

Valentine – A Town That Won My Heart

In the middle of nowhere in Northern Nebraska and nine miles from the South Dakota border lies the town of Valentine.   We stayed here for three nights and I could have happily stayed longer.  I need to confess though, that during my first trip to Nebraska many years ago during a family cross country road trip, I was not very impressed with what I saw.  We were only in the western part of the state a few days visiting several historical sights and therefore too little time to make much of a judgment.  At that time, I had no plans to come back to Nebraska for future visits, but this time I found myself wanting to explore the state further.  As I write this post we have come and gone from Nebraska after spending close to two weeks there.  During our last day in Nebraska and approaching the Kansas border, I felt some sadness at leaving a state I had come to appreciate and enjoyed visiting.

Arriving in Valentine, a cute town of approximately 3,000 people I was delighted to notice that visitors are welcomed with large painted red hearts all along the sidewalks on the Main Street as well as hearts on the lamp posts.  This is cattle and ranching country (the cowboy poetry festival was happening the weekend after we left), many of the people we saw during our stay were attired in Western wear.  After awhile, Mark started feeling self conscious wearing his signature Hawaiian shirts and noted we never saw another male with long hair.  We popped into the Western Wearhouse store on Main Street to look for something else for him to wear.   I was amazed at how large this store was in a town of this size.  The smell of leather was intoxicating and worth a visit for the smell alone.  I guess I have not been in a western store in a very long time because I had no idea that there were so many varieties of cowboy boots.  Apparently, the store carries over 1,000 pairs of boots in stock. Different boots lined wall after wall, along with numerous leather belts, hats, western clothing and tack.

In the summer Valentine becomes a tourist center.  The Niobrara, a National Scenic River is very popular with canoeists and noted as one of the best places to canoe in the United States.  Rafters, kayakers and fisherman also enjoy the river.  We visited Smith Falls State Park, located along the Niobrara and found the river to be just beautiful.  It is lined with an abundance of trees and foliage I would not expect in the State of Nebraska.   The main feature in the park besides the river is the highest waterfall in Nebraska.  It is a lovely walk across a bridge and along a boardwalk through the trees to the base of the falls.  I loved standing next to the 70 foot falls feeling the spray of water.  The falls flow well all year long since they are spring fed.  I read that there are actually 200 waterfalls that fall into the Niobrara River in this area, although most are quite small and seasonal.

After our waterfall jaunt, we drove to the nearby Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge which has a herd of bison and elk living in the wild. The week we were there was bison roundup which occurs every year at the end of September.  To preserve the herd, only 250 bison are allowed to stay on the refuge.  During the roundup they are separated and a surplus sold based on DNA in order to preserve the herd’s genetic variety.

The roundup was a fascinating event open to the public and a novel experience for Mark and I.  We watched as a number of Fish and Game personnel and biologists herded adult bison through a series of separating pens.  New calves were tagged and blood samples taken for identification and evaluation.  It was interesting watching the staff try to hold the calves (often in vain) during the process.

We then took a drive through the countryside outside of Valentine and visited another waterfall, Snake River Falls.  The falls are 54 feet wide and are considered the largest of Nebraska’s falls by water volume.  Visitors are not allowed to get close as they are located in a deep canyon and on private property owned by a hunting club, so we enjoyed these falls from two different overlooks.

Valentine is located in the Sandhills, a picturesque region of mixed-grass prairie on stabilized dunes that covers one quarter of Nebraska.  It is regarded as the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere.   Below is a picture from our back country drive to the Valentine Wildlife Refuge.

This large wildlife refuge has a number of ponds and lakes within the Sandhills that attract many waterfowl.  Since I love birding we had to come check this place out.  The refuge was beautiful to see but it was too early in the fall for migrating ducks, geese and shorebirds.

On our last day in Valentine I had to check out the Cowboy Trail, another wonderful feature in the Valentine area.  A recreational trail converted from an old railway corridor for biking/walking/horseback riding is currently 195 miles in length across Northern Nebraska.  There are plans to increase to 321 miles.  As one who likes to bike and walk, I would love to live near this trail.  One of the most spectacular parts of the trail is the old train trestle that crosses the Niobrara River just outside Valentine.  It is a quarter of a mile long and 150 feet above the river.  Yikes, a little high for me!

Here I am walking on the Cowboy Trail Trestle bridge.

I will close with an evening view from our campsite in Valentine.  We really liked the RV park here.   It is located outside of town and surrounded by farmlands.   The owners created it from their ranching property which is just down a long driveway from the park.  There is lots of green grass surrounding the campsites as well as a small pond.  But my favorite thing about the campground is this windmill.  I just love windmills and I discovered Nebraska has many, another reason to appreciate this lovely state!

Tall Grass

I haven’t written anything for a while so I’ll put up a quick post.  Today we drove about an hour and a half to see some tall grass (prairie).  Seems a little extreme.  We had tall grass in Modesto.  We just took the lawn mower out and cut it every once in a while?  Beth will I’m sure have more to say on this so I’ll just share a few pictures.

This is what one of the grasses looks like.

And here are lots.  I guess there used to be thousands of acres of these grasses, but now they are almost gone except here in this area.

We took a nice walk through the preserve and took a lot of pictures.  There were interesting plants, flowers, birds, bugs, etc. etc.  There was even interesting weather and we got back to the truck just in time to miss a pretty good downpour.

Beth did her usual thing and ranged far and wide to explore and take pics.  I wound up taking a number of pictures of her taking pictures.  My favorite subject matter.

Tomorrow we are headed out again, this time to Independence, Missouri, right next to Kansas City.  We are going to stay there about a week.


Thanks for reading and the kind comments about the blog.  Glad a few people find it interesting.  We have a lot of fun sitting down in the evening to work on it.

Last pic here is my favorite of the day.