Mountain View – Folk Music Capital

We stayed one week in the little town of Mountain View, located in north central Arkansas in the Ozark mountains.   The town calls itself the folk music capital of the world and comes by the name legitimately as far as I am concerned.  This town is all about music – there are regular music jams around the court house and at the downtown picking park, often on a daily basis.  There are musical shows in the evenings at different venues and the town hosts music related festivals throughout the year.  Below is a picture of the “picking park” with gazebos to sit under while playing.  Unfortunately during our stay, the cool weather was usually not conducive to outdoor gatherings.

Many of the RV parks in town have a few music jams weekly, during the days or evenings.  When we checked into our park, we were given a list of activities which included dulcimer jams on Monday nights, potluck supper on Tuesday nights and jam sessions on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.  The park where we stayed has a “picking shed” where they hold their music jams and other get togethers including a musical church service on Sunday mornings.

The dulcimer jam on Monday night featured a few musicians from the RV park as well as the town.  It was great to hear them play.  I tried to encourage Mark to bring his mandolin and join in but he always says he needs to practice more first.

There are often impromptu jam sessions in the office.  While taking out the trash one day Mark heard them playing so we both came over to listen.   The office was crowded with pickers so we rocked on the porch and listened.

Mark and I made a trip to the local dulcimer shop which is well known throughout the U.S. for making fine mountain dulcimers.   Mark tried out a few with help from the dulcimer maker.   He wound up buying a beautiful cherry wood dulcimer and at this time is learning to play.  It is quiet and a great instrument to have in a trailer.

The Ozark Folk Center State Park is probably the best thing about Mountain View.  The park features old time crafters as well as multiple music venues.  I will first talk about the crafters who are located in little shops throughout the park property demonstrating their crafts.  My favorite was the copper colorist who creates patterns and colors on copper with only his torch flame.  The flame makes the many colors by the number of times the heat is applied and how long it is applied.   He has been working on this unique technique for over 30 years.

It was fascinating watching him work and explain the details.  Below is the finished hummingbird he was working on in the above picture.  I couldn’t resist taking it home.

The Folk Center has a number of other crafters on site so it takes awhile to visit them all.  Crafters include: A blacksmith, spinner, cooper, quilter, potter, broom maker, candle maker, toy maker, wood carver, doll maker, knife maker, printer, soap maker and herbalist.   Luckily we were there during a less busy time in the fall so it was easier to see the shops.  So much nicer than our experience at Silver Dollar City.

The printer demonstrated a press that uses handset metal type and a foot powered press that is over 100 years old.  You can buy some neat cards made on the press.

The quilt shop was probably the most attractive and colorful of the shops with so many quilts displayed around.

There is only one animal at the park and he is usually busy pulling an old fashioned swing for the kids.  On this quiet day he was all by his lonesome when I found him.  I have always had a soft spot for donkeys.

The Center has a number of historic cabins and other buildings that were moved and displayed here.  In the picture below, this building from 1870 was used as a school in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.  The walls are original, but the floor had to be replaced by the park.

Music is big at the Folk Center and they have a large auditorium and shows three nights a week.  One reason we chose this particular RV park is that the campground is located right next door to the Ozark Folk Center.  It was a short walk from our trailer through the gate to the auditorium.

We went to shows here three nights in a row.   The shows always start off with square dancing.

The last night was an awards ceremony which concludes the folk center season for the year.   It was very interesting to see how the Mountain View community gathers together to celebrate and encourage their musicians.  They are especially fond of their young musicians.

There is a musical program at the schools here called “Roots.”  The program was developed to keep mountain music alive through the generations.  Students are loaned an instrument and receive group lessons, all at no cost.  The kids play amazingly well.  Below is one of the groups that performed during the show while couples waltzed in the background.

Since Mark and I love music including folk and bluegrass, Mountain View was a great place to be for a short while.  Perhaps we will be back for one of their festivals or for more mountain music!

Thanks for reading!  When Mark heard about our next destination he said, “We are driving to a place to see hot water?”

A Visit to Pea Ridge and a Living Cavern

I had never thought much about Civil War battle fields west of the Mississippi since it seemed to me the fighting was mostly in the east and south.  The Battle of Pea Ridge occurred in Northwestern Arkansas in March of 1862 and was one of the first major engagements in the Civil War.  It became known as the battle that saved Missouri for the Union.  At the beginning of the war, it was critical to keep Missouri in the Union.  The battle involving 23,000 soldiers lasted two days and saw the Confederates defeated.

Pea Ridge is a historic site managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and has an interesting visitor center and a seven mile tour route that takes you along the areas where the battles were fought.  I was surprised at how beautiful the drive was and how well the NPS is managing the site.  The battle fields are very large and are well marked with sign boards.  In addition, the park is out in the country, well away from any towns or homes and therefore feels quite authentic.

There were 11 stops on the route with information at each stop.   Perhaps my favorite stop was the overlook of the largest battlefield.  From above I couldn’t believe how huge it was.

Here is another picture from the overlook with the Visitor Center, driving route and battle field.

Elkhorn Tavern is located on a once important road.  Prior to the Civil War the road was part of the Butterfield Overland Stage Route and had telegraph lines.   During the Indian removals in 1837-1839, the road served as the northern route of the Trail of Tears.  During the battles of Pea Ridge, a major skirmish occurred around the Tavern.  If you look closely at the picture, you can see the elkhorns on the roof and Mark on the porch.   We had the park to explore almost to ourselves and it turned out to be a highlight of our travels.

Blanchard Springs Caverns is a wondrous place run by the U.S. Forest Service and located in the Ozark National Forest in north central Arkansas.   I have always enjoyed visiting caves and anticipating what formations might be inside.  One of my favorite experiences was at Carlsbad Caverns some years ago when I walked from the large mouth of the cave down a long paved path to the bottom where there were rooms with spectacular formations.  At Blanchard Springs Caverns, our very small group was taken a few hundred feet down in an elevator to the upper floor of the three level cave system.

We walked the Dripstone Trail, one of three possible tours offered at the Caverns.  On this trail, you can see almost every type of calcite formation found in limestone caves. This includes delicate hollow soda straws, massive flowstones, columns, stalactites and stalagmites.   I was awestruck at the number of formations seen here, one of the most decorated caves I have visited.

We walked through two major rooms with the first room the largest.  It was quite impressive and surprising to walk in and see the immense Cathedral Room which is said to be long enough to hold three football fields and still have space left over.  During the Christmas season an event is held in the Cathedral Room called “Caroling in the Caverns” where visitors are entertained with a show.  I think it would be amazing to listen to a chorus of singers and musicians in that huge expanse.

Unlike many cave formations that are dry and have stopped growing, this is called a living cave because it is constantly growing and changing as minerals deposited by the dripping water create new formations or add on to current ones.   It was interesting to see and hear water dripping into pools below.  The formations take many, many years to develop and it is hard to imagine how long some of these have been growing.  A spring that flows out of the cavern and into a lake below is one of the main contributors to the cavern’s formations.

Below is a picture from our last stop on the tour and probably my favorite of the formations we saw.  The ceiling was covered with tiny soda straws.  You could see that they were continuing to grow as they were dripping water.  It looked like a fairy tale scene, the formations were so delicate and lovely.

I will have to say that it is difficult taking pictures in caves, so my photos are of course darker than I would like.  In addition, since Mark and I started full time traveling, we have not yet been able to set up an editing system for our laptop and IPad in order to enhance photos.

After the tour, we checked out some other scenic spots in the Blanchard Springs area.  I was disappointed that due to a road closure, we were unable to hike the trail to see Blanchard Springs Falls (the falls that helped form the caverns) as well as another waterfall that flows from Mirror Lake.  We were able to walk to Mirror Lake via a boardwalk.  Along the way we encountered  an old stone mill with only two sides remaining.  A mill at this site once ground corn and ginned cotton from 1900 until 1928.

Mirror Lake is a small and pretty lake that is popular for fishing.  Although I am not into fishing, I can maybe see its appeal at the idyllic spot below.

We visited Blanchard Springs campground and picnic area.   Below I am hanging out in the seating area with tall rock cliffs in the background forming a natural enclosure for the amphitheater.

Sylamore Creek flows through the camp and picnic area.  The scenery along the creek was lovely but I was most impressed by the clearness of the water.  It reminded me of the water of the Smith River in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Northern California.  My friend Sharon introduced me to the beauty of that river, one of her favorite places.

Thanks for checking in – next time I will talk about our stay in Mountain View, Arkansas, the town that is all about folk music.

Bentonville – Mr. Walton’s Neighborhood

Prior to full time RVing, Walmart was never our store of choice, we just didn’t shop there.   If we needed something more than a grocery store, Target was our go to store.  I had always found Walmart to be crowded and chaotic with a long check out line.  I can remember shopping there years ago late one night.   I thought it would be a simple process to stop in to purchase one needed item.   Since it was almost midnight, I figured hardly anyone would be shopping.  I was wrong as there were lines at each checkout and they were at a standstill due to issues at the registers.  When I could finally pay for my purchase, I asked the cashier the best time to shop at Walmart to beat the crowds.  She answered that at 2:00 a.m., it was usually pretty slow.  After that trip, I pretty much avoided the store.

It seems to me now the Walmart Super Centers are bigger and easier to shop in, with more check stands and even self check stands.  After taking off in our RV full time we found that Walmarts as we expected, were almost every where we traveled, even in small towns.  They have most of the things that we need and can get in one stop shopping.  For example, in one trip we got a shirt for Mark, special toilet paper for our trailer, frozen food items and fresh vegetables and fruit.  We are shopping at Walmart regularly now, something I would not have anticipated, but things change when you are on the road.  We also hit local grocery stores and chains when we can, depending on what is available.  I do miss the stores that we used to shop in while living in Modesto, mostly Raley’s for the produce.

Mr. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart began his store in the town of Bentonville, Arkansas when he opened Walton’s 5 &10 in 1950, buying a previously owned variety store.  He extensively remodeled the store calling it the most modern variety store in Northwest Arkansas.

In 1962, Walton opened his first Walmart.  By the end of the decade, he had a chain of 18 stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  He built his chain on the basis of offering the lowest prices to be found any where.  In the 1970’s, the store went national and in 1979, Walmart became the first company to reach $1 billion in sales in such a short time.  By 1990, Walmart was the nation’s number one retailer.

In March 1992, Walton was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, recognizing his contributions to community and country.   Mr. Walton’s comments when receiving the medal included the following:  “If we work together, we’ll lower the cost of living for everyone …. we’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life.”  Mr. Walton passed away on April 5, 1992, shortly after receiving the medal.

The building that housed the five and dime store is now the Walton museum and through sign boards, memorabilia, photography and film showcases how Mr. Walton built his empire.  The small and free museum located on the historic town square (picture above), is an interesting visit and rather humble in scope for someone who built such a huge empire.   Below is a picture of Walton’s office, preserved in the museum as it was the day he died.

Walton’s old 1979 Ford half ton pickup truck can also be seen in the museum.   Walton reported, “I just don’t believe a big showy lifestyle is appropriate.  Why do I drive a pickup truck?  What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls Royce?”  The original papers, registration, keys and sunglasses were all found in the truck just the way he left it and are on display next to the truck.

The most amusing exhibit includes famous customer returns such as a mixer that a customer said was “possessed,” a pencil sharpener that didn’t sharpen ink pens, an outdoor thermometer that never had the correct time, a mangled tennis racket that a customer said he could not serve well with, a fishing pole that didn’t work – no fish.  Below is a picture of returns.

When finished looking at the museum, one can visit the old fashioned soda fountain that serves up ice cream treats.  In addition, there is still a small 5&10 store that has souvenirs, toys and candy from a bygone era – I couldn’t resist getting a little of my past favorites, have you had a Bit-O-Honey or Mary Jane candy lately?

In the town of Bentonville is another Walton creation, Crystal Bridges Museum, one of my highlights of the trip so far.   This one of a kind art museum features hundreds of works by American masters from colonial times to the present.

The exhibits are wonderful, but the unusual building set in a ravine and surrounded by Ozark forest is worth a visit in itself.  The building is a series of pavilions around two spring fed ponds with lots of views to the outside.

Crystal Bridges was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation as a nonprofit charitable organization.  There is no admission cost except for special exhibits.  Below is one of my favorite paintings exhibited, “The Lantern Bearers” by Maxfield Parrish.

Outside there are miles of trails as well as sculptures, streams, ponds and bridges to enjoy.  I could spend hours at this place which I did.

I really enjoy Chihuly glass and there was a temporary exhibit called “Chihuly in the Forest.”  There were about eight installations of his work set among the trees near a winding path.

Below is a picture of one of my favorites, the Fiori Boat.  The inspiration for this was when Chihuly was in Finland and he floated pieces of glass downstream in a river where teenagers retrieved them in rowboats.

The Sole D’Oro sculpture features 1400 hand blown pieces of glass and weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

Many of the trees on the museum grounds were showing some fall colors.  A great place for walking or sitting and enjoying the forest.

While staying in northwest Arkansas we visited a Walmart in Bentonville.  It is located right across the street from the Walmart headquarters offices and Mark commented that we would find this store looking very spruced up.    When we walked in we saw that the floors were highly polished, much more than most Walmarts we have visited.  The rest of the store looked pretty good too.  This store probably has to keep a  high standard since they are located in Mr. Walton’s town.

Thanks for reading this and for your comments.  We appreciate the feedback!

3 months Louisiana and alligators

Three months on the road! Our house closed on August 25 and we set out.  We have seen a lot in our three months and are now finishing up two weeks in Lafayette, Louisiana with two more (at least) to go.  It was a beautiful day today and we headed out to a garden and got a look at our first live, wild alligators.

I tried to get her in close enough for an action shot, but no good.  She turned down the walk earlier also through the angry buffalo?  Low impact travel I guess.

She is typing away on another article and has lots and lots to share.  We are having lots of fun and are glad you are along with us! Thanks for reading!


Bella Vista, Arkansas – A Beautiful Place to Hang Out

Bella Vista is a small town located in northwestern Arkansas.   Our RV park here turned out to be more delightful than I had hoped.  Located right next to a forest and park, there are a number of trails for walking or biking that go through the woods.  A small stream from a spring in the park flows near the RV sites.  The Ozark forests are really lovely with a variety of hardwood trees and many rock formations.  I took advantage of the chance to walk and hike right from our doorstep; the first place we have stayed with wooded trails to explore.

Perhaps my favorite spot in the Bella Vista area was Tanyard Creek nature trail and an area they call the rapids.  I loved the rock formations with the water cascading down.

It would have been neat to see it in the winter and spring when the stream is really running, but was still beautiful now.  Upstream was a small waterfall that was at low flow, but still rather pretty.

Bella Vista could be described some what as a planned community with homes situated near a number of lakes, golf courses, parks, bike paths and trails.  It is also close to the metropolitan areas of Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville with all needed services and shopping.  It appeared to me this would be an appealing place to live.

The Ozark mountains cover a fairly large part of southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.  I was looking forward to arriving during fall colors, but this year fall was more subdued, less colorful.  Mark and I explored nearby Hobbs State Park to see more of the Ozark region.  On the visitor center nature trail, we learned about how water has created deep valleys or hollows.  An old fashioned washboard in picture above was used as an example.

At Hobbs State Park we hiked a few miles on another trail and got to travel a hollow and around rock formations. The ups and downs gave us a little bit of a workout.  It was late afternoon and the forest was alive with light and color.

Limestone bluffs (below) are a common sight in the Ozark region and I found them interesting and fun to explore, especially since some of them are cavelike.

We also took a walk to a historic hollow where the Van Winkle family had one of the most important sawmill operations in 19th century Arkansas.  Besides the mill, there was a home and garden and a community consisting of quarters for the workers and slaves.  There were other industries such as a gristmill and blacksmith shop.    Below is a picture of the foundation remains of the sawmill.

The mill also played an important part during the Civil War.  The sawmill cut wood for Confederate soldiers’ housing in 1862 and the grist mill ground corn for the soldiers.  Wounded Confederate soldiers were housed here before the mill was destroyed by fire in 1863 and the Van Winkle family was forced to leave their home.  Mr. Van Winkle rebuilt the mill after the Civil War and it provided much of the lumber to rebuild northwest Arkansas.  The mill finally closed in 1890.  The buildings are long since gone with the house dismantled in 1968.  Below is a picture of the spot where the house once stood.  The grassy area in back of the stone marker was the home site.

I thought it was a shame that the buildings were taken down and the structures not preserved here, but the place did retain an interesting atmosphere.  There are sign boards throughout the property explaining where buildings were located with a few foundations remaining.  Using the imagination, you could picture what life might have been like in this secluded valley of the Ozarks.  Below is a picture of the lovely creek that runs through the property.

I found this bush with colorful berries unusual and something I had not seen before. The berries are a striking purple and hang in clusters.  I found out later that this bush is called the American Beautyberry plant and the berries turn a purplish color in fall and winter.  It is always fun for me to find and learn about new plants in the wild.

Speaking of mills, one of the favorite destinations in northern Arkansas is War Eagle Mill.  There has been a grist mill here since 1832 and has since been destroyed and rebuilt three times.   When rebuilt in 1973, the owner built a reproduction of the original mill to preserve the history of grist milling.  It is the only working mill in Arkansas and is still powered by a waterwheel.

Inside the mill building, you can watch grains being ground and purchase flour, cornmeal and other grains.  The day we visited corn was being ground into meal.  There are three floors in the building with the first floor the mill, second floor a gift shop and the third floor a small restaurant.  Ham and beans with cornbread are the specialty here.  A very large arts and craft fair is held around the mill property each year and was the reason we were unable to get an RV site the weekend before we came.  Below is a picture of the mill taken from across the historic one lane steel bridge built in 1907.

Perhaps the favorite place to visit in Bella Vista is the Mildred B. Cooper chapel built as a memorial and incorporated into a forest setting.  The architect, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright was introduced to the principle of organic architecture or designing to fit into the environment.

Inside the high ceilinged chapel are many arches and windows looking out onto the forest.  I had never seen a chapel like this before and it is amazingly beautiful.

Visitors can come in, sit and enjoy the beauty during the day.  When I visited I had the place to myself and could enjoy not only the lovely nature setting but also listen to quiet piano music that plays in the background.  The chapel is a popular place for weddings.

There are two other chapels of this type in Arkansas, each located in a different region of the state.   I was able to visit another one near Hot Springs.  I will be writing about that chapel and our visit to the area in another post.

Thanks for checking in – Special thanks to everyone who has subscribed.  Welcome Anacani, welcome John, welcome Julie S.  More Arkansas to come!  Next post I will be writing about the Walmart Waltons.

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving!

Should We Go to Branson Or Not?

I debated for awhile whether we should spend several days or even a week in Branson.  Branson is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Missouri and there is lots to do there with the music shows and Silver Dollar City being popular draws.  We were interested to visit, but not sure if we wanted to fight the crowds.  I was also eager to get to Arkansas for fall color time and before cold weather might set in.  Just when I decided we would skip it, we found there were no openings in Northwestern Arkansas because it was the weekend of a large art and craft festival held in that part of the state.  Since we would have to stay some where else for several nights we went to Branson after all.

One of our favorite travel aids is the GPS map system I use on my IPhone.  We find this so indispensable that I don’t know how we ever traveled without it.   Since we are now always traveling to new areas, we really need the directional help to find the best and fastest route to towns, RV parks, attractions, restaurants, stores, etc.  I love, love this modern device!  Although the GPS rarely lets us down, on occasion it takes us on roadways we don’t expect.  Our drive from Carthage to Branson turned out to be one such case.

During our travels, we prefer to stick to the less traveled roads.  For this trip we chose a route away from the major highway and boy was it.  GPS took us on back roads that were often tiny county roads that felt like a roller coaster!   The reason for the roller coaster ride was that we were driving into the Ozark mountain region.  The scenery was lovely and roller coaster roads can be fun, but I was a little nervous since we were pulling a trailer.  We also had no idea where we were headed as GPS had us turning from one county road to another.

The signs on the roads also amused us.  We traveled on Roads M and N but all of a sudden we found ourselves on Road ZZ.  Were we nearing the end of the road?

We arrived to Shenanigans RV park in Branson, a lovely wooded site secluded from the town but on a terraced hill.   It was a little more difficult to get our trailer situated and I felt “perched” but it worked out fine.  Mark parked the truck in the back of the trailer.  He laughed and said he parked there to keep the trailer from rolling down the hill.

During our stay here we did not hear road or train noise but we did hear a different sort of noise, a whooshing or vacuum sound.  We soon found out that the noise came from a heart stopping thrill ride – the Bigfoot Action Tower that drops riders in a 200 foot free fall.  On the other side of the tower is the super sling that launches riders up into the air flipping them upside down a few times.

At night I could make out the very top of the lighted Bigfoot tower above the trees surrounding us.  When I mentioned the weird, ongoing sound to the RV owner she said that she was very upset about this new addition to Branson.  Since they live in the park upstairs from the office, the tower lights will shine into their home once they lose the tree cover in winter.  The frequent sound from the ride was also an annoyance to the park owners.   She said there was nothing they could do about it as the company that owns the ride had a right to build.  I felt sorry for them as their lovely, secluded spot was now disrupted.

Mark and I ventured out for dinner the first night we got there traveling near the main road or strip that has the music shows and other attractions.  Traffic was backed up in both directions, so we were glad we took a different route and decided to stay away from the popular sights on that road.  Branson provides so many activities for families it is mind boggling with many of them along or near the main entertainment strip.  I had planned to reserve a music show or two for us to see while there but before leaving our RV site in Carthage, I had the brainy idea to get tickets for Silver Dollar City, the popular amusement park outside of town.  The park features rides but is also well known for music shows and craft demonstrators.  During this time was the fall festival and there was supposed to be an additional 100+ crafters at the park.   It sounded like it would be fun to go there for a day and I hoped it would not be as crowded during the fall as it is in the summer when families are vacationing.

The morning after we arrived in Branson we drove over to Silver Dollar City finding after a few miles bumper to bumper traffic which continued to the park.  Once we arrived, we had to go to Parking Lot 7 and then take the tram to the park entrance.  What should have been a very short drive from Branson was turning into an ordeal just to get into the park.  Once I got through the line to pick up our reserved tickets, we joined the hordes.  It was now clear that coming on a Saturday in fall was no less crowded than summer.  Silver Dollar City looks different than other amusement parks because of its setting in the mountains with many trees and old time buildings and decorations, designed to make you feel that you are back in the late 1800’s.  The walkways in the park are narrow and a little hilly, not conducive for the 30,000 people we heard were there that day.

We did our best to enjoy the jovial atmosphere and see what the crafters were making.  The picture above is one of my favorite stops, the candy kitchen and peanut brittle demonstration where two ladies really put some muscle into spreading the freshly cooked and poured brittle.

The knife demonstration was quite popular and I pressed into the crowd to see the blade being crafted with the heated stone.  I finally gave up when peering over many shoulders became too difficult and made my way over to the nearby lye soap demonstration where I found I was the lone spectator.   The young woman was busily stirring the heated mixture and pouring it into molds.  For some reason, the making of lye soap must not be as popular as knives.  Watching this brought back a memory from decades ago of my lone attempt to make soap with my friend Rhonda while we were both stationed in the army in Germany.  We cooked the soap outside in Rhonda’s yard and got it made, but it was quite a process.

There were a number of crafters to visit including a blacksmith, a potter, a wood carver, whittlers, wood turners, quilt makers, weavers, glass blowers, sculptors and a famous chuck wagon cook.  In the picture below, a wood turner has his lathe allegedly powered by a young man turning a giant wheel. Mark thought it was bogus and all for show – he said there was undoubtedly an electric motor underneath.

We headed to one of the quietest areas of the park where the Homestead Pickers play in a little wooden shed with stage in a forest setting.   The bluegrass music was fairly good and we had a place to sit and relax for awhile.

The food at Silver Dollar City is supposed to be “award winning.”  There are  some interesting offerings that you don’t see at the usual amusement parks like big cast iron skillets with a harvest meal of ham, potatoes, green beans, carrots, squash, etc.  The line at the Fry Bread shop was not as long as some places so I got a maple bacon fritter with jalapeños for a snack which was quite tasty although definitely not a health food.

Mark’s usually hearty appetite was non-existent on this day and he didn’t try any of the tempting food choices.  I guess Silver Dollar City sucked it out of him.  He even refused to pay the $3.50+ for a Diet Coke, his beverage of choice.

Leaving Silver Dollar City was easier than going there and we made it back to our trailer much quicker.  The next day, Sunday was very rainy and we stayed in enjoying the peace and quiet.  That evening was one of the highlights of our Branson stay, a gorgeous sunset after the rain stopped.

On Monday morning we left Missouri for Arkansas, a state we had not traveled in before that I had been wanting to visit for some time.

Thanks for reading!  In my next post I will talk about our visit to Northwest Arkansas.

Carthage, Missouri – The Peanut Man, Precious Moments and the Maple Leaf City.


Our three night stay in Carthage was because of one man, George Washington Carver.  His monument is located near here and I wanted to see it.  Mr. Carver was one of my heroes as a kid in school and we were traveling close by to his birth place and former home.   From the time we arrived at this National Monument I was impressed with what a great job the National Park Service has done here.  The property is beautifully maintained and the Visitor Center a wealth of information nicely presented.

Carver was born a slave in the early 1860’s and raised near the town of Diamond.  George’s mother was owned by Moses Carver.  After she was kidnapped by slave traders when George was a baby, the Carvers continued to raise him in their home.  As a boy, George spent a great deal of time in the woods where he said he learned to love God and plants.  He became known in his local area as the plant doctor and would help neighbors solve their plant issues.

Due to his color George was unable to attend the local school so he eventually left his home to attend school in another town.   In order to go to college he enrolled at the Iowa State Agricultural College, the first black student to do so and graduated with a degree in botany.  Afterwards, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to head the Agriculture Department at Tuskeegee University in Alabama where he taught for many years.   He became well known for helping poor farmers learn better ways to manage crops and improve yields.  Through experiments he found many uses for different plants.  He discovered more than three hundred uses for the peanut.  One of his most famous experiments was massaging peanut oil into the muscles of polio victims.   Mr. Carver became known as the peanut man, especially after testifying in Washington D.C.

My favorite part of the monument is the mile long trail that goes through the woods past the areas where George got spring water for his family, learned about nature and grew a garden in the woods.

A statue was placed in the woods to commemorate George’s life long love for nature.

Along the trail are a number of inspirational quotes in stone from Mr. Carver who was considered a deep thinker and had much to say to encourage others to live better lives.   I especially liked this one in the picture below:

The trail eventually leads to the small frame house that the Carvers lived in during George’s later boyhood.  It has been preserved as a working farm house.  The park service had placed laundry around the yard to show a typical wash day.

This was one of my favorite places we have visited so far on our trip. It was inspirational to see what Mr. Carver was able to accomplish from such a difficult background  Very humbling!

Many of you have probably seen or heard of the Precious Moments figurines that have been popular for gifts or collecting for years.  The Precious Moments Chapel located in Carthage is perhaps the most unique place I have visited so far on this trip.  Mr. Sam Butcher is the artist and creator of Precious Moments.  In 1989 he opened the Precious Moments Chapel, gardens, museum and gift shop.   The centerpiece on the property is the chapel where Butcher hand painted 85 inspirational murals, using stories from the Bible with Precious Moments figures.

Above is a picture of the impressive artwork as I walked into the chapel.  The largest mural on the back wall (below) shows figures making their way into heaven.  As a memorial, Butcher symbolized real people that he knew who had passed away and represented them with Precious Moments figures.

Butcher spent an incredible amount of time working on these walls and ceiling and the paintings are certainly amazing.  The chapel also includes a number of stained glass windows in the hallways, again based on bible stories.

In order to reach the chapel, you walk a series of paths through gardens that feature Precious Moments angel statues and fountains.

There is more to see in the chapel area I could talk about, but for brevity sake I won’t explain further except to say that the property is a continual work in progress.  I knew there would be a gift shop here but I had no idea how large it would be and that there were so many different Precious Moments figurines.   There were many, many shelves lined with these collectibles as well as other Precious Moments merchandise.

Carthge Missouri calls itself the Maple Leaf City and is known for several things – their beautiful court house, a Civil War battle that burned the town down, Route 66 and the Maple Leaf Festival.   The court house (above) was built in 1894 and looks like a medieval castle. I read that it is one of the most photographed buildings in Missouri and it is a stunning building.  I like visiting court houses and always enjoyed seeing them in California during my walks with my friend Arlene in various towns and cities.

The day we visited, the town was preparing for the maple leaf festival that weekend.   There were signs all over town noting that this was the city of maple leaves.  Even the fire hydrants like to dress up for the occasion.

Carthage is located near the city of Joplin, Missouri and both are on the old Route 66 highway.  In Carthage there are a few historic businesses along the route that are still open.   I was disappointed though that the drive-in movie theater was closed for the season.   It would have been fun to go to a drive-in, something I haven’t done since I was a kid …… I can’t even remember how long it has been!  We did drive a little on Route 66 just to enjoy the old time ambience.

Thanks for checking out the blog!  Next time I will talk about our trip to Branson Missouri where we go from nice and quiet to crazy!

Goodbye Arkansas, Hello Louisiana!

Hello there!  I haven’t posted for a while so I thought I would put up a quick update.  I don’t want to steal anything from Beth’s epic tale of exploration and adventure so I will stay pretty general.  We are just finishing up a week in Little Rock and our third week in Arkansas (and winding up 12 weeks on the road).  Tomorrow we break camp and head for Lafayette, Louisiana.

Arkansas has been a lot of fun and as usual there are many more things here we’d like to see but it is time to move on.  Beth has been busy exploring and taking pictures to post.  We got a new set up so we can put our pictures up on a tv screen while she does her choosing.  She takes lots and lots of pictures so picking out a few can be a chore!

Her karma continues to hold up and things are still going smoothly.  Her biggest challenge is still her sometimes cantankerous driver.  Tomorrow’s drive will be our longest in a while and we have booked our first park in Louisiana for a whole month.  It should be interesting!

As always thanks for reading!  Next stop Cajun country!

Independence – A Twisty Tower, Court 1880’s Style, The Trails Start Here and a Dangerous Depot


When we arrived to our campsite in Independence, the first landmark I noticed in the distance was this unusual tower.  I soon found out that the tower is a Temple and the International Headquarters of the Community of Christ, a faction of the Latter Day Saints.  It was fairly close to our RV site – across the park and down the street.   I learned that Independence is sacred to the Latter Day Saints as Joseph Smith had a revelation that it would be a gathering spot of the Saints during the Last Days.  Before he was killed, he picked out land to build the City of Zion.

The Community of Christ Temple was completed in 1994 at a cost of $35 million. It is an impressive building and I especially liked seeing it lit up at night, although I was concerned about the electric bill!  During nightly walks, Mark got tired of me wondering how the church paid the light bill.  Besides the Community of Christ, the headquarters of several other Latter Day Saint groups are also located here within a few blocks.   I found the number of large church buildings, auditoriums and visitor centers mind boggling and LOTS more lights.   The light bill mystery was never resolved!

Independence, a city with a lot of history is probably best known as the beginning point for the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails.   It was here that people stocked up on supplies and organized their wagons.  Above is a large mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton for the Truman Museum.  It is titled “Independence and the Opening of the West” and depicts what the settlers faced on their journeys.   There are a number of signs around the historic town square and surrounding neighborhoods noting the route where the trails passed through.

A yearly festival called “Santacaligon” is held in September and celebrates the three trails.  The Frontier Trails Museum is down the street from our camp site.  There are also swales left over from the days when wagon trains made lasting indentations in the ground trying to get out of town.  Below is a picture of swales believed to be from those days although the grass might make it a little difficult to see them.

One of the highlights of our stay was attending an annual re-enactment of a trial called, “The Bandit Rides Again” put on by the Jackson County Historical Society.  The original trial was held in 1880 after a young man from the Jesse James gang known as Whiskeyhead was tried for participating in the famous Glendale train robbery near Independence.   The re-enactment featured the same cast of characters as the original trial.  Many of the actors were actually lawyers, judges and law enforcement in real life.  It was great fun to watch the process play out.

The best part was that it felt very authentic as it was held in the same court house and court room as the original trial and all the actors were dressed in period attire.   The attendees were the jury and at the end we were asked for our verdict.  The jury was split about 50/50 – Mark and I voted “not guilty” and were then told that Whiskeyhead had in fact been found guilty and sentenced to prison.

The outlaw Jesse James and his gang caused a great deal of mischief in Missouri robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches.  After Jesse was killed, his brother Frank turned himself in and was put in jail in Independence to await trial.  Above is a photo of the jail which is now a museum that includes the marshall’s home.

Frank James was treated more like a guest than a prisoner and his jail cell (above) was furnished with furniture, rugs and pictures by his friends.  He was even invited to have dinner with the Jailer’s family.

We drove to the small town of Liberty north of Independence and visited the Bank Museum.  The James gang was suspected of robbing the Clay County Savings Association of $60,000 in 1866.  This was the first daylight bank hold up in the United States.  Since there was not enough evidence as to the identity of the robbers, no one was arrested.  You can tour inside the former bank and see the vault where the loot was stolen.  In above picture, the green metal door leads into the vault.

After seeing the inside I went out to take a few pictures and promptly fell off the curb onto the street.  I ended up with two skinned knees and a hole in my jeans.   Years ago when I used to walk our dog around the neighborhood at night in the dark, I tripped and fell a few times.  One Christmas my kids took pity on me and as a gag gift got me a set of protective knee and elbow pads.  They would have come in handy on this trip!

We had to check out the cute 1879 Chicago and Alton train depot just down the track from where we were staying.  It might look harmless on the outside but inside lurked an unknown danger, an overly enthusiastic volunteer!  Although the tour of the depot was supposed to be short, it seemed to never end.  Mark and I laughed afterwards that although a small place, the rooms seemed to stretch on forever as the guide pointed out the memorabilia and the history behind them.

We were trapped but eventually got back downstairs to the waiting room (above) and made our escape.  It is pretty cool that this is the only restored wooden two story train depot left in Missouri.

Another find right down the street from our park is the Bingham-Waggoner Estate built in 1852.  This is one of the best historic home tours I have taken.  A friendly docent took me through the rooms where 95% of the furnishings and possessions are original to the home.   This three story mansion has 26 rooms and the Waggoner family lived here for 97 years.  One of my favorite things about the house were the painted floral decorations on the walls and ceilings in most of the rooms including the sitting room pictured below.

What sets this tour apart from most others is that you can touch anything in the house and even sit on the furniture.  I took advantage of this and played a song on the piano in the parlor.

I will close this post with a picture of perhaps the most beautiful historic home I have seen since traveling full time.  The Vaile Mansion, built in 1881 is stunning.  I ran out of time and couldn’t take the inside tour, but I got some pictures of the outside as I walked around the grounds late one afternoon.   Instead of seeing this home, I decided to venture out of town and see the bank museum.   I probably should have seen the Vaile since it is so beautiful and I also would have saved some wear and tear on my knees!

Thanks for reading!  In my next blog we move further south to another town in Missouri for further exploring!

Independence Missouri – Mr. Truman’s Neighborhood

It was difficult deciding where to stay in Kansas City/Independence Missouri area.  Not many RV parks to choose from and I was torn between two – a positively reviewed park north of Kansas City that was next to to an amusement park or a smaller RV park with less enthusiastic reviews in Independence.  I decided on the park in Independence and it ended up being a great find.   We found this park to be walking distance to the historic town square as well as other points of interest.   This was the first time we were able to walk to so many places.  Although the park itself was nothing special, our site backed up to a wooded area and the birding here was great!  Another plus was the park was not near a major highway or road.  We did hear plenty of train whistles as the tracks were right across from us!   But as I have said before, we like trains, so all was good.

The most famous citizen of Independence is Harry Truman and he lived here most of his life.  There are many places in town you can visit that were an important part of his life.  This town really celebrates him.  I knew very little about Harry Truman before but left knowing quite a bit about this former president’s interesting life.  Above is a picture of the Independence courthouse where Harry got his political start as a judge.  It is a gorgeous courthouse modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The best place to learn about Harry and the United States during his presidency is at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.  This has been one of the best museums we have visited on our trip.  Truman never planned to become president – he supposedly didn’t even want to become Vice President.   He had only been Vice President for three months when Franklin D. Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office.  During Truman’s presidency he had to deal with some trying times including dropping the Atom bombs, ending World War II, the reconstruction of Europe, beginning of the Cold War with Russia and the Korean War.  Above is a picture of Truman’s most famous phrase, “The Buck Stops Here.”  This sign sat on his desk in the Oval Office.

In 1948 when he decided to run for re-election his popularity was very low and public opinion was he could not win.   Truman went on a whistlestop campaign; traveling by train across the United States with many stops to win back the confidence of the people.  In spite of the negative predictions, he won the election.   Although not popular again when he left the presidency at the end of his term in 1957, he was welcomed enthusiastically back to Independence.

When Truman left office there was no presidential pension and no secret service.  The Trumans had to survive on a small military pension from World War I.  They returned to their home in Independence.  Harry began working on his presidential library and museum which was completed in 1957.  Below is a picture of his office at the library.

Harry and his wife are both buried on the library grounds.  Below is a picture of their graves.  Harry died in 1972 at the age of 88 and Bess died in 1982.  She holds the record of longest lived First Lady at 97 years.

The National Park service now manages the Truman home and gives tours.  The inside of the home was left just as it was when Bess died.  The Trumans lived quite modestly compared to most former presidents who returned to more fancy homes.   Photographs are not allowed inside but here is one of me in front of the house.

Truman’s last car, a 1972 light green Chrysler was also donated to the National Park Service and is parked in the garage.  I read that Harry loved his cars and took great care of them.  I thought it was interesting that he asked the State License Bureau for the number 5745.   May 7, 1945 was the date of victory in Europe, an important date for Truman as President.

Mark found a book for me on Kindle called “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure:  The True Story of a Great American Road Trip.”  Harry and Bess took off alone on this trip across the United States in 1953.  I have always enjoyed reading road trip stories so could not resist this one.  Maybe I will give a review when I have finished reading it.

There are a number of places that you can visit in the “neighborhood” that were important to Truman.  As a teenager, Harry’s first job was at the Clinton Soda Fountain on the old town square.  The fountain (above) still operates and of course we had to stop for an ice cream treat.  There is a fun letter in the back of the store from Harry to his daughter talking about his first job and how he was paid $3.00 per week to mop floors, wipe off bottles, make ice cream for sodas and wait on customers.

Harry loved to walk around town, even in his later years and often took a similiar route.  The historical society has created a visitor walking guide and I walked his route one day.  On the sidewalks in front of a number of homes in Harry’s neighborhood are plaques noting people that were important to the town and especially to the Trumans.  Here is an example of one of the plaques, Harry’s former teacher.

Walking Harry’s route reminded me of the 10km Volkssport walks I used to do around California with my friend Arlene.  We saw so many historic homes, many of them Victorian.  I have always believed that in order to really get to know a town or city you have to walk around it.  Here is one of the homes from my walk that I thought was so attractive.  Harry served in World War I with a man who lived in this home.

One of the last stops on the walking tour was the Episcopal church where Harry and Bess were married in 1919.  In a town with many big churches, this church from 1881 was much smaller.

Thanks for spending the time reading the blog.  Next time I will talk about some other interesting places in Independence.