Friday, May 19, 2017

Home Again, Home Again

I spent a night in a little Missouri state park called Weston Bend. It is just a tad north of Kansas City and the sites were all nice, wooded and there were some trails to explore. There was also a dog park but I'm finding that dog parks really don't seem to thrill Miko too much. She is polite, greets other dogs, but just wants to stay with me and not go play with them.

West Bend State Park site

I moved on to Pender Nebraska, a small little town, in the middle of nowhere, in between Omaha and Sioux City. I had an appointment to get my tow bar serviced. I had been having trouble with the tow bar, the arms were intermittently not locking. This can cause all sorts of problems because if the tow bar is not locked and I take a turn, the tow bar could bend. As it was, when the technician took apart my tow bar, some of the innards were a little bit bent. He fixed me all up and I bought a few spare parts for future use. For $35 dollars, I got my tow bar fixed and I had a free place to stay. Such a deal. I won't mention how much I spent on spare parts.


This being Nebraska, there were severe thunderstorm warnings all night long. The next morning, during a break in the rain, we took off and ended up in St. James Minnesota. It was a miserable drive, intense downpours – but the roads themselves were not too bad. As soon as I got to St. James, my phone tells me that not only am I still under a severe thunderstorm warning but just for fun let's throw in a tornado watch. I've got my weather radio going and I am strategically parked next to the shower house which is the storm shelter. It can't be all that bad – off in the distance I'm seeing blue skies.

Got the RV all cleaned up and drove another two hours to my RV storage place. Made it safely, no car fires, no drama.  I drove for four days in a row - definitely too much for me nowadays.  I guess I have slowed down.  It is nice to be home. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs – located about as far north as you can get in Arkansas without straying over into Missouri. At last count, there is supposed to be 63 natural springs – guess that is where the name came from. It used to be a mecca for people wanting to be healed but since the Health Department has declared that perhaps it is not maybe in your best interests to 'take the waters', Eureka Springs has become more of a tourist town.

As is my nature, when I first get to a town, I like to do a city overview, if possible. In Eureka Springs, this takes the form of a open air tram ride to most of the town sites. There were Victorian houses, the haunted Crescent Hotel, a 65 foot statute called Christ of the Ozarks and a very touristy downtown with very very narrow streets. I'm really glad I wasn't doing the driving. The guide was your typical corny tour guide but he seemed to have found his audience among the 48 tourists. The tour was about 90 minutes and it was a pleasant afternoon to be driven around.

There is a place called Quigley's Castle that I needed to see. In the forties, Mrs. Quigley designed a house which Mr. Quigley said he would build for her. She got a little impatient, waiting for him to build the house. One day, when he left for work, she and her children tore down the house they were living in. When Mr. Quigley returned from work, he had to resort to living in a chicken house. Mrs Quigley designed the house so it had two frames. The outside frame was decorated in rocks and shells that she had collected over the years. The inner frame was several feet inside the outer one and in that space between the two frames,there was no floor, there was just dirt where Mrs. Quigley planted a garden. Some of the two story plants that are there are over sixty years old. Mrs. Quigley had a lot of energy and ended up putting stones and crystals everyplace.

The Castle

Inner/Outer Frame

The Goldfish Tank

The second story - plants growing up from below

Mrs Quigley's Butterfly Wall - one whole wall in an upstairs bedroom

Mrs. Quigley collected rocks - Mr. Quigley collected bottles

My mother thinks I put too many pictures of rocks in my blog - Mom, it could be a lot worse

I felt guilty for leaving Miko alone and so when I got back we decided to go hike around Lake Leatherwood. I chose to do the four mile loop around the lake, forgetting, of course, all the rain that Arkansas had been literally flooded with. It was a nicely marked trail on the first half of the trail until we crossed the dam. There were several creeks that normally you could walk across on stones, but now were about ankle deep. I started regretting the fact that I had opted not to buy waterproof hiking shoes. At the very end of the trail, the flooding got even deeper. I let Miko off leash because of her tendency to try to hop over water. I knew she would pull me over. Somebody had tried to put some logs and boards across the waterway, which I used, but mostly I just resigned myself to getting wet.

How to get from here to there?

Blue Springs Heritage Center was the home of Blue Springs – a spring that pumps out 38 million gallons of water a day. The walkway around the springs was all flooded out – you could only walk on the upper walkway. It was sort of eerie looking down into the water and seeing a bench that was about three feet under water. It was a little like looking at the Lost City of Atlantis.

The water was actually this color

Upper walkway and stairs down to the lower walkway

Never one to turn down an opportunity for a Junior Ranger badge, I headed over to Pea Ridge National Military Park – site of a civil war battle. The ranger was unable to tell me the difference between a National Military Park and a National Battlefield, even though he said he had tried researching it. I hope he finds his answer. I watched the movie, drove the seven mile loop around the battlefield, impressed aforementioned ranger with the depth of my Junior Ranger answers and got my badge.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Devil's Den

The nice thing about traveling in the middle of the week is that you can usually go to a super popular state park and they will have a camping space for you. Sometimes you might even be the only one in the whole park. Since I was traveling mid-week, I was able to pretty much take my pick at Devil's Den State Park in the Boston Mountains in northwest Arkansas. Even better, if I stood outside my RV, in a very particular spot, I would have on again, off again WIFI. The bad news is that I had no cell service at all. I panicked for a bit, because I didn't know about the lack of cell service and I knew Tony would be waiting on me to call for our evening chats. I guess we would have to rely on old-fashioned letter writing. Ok, perhaps that is a bit dramatic, when I could catch a WiFi signal, it would be email.

The Dam Waterfall Near the Visitor Center -

The first trail I was going to do was called the Yellow Rock Trail. It leads to a rock overhang where there is a great view (a long way down) over the valley. It is supposed to be three miles and take about two hours to hike. Somehow I got a little turned around and this hike ended up taking me five hours and many more miles. At one point, I came to a V in the trail. One leg seemed to go down a small hill and end at a cliff. The other leg looked like the trail continued. Nope – that leg dead ended. I went back to the V and could not figure out what to do. I decided to sit on a log and wait for another hiker to come along and that way I could just follow in their footsteps. After sitting there for an indeterminate amount of time and no hikers came along, I figured out that that strategy was not going to work. I crept out toward the edge of the cliff and there hidden behind a tree was a steep switchback going down the side of the cliff. Yay – I was saved. Perhaps I need to work on my wilderness skills a bit.

Yellow Rock - Miko again ignoring me

The other trail I did was called the Devil's Den Trail. It was a circular trail and it was a great deal of fun. You had to climb up and down rocks and try to figure out where the trail was. I found that when there didn't seem to be any way forward, if I just stopped and thought for a moment, a way would become clear. There was a baby waterfall on the trail and the last portion of the trail wandered by Lee Creek which was refreshing

Baby Waterfall

Saturday, May 13, 2017

I Say Petite, You Say Petty

I was reading my Arkansas Waterfall book and it said that the largest waterfall in Arkansas was at a state park called Petit Jean. When I consulted my Google maps, I found that the park was only an hour drive away and they had available campsites. Change of direction – change of plans. Off to Petit Jean State Park.

You would think that Petit Jean would be pronounced in the French way, but not in Arkansas. It is pronounced Petty Jean. You can read about the legend of Petit Jean here

Miko and I spent the first day at the park running around to all of the trails that were under a mile. Lots of rocks and lots of greenery. I saw the famous big Cedar Falls from an overlook, but I could only see the top half.

Palisades Overlook

I finally got Miko to look at me.  I had to trick her though - I took a picture when she was looking away and when she heard the camera click, she thought I was done picture-taking and looked at me. Sly little puppy.

Top part of Cedar Falls

I met a wonderful couple, who shall remain nameless, who had moved to Arkansas. We were talking around the campfire about traveling by RV to Canada and the gentleman said that he had a great deal of trouble getting into Canada – evidently Canada is a little touchy about letting people into their country with a police record. Never mind that the offense occurred over forty years ago. Never mind that it was a simple marijuana possession charge. Never mind that this gentleman had actually been pardoned by Governor Bill Clinton. Imagine, he actually had a piece of paper signed by the future president of the United States. I thought that was both a shame (Canada) and also very cool(Clinton).

I debated whether or not to hike the Cedar Falls Trail, which goes to the bottom of the Falls and was supposed to be the only way to see the Falls in all their glory. The trail was rated as strenuous and 'only those in good shape should attempt this hike'. The first half mile descends more than 200 feet down steps cut from rock by the CCC. This does not sound like my type of hiking. I wasn't too worried about the going down, it was the coming back up that had me worried. I decided to do it. What's the worst that could happen?

You had to be careful going down the first half mile. There was a lot of navigating down steep rocky switchbacks. I had to speak severely to Miko who forgot herself again in her never-ending lizard hunt and almost took us over the edge one time. Usually she is great on the trails, especially going downhill. She is quicker than I am going downhill and she knows that when she reaches the end of the leash, she needs to stop and wait for me to catch up. Otherwise she could pull me over flat on my face.

Once we got down the mountain, it was a lovely trail along the Cedar Creek until we got to the payload. Cedar Falls was beautiful. We sat down on a rock and just watched the water come down. It was cool and crisp and very idyllic. I found myself thinking “ok, when we get back, I've got to do this and I've got to do that and....” I had to tell myself to get back into the present moment. All that existed was these Falls – there was no past, there was no future. I ended up sitting there for maybe 45 minutes.  It was a piece of cake getting back up the mountain.  For some reason, it took me an hour to hike to the Falls and only 45 minutes to climb back out to the top. 

Cedar Falls - all 95 feet of them

For a little height perspective, check out the person/waterfall comparison. You could go behind the falls and this woman decided to do it. It must have been pretty cold based on how shrill her shrieking was.

There were two young women, Susie and Chloe, in their twenties, who were camped next to me. We decided to go out and hike the 4.5 mile Seven Hollows (it actually only goes through four Hollows) Trail the next day. They were very interesting women, both had been raised by missionary families – one grew up in Spain, the other grew up in Panama. They also were traveling nurses. Miko likes to lead and be in front, which meant that I was in front. I felt very conscious of the fact that I was about forty years older than them and I really didn't want to slow them down on this hike. I was really moving out. It was a little bit humid. Let's just say I moved quickly beyond the glow, into the perspiring stage and almost immediately into the sweating like a pig stage. I don't know when I've ever sweated so much. It was fun though, the trail was a fun one and getting to know these women was also interesting. We did talk religion, we were coming from totally different viewpoints and it was so nice to be able to talk about beliefs in a respectful interested way.

Chloe and Susie - it was great fun

Two thumbs up for Petit Jean. I would love to come back someday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Up To The Mountain

I moved up into the mountains to a little town called Mountain View. Mountain View bills itself as the Folk Music Center of the World. If you need to buy a dulcimer, this is the place for you. Usually, Mountain View has a population during the year of about 2500 but when Bean Fest happens, the population swells to over 30,000. The Arkansas also has a state park here which is called the Ozark Village State Park which was my primary draw.

The State Park is set up like a small village. Each of the buildings has some sort of Ozark craft focus where you can learn about various crafts. Did I mention that there was also a kindergarten class that was wandering around also, so some of the crafts I got to learn about on a kindergarten level which was actually fun because we got to do little hands on crafty things.

In between my kindergarten crafts, I spent a lot of time talking to the various artists. I especially enjoyed the candle maker. It looked like a lot of fun to make candles, she would dip strings into wax multiple times and then once everything had dried, she would dip them in different dyes. I decided that I need to be a candle maker.

Candle Making

There were also other buildings - this was the one room school house

I also enjoyed the Apothecary Shop, where I learned all about soap making. The woman said that it had been 15 years since she had used commercial soap on her hair or body. She talked about how it was pretty much a chemistry project, putting together different chemicals, melting them in a big pot and adding essential oils. If it didn't have Lye in it, it wasn't soap. I'm thinking I should start making soap.

The other fascinating shop I visited was a copper shop. They would take a piece of copper and they would paint with a mini blow torch. Depending on how hot the torch was and how long you kept it on the copper, that would determine the color. Yup, if I had any artistic talent, after my soap and candle making, I would be a copper painter.

I also visited a knife maker, weaver, glass blower and a potter. I guess I will have to put all of this on my to-do list.

Of course, the highlight of my visit was lunch. I had been wanting one of these like forever and finally the stars aligned. I had a Frito Pie. Does life get any better than this?

After being all crafty, I went home and picked up Miko. We were off for Blanchard Springs. The big draw in the area is Blanchard Caverns, but I really don't have much interest in going underground. It was too nice of a day and I had been promised a waterfall. This is a most excellent time to see waterfalls in Arkansas because of all of the heavy rain that we have had in the last few days, those waterfalls are gushing. Also because of the rain, the creeks have all overflowed their beds. The trail I was planning to take, went along the creek in a loop but I could only go down one size of the creek – there was no trail or way to cross the raging torrent.

I think that is a trail on the other side of the creek

Finally  A Water Fall!!!!

Bonus - another one!!!

Miko spent a lot of time chasing these guys

As I left town, I had to stop at the Conoco station in a little town of Leslie. When I entered Arkansas, way back when, the woman at the Welcome Center told me that this Conoco station makes the most fabulous chocolate rolls. They have this dough that they spread out flat and then smother it with chocolate, roll it up and then deep fry it. I walk in, stood in line, asked for them and the lady says – “how many? A dozen?” I took a deep breath and said sure. Gotta say, they are pretty incredible.

I ended up in a Corp of Engineer Park called Old Post Road Park. It had a nice dam and river but not a lot of charm. There was a soccer field there that had about 100 Canadian geese all lounging around. I thought about all those kids playing in all that goose poop and Miko told me that she could fix the problem. I looked around, there was nobody nearby and I let Miko go. She took off at warp speed and it was like one of those nature photo ops from National Geographic. One hundred geese all taking to the sky. I sure wish I had had my camera ready.

I also have learned about a terrible thing that Arkansas has. Something called Seed Ticks. Not so Fun Fact: The life cycle of a wood tick is composed of four states: egg, larval, nymphal and adult. The larval stage is also called Seed Ticks. They are super tiny, smaller than a deer tick and they attach themselves like a regular tick. A lot of times, you can feel them attach – they have super sharp biting heads. I speak from experience. They are so tiny that it is difficult to notice them, let alone get them off. It is Seed Tick season here in Arkansas.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Little Rock - It Actually Coulda Been Called Big Rock

I have arrived in Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas and I think it is also the biggest city in Arkansas. Little Rock was actually named because there was a little rock (which was actually a Big Rock) in the middle of the Arkansas River.  Go figure.   I've decided to go all urban and I'm staying at the Downtown Riverside RV park which is right across the Arkansas River from Little Rock in North Little Rock. I am almost right underneath the I30 Interstate bridge, but I'm right on the river and I have a pretty good view of downtown Little Rock. It is your traditional RV park with your neighbors right on top of you, but I guess I could say Location, Location, Location.

View out my front window of downtown Little Rock - see how close I am to the river

You can see my rig and Cooper right in front of the middle tree

Besides the interstate bridge, there are two other pedestrian bridges close by that cross the river. One is the Presidential bridge which goes from the RV park directly to the Clinton library. The other is called the Junction Bridge – an old railroad bridge that runs trains no more. Miko and I get up early and hike across the Presidential bridge and come back over the Junction Bridge. The Clinton library is having a special exhibition now called Xtreme Bugs. Took a picture of these two, weird thing is that if you get close enough to them, they start to move.

Sort of a strange thing to have at a Presidential Library

We then wandered through a sculpture garden – there are supposed to be about 70 sculptures here, I saw maybe 30. Don't know where the rest of them were.

Lord Featherwick

The beautiful sunny morning turned into three days of rain with a little bit of hail thrown in. Widespread flooding was predicted. I was a tad bit worried seeing as how I was so close to the river. I picked a certain spot on the bank of the river and decided that if the river rose above that point, I was outta there. Not to worry, the Arkansas River kept moving everything downstream.

I am quite the wine snob. I am getting a little short on wine and went online to see if I could find an upscale wine shop. All reviews pointed to this one market so I ran over there. Let's just say that the only thing I picked up there was in their cheese department and that was that southern favorite “Pimento Cheese”

On my list of NPS sites was the Little Rock Central High School. Over the years, I had seen some film segments about what happened, but did not know much about it. The visitor center was an excellent spot to learn more about what happened when the Little Rock Nine tried to desegregate the white school. The stories that I heard, I'm telling you -  it was horrifying what these kids went through. Amazing how strong they were and how mature. They are an example to us all.

The school itself was built in the mid 1920s at a cost of over a million dollars. Think about how much money that was in the twenties. It is an impressive school – today it houses 2500 students and all freshmen who start their high school years here are required to read a book called “Warriors Don't Cry” written by Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine.

Little Rock Central High School - On these steps the Little Rock Nine entered

I did go out to dinner with my diamond hunting partner Jan to a place called All Aboard.  Basic diner food, but once you order, you sit down and your food gets delivered by a train that runs on a track that circles the restaurant.  That was pretty cool, the first time you saw it.  Below is a video that shows a delivery being made.  I think to see it, you have to go to the MikoBoBiko website.

My view at night of the Presidential Bridge - the white blob on the right side is the Clinton Library

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In the Beginning of Arkansas

First stop in Arkansas is a sleepy little town in the southeast called Hope. President Clinton has famously said on the campaign trail “I still believe in a place called Hope”. Why, do you ask? The Prez was born in Hope and spent his early years there. This is a very small NPS site, in fact only about 11,000 people visited it in 2014.

What was sort of spooky about visiting this historical site was the fact that it was furnished just as when little Bill was there – in the late forties and early fifties. He had some of the same books and toys that we had when I was little. The house was very reminiscent of my grandparents' house. I guess I'm slowly moving into the historical category myself.

After spending a night at the fairgrounds in Hope, I moved onward to Crater of Diamonds State Park.
Crater of Diamonds is a 37 acre plowed field that is the eroded surface of the world's eighth largest diamond-bearing volcanic crater. You can go diamond hunting and if you find a diamond, it is yours to keep. I had visions of making it rich – what they don't tell you is that if you do find a large diamond, it will probably only be the size of a match head. Most of the diamonds found are smaller than that.

There were other things to do at the park - look at all this green on this trail

We had some rain and the Little Missouri flooded.  This is almost the same area where the green trail picture was taken

I was so lucky that I met this diamond-hunting maven named Jan. She had done this before and could show me the ropes. Jan was really an interesting woman – she was in the medical field and would contract out to different hospitals all over the country. Every three months she would move to a different part of the country where she wanted to work. What a great way to spend your working life.

So, this is how you go diamond hunting. First you put on icky old clothes because you are going to get dirty. Then you rent a “Basic Diamond Hunting Kit” for $12. It is a bucket, a shovel and a screen set. You trudge out into the mud, find a place where you feel lucky and fill your bucket with dirt and mud. You then trudge up to the Washing Sheds. You put your mud into the screen set and douse it in water, trying to wash all the loose mud out, leaving all the rocks and hopefully diamonds. Flip the rocks out onto a ledge and then go through all the rocks looking for little itty-bitty shiny rocks. And then repeat.

The Diamond Field

Jan showing us how to play in the water
After the first bucket load, I was pretty much done with the whole process. I did enjoy the playing in the water, so I would just rinse the rocks, dump them and then let Jan do all the intense look-see part. I figured if she found the rocks, she could keep them. I don't think diamond hunting is my cup of tea. There was one guy there who had been there for over a month and had found five diamonds. Another couple had been coming to the park for the past five years, a week at a time. Me – been there, done that.