Out And About In Arkansas

During our stay in Hot Springs, Arkansas we needed service work done on the RV several times. This meant leaving the trailer at the repair shop. Since we had to find temporary housing it was a great opportunity for some short “vacations”.

Our first trip was to Fort Smith, AR on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. We visited the Fort Smith National Historic site. Originally built as an Army fort on the far western frontier to protect settlers from Indian attacks and outlaws in 1817, it later became a federal courthouse and prison until it closed in 1896. There are exhibits on the U.S. Marshals, outlaws,  Judge Parker and the Trail of Tears. We’d hoped to return to participate in one of the trial re-enactments they hold there but didn’t make it. Fort Smith has one of the most unique Visitor Centers we’ve seen. It is in a former brothel. We thought we’d just stop in for a moment and look around. This is a slow time of year and the docent asked if we’d like a tour. So for the next 45 minutes we were entertained by the story of  “Miss Laura”, her girls and their gentlemen callers as well as the details of the house and how it became the Visitor Center.  Last on our list of places to visit was the home and museum of General William O. Darby who formed the special WWII unit eventually called the Army Rangers. This is privately run and hours very. When we were there the docent was one of the founders. Sensing an interested audience talked for almost two hours and displayed items in their collection not normally on display. We had to graciously depart or we would have been there a lot longer. We can’t find our pictures so these are from the internet.

Fort Smith NHS

“Miss Laura’s” As The Fort Smith VCB

Renovated To Its Former Style

“Gentleman” Waiting At Miss Laura’s










General Wm. O. Darby

Boyhood Home Of General Darby

The second trip took us to the north central part of the state near Harrison and the Buffalo River National Scenic Riverway. We rented a dog friendly cabin through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) at the same price as a motel room. We visited the Buffalo River National River, a NPS site although it was too chilly for on the water activities. We did a few short hikes and enjoyed the area. We are saying “when we come back” as it would be a fabulous place to paddle. Yes there are shuttles available if you like us have only one car. We also drove to the Mountain Home area to visit one of Steve’s uncles.

Buffalo River View

Imagine Paddling Here













Trip number three was at the end of our stay and we headed to Petit Jean SP. This was Arkansas’ first state park. Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service was consulted and you can see his influence in the lodge. It looks like a smaller version of the great park lodges of the west. The CCC did a lot of work here in the 1930s from building cabins (like the one we used), to a stone water tower, to furniture still in use at the lodge today.  For those who can do a strenuous hike there is a beautiful waterfall. We plan to return some day and use the excellent campground. The story of Petit Jean, a young woman who stole aboard ship to be near her beloved but pretended to be the cabin boy.  A favorite of the crew “he” was nicknamed Petit John. Not until “he” became ill was it discover she was a female. She died and is buried at the park overlooking the Arkansas River.

A Beautiful Place To Hike

Overlooking The Arkansas River At Petit Jean SP










Steve and Opal At PJSP


Our Cabin

Exploring A Cave











Some day trips took us to Mt. Magazine SP, the highest point in Arkansas. This park also has a beautiful lodge and some of the cabins come with hot tubs! We are very impressed by the state parks we have seen in Arkansas. On our way there we stopped at Hickory Nut Overlook for a great view of Lake Ouachita and Ouachita National Forest. Another trip took us to the Lum & Abner Museum. I don’t remember this radio program but a friend of mine does who was raised in Arkansas. They were local “class clowns” who entered a local station’s talent contest making up the characters of Lum and Abner from Pine Ridge on their way there. Like Andy Griffith they used their home town area and people they knew in the routine. They became regulars and later went on to be syndicated. The store they featured in the program is now the museum. It is full of L&A artifacts and implements from early years in the Ozarks.

Lum And Abner Store And Museum

Lum And Abner In Real Life And In Character









Museum Inside



Ozark Women Wore Corn Husk Hats To Work Outside











Heading south we visited Hope, AR, and the NPS site, boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. Arkansas loves Bill Clinton. Hot Springs is where he graduated from High School. There is a big sign letting you know it. Apparently, another claim to fame for this small town was the world’s largest watermelon. Now although surpassed several times, the sign still brags about the event. I had to stop and take a photo of a bit of roadside humor photography at a local grocery. The name of the town is Hope for a reason as it has seen better days and is hoping for a recovery.

Bill Clinton’s Birthplace

On A Ranger Led Tour











A Town Named Hope

They’re Proud Of That Melon

Make You Hungry?

We made several day trips to Little Rock to visit Heifer International Headquarters, The McArthur Museum, eat at Cotham’s Mercantile, tour the Arkansas Capitol and return to Central High NHS since we’d missed the ranger led tour when we were there in 2014. Steve’s Mom has been donating to Heifer International in lieu of giving Christmas gifts for the past several years. We were very impressed with both the philosophy of the organization and its totally green headquarters. For history buffs the Mc Arthur Museum is a treasure. This is where General Douglas McArthur was born. Right next door is the Arkansas Art Museum where we viewed early works by Ansel Adams. If you are going for lunch at the original Cotham’s Mercantile (there is a new one in town), do get there early. It gets busy by noon. They’re famous for the Hubcap Hamburger. Free tours of the Capitol give you an overview of state history and government. It is the only state that let’s you enter the vault and hold on to a big pile of cash. They do insist you give it back though! For anyone wanting to have an “in the moment” experience of what Civil Rights in the 1960s was all about should take the ranger led tour at Central High NHS. Since Central High is still used as a high school the tours  inside are available only when school is in session and very restricted hours. You need to call ahead and claim a spot but the tour is free.

Heifer International Museum

Heifer International Green Headquarters










Mc Arthur Museum

Korean War Memorial










Arkansas State Capitol

Stained Glass At The Capitol

Show Me The Money!












Inside Cotham’s Mercantile












Would You Eat Here?

We had a wonderful and busy three months in Arkansas and still didn’t see everything we wanted to see or do. So as we like to say… “When we come back…”

Starting Our Summer At Flaming Gorge NRA

Canyon, Flaming Gorge

Firehole Canyon On Wyoming Side Of Flaming Gorge

We drove from Fuita, Colorado to the Ashley National Forest in northeastern Utah where we will be volunteering at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The drive through the mountains just north of Fruita was beautiful as was the drive from Moab through Vernal. Much of this route is part of the Dinasaur Diamond National Scenic Byway. We reached a maximum height of 8500 feet. We are planning a third trip to Fruita as there is still much to explore.

In Vernal we headed north on US 191 also known as the Uintas-Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway. If we hadn’t been pulling the trailer we’d have pulled over at the many overlooks and interpretive signs detailing the geology of the area. The area is known for its geology and paleontology. Dinosaur National Monument is only an hour and a half away and Vernal has a museum that’s part of University of Utah’s paleontology collection. As you drive north you pass from the youngest geological layers to the oldest ones at a billion years old. There are 10 switchbacks and several 5-8% grades but we had no trouble even with the new 40’ rig.

Red Canyon, Flaming Gorge, Ashley National Forest

Red Canyon From The Rim Trail

We arrived at the Red Canyon Complex where 15 RV volunteers will be housed in RVs and a duplex. We settled in. The volunteers work in different areas of the forest from fee collection/boat ramp management, the historic Swett Ranch and the Red Canyon Visitor Center. The USFS provides us with an RV site and full hookups, uniforms including pants and reimbursement for propane and mileage. We are even being given 350 miles to explore the area so we can talk knowledgeably to visitors.

Steve At Dowd Mountain Overlook

Steve At Dowd Mountain Overlook

Uinta mountains, landscape

Snow Capped High Uintas Wildness

As if that’s not enough they provide a day on the river at Volunteer Appreciation Day. Our days off will be spent driving scenic back roads, hiking, paddling/rafting and fishing. Besides the reservoir there are some 600 lakes in the Uintas (pronounced U – win – taz) although only a few are accessible by car. There are numerous campgrounds and lots of dispersed camping in these, Utah’s highest and oldest mountains. Last winter was the snowiest one on record in 25 years so the High Uinta Wilderness with peaks to 13,000 feet still have four feet of snow. In anticipation of the melting snow the dam began releasing water from the reservoir to the Green River at 6600-8600 cu. ft./sec. for 24 hours a day for at least two weeks. A float trip on section A of the river that normally takes 2.5 hours now takes just 45 minutes. Quite a show.

Flaming Gorge Dam Releasing Water

Flaming Gorge Dam Releasing Water

Green River Below The Dam

Green River Below The Dam




So far we have walked a portion of the Canyon Rim Trail, climbed the historic Ute Fire Tower (just reopened after being closed for 8 years), visited Dowd Mountain Overlook, driven Sheep Creek Geological Loop and the Red Cloud Scenic Backway, toured Flaming Gorge Dam, visited the Utah Natural History Field House, observed a cattle branding at Swett Ranch and put the kayaks in the water once. Is it any wonder we’re behind in posting? Weather for our first 2 weeks was cool and rainy. Now temperatures have warmed up with sunny days but pleasantly cool nights. This is going to be a fabulous summer.

wildlife, pronghorn

Pronghorn In Aptly Named Antelope Canyon

Bighorn sheep

Rams Rest Under A Tree At The Volunteer village



Heading South To Tucson

Arizona, Tucson, Saguaro NP

Saguaro National Park Panorama

With the DreamChaser back in one piece we turned south toward Tucson and prime snowbird country. While at PEFO Steve had made contact with two visitors from the Tucson area who volunteer at Saguaro National Park. We’d followed up with them and had made plans to visit. They’d give us a personal tour of the park and had even agreed to let us use their address for a mail delivery. We chose Patagonia State Park which is a bit south as closer in parks were booked. OK. I hate it when people use a blog or other social media to expound their views but I do have a complaint about Reserve America. They aren’t accurate in describing campsites. So you arrive and find (as we did here) that the 60′ site you booked is halfway down a 30 degree hill! We got into the site but keeping us on the level portion meant our slides barely missed trees, the campfire ring and a wall. Even at that we we not level. Reluctantly we closed up and headed to the nearest Walmart as the park was booked. Exiting the site we scraped going downhill and knocked our spare tire out of it’s holder. So while Steve crawled under the trailer, I cranked the holder down so he could push the tire back into place. So we spent the night uneventfully in Nogales on the US/Mexican border.

The next day we felt lucky when we  located a private park about ten miles away that had open sites. As we drove in we had our doubts but beggars can’t be choosers. We paid and drove to our site only to find our neighbor partially blocking the entrance and not home to move his car. The only other open site might have worked if it weren’t for the corner of a building sticking out just where we would be swinging wide to get in. Back to the office for a refund. Now what? We finally located an upscale RV Resort park at more than twice our normal fee. This is the type of place where people come and park for months. All blacktop, ten feet or less between rigs and very poor facilities for anyone who needs to walk a pet. We reluctantly decided to stay. While it isn’t our cup of tea we had a few good days in the area and finally met up with our hosts. Later we learned about a lovely county campground that does not take reservations and would have been a better solution. Live and learn!

Saguaro National Park consists of two sections. The second section was added when the iconic saguaro cactus in the original park were failing and it was feared they’d disappear. Then scientists discovered that the cattle grazing being allowed was the cause. Turns out the cattle were eating and/or trampling the nurse trees that young saguaro need to protect them. After the saguaro get to near full size the nurse tree (usually mesquite) dies. Ungrateful kids! After grazing was prohibited in the 1970s, the saguaro have made a wonderful comeback. We took the scenic drive and had a picnic. Along the way we learned that saguaros live to age 150 but don’t develop their iconic “arms” until after age 60. With mountains ringing the city of Tucson and the lush Sonoran desert fresh after winter rains the park put on a glorious show. While we didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked this is a park we’ll visit again and see in more detail.

Sonoran Desert, cactus. octillo

Sonoran Desert Beauty

An Iconic Saguaro

An Iconic Saguaro


















With only three days remaining in the area we packed in a lot making visits to a Titan Missile museum, Tumacacori National Historic Site and the Sonoran Desert Museum. The Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining site of this type. For those of us who grew up during the Cold War era and did Duck and Cover Drills all through elementary school it brought back memories. Entrance to the site is via tour only. Our guide was excellent and we learned a lot.

Titan Missile, Cold War

In The Control Room

Looking Down The Silo

Looking Down The Silo










Tumacacori, Spanish Mission, history

Tumacacori National Historic Site

Tumacacori National Historic Site is one of the early missions established by the Spanish as they explored and settled the southwest. Here we learned that in 1736 silver was discovered nearby. Juan Bautista de Anza was sent to investigate whether the silver was a natural vein or a buried treasure. If natural the King of Spain would get 20% and if a buried treasure the entire amount would go to the Spanish treasury. During the investigation de Anza stayed at a ranch called Arizona, a Basque word meaning the Good Oak Tree. After ten years he found the silver to be natural. Due to the numerous mining documents filed here the entire area became known as Arizona. When promoters needed a name indicating great mineral wealth for a new territory they chose Arizona. Lincoln established the Arizona Territory in 1863.

Tumacacori served as a mission, a fort and a pueblo for priests, soldiers and Native Americans. The Apache migrated into the area shortly after the silver strike. The region’s wealth attracted raiding parties until Geronimo was arrested about four miles away.

Tumacacori Chapel

Tumacacori Chapel

Tumacacori As Fort

Tumacacori As Fort











Tumacacori As Pueblo

Tumacacori As Pueblo

Mission Cemetery

Mission Cemetery










On our last day in the Tucson area we went to the Sonoran Desert Museum. It was Presidents Day and very crowded. This is a botanical garden, a zoo, an aviary, an art gallery and a wildlife performance venue all wrapped up in one. A day is not enough to take it all in. We will definitely be back when hopefully we can roam freely. They do a raptor flight show twice a day. Lesson learned… get there early or be stuck fighting to see. I felt like a five year old yelling “I can’t see, I can’t see!” Sure wish Steve could have put me on his shoulders. No Way! Here are a few pictures to give you an overview.

Butterfly On Verbena

Butterfly On Verbena

Color Contrast

Color Contrast











Crested Saguaro

Crested Saguaro







The Desert In Bloom

The Desert In Bloom









My Name Is Boojum

My Name Is Boojum




Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren













In The Hummingbird Aviary

In The Hummingbird Aviary

Cardinal Posing In Another Aviary

Cardinal Posing In Another Aviary











Lizard Sunbathing

Lizard Sunbathing


















Raptor Flight Show

Raptor Flight Show







Owl During Flight Show

Owl During Flight Show

We’ll end with a bit of roadside humor from a bumper sticker we saw…………………..

bumper sticker humor





















What Else Can They Do With Rock #1? City of Rocks National Reserve

City of Rocks National Reserve, rock climbing, scenery, hiking

One Of The Less Well Known NPS Sites

When we took our retirement trip in 2010 to Utah we were amazed at how many varieties and shapes of rock we saw. The phrase “what else can they do with rock?” became a common question. We are continuing to find ourselves saying this as we travel through other parts of the west. Our last stop in Idaho for this year is just one example.

We left Boise and headed south and east to the small town of Almo, Idaho and Castle Rock State Park which is adjacent to City of Rocks National Reserve. We’ve been to a national preserve but didn’t know the definition of a reserve. It was explained to us that the National Park Service oversees the area administratively and participates in decisions but the Idaho State Parks supply manpower and management.

A Panorama Of The Area

A Panorama Of The Area

When we arrived at Castle Rock SP we headed for our reserved site but ran into a new glitch. The site was still occupied. Steve checked and there was no car and no occupants. So we pulled off the road and went in search of the Camp Host. She offered us another site in the equestrian portion of the campground but if we really wanted the reserved site the park would arrange to tow the other trailer away. The alternative site was lovely so we took that one. We never did find out why the people hadn’t vacated on time. Our Camp Host, Dottie, was a very interesting woman. She is a solo RVer and rock climber who was one of the first woman blackjack dealers in Las Vegas. Each winter she goes to Mexico where she and two other woman (a retired professor from Columbia University and a native New Zealander)  have built an animal rescue and spay facility called Fiona Animal Rescue of Hidalgo to deal with the severe overpopulation and mistreatment of domestic animals in the area. To read more about this worthy effort go to http://www.potreropups.org.

fall color

Fall Color At City Of Rocks

City of Rocks National Reserve is one of the newer National Park sites offering stunning granite formations, overlapping biological regions for 750 plants and animals, world class rock climbing, 22 miles of hiking trails, photography sites and one of the best preserved locations on the California Trail. The park offers training in basic rock climbing with their Rock Climbing Ranger. Nearby is the Sawtooth National Forest with more beautiful scenery, lakes and campgrounds. We spent the first two days driving and walking among the spires and formations. Dogs are allowed on the trails so Opal enjoyed seeking out trails of pioneer dogs.

Replicas Of Pioneer Wagons

Replicas Of Pioneer Wagons



A "Cityscape" In Granite

A “Cityscape” In Granite







architecture, homestead

1890s Homestead Ruins




rock climbing

Rock Climbers Love This Park








Old Man In The Rock

Old Man In The Rock








rock formations

Steve Standing By Rock Formation











Latter in the week we had an opportunity to go on a two hour tour with the park archeologist, Kristin. The tour is listed in the park brochure but must be scheduled ahead. She is an excellent guide and provided many stories about the history of the California Trail and people who had left their signatures on Camp Rock and Register Rock. The park is working on a booklet about these people. Hopefully it will be available next year. Most of the signatures were written in axle grease but a few were carved into the rock. We learned that axle grease had come in many colors; red, green and even yellow so that at one time these rocks were very colorful. Now time and weather has made them uniform and in some cases difficult to read. Some 200,000 settlers passed through City of Rocks along the California Trail making this the largest emigrant movement in the world. One of the best known formations is The Twin Sisters because it could be easily spotted by the pioneers at a distance.

A Homesteader's Signature

A Homesteader’s Signature

One Of The Women Who Passed This Way

One Of The Women Who Passed This Way










A Traveler's Sketch

A Traveler’s Sketch

The Twin Sisters

The Twin Sisters

Today the town of Almo remains a very small ranching community where the general store still serves as the post office just as it has since the 1890s. If you come here, plan on bringing all your groceries with you as the nearest large grocery is an hour plus away. For non-campers there is a resort and motel and a few local restaurants.

Idaho, old photo, general store

Old Photo Of Almo General Store

Our drive into the Sawtooth National Forest turned up a few more interesting rock formations and great Fall scenery. We found two NFS campgrounds with good accessibility and suitable for our trailer so we added them to our GPS database. Even though they are dry camp areas we would enjoy a few days of fishing and hiking here. There is a wonderful scenic overlook at the top of Cache Peak. The Raft River below and the peak were named by Peter Skeen Ogden, a fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1826. The river was so named because beavers had it dammed and it could only be crossed by raft. Cache Peak got it’s name because it served as a landmark for trappers as to where they had cached their pelts. There is one overlook where you can see the location of a WWII aircraft training flight wreck. If you look closely you can still see a tire lying there.

fall foliage, Sawtooth NF

Sawtooth NF Early Fall Foliage


Painted With Lichen














A Landscape That Looks Like A Painting










rainbow in rock

A Rainbow Of Color In Rock



Can You See The Elephant?

Can You See The Elephant?


View From Cache Peak

View From Cache Peak

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever












Two other National Park sites were within an hour’s drive; Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site. When we put them into the GPS we didn’t realize they shared the same Visitor Center. so when we looked at the directions from one location to the other the GPS said “Drive six feet”. Who says machines don’t have a sense of humor. The Hagerman Fossil Beds are an extensive area of fossils along the Snake River Plain near Twin Falls, Idaho. The most famous are those of a herd of the earliest known horses called the Hagerman horse (Equus Simpicidens). They are more closely related to the Grevy’s zebra of Kenya and Ethiopia than the modern horse. Other fossils found here include mastodon and saber-toothed tigers. The small visitor center has good displays however the actual fossil sites are closed to the public. You can also see original wagon ruts of the California Trail passing close to the fossil beds.


Meet The Hagerman Horse



Snake River Canyon From Twin Falls Bridge

Snake River Canyon From Twin Falls Bridge












The Minidoka NHS was established in 2001 and tells the story about internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I found the story and site to be moving, disturbing and educational. To realize that an entire segment of our population could be rounded up, deprived of their Civil Rights and freedom and imprisoned is shocking. It just shows what fear can do. Racial prejustice was already known to the immigrant Japanese (Issei) because as resident aliens they were prevented from owning land or obtaining citizenship. Their American born children (Nisei) were citizens. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor hostility increased and all people of Japanese ancestry were treated as spies and saboteurs. The impetus for internment was Executive Order 9066  in February 1942 which gave military commanders the power to exclude any persons from designated areas to secure national defense objectives. While the order could have been applied to anyone it was primarily used to remove 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast. Within five months ten relocation centers were built with 7,100 people being relocated to Minidoka. Here they faced barbed wire fences, armed guards and restricted movement. Faced with poorly constructed barracks and sanitation they had to endure temperatures from -21 to 104. However this was a resourceful group who went on to create gardens, publish a newspaper and create musical groups. Minidoka became almost a self sustaining community. By the time the camp closed in 1945 the residents had cleared and cultivated 950 acres of land. A questionnaire was used to determine loyal internees from dissenters. If they answered No to willingness to serve in the US Armed Forces in combat and to foreswear allegiance to Japan they were shipped to Tule Lake Camp in California. Minidoka became the camp for loyal internees. Minidoka had the largest number of men volunteering for military service. The 442nd combat unit served in France and Italy and had two Medal of Honor recipients. When the camp closed the newly reclaimed land was sold by lottery. Most of the former camp land remains privately owned today. A few structures from the original camp remain hopefully to keep this from ever happening again.

One Of The Remaining Structures At Minidoka NHS

One Of The Remaining Structures At Minidoka NHS

Minidoka Camp 1942-1945

Minidoka Camp 1942-1945












Replica Of Guard Tower

Replica Of Guard Tower

Turning The Desert Into A Garden

Turning The Desert Into A Garden












The 442nd In Europe

The 442nd In Europe










With this we leave Idaho for this trip and head for Utah. There is so much more to see we will definitely be back!


A Rocking Good Time In Little Rock – Part 1

After spending Easter weekend with relatives in Corinth, MS we cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas. The Dreamchaser is finally heading west. Our first stop will be in the state capitol, Little Rock, and from here we’ll make several day trips. Our “home base” for the next few days will be a COE park called Maumelle. As with all of the COE parks it is beautifully arranged. The sites are placed along the Arkansas River. Our Interagency Senior Pass gives us a 50% discount too.

Bill Clinton, U. S. President, Little Rock

Main Display Hall At Clinton Presidential Library

In keeping with our attempt to see all Presidential homes and libraries we head into town to the Clinton Presidential Library. We spot the museum store and grab a free parking spot nearby. After purchasing a lapel pin we walk three blocks to the library. There is parking at the library but it’s a gorgeous spring day for a walk. There is a large city park along the river and we note it has a wonderful bike path. Already we’re talking about coming back! We arrive just in time to purchase tickets for a tour. We highly recommend you take the tour. Our docent guide was excellent. We first went up to the second floor into a mock up of the Cabinet Room and then on to the main exhibit hall. Floor to ceiling bookcases house most of the papers from the Clinton Presidency. There are many more in storage off site. The panels running down the center feature main events by year. If you are interested in exploring a particular event in depth there are alcoves perpendicular to the main panels that have detailed information. On the third floor are exhibits of White House china, gifts from foreign countries, White House Christmas decorations and other memorabilia, a mock up of the Clinton Oval Office and a special exhibit room. There were special exhibits about Presidential pets and a traveling exhibit from the Spy Museum in Washington, D. C. called Terrorists, Saboteurs and Spies.

tour, Clinton Library

On Tour Of Clinton Library In The Cabinet Room

Presidential campaign, Clinton

Clinton Campaign Photo










photography, Clinton

The Clinton’s At Home

Oval Office, Clinton

Mock Up Of Clinton Oval Office










gifts from foreign countries, Japan

Priceless Jade Sculpture From Japan

Saturday Night Live, Clinton

Puppet Of Clinton Used On Saturday Night Live










Chilhuly, Christmas tree, White House

White House Christmas Tree By Dale Chihuly








White House china, Clinton

A Set Of White House China Used During The Clinton Administration



Olympic Torch, Atlanta

Olympic Torch From 1996 Atlanta Games








Clinton's Presidential Limosine

Clinton’s Presidential Limosine










collage, campaign buttons

Clinton Campaign Buttons

From there we walked to the Old State House which is now a museum. The building has been restored and offers a crash course in Arkansas history.

museum, Old State House, Arkansas

Restored Old State House Museum In Little Rock

One of the most interesting events displayed was about the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874. The gubernatorial race of 1872 between Joseph Brooks and Elisha Baxter was contested. In 1874 a small group of men following Brooks entered the State House and evicted Baxter. Within hours crowds supporting both sides gathered and federal troops were placed between them to prevent bloodshed. The uprising last a bit over a month during which the Brooks contingent occupied the building with artillery. The building sustained a lot of damage. Governor Baxter finally retook the State House and his office.

Another interesting episode occurred in the early 1900s after the new State House was built. The Secretary of State was attempting to fill the building with tenants and offered University of Arkansas Medical Department space rent free. The human cadaver dissection and anthrax studies requiring animals to be kept on the property were not popular with other tenants. However, the federally funded Crossett Experiment which led to the control of the Anopheles mosquito and malaria was headquartered in the building in 1916.

Mary Stenbergen

Mary Stenbergen With Her Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

Dale Evans

Dale Evans









Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash Poster










Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton

Of a more modern theme a special exhibit called Arkansas Stars featured stars of movies, recordings and television who were from Arkansas. These names should sound familiar: Mary Stenbergen, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Billy Bob Thornton and Dale Evans. Of special interest to the Maier family who watch “A Christmas Story” every year is Melinda Dillon who played the role of the mother in that holiday classic.

A Christmas Story

It’s Italian. It’s Fra-gee-lee












Best Of Times, Worst Of Times In Key West

Off we go to the southernmost point on the continental US, Key West, Florida. Finding an RV site nearby was a challenge.  We really wanted to stay at Bahia Honda State Park but that’s like winning the lottery. So we reluctantly settled for a commercial park, Boyd’s Campground, on Stock Island just north of Key West. This turned out to be every reason we hate commercial parks: overcrowded, expensive, unpleasant neighborhood and noisy. Had it been just us, we might have cancelled and walked away from our deposit but we had a good friend from Charlotte flying in to join us.

Boyds Campground in Key West

Too Close For Comfort

The site we were given was so tight that it took three park employees to guide Steve in and at least twenty back and forth moves to get in place. At one point our rig was so close to a palm tree that only the fronds kept us from rubbing against the trunk. If the site across from us hadn’t been empty we would never have gotten in. Once in our site, the box on the rear was in the bushes. We couldn’t have gotten our bikes off even if we wanted to ride them. The site was unpaved and unlevel. The “sitting area” barely held three chairs and our slide was only 18″ from our neighbor’s sewer connection. Oh yes, to add to the ambiance we were in the flight path for the Key West International Airport and Boca Chica Naval Air Station where they train the Top Gun pilots. The surrounding neighborhood was industrial buildings mixed with rundown mobile home parks (slums). Finding a place to walk Opal was a challenge for sure.  All this for four time so what we normally pay.

Having gotten most of “the bad” covered, we’ll go on to the “the best” part.

birds, Audubon, Key West

Audubon Print Of White Crowned Pigeon

birds, Audubon, print

Original Audubon Print Of A Cormorant

Key West today is geared to tourists but still has the flavor of bygone pirate and starving artist days mixed with “Margaritaville” and grand old homes. When you find a parking place (all are paid spaces) you stay there and walk…and walk…and walk. One of our first stops was the Audubon House. John James Audubon stayed here during his trip through Florida in 1832. At that time the property was owned by a wealthy harbor pilot and master wrecker, John H. Geiger. The property remained in the family for four generations but fell into disrepair by 1958 as the family fortune dwindled. When the last owner, a Howard Hughes type of recluse, died the property was scheduled for demolition. Through the efforts of a local benefactor the property was restored and now showcases life circa 1850 with eighteen original Audubon prints on display. One, the white crowned pigeon, was painted using the tree that still stands in the front yard. This painting had special memories for me as my Mother, an avid bird lover, had this print and the one of wild turkeys in the dining room of my childhood home. The gardens around the house are beautiful and a wonderful introduction to subtropical plants of the area. There is a brief docent lecture then you continue on a self-guided tour. Photography is allowed but no flash inside the home.

Audubon, Key West

Audubon’s Workshop

Audubon, garden, orchid, photography

Orchid In bloom In Audubon House Garden

Audubon, garden, fern

Backside Of Fern Leaf In Audubon House Garden

bromeliads, garden, Key West

Bromeliads In Bloom In Audubon House Garden

Key West, Mel Fisher, museum

Mel fisher Museum In Key West

Stop number two was the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum. Located in an old firehouse near the cruise ship pier it is a must see stop for anyone who has ever dreamed of finding buried treasure. Two ships of the Spanish treasure fleet, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were enroute from Havana to Spain in 1622 laden with gold and silver bars, coins and wealthy colonial passengers.  Their treasure was desperately needed by the royal treasury to offset the cost of the Thirty Years War and Court expenses. The two ships carried over a million and a half pesos which in today’s dollars would be over 400 million. The Atocha was fitted with twenty cannon and sailed in last position.  The fleet sailed in September, six weeks late, at the height of hurricane season. Caught in a storm just off present day Key West they sank taking their treasure with them. Of 265 passengers only five survived. The Atocha treasure would not see the light of day until relocated by Mel Fisher and his team on July 20, 1985, sixteen long years after the search started. If you want to read more about Mel Fisher or the treasure ships visit http://www.melfisher.com. If you are a certified scuba diver perhaps your bucket list would include the vacation package to dive The Atocha.

Atocha, sunken treasure

Photo Of Diver At Atocha Treasure Site

Mel Fisher, Spanish Treasure Fleet

Drawing of Mel Fisher At Work

For us landlubbers, a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum must suffice. There you will find conserved artifacts of gold, silver, porcelain, emeralds and religious items along with maps and photos of the recovery site. But we went further than just seeing the artifacts behind glass. We took the behind the scenes tour to the conservation lab. It costs ten dollars in addition to museum entry and is offered Monday-Friday. Schedule your visit ahead as only small groups are taken into the lab on each tour.

shipwreck, treasure, museum, behind the scenes, tour

Artifacts In Conservation Lab Tank

conservation lab, Mel Fisher museum

A Cast Being Made From A Horseshoe

shipwreck, artifact, tour

Tour Guide With Brain Coral Encrusted Hammer Artifact

No visit to Key West is complete without playing tourist as you stand in line waiting to take a picture of yourself at the Southernmost Point in the USA Marker. While there we learned about the cable hut in the same location. This was transported to Key West by Flagler’s railroad. Its job was to protect the connection between the land line and the 125 mile underwater telegraph line between Key West and Havana, Cuba.

Old Town is filled with funky shops, restaurants, sidewalk vendors and the ever present Key West chickens. Everyone gathers at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier for the spectacular orange sky sunsets.

Southernmost Point, Key West, Florida

Chari And Steve At The Southernmost Point

Key West ,Telegraph

Telegraph Cable Hut

lighthouse, Key West

Key West Lighthouse

KW Street Musician (aka "No, I don't know where you can get pot!."

KW Street Musician (aka “No, I don’t know where you can get pot!.”

museum, Key West

Hustle And Bustle In Old Town Key West

Key West, Mallory Square

Pier At Mallory Square In The Evening

jet ski, Key West

Jet Skis Along Harbor In Key West

Old Town Key West Evening

Old Town Key West Evening

Key West Cigar Store Indian

Key West Cigar Store Indian

sunset, Key WestView From Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Everyone Crowds Sunset Pier

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

Chari And Steve Swimming In January At Bahia Honda SP

The Wharf, Florida Keys, restaurant

Steve At The Wharf

To give ourselves a break from walking, we took a day and drove to Bahia Honda State Park. This is the closest state park to Key West and Florida’s most visited state park. The water temperature was listed as 73 but oh it felt a lot cooler than that going over your stomach. However we were not going to come to the Keys and not go in the water. Mind over matter!! Once in it wasn’t bad at all. We drove over to the campground and checked it out for future visits. On our way out we asked the gate volunteer for a restaurant suggestion. He said a place called The Wharf was good. We can second that. After a relaxing day on the beach a good meal on an outdoor terrace was the cherry on the sundae. We even watched an iguana have dinner on leftover veggies from the restaurant.

iguana, Florida Keys

Iguana Joined Us For Dinner

More sightseeing took us to the Truman Little White House and Ernest Hemingway’s home. The Truman Little White House is located in the Truman Annex neighborhood of upscale homes and condos in Old Town Key West. Originally the home was built as officer quarters for a submarine base. Although it bears Truman’s name because he visited here more than any other President he was not the only President to come here. President Taft came enroute to his inspection tour of the Panama Canal. Taft was known for his love of driving the countryside. Each year the museum crafts an original Christmas ornament. One year it used the car Taft drove loaded with presents.  Thomas Edison stayed for 6 months while developing new weapon systems. FDR visited here several times. The Department of Defense was created here by the Key West Agreement. President Eisenhower stayed here to recuperate from his heart attack in late 1955-early 1956. President Kennedy visited twice in 1961 and 1962. The base was closed in 1974. Other Presidents who have stayed here after their term of office include Presidents Carter and Clinton. The property was deeded to the State of Florida and opened as a museum and historic site in 1990. A list of the most popular Presidents was posted and Truman ranked #5 after Lincoln, Washington, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. Rounding out the top ten were Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Regan. Bringing up the five least popular were Harding, Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and  Buchanan. We were given guest passes because of our connection with Dr. Watson that we mentioned in an earlier post. The tour was very informative. Having read Truman’s biography, we enjoyed our visit very much.

Truman, Key West

Truman At Dedication Of Everglades NP 1947

Truman, Little White House

Truman At Little White House

Kennedy, Hugh McMillan, Key West

Kennedy And McMillan Meet In Key West

Jimmy Carter, Key West

The Carters Spend Christmas At Little White House

Our last sightseeing stop was at the Hemingway House. This was the best tour we took. The stories the guide told were funny and informative. Hemingway was an enigmatic character: handsome, hard drinking, outdoorsman and philanderer. His books are classics as are the movies made from them. His home is also the home of over thirty six toed cats. One of the stories told is about the cat’s water bowl. Hemingway was a frequent face at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. When the bar moved from its original location he brought home a urinal from the bar stating “he’d pissed enough of his money down it to buy it.” His then third wife took it and after cleaning it up made it the cat’s water dish. Another story relates to a penny buried in concrete at the home. When his wife (can’t remember if it was number 2 or 3) installed a pool over his objection he threw a penny into the concrete saying she now had his last cent. This visit made me want to read more about Hemingway and his books.

Hemingway, author

Portrait Of Hemingway At Age 35

Hemingway's Writing Studio

Hemingway’s Writing Studio

The Hemingway House In Key West

The Hemingway House In Key West

Hemingway, Old Man And The Sea

A Painting Of Hemingway’s Old Man And The Sea

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

The Unique Garden Fountain And Cat Water Bowl

We decided to have dinner at Sloppy Joe’s and enjoyed the fish tacos and nachos but the key lime pie was terrible. It was prepackaged and the sugar wasn’t dissolved giving it a granular texture. Find your key lime pie elsewhere. Be sure to locate the web cams and call a friend who can go online and see you.

restaurant, Key West

Restaurant Poster At Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe's, restaurant

Sloppy Joe’s Is A Key West Icon

Hemingway, Sloppy Joe's

Painting Of Hemingway Fishing

restaurant, sailfish

Mounted Sailfish At Sloppy Joe’s

Now we return to “the bad” part of our visit. Steve had realized that Boyd’s Campground was so crowded we would not be able to exit following the proper direction of the road. That should speak a bundle about the poor design and crowded conditions at Boyd’s. We spoke to two employees who after looking at the situation agreed we’d need to go out the “IN” route. They said “don’t worry, we’ll get you out OK. We do it all the time.” The next morning when we were ready to leave we got them to assist us. One man drove a golf cart ahead to make sure no one entered while we were exiting. The other employee walked ahead of our RV and at each and every turn faced our rig and gave Steve verbal and hand signals to ease us through the tight turns. We’d made it to the last turn but there were times we’d missed cars by just inches. The last turn took us out of the campground and past the office. There were two RVs parked on the left in the waiting area and another car parked on the right at the laundry. This forced us to make a sharper turn than we would have preferred. At no time did the employees try to open up space by asking the RVs to back up, move the parked car or ask campers to move the cars in front of their rigs parked just inches from the road.  Any one who knows anything about trailers knows the tighter the turn the more the rear end of the trailer will swing. We were 90% through the turn when we heard the sickening sound of metal scraping. The right corner of the box on the back of our trailer had sideswiped a car. We stopped of course. Police were called but no citation given because the accident occurred on private property. We claim that we were under the direction of the park employee and that the park is at fault for not giving enough clearance for safe exit. They are claiming no responsibility. How this will end is unknown. We can only warn anyone considering a stay at this park, DO NOT COME!

RV accident, Boyd's Campground, RV parks Key West

Running The Gauntlet Through Boyd’s Campground

RV accident

RVs To The Left Of Us

RV accident

Cars on The Right Of Us

RV accident, Boyd's Campground

All We Needed Was A Few Inches To Get Through Safely

Happy 500th Birthday Florida!

Happy Birthday, Florida!

Happy Birthday, Florida!

It is April 2, 1513 and a Spanish galleon lies just off the coast of a new land. A smaller boat brings a landing party ashore. The first Spaniard, Don Juan Ponce de Leon, will step foot on what soon will be called the Treasure Coast.  He claims this new land for Spain and names it La Florida, land of flowers. Although others have come to America’s shores this is the first time anyone has made a claim in the name of a country. La Florida covers most of the North American continent. Over the next three centuries Spanish, French, British, Confederate and USA flags will fly and lay their claims.

Five centuries later millions of people inhabit the state of Florida. For the next three months we will be Floridians. Since this is the 500 year anniversary, it seems only right that we begin our first snowbird winter in North America’s oldest, continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine. We will spend the next eight days at Anastasia State Park. The park is located on Anastasia Island just across Matanzas Bay via the beautiful Bridge of Lions and Route A1A.

Google Earth, Florida, St. Augustine

Google Earth Map of St. Augustine and Area

St. Augustine was not, however, Spain’s first attempt to colonize La Florida. There had been six previous attempts. The French were successful in establishing a fort, Fort Caroline, approximately 50 miles north near what is now Jacksonville in 1564. With the French threatening his Treasure Fleet as it sailed La Florida’s east coast on the way back to Spain, the king appointed Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain’s most experienced admiral, as governor. His mission was to explore and settle the New World. He arrived on August 28, the Feast Day of St. Augustine, thus naming the new settlement after the patron saint. He occupied the indian village of Seloy and even claimed the council house to billet his officers.  A larger, better equipped French Navy would have dominated the Menendez forces had they not been caught in a hurricane. The French survivors attempted to march back to Fort Caroline but were stopped by the Spanish forces and executed. With that defeat French control of La Florida ended. Today the bay is still called Mantanzas Bay, meaning slaughter.

Matanzas Bay Panorama

Matanzas Bay Panorama

Ponce de Leon never mentioned a Fountain of Youth. There were statements that this might exist in other governmental documents. Legend suggests that the advanced age (80-90) of many Timicua people when the European average lifespan was less than 40 may have been the source. Others believe Ponce de Leon was searching for an aphrodisiac for the King who in his later years married a very young woman.


A wooden fort, Castillo de San Marcos, was built to defend the settlement. St. Augustine defended herself not only against other nations but against pirates such as Sir Francis Drake who raided and burned the city in 1586. The town was rebuilt. Almost a century later, privateer Robert Searles would raid the town in 1668. In 1670 the British established Charles Town (now Charleston) and raised another threat to Spanish territory.  A new stone fort made from local coquina stone took most of two decades to build and was completed in 1695. In 1702 the British attacked St. Augustine. Unable to subdue the Castillo San Marcos they burned the town to the ground. There is no building in St. Augustine that predates 1702.

National Monument, NPS, national parks, Florida

Castillo de San Marcos

By the time of the American Revolution, St. Augustine was in the hands of the British and became a haven for loyalists. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward, Jr., were placed under house arrest in the city. Other prisoners did not fair so well being housed in the Castillo now known as Fort St. Marks. Florida was returned to the Spanish in 1784 as compensation for having aided the patriots.

The native Timicuan (pronounced Tim – i (short i) – quan) people had lived in northern Florida for over 4,000 years. Within 250 years they would all but vanish and the few survivors would be absorbed along with Creek, Yamasee, Oconee and runaway slaves to form the Seminole nation. The word Seminole is a corruption of the Spanish word cimarrones, meaning untamed or wild ones. During the War of 1812 the Seminole sided with the British. The First Seminole War, 1817-1818, occurred when the United States invaded Spanish held Florida. After destroying Seminole villages, Andrew Jackson went on to attack Spanish settlements. In a 1819 treaty negotiated by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, and Spain’s Minister, Luis de Onis, Florida   became American territory. Between 1835-1842 in response to the Indian Removal Act, the Second Seminole War erupted. This stands as the bloodiest Indian war in American history. Florida’s admission as a state was delayed because it wanted to enter as a slave state. It finally did enter as a slave state in 1845 when Iowa entered as a free state.

Many of the first families to settle in the area came from the Aviles area of Spain. Later immigrants came from the Canary Islands and the Cracker families arrived with their cattle herds. While St. Augustine is an interesting place to visit at any time of year, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out a special beauty when the city dons festival lights. The tree at the Visitors Center is decorated with pictures and family names of the founding families.

So join us as we wander through St. Augustine by day and night.

First Families of St. Augustine

First Families of St. Augustine