Illinois Part II: Sycamore

Illinois is one of the states that we covered in phases. Our first stop in Illinois was during November 2014 when we spent Thanksgiving in Effingham, which is located in the southern part of the state. This time we were in the northern part of the State. Still camped amidst a fabric of farm lands, but on the far outskirts of Chicago. Our campground was in the town of Sycamore, the county seat of DeKalb County. It was a nice and small quiet town which was located near a train station that would take us into the Windy City on daytrips. We were there for two weeks in early May of 2015.

The weather wasn’t great during our stay, but on sunny days we were able to walk the dogs around town, hit the tennis ball on the campground’s court, enjoy a campfire, and (in Mike’s case) catch and release the fish in the private lake. We ate out in downtown Sycamore a few times, and we went into Chicago three times. On one weekend Mike and I took the train into the city both Saturday and Sunday. They were two long days, and the dogs were a little pissed at us for abandoning them for more than 9 hours two days in a row. The third daytrip to Chicago was a solo run on my part. Mike stayed at home with the dogs watching golf and tennis while I went back to take a boat tour, do more exploring and eat more good food.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier.

I spent some authentic tourist time on the Chicago Architecture Boat Tour. It was a great way to see the city and learn about how it developed.

I spent some authentic tourist time on the Chicago Architecture Boat Tour. It was a great way to see the city and learn about how it developed.

We took the METRA Train from Elburn to Chicago (OTC) three times during our stay in Sycamore. Weekend passes were $8 per person. It was a 30 minute drive from our campground to the train station. Then it was an hour and half train ride without delays. It was better than taking the car into the city. Would have taken almost the same amount if time (with traffic), been more stressed, cost us gas money, AND we would have had  to pay another $50+- for a parking garage for the Honda.

We took the METRA Train from Elburn to Chicago (OTC) three times during our stay in Sycamore. Weekend passes were $8 per person. It was a 30 minute drive from our campground to the train station. Then it was an hour and half train ride without delays. It was better than taking the car into the city. It would have taken almost the same amount of time (with traffic), been more stressed, cost  gas money, AND we would have had to pay another $50+- for parking.

 

The landscape around Sycamore and the rest of Northern Illinois includes vast fields with farm houses and grain silos dotting the scenery.

The landscape around Sycamore and the rest of Northern Illinois includes vast fields with farm houses and grain silos dotting the scenery.

The most bizarre neighbors we have ever encountered parked beside us at the Sycamore RV Resort. One converted horse trailer with individualized compartments, all with exterior access only; seven doors on one side and four on the other. I think 8 were sleeping bunks, 2 were small bathrooms, and one was the master compartment. It was longer than 45 feet. It came with two dooley trucks and at least nine carnies. Three women/girls and the rest were men of various ages, with altering numbers of teeth, and different layers of body ink.  Three bunks and one bathroom opened up to our little campsite yard. We shared our site with them for several days. We kept the doors to the rig and the car locked at all times.

The most bizarre neighbors we have ever encountered parked beside us at the Sycamore RV Resort. One converted horse trailer with individualized compartments, all with exterior access only; seven doors on one side and four on the other. I think 8 were sleeping bunks, 2 were small bathrooms, and one was the master compartment. It was longer than 45 feet. It came with two LOUD Dooley trucks and at least nine carnies. Three women/girls and the rest were men of various ages, with altering numbers of teeth, and different layers of body ink. Three bunks and one bathroom opened up to our little campsite yard. We shared our site with them for several days. We kept the doors to the rig and the car locked at all times.

Here is a view of our community camping space while the carnies were in town.

Here is a view of our community camping space while the carnies were in town.

People would get on the train with open cans and bottles of beer, so Mike decided he would enjoy our ride home on Sunday night with the help of some tequila over ice. It didn't make the end of the trip any more fun after a 40-minute delay due to lane switching problems.

People would get on the train with open cans and bottles of beer, so Mike decided he would enjoy our ride home on Sunday night with the help of some tequila over ice. It didn’t make the end of the trip any more fun after a 40-minute delay due to lane switching problems.

After our American Gothic photo from Eldon, Iowa, it only seemed appropriate that we should seek out the real deal while visiting  the Art Institute of Chicago.

After our American Gothic photo from Eldon, Iowa, it only seemed appropriate that we should seek out the real deal while visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Willis (Sears) Tower from my boat tour.

The Willis (Sears) Tower from my boat tour.

The Willis (Sears) Tower on a soggy Sunday.

The Willis (Sears) Tower on a soggy Sunday.

There is a pedestrian bridge that crosses Lake Front Drive at Millennium Park at the Lake Michigan's edge in downtown Chicago. I thought it looked like a giant metal snake slithering over the cars below.

There is a pedestrian bridge that crosses Lake Front Drive at Millennium Park on Lake Michigan’s edge in downtown Chicago. I thought it looked like a giant metal snake slithering over the cars below.

A reflection of Michigan Avenue in 'The Bean'.

A reflection of Michigan Avenue in ‘The Bean’.

A view from our morning walks around the little lake in our campground.

A view from our morning walks around the little lake in our campground.

When we walked our dogs in Sycamore, it was usually through the sidewalks of downtown and the adjacent historic neighborhood. That made it  convenient to stop on a patio for some post walking drinks and snacks.

When we walked our dogs in Sycamore, it was usually through the sidewalks of downtown and the adjacent historic neighborhood. That made it convenient to stop on a patio for some post walking drinks and snacks. A counter productive activity after exercising, but fun all the same. Piper and Cessna know all about waiting during happy hour.

Moscow Mules on a random Thursday afternoon.

Moscow Mules on a random Thursday afternoon.

Iowa Part II: Elkader

We moved to the northeast part of Iowa for our second stop in the Hawkeye State. While Mike was investigating fishing opportunities in Iowa, he learned that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources operates the Big Spring Fish Hatchery which stocks the Turkey River and surrounding streams with trout three times per week between April and October. As soon as he learned that tidbit, our second Iowa stop was set in stone. He found The Deer Run Resort in the small town of Elkader and made us a reservation for one week.

The drive up from Des Moines was a routine trip. We rolled by endless scenes of flat farmland for about two-thirds of the trip until we got north of State Highway 20. That is when the landscape changed drastically. We were still in an agricultural environment, but the topography became very hilly and much more picturesque. We were in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and it was very beautiful. Farmland still dominated the scenery, but this time we were climbing and coasting along winding roads. Every time we would get to a high spot it seemed like we could see 50 miles into the distance. The crops etched out a patchwork of browns and greens depending on what portions of land had been plowed and/or planted. Farmhouses and red barns accentuated the view like details in a quilt produce a pattern that is uniquely creative.

Elkader was established in 1891 and is the County Seat of Clayton County. However, its population is less than 1,500. Despite its tiny size, the town had lots to offer. We walked wherever we wanted to go. The downtown was about three blocks in length and was surprisingly busy with retail shops, hair salons, a bakery, several banks, professional offices, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a grocery store and a handful of restaurants – all set along the backdrop of the swift moving Turkey River. The town boasts at least nine homes or commercial buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The residential streets were lined with sidewalks that passed in front of a classic inventory of homes built between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Mike stayed busy fishing for trout and I  had so much fun enjoying this quintessential “Americana” – we only left once during the week we were there. That was to drive 30 minutes north to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and stock up on groceries and liquor at Walmart.

 

The Stemmer House is one of the many beautiful historic homes in Elkader. The original owner of this house was the local lumberman, which explains the elaborate woodwork on the front porch.

The Stemmer House is one of the many beautiful historic homes in Elkader. The original owner of this house was the local lumberman, which explains the elaborate woodwork on the front porch.

The Clayton County Courthouse is also listed on the National Register and sits high on a bluff above the Turkey River, so the ornate tower is visible from almost anywhere in town.

The Clayton County Courthouse is also listed on the National Register and sits high on a bluff above the Turkey River, so the ornate tower is visible from almost anywhere in town.

Our spot was #5 in the campground.

Our spot was #5 in the campground.

The Silo brought in trucks from across the county at all times of day and night. It buzzed and made a noise like the huge tank was filled with millions of bees.

The Silo brought in trucks from across the county at all times of day and night. It buzzed and made a noise like the huge tank was filled with millions of bees.

Mike caught three types of trout at this stop: rainbow, brown and speckled. These are a couple of brownies he brought home one afternoon.

Mike caught two types of trout at this stop: rainbow and brook. These are a couple of brookies he brought home one afternoon.

Piper investigating his human's daily catch.

Piper investigating his human’s daily catch.

Here is an example of the rolling landscape in Northeast Iowa.

Here is an example of the rolling landscape in Northeast Iowa.

The stocking of the river was pretty low tech: the process involved a human, a net, and a tank full of fish. He just dipped them out of the tank with his net and tossed them into the river.

The stocking of the river was pretty low tech: the process involved a human, a net, and a tank full of fish. He just dipped them out of the tank with his net and tossed them into the river.

The shortest way into downtown was through the town's cemetery.

The shortest way into downtown was through the town’s cemetery.

There was one bridge in Elkader that connected both sides of town separated by the Turkey River.

There was one bridge in Elkader that connected both sides of town separated by the Turkey River.

We went to church with the Catholics on this stop. There was no Methodist church in town. St. Joseph's was built between 1898 and 1900. The Priest traveled between this church and two other parishes to say mass each weekend.

We went to church with the Catholics on this stop. There was no Methodist church in town. St. Joseph’s was built between 1898 and 1900. The Priest traveled between this church and two other parishes to say mass each weekend.

Inside St. Joseph's. The lady that owned the bakery sat in front of us that Sunday... I knew this because I was a regular customer after we had been there almost one week!

Inside St. Joseph’s. The lady that owned the bakery sat in front of us that Sunday… I knew this because I was a regular customer after we had been there almost one week!

I should sit down and count the number of times we have crossed the Mississippi River since the Lower 48 in 48 Tour began. This time you are looking at Iowa on the left side of the photo and Wisconsin on the right.

I should sit down and count the number of times we have crossed the Mississippi River since the Lower 48 in 48 Tour began. This time you are looking at Iowa on the left side of the photo and Wisconsin on the right.

Looking at our campground from the cemetery at the top of the hill.

Looking at our campground from the cemetery at the top of the hill.

Mike was lucky enough to watch a couple of eagles flying over the Turkey River during one of his fishing expeditions.

Mike was lucky enough to watch a couple of eagles flying over the Turkey River during one of his fishing expeditions.

Mike's fishing spot on the Turkey River near the Fish Hatchery. It was about a 15 minute drive from our campground.

Mike’s fishing spot on the Turkey River near the Fish Hatchery. It was about a 15 minute drive from our campground.

Iowa Part I: Des Moines

Our first stop in Iowa was at a campground in the middle of a farm in a suburb on the northwest side of Des Moines called Altoona. The campground was very nice and quiet. The quiet part of our new surroundings was extra appreciated after leaving our spot beside the highway in Topeka. When we left Kansas we made our way around Kansas City, up through the northern part of Missouri, and then up to the middle of Iowa. I didn’t know John Wayne was born in Iowa until we passed across the boundaries into the Hawkeye State. I had also forgotten that the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County” were based in Iowa.

Des Moines was a nice city. We were there for two weeks. We explored downtown on our first day and found the area to be very pedestrian friendly. The state capitol building was very ornate and majestic on the outside. We heard it was also impressive on the inside, but we did not have a chance to see the interior. I made a couple of solo shopping trips during our stop here. I went to West End Salvage (a huge antique/architectural remnants warehouse with its own show on DIY Network), and also browsed through a cute little historic district in West Des Moines called Valley Junction.

We went to church twice with the Catholics at the Basilica of St. John near Drake University. We also visited two Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives restaurants during our stay. One Sunday after church we had lunch at an Ecuadorian place called Mi Patria. The food was delicious and FRESH. On another Saturday night we enjoyed a feast of smoked ribs, brisket, chicken and andouille sausage at The Flying Mango. This restaurant just might be our favorite DDD stop to date – it is at least in the running for top 3!

We took a couple of road trips during this stop also. One day we drove about 2 hours to the southeast until we reached Eldon, Iowa. Eldon is a tiny, one-stop-sign town that happens to have the white farmhouse that inspired the famous American painting by Grant Wood called American Gothic. There is a visitor’s center and museum adjacent to the actual house. We went all out and borrowed clothes to take our own recreated version of the most widely recognized American painting of all time. Mike was a trooper and went along with my goofy quest… for which I am immensely grateful. On the way to Eldon we stopped in Ottumwa (where Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H was from), and had loose meat sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes at The Canteen – possibly the smallest eating establishment I have ever entered. On the way home from Eldon, we stopped in the most adorable town of Pella which was settled by immigrants from The Netherlands. Every sidewalk in town was literally lined with bright beautiful blooming tulips. I bought a box of sweet treats from the famous Jaarsma Bakery and some dried roast beef and summer sausage from another cute deli across the town square.

The second road trip we took was to Ames. One of my friends from Conroe, Texas has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State University. We drove over to treat her to lunch and then she gave us a delightful tour of the college campus.

The rest of our time was spent hanging out at our camp when the weather was good. Mike rigged up our grilled into a makeshift smoker and smoked one of the trout he had caught in Kansas. It turned out perfectly. We snacked on most of it, and then I used the rest to make a yummy smoked trout dip. When the weather was bad, it was mostly because of horrendous wind. On those days we hunkered down inside our Monaco which rocked back and forth as if we were in a squall on the high seas.

All in all, it was a good stop. There was enough to do in Des Moines that we weren’t bored, and our park was pleasant enough that sitting outside was actually enjoyable again.

The Campanile at Iowa State University has carillon bells that ring daily. It is one of the centerpieces of the pretty campus.

The Campanile at Iowa State University has carillon bells that ring daily. It is one of the centerpieces of the pretty campus.

One of my tennis buddies has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State. We had the pleasure of treating Paige to lunch on a Sunday afternoon. After our nice visit I was able to report to her mom that Paige is alive and thriving.

One of my tennis buddies has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State. We had the pleasure of treating Paige to lunch on a Sunday afternoon. After our nice visit I was able to report to her mom that Paige is alive and thriving.

I spent an afternoon strolling through the shops along Historic Valley Junction in West Des Moines. I bought a couple of scarves, some hand-made soap and a Christmas ornament before I decided it was time to get back in the car and protect my wallet.

I spent an afternoon strolling through the shops along Historic Valley Junction in West Des Moines. I bought a couple of scarves, some hand-made soap and a Christmas ornament before I decided it was time to get back in the car and protect my wallet.

We spent a full day driving a round trip to Eldon, IA. This is what the entire road trip looked like.

We spent a full day driving a round trip to Eldon, IA. This is what the entire road trip looked like.

We visited Pella, Iowa on the day of our long road trip. The town was settled by immigrants from Holland. Every sidewalk in the entire town is lined with tulips... which happened to be in full bloom at the time we were there. Cessna also thought they were spectacular.

We visited Pella, Iowa on the day of our long road trip. The town was settled by immigrants from Holland. Every sidewalk in the entire town is lined with tulips… which happened to be in full bloom at the time we were there. Cessna also thought they were spectacular.

A block in the quaint town of Pella, headquarters of the famous window company.

A block in the quaint town of Pella, headquarters of the famous window company.

The Vermeer Windmill. The design is a replica of an 1850's city mill built above the town's buildings to catch the wind. It is the tallest working mill in the U.S. and is used for grinding wheat. It is right in the middle of downtown Pella and although the picture did not catch it, the blades were turning!

The Vermeer Windmill. The design is a replica of an 1850’s city mill built above the town’s buildings to catch the wind. It is the tallest working mill in the U.S. and is used for grinding wheat. It is right in the middle of downtown Pella and although the picture did not catch it, the blades were turning!

The reason we made the long road trip to Eldon, IA was to see the house that inspired the famous painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic.

The reason we made the long road trip to Eldon, IA was to see the house that inspired the famous painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic.

We stopped in Ottumwa, IA to have lunch at The Canteen, this TINY restaurant has been in an alley for so long that a parking structure has been built around it. There MIGHT be a total of 20 seats along a horseshoe-shaped counter. No tables. About eight servers were behind the counter. We both ordered a Canteeen (loose hamburger meat between 2 buns with ketchup, mustard, pickles, processed cheese spread and onions) and chocolate milkshakes. Our food was served to us about 18 seconds after we ordered. The milkshake cost more than the sandwich.

We stopped in Ottumwa, IA to have lunch at The Canteen, this TINY restaurant has been in an alley for so long that a parking structure has been built around it. There MIGHT be a total of 20 seats along a horseshoe-shaped counter. No tables. About eight servers were behind the counter. We both ordered a Canteeen (loose hamburger meat between 2 buns with ketchup, mustard, pickles, processed cheese spread and onions) and chocolate milkshakes. Our food was served to us about 18 seconds after we ordered. The milkshake cost more than the sandwich.

We attended formal Sunday mass at The Basilica of St. John on the two Sundays we were in Des Moines. It was a magnificent church.

We attended formal Sunday mass at The Basilica of St. John on the two Sundays we were in Des Moines. It was a magnificent church.

I recently discovered a show on DIY Network about this place in downtown Des Moines. I spent the better part of one morning wandering through all four floors of their warehouse. It is a good thing we do not have a home, or I would have gone broke buying tables, lights, mirrors and other décor for the inside and outside.

I recently discovered a show on DIY Network about this place in downtown Des Moines. I spent the better part of one morning wandering through all four floors of their warehouse. It is a good thing we do not have a home, or I would have gone broke buying tables, lights, mirrors and other décor for the inside and outside.

The Iowa state capitol building.

The Iowa state capitol building.

Our spot at Griff's Valley View RV Park in Altoona.

Our spot at Griff’s Valley View RV Park in Altoona.

Kansas Part II: Topeka

We went to the Capital of Kansas for our second stop in the Sunflower State. The RV Park that we selected seemed to be recently constructed and was kept very clean. It was also very centrally located to downtown Topeka. However, it was located just off of Interstate 70, and the road noise was fairly obnoxious. I’ll just tell you, there is not much to do or see in Topeka, Kansas. No offense to the locals, but our stop here was a bit underwhelming.

The irony of this chapter from The Lower 48 in 48 Tour was that we ended up being parked here for three long weeks. There were several factors that contributed to this prolonged stay in such a boring spot. Since we are on a fixed income now, it was cheaper to rent our spot for a full month. As at most RV Parks, rates are available on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The longer you stay, the cheaper the rate. When we did the calculations we determined that it would be cheaper to pay for a month and leave after 21 days, as opposed to paying a daily or weekly rate. The second reason we stayed is because I needed to schedule a dermatologist appointment. Getting in to see a dermatologist always seems to be a bit challenging, especially as a new patient without a referral. Mike called around for me on the first day we arrived, and found me an appointment 21 days later. The third and final reason we stayed longer than we wanted was because we were in the middle of finalizing our 2014 tax return. We needed to stay in one spot until the return was finalized, so our CPA would know where to send our overnight package containing the paperwork we needed to sign and mail to the IRS with the money that we owed.

The best thing about Topeka turned out to be that it was located only one hour from Kansas City, MO. We made three different visits to KC, and enjoyed every minute we were able to explore that fun city.

The courthouse in Manhattan, Kansas. The "Little Apple" is home to Kansas State University. This stone must be indigenous to the region, because several public and university buildings are built from the same materials.

The courthouse in Manhattan, Kansas. The “Little Apple” is home to Kansas State University. This stone must be indigenous to the region, because several public and university buildings are built from the same materials.

Cessna helping her human with some fishing on a sunny afternoon.

Cessna helping her human with some fishing on a sunny afternoon.

We attended Palm Sunday and Easter Services at a beautiful historic Methodist Church in downtown Topeka.

We attended Palm Sunday and Easter Services at a beautiful historic Methodist Church in downtown Topeka.

Downtown Lawrence was hoppin' on a random Saturday afternoon. I couldn't believe how many people were out strolling the sidewalks and enjoying the pretty weather in this cute little town.

Downtown Lawrence was hoppin’ on a random Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t believe how many people were out strolling the sidewalks and enjoying the pretty weather in this cute little town.

Our first outing in Kansas City, MO included a stop at the famous Arthur Bryant's Barbeque spot. We stood in line with the masses. I got brisket and burnt ends. I liked the brisket. Mike got sliced pork and ribs. He liked the ribs. In our humble Texas opinions... Cooper's Old Time BBQ in Llano is still the best BBQ on the planet.

Our first outing in Kansas City, MO included a stop at the famous Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque spot. We stood in line with the masses. I got brisket and burnt ends. I liked the brisket. Mike got sliced pork and ribs. He liked the ribs. In our humble Texas opinions… Cooper’s Old Time BBQ in Llano is still the best BBQ on the planet.

After our barbeque lunch, we visited the 18th & Vine Jazz District. It probably would have been better if we had been in the area after dark when the bars were open and the music was playing.

After our barbeque lunch, we visited the 18th & Vine Jazz District. It probably would have been better if we had been in the area after dark when the bars were open and the music was playing.

Our spot at the campground in Topeka.

Our spot at the campground in Topeka.

Not much to look at while driving down the highway in Kansas.

Not much to look at while driving down the highway in Kansas.

Mike took the dogs out for their morning walk just after sunrise and was surprised by about six hot air balloons floating directly over our campground. I was still asleep in the bed. Just goes to show you... You snooze, you lose.

Mike took the dogs out for their morning walk just after sunrise and was surprised by about six hot air balloons floating directly over our campground. I was still asleep in the bed. Just goes to show you… You snooze, you lose.

Kansas City skyline.

Kansas City skyline.

Our campground was just about 3/4 of a mile down the street from Lake Shawnee, which had an 8- mile paved walking trail circling the edge of the lake. This was a good spot for our daily dog walks.

Our campground was just about 3/4 of a mile down the street from Lake Shawnee, which had an 8- mile paved walking trail circling the edge of the lake. This was a good spot for our daily dog walks.

We spotted a bald eagle on one of our walks at Lake Shawnee. He had just caught himself a big fish, and had settled in the tree to finish his fresh lunch.

We spotted a bald eagle on one of our walks at Lake Shawnee. He had just caught himself a big fish, and had settled in the tree to finish his fresh lunch.

This was in the window of an antique store in the historic Westport neighborhood of Kansas City. Chuckle Chuckle.

This was in the window of an antique store in the historic Westport neighborhood of Kansas City. Chuckle Chuckle.

Another store in the Westport Neighborhood was Pryde's - opened in 1968. Mike and the dogs were waiting outside... or I could have spent an entire day (and lots of money) on all types of kitchen gadgets. This is the mother of all kitchen stores, I can assure you!

Another store in the Westport Neighborhood was Pryde’s – opened in 1968. Mike and the dogs were waiting outside… or I could have spent an entire day (and lots of money) on all types of kitchen gadgets. This is the mother of all kitchen stores, I can assure you!

The City Market in Kansas City is open on weekends from 6am until 3pm. Fresh produce, fresh cut flowers, spices sold in bulk, food vendors selling every sort of ethnic selection (Vietnamese, Brazilian, Indian, Italian, etc). The smells and colors had me in a huge tizzy. Mike didn't have as much fun as I did because it was packed with humans shoulder to shoulder - he hates crowds. He was nice to accompany me, but I enjoyed this outing much more than he did.

The City Market in Kansas City is open on weekends from 6am until 3pm. Fresh produce, fresh cut flowers, spices sold in bulk, food vendors selling every sort of ethnic selection (Vietnamese, Brazilian, Indian, Italian, etc). The smells and colors had me in a huge tizzy. Mike didn’t have as much fun as I did because it was packed with humans shoulder to shoulder – he hates crowds. He was nice to accompany me, but I enjoyed this outing much more than he did.

I thought this random building in downtown Kansas City was exquisite.

I thought this random building in downtown Kansas City was exquisite.

Date night at the Kansas City Intercontinental Hotel listening to live jazz music.

Date night at the Kansas City Intercontinental Hotel listening to live jazz music.

This wonderful foursome gave us a taste of the jazz music for which Kansas City is so famous.

This wonderful foursome gave us a taste of the jazz music for which Kansas City is so famous.

I didn't know that Kansas City is also known as the City of Fountains. It has more fountains than any city in the world except Rome, Italy.

I didn’t know that Kansas City is also known as the City of Fountains. It has more fountains than any city in the world except Rome, Italy.

My favorite spot in Kansas City was probably Country Club Plaza. Sevilla, Spain is KC's sister city. This upscale shopping/entertainment district was packed with architectural details resembling those from  Sevilla's Bario de Santa Cruz (where I lived during my senior year in college).

My favorite spot in Kansas City was probably Country Club Plaza. Sevilla, Spain is KC’s sister city. This upscale shopping/entertainment district was packed with architectural details resembling those from Sevilla’s Bario de Santa Cruz (where I lived during my senior year in college).

Kansas Part I: El Dorado

A typical evening at Camp Martin. Dogs casually scanning the surface for something within our boundary to which they can alert us. Soon to come: Commands of silence and then banishment to THE BOX (aka: sacred tent in which they love to nap and lounge anytime outdoor activities are possible). Sometimes we wonder if their antics are ploys for banishment into their camping caves. Either way, they stop barking when they are in the box.

A typical evening at Camp Martin. Dogs casually scanning the surface for something within our boundary to which they can alert us. Soon to come: Commands of silence and then banishment to THE BOX (aka: sacred tent in which they love to nap and lounge anytime outdoor activities are possible). Sometimes we wonder if their antics are ploys for banishment into their camping caves. Either way, they stop barking when they are in the box.

Who Knew:  If someone asked me which stop I thought we would be at when Mike would catch his limit of fish EVERY DAY he wanted... my first guess would most certainly not have been KANSAS!

Who Knew:
If someone asked me which stop I thought we would be located when Mike would catch his limit of fish EVERY DAY he wanted… my first guess would most certainly not have been KANSAS!

 

The Sound Barrier - one of our baby steps toward comprehending our Universe (not to mention... "OUR UNIVERSE" is nothing more than being a small country on a big planet, or a smaller state in a single country, or a single county in a providence, or a small town in a tiny county, or a downtown in a small community.

The Sound Barrier – one of our baby steps toward comprehending our Universe and space travel within it.

 

The SR-71. In this photo the nose looks quite tiny compared to the rest of its enormous, yet stealthy mass. Those two jet bundles on both sides in the FAR background of this picture are also part of the same machine. Giant Plane.

The SR-71. In this photo the nose looks quite tiny compared to the rest of its enormous, yet stealthy mass. Those two jet engines on both sides in the FAR background of this picture are also part of the same machine. Giant Plane.

One of the perks from Mike's Air Traffic Control Career - a FAM flight in one of these babies. Fond Memories and fun stories.

One of the perks from Mike’s Air Traffic Control Career – a FAM flight in one of these babies. Fond Memories and fun stories.

The Kansas Cosmosphere was an unexpected surprise on the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Mike's favorite part of the museum was the Apollo Exhibit.

The Kansas Cosmosphere was an unexpected surprise on the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Mike’s favorite part of the museum was the Apollo Exhibit.

The Kansas Aviation Museum

The Kansas Aviation Museum

The recently restored ceiling in the Kansas Aviation Museum. (I know this because they were still painting when we were there)! GREAT design.

The recently restored ceiling in the Kansas Aviation Museum. (I know this because they were still painting when we were there)! GREAT design.

Until we arrived in Wichita, I did not know that 70% of the WORLD's general aviation aircraft is built in Wichita, KS.

Until we arrived in Wichita, I did not know that 70% of the WORLD’s general aviation aircraft is built in Wichita, KS.

How did they get this plane into this space?

How did they get this plane into this space?

One of the first simulators for budding pilots.

One of the first simulators for budding pilots.

As we were walking to our car after dinner at Stearman Field Bar and Grill.

As we were walking to our car after dinner at Stearman Field Bar and Grill.

The obligatory 'selfie post' in anticipation of our pizza and sunset at Stearman Field Bar and Grill.

The obligatory ‘selfie post’ in anticipation of our pizza and sunset at Stearman Field Bar and Grill.

Watching the planes land and take-off from Lloyd Stearman Field.

Watching the planes land and take-off from Lloyd Stearman Field.

When we arrived in Wichita, I was not aware I would have the pleasure of touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright's last Prairie House Designs.

When we arrived in Wichita, I was not aware I would have the pleasure of touring one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last Prairie House Designs.

I visited the Wichita Botanical Gardens before spring has sprung. It was a lovely facility and I could imagine the magnificence during my time there. Since the spring blooms were still shy, I found this precious wind vane.

I visited the Wichita Botanical Gardens before spring had sprung. It was a lovely facility and I could imagine the magnificence during my time there. Since the spring blooms were still shy, I found this precious wind vane.

I guess at the end of TheMartinsAmericanAdventure we might be able to concoct some sort of subsidiary 'points of interest' Adventures. One might be to find all the places we have left our 'signature' along the way. Extra credit for finding them all AND tagging them in order of the original adventure. ha!  If so, here is a clue for what you might look for somewhere in Wichita, Kansas.

I guess at the end of TheMartinsAmericanAdventure we might be able to concoct some sort of subsidiary ‘points of interest’ Adventures. One might be to find all the places we have left our ‘signature’ along the way. Extra credit for finding them all AND tagging them in order of the original adventure. ha!
If so, here is a clue for what you might look for somewhere in Wichita, Kansas.

It is amazing how much fun the two of us (after a martini) could make of getting served our bill inside a real- life book instead of inside a cheap fake leather billet .

It is amazing how much fun the two of us (after a martini) could make of getting served our bill inside a real- life book instead of inside a cheap fake leather billet .

Old Town Wichita. Loved it.

Old Town Wichita. Loved it.

At the confluence of the ArkKANsas and the Little ArKANSas Rivers.

At the confluence of the ArkKANsas and the Little ArKANSas Rivers. If you say it wrong in Wichita, they will correct you.

Looking at the northern skyline of downtown Wichita, from the banks of the ArKANSAS River.

Looking at the northern skyline of downtown Wichita, from the banks of the ArKANSAS River.

"Everything around him is holy"

“Everything around him is holy”

Seems like Fung Shui (I knew I was on to something).

Seems like the Native American version of Fung Shui.

If you asked me at the beginning "Which state do you think you will be in when you have personal fish-cleaning stations attached to each campsite"? My first thought would NOT have been Kansas.

If you asked me at the beginning “Which state do you think you will be in when you have personal fish-cleaning stations attached to each campsite”? My first thought would NOT have been Kansas.

Mike's adoration of geese has not subsided.

Mike’s adoration of geese has not subsided.

When we arrived to Eldorado State Park, the Lake and Rivers in the area were still frozen.

When we arrived to Eldorado State Park, the Lake and Rivers in the area were still frozen.

Walking on the dam above our campground at El Dorado State Park

Walking on the dam above our campground at El Dorado State Park

El Dorado Lake

El Dorado Lake

I knew when we got to our campground and saw this steep hill to the top of the dam - that Mike would declare a mission to walk from bottom to top each day we were camped there. He did. On most days we did.

I knew when we got to our campground and saw this steep hill to the top of the dam – that Mike would declare a mission to walk from bottom to top each day we were camped there. He did. On most days we did.

Our 'yard' from spot #31.

Our ‘yard’ from spot #31.

Spot 31

Spot 31

When we first arrived into Wichita this is what we saw from our lane on the interstate. Up until that moment, I did not dream this stop would be so aviation-oriented.

When we first arrived into Wichita this is what we saw from our lane on the interstate. Up until that moment, I did not dream this stop would be so aviation-oriented.

President Eisenhower was also a Native Texan... born in Denison. Been to the house where he was born. All in all - The Lone Star State claims 4 Leaders of the Free World (by birth or attitude or oil rights - all acceptable criteria). DDE, LBJ, Bush 41, Bush 43.

President Eisenhower was also a Native Texan… born in Denison. Been to the house where he was born. All in all – The Lone Star State claims 4 Presidents.

Oklahoma Part II: Keystone State Park

We arrived at Keystone State Park before noon on a Friday and hooked up in the spot we had selected the day before during our recon visit. It just so happened that another rig had pulled up minutes before us, and they were hooking up in the spot next to us. We felt lucky to be parking in our first choice location. We had three particular places we wanted to visit in Oklahoma: Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Shawnee (where Mike’s mom was born and raised). Since Keystone was conveniently located to each of those cities, we decided to spend our whole month in one spot. Moving and setting up are a bit more of a hassle during cold and freezing weather, so we figured it would be less stressful to get ourselves situated and leave it that way. The rules of the park were such that guests could stay for 2 weeks in one site. If they wanted to stay longer, they had to complete an application request to the Park Ranger. If guests were well-behaved, the Park Ranger would approve the request for 2 more weeks. After one month, guests could stay for an additional two weeks in the park, but they would have to move to a new site. We only wanted to stay for 4 weeks, so we concentrated on being well behaved. We needed the ranger to approve our request when time came for it to be submitted.

We were only 20-minutes from downtown Tulsa, and we were able to explore many parts of that city during our stay. I’m partial to downtown, so we visited the Blue Dome District several times. It is an entertainment district on the edge of the city center. We had dinner down there a couple of times, went bowling in an old warehouse that had been converted to a bowling alley, and I got my hair cut at a salon in the area too. We also took the dogs to a fancy shopping center named Utica Square, and ran regular errands in the suburb of Broken Arrow.

We took one day to drive to Shawnee and visit Mike’s family. We met two of his aunts and one of his cousins for lunch at Cracker Barrel. After our meal, they took us on a driving tour of the town. We cruised through downtown and made two stops along the way. We got to see the church where Mike’s parents were married, and the depot where they used to drop mail when the post office train came through town. After our tour we went back to Aunt Joann’s house for more visiting. She had a gigantic fenced back yard so Piper and Cessna were very excited to have some quality play time with no restraints at all! We enjoyed lots of fun family stories, old photographs and fresh made cherry cobbler before we got back in the car and made the return trip to the Monaco.

I made a small side trip back to Texas during this leg of our adventure. My aunt Martha Jo passed away, so I flew to Houston for the funeral. Mike stayed in Oklahoma with the dogs and the coach. After the funeral, I stayed one extra night with my friend Becky and got the chance to see my tennis buddies from two of my teams. I actually never even made it to The Woodlands, so there were tons of people I didn’t see. However, the small amount of time I did have with part of my family and some of my friends was wonderful (despite the circumstances).

I flew out of Tulsa to Houston Hobby, but when I left Houston I flew back to Oklahoma City. Mike made the two-hour drive in the Honda with the dogs and picked me up at the airport. We checked into a hotel and had plans to spend the weekend exploring the city. We spent our first afternoon walking the dogs along the ‘riverwalk’ in the historic Bricktown section of downtown. The next day we went to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art because they had a Dale Chihuly exhibit that I wanted to see. After we got some culture, we got the chance to visit with more of our friends! My friend Gayle and her husband Jim have children that live in OKC, and just happened to be visiting at the same time we were in town. We met up with them at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar for drinks, snacks, golf and Nascar. It was so much fun to catch up with them. After we left Gayle and Jim, we went to visit with another set of friends. A former colleague from my downtown days is now in charge of downtown OKC. She and her husband live in a wonderful historic neighborhood just north of downtown. We stopped by their house for a drink and a quick visit during the Oscar pre-show. We had planned to spend the next day visiting the National Memorial Site, eating at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, and then seeing the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum before driving back to the lake. However, when we woke up the next morning snow was falling and the weather was predicted to get worse as the day progressed. We cut our visit short and drove on back home to get off the roads before they became too dangerous.

During the rest of our time at this stop we enjoyed the park with long walks and campfires. Mike tried to fish a couple of times, but it was always too windy and cold to be much fun. Of course, it was February and Oklahoma is cold in the winter. We had a large collection of snow days at this stop too. There were many days that we stayed hunkered down inside-  dressed in lots of layers and huddled under blankets. We read lots of books and watched lots of television while we waited for breaks in the weather.

We knew it would be cold during February in Oklahoma, but that is as far south as our route would allow this winter. We had some very nice and warm weather during our stay... but the view from our front windshield looked like this on a bunch of days too.

We knew it would be cold during February in Oklahoma, but that is as far south as our route would allow this winter. We had some very nice and warm weather during our stay… but the view from our front windshield looked like this on a bunch of days too.

The snow was pretty to watch from my warm bedroom window as it silently blanketed the campground.

The snow was pretty to watch from my warm bedroom window as it silently blanketed the campground.

Our side-trip to Oklahoma City was cut short due to weather. We got there on Saturday and planned to stay through the end of the day on Monday. When we woke up on Monday morning, a light snow was falling and it looked like the road conditions were going to deteriorate throughout the day. We decided to get dressed and grab some free breakfast at the hotel, and then get on the road. This is what our drive home looked like. I was bummed we didn't get to see all the things on our list while in OKC, but happy to arrive safely back to our spot before noon that day. After we got home, we didn't leave the house again until three days later!

Our side-trip to Oklahoma City was cut short due to weather. We got there on Saturday and planned to stay through the end of the day on Monday. When we woke up Monday morning, a light snow was falling and it looked like the road conditions were going to deteriorate throughout the day. We decided to get dressed and grab some free breakfast at the hotel, and then get on the road. This is what our drive home looked like. I was bummed we didn’t get to see all the things on our list while in OKC, but happy to arrive safely back to our spot before noon that day. After we got home, we didn’t leave the house again until three days later!

One of the Chihuly exhibits at the OKCMOA.

One of the Chihuly exhibits at the OKCMOA.

This masterpiece was in the modern art section of the OKCMOA. I'm sure there are many art aficionados smarter and better educated then I am that could explain the brilliance behind this creation. I would be willing to listen. Couldn't get there on my own.

This masterpiece was in the modern art section of the OKCMOA. I’m sure there are many art aficionados smarter and better educated then I am that could explain the brilliance behind this creation. I would be willing to listen. Couldn’t get there on my own.

A giant Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of the museum.

A giant Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of the museum.

We got to the OKC Museum of Art when they opened at noon on Sunday. Unfortunately, they were hosting a special private event for the sustaining contributors. Since the opening had been delayed by one hour, we went to the museum café for some mimosas to pass the time while we waited. The Sunday Brunch menu looked wonderful, but we had already eaten breakfast.

We got to the OKC Museum of Art when they opened at noon on Sunday. Unfortunately, they were hosting a special private event for the sustaining contributors. Since the opening had been delayed by one hour, we went to the museum café for some mimosas to pass the time while we waited. The Sunday Brunch menu looked wonderful, but we had already eaten breakfast.

There is a section in downtown OKC called Bricktown. They have built a small riverwalk reminiscent of San Antonio's primary attraction. This impressive bronze sculpture sits at the far end of the developed area.

There is a section in downtown OKC called Bricktown. They have built a small riverwalk reminiscent of San Antonio’s primary attraction. This impressive bronze sculpture sits at the far end of the developed area.

The ducks at Keystone Lake grazed around our camping spot as if they owned the place. They did not care about how close we were when they descended on us. Piper was beside himself.

The ducks at Keystone Lake grazed around our camping spot as if they owned the place. They did not care about how close we were when they descended on us. Piper was beside himself.

Hopefully, this is the last shot of the Monaco in snow... at least for 2014.

Hopefully, this is the last shot of the Monaco in snow… at least for 2015.

Since the weather was so harsh, we ended up with the campground all to ourselves during much of the month we were there.

Since the weather was so harsh, we ended up with the campground all to ourselves during much of the month we were there.

We found this armadillo during one of our afternoon walks. Poor thing must have been blind AND deaf because he never noticed the 150+ pounds of furry dogs barking and clamoring to attack it from the end of their leashes.

We found this armadillo during one of our afternoon walks. Poor thing must have been blind AND deaf because he never noticed the 150+ pounds of furry dogs barking and clamoring to attack it from the end of their leashes.

It happened that the weather was glorious on Valentine's Day. We had plans to go do something in town, but opted for a lazy day in the sun instead. Mike fixed my hammock for me, then he tested it with a good nap (just so he could confidently stand behind his work).

It happened that the weather was glorious on Valentine’s Day. We had plans to go do something in town, but opted for a lazy day in the sun instead. Mike fixed my hammock for me, then he tested it with a good nap (just so he could confidently stand behind his work).

Woodward Park was a beautiful green space in Tulsa.

Woodward Park was a beautiful green space in Tulsa.

Looking east over the Arkansas River with downtown Tulsa far off in the distance. This is one of many vistas we were able to enjoy from walks at Keystone State Park.

Looking east over the Arkansas River with downtown Tulsa far off in the distance. This is one of many vistas we were able to enjoy from walks at Keystone State Park.

I thought this historic depot in Shawnee was such a beautiful building.

I thought this historic depot in Shawnee was such a beautiful building.

Mike and Dina in front of the church where his parents married more than 53 years ago.

Mike and Dina in front of the church where his parents married more than 53 years ago.

Mike's aunts Joann and Glenda.

Mike’s aunts Joann and Glenda.

Isn't this the most beautiful church!

Isn’t this the most beautiful church!

This sweet little frog looked like it needed a hug.

This sweet little frog looked like it needed a hug.

There is only one riverfront restaurant in all of Tulsa, which surprised me. But we found it! I didn't really expect the Arkansas River to look like this either... thought there would be more water.

There is only one riverfront restaurant in all of Tulsa, which surprised me. But we found it! I didn’t really expect the Arkansas River to look like this either… thought there would be more water.

There is a nice walking/biking trail along the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Starts near downtown and moves out toward the suburbs.

There is a nice walking/biking trail along the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Starts near downtown and moves out toward the suburbs.

A typical view from morning walks at Keystone (on days when there was no snow).

A typical view from morning walks at Keystone (on days when there was no snow).

The boat ramp covered in ice.

The boat ramp covered in ice.

The boat ramp on a warm day - looks a little different, huh.

The boat ramp on a warm day – looks a little different, huh.

There were several rental cabins at Keystone State Park that looked like they could be a fun get-a-way for those who aren't really into camping.

There were several rental cabins at Keystone State Park that looked like they could be a fun get-a-way for those who aren’t really into camping.

Oklahoma Part I: Eufaula Lake

When Mike made our first reservations in Oklahoma, it was only for a couple of nights at a KOA along I-40 between Checotah (Carrie Underwood’s home town) and Henryetta (Troy Aikman’s home town). It was going to be a long drive out of Arkansas through the winding mountain roads of the Ouachita National Forest. He knew we would be ready to stop driving for the day as soon as we got west of Fort Smith and into The Sooner State.

The park was small and loud because it was directly on the interstate. Hooking up was a bit of an adventure on this stop. Mike was having issues with the electrical supply so in order to stay out of the way, I hooked the dogs up outside and walked alone down a path to Lake Eufaula – which was the northern boundary of the park property. There was a chicken coop on the way to the path. I knew good and well that navigating my way past that ‘attraction’ would have been a giant headache with Cessna and Piper in tow, so I wanted to see if I could find an alternate route without having to control them during my exploration.

It was a nice peaceful walk down to the water, but once I got out of the woods and into the open air – the northern wind was howling like a hurricane was blowing in. It didn’t look like we were going to enjoy any part of that lake shore in the near future. When I got back to our camp Piper was waiting outside and Cessna was nowhere to be seen. I figured she had started barking and Mike had put her back inside. I went to check and she wasn’t anywhere in the Monaco either. I looked back outside and she was, in fact, gone from her end of the leash. Crap.

Mike and I split up. I went toward the highway. Since Mike is smarter than I am, he went toward the chicken coop. There she was… trying her best to find an opening in the fence that would allow her access to the hen house. After we got her back home, we both went back over and combed the area for a large collection of feathers. I was dreading the chance that I might have to tell the owner our big dog had just made a feast of one of her cute little chickens. Luckily, her quest had been thwarted in time.

As we sipped our ‘first night martinis’ at sunset, we decided we would spend the next day doing some recon of other RV parks in the area. This one was just a little too far from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It had been a good stopping point after the drive from Arkansas, but it wasn’t somewhere we really wanted to be for two weeks.

We ended up finding a great spot at Keystone State Park, just about 20 minutes west of downtown Tulsa. After two nights along the highway, we got up early the third day and left the campground by 9:30. It was only about 90 minutes to the next stop, so we wanted to get there and get set up before we lost a whole other day to travel logistics.

Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma

Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma

This was the view of the lake at the end of the path from the campground.

This was the view of the lake at the end of the path from the campground.

The path to the lake shore from our campground.

The path to the lake shore from our campground.

These are the Silkies that Cessna wanted to eat.

These are the Silkies that Cessna wanted to eat.

The owner of the campground had houses for hens, roosters, ducks and rabbits.

The owner of the campground had houses for hens, roosters, ducks and rabbits.

We saw a couple of deer just off the road when we were exploring Lake Eufaula State Park.

We saw a couple of deer just off the road when we were exploring Lake Eufaula State Park. The park was beautiful, and they had space for us, but it was still too far away from other spots we wanted to see in Oklahoma.

 

Arkansas Part I: Hot Springs

We did not make multiple stops during our month in Arkansas. We drove from Branson to Hot Springs and parked the coach at a lovely RV Resort on the banks of Lake Catherine, just south of the city. It was January and we did not want to be at the mercy of frigid weather on travel days. We decided to stick ourselves in one location for the entire month and avoid as many headaches as possible. In the long run, the weather turned out to be almost perfect for most of our stay. The sun was bright on most days and the temperatures were mostly mild the whole time we were there.

Hot Springs regards itself as ‘America’s First Resort’, and we enjoyed our time in the interesting little town. The landscape was beautiful with mountains surrounding downtown and big lakes on the outskirts in almost every direction. The downtown is built around the original bathhouses that featured hot water from the natural springs of Hot Springs Mountain. There were shops, art galleries and restaurants along the main commercial corridor. It was obvious that this town’s heyday had climaxed at some point in the distant past. Although there were plenty of thriving businesses in the city center, lots of gorgeous historic buildings sat painfully neglected. At the end of the main drag, a large hotel resort had been demolished and the rubble was just left in a big messy pile – as if the community had all but given up on trying to make a good impression.

I visited one of the bathhouses alone, and Mike went with me to the only other one that remains open. We strolled the downtown streets with the dogs, and enjoyed a few meals at some of their restaurants. We did not know it until we got to town, but there is a Horse Racing Track in Hot Springs called Oaklawn. They have races from January to April every year. We lucked out with our timing, and spent one afternoon betting on the horsies. The racetrack is a big deal there and it obviously generates lots of tourist dollars for the local economy.

We drove into Little Rock one afternoon and walked around downtown before eating an early dinner at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. On extremely gorgeous days, we stayed close to home – sitting in the sun and soaking up the vitamin D we had been missing out on since November. Mike got to use his Arkansas fishing license on numerous occasions, but the fish were sneaky.

During the last week of our stay, we took the Honda on a side trip and drove back to The Homeland. Since we were only 4.5 hours from Mike’s parent’s house, we wanted to squeeze in a visit. This was the closest we had been to them in two years, so it was time to get together. We drove over on a Wednesday and stayed a couple of nights with them. Mike’s sister and brother-in-law also drove over from the Dallas area to have dinner one night, so it turned out to be a great family visit. After we left the Martin’s, we drove to Tyler and visited our friends, Melanie and Bob. Mike and Bob went to High School together. Melanie and I used to play on the same tennis team. She is responsible for introducing me to Mike. Their youngest son, Zach, is our Godson. All of my cookbooks and Christmas decorations are stored away in their attic. We spent a busy weekend with them – watching Zach play in a tennis tournament, eating out, cooking, eating in, telling stories, napping, sitting in the hot tub, playing ping pong, studying, and playing dominoes. Mike and I really enjoyed talking to other people besides ourselves for those five days!

Lake Oichitaw. I think it would be fun to rent a house boat on this lake for a summer vacation outing.

Lake Ouachita. I think it would be fun to rent a house boat on this lake for a summer vacation outing.

Hot Springs is interesting because there is one Main Street full of ornate historic buildings, set against the backdrop of rugged mountains on both sides.

Hot Springs is interesting because there is one Main Street full of ornate historic buildings, set against the backdrop of rugged mountains on both sides.

The dome of the historic Quapaw bath house, set against the backdrop of the National Forest.

The dome of the historic Quapaw bath house, set against the backdrop of the National Forest.

We watched quite a few dramatic sunsets from our campground in Hot Springs.

We watched quite a few dramatic sunsets from our campground in Hot Springs.

The Hot Springs United Methodist Church was celebrating their 100th year in the same building. We attended two of their church services while we were in town.

The Hot Springs United Methodist Church was celebrating their 100th year in the same building. We attended two of their church services while we were in town.

A selfie from the horse races at Oaklawn.

A selfie from the horse races at Oaklawn.

We didn't even know there was a race track in Hot Springs when we made our reservations for this stop on our Tour.

We didn’t even know there was a race track in Hot Springs when we made our reservations for this stop on our Tour.

The Gangster Museum was a very interesting stop in downtown Hot Springs. After our tour, I spent a little quality time with Al Capone.

The Gangster Museum was a very interesting stop in downtown Hot Springs. After our tour, I spent a little quality time with Al Capone.

A view of our spot at Catherine's Landing.

A view of our spot at Catherine’s Landing.

We made one daytrip to Little Rock during our time in Hot Springs. It was about an hour's drive from our spot. The downtown area was full of all kinds of art sculptures.

We made one daytrip to Little Rock during our time in Hot Springs. It was about an hour’s drive from our spot. The downtown area was full of all kinds of art sculptures.

The weather was perfect for our daytrip to Little Rocks.

The weather was perfect for our daytrip to Little Rock.

Mike's favorite evening activity. Fire in the pit and meat on the grill.

Mike’s favorite evening activity. Fire in the pit and meat on the grill.

An up-close and personal view of the side of a rock wall on Hot Springs Mountain.

An up-close and personal view of the side of a rock wall on Hot Springs Mountain.

I spent an entire morning at the Buckstaff Baths. It was a very nostalgic experience - original bath interior and legendary treatments. It was very relaxing. Mike didn't join me and I was happy about that, because he would not have enjoyed the experience like I did. He's not the touchy-feely type.

I spent an entire morning at the Buckstaff Baths. It was a very nostalgic experience – original bath interior and legendary treatments. It was very relaxing. Mike didn’t join me and I was happy about that, because he would not have enjoyed the experience like I did. He’s not the touchy-feely type.

The historic streetscape in downtown Hot Springs makes for a lovely environment.

The historic streetscape in downtown Hot Springs makes for a lovely environment.

So the local citizens fill plastic containers of 'magic' spring water at designated fountains throughout downtown. This is slime on the side of one of the natural spring fountains. I wonder if this is part of the magical contents...

So the local citizens fill plastic containers of ‘magic’ spring water at designated fountains throughout downtown. This is slime on the side of one of the natural spring fountains. I wonder if this is part of the magical contents…

We didn't bring any plastic bottles, so we did not engage in the common water collection practices.

We didn’t bring any plastic bottles, so we did not engage in the common water collection practices.

The Hot Springs Mountain Tower shoots up over 300 feet into the sky AFTER you reach the top of the mountain. We bought our tickets and trekked up the stairs to see the view from above. Since I don't like heights, I was a whiny baby the whole way up. I ultimately had to suffer my anxiety in silence because Mike finally had to tell me to pull myself together and suck it up! He's so supportive.

The Hot Springs Mountain Tower shoots up over 300 feet into the sky AFTER you reach the top of the mountain. We bought our tickets and trekked up the stairs to see the view from above. Since I don’t like heights, I was a whiny baby the whole way up. I ultimately had to suffer my anxiety in silence because Mike finally had to tell me to pull myself together and suck it up! He’s so supportive.

A view of downtown Hot Springs from the top of the tower.

A view of downtown Hot Springs from the top of the tower.

The mountains to north and east of Hot Springs.

The mountains to north and east of Hot Springs.

We spent one morning at Lake Catherine State Park. Our hike through the woods was full of giant stone boulders.

We spent one morning at Lake Catherine State Park. Our hike through the woods was full of giant stone boulders.

This is the only waterfall we saw in Arkansas. At Lake Catherine State Park.

This is the only waterfall we saw in Arkansas. At Lake Catherine State Park.

The Ohio Club in downtown Hot Springs is a classic old bar. Established in 1905, the owners boast about previous patrons like Teddy Roosevelt, Al Capone, Bugsy Segal, Mae West, Babe Ruth... and Bill Clinton.

The Ohio Club in downtown Hot Springs is a classic old bar. Established in 1905, the owners boast about previous patrons like Teddy Roosevelt, Al Capone, Bugsy Segal, Mae West, Babe Ruth… and Bill Clinton.

Certain spots around Hot Springs Mountain look like a giant chemistry experiment gone wrong.

Certain spots around Hot Springs Mountain look like a giant chemistry experiment gone wrong.

Various fountains around town bring the underground steaming water to the surface.

Various fountains around town bring the underground steaming water to the surface.

The Fordyce Bathhouse was once known to be the best in Hot Springs. It now serves as a National Park Visitor Center and Museum.

The Fordyce Bathhouse was once known to be the best in Hot Springs. It now serves as a National Park Visitor Center and Museum.

Although we were not on a lakefront spot, we had a view of the water from where we were parked at Catherine's Landing.

Although we were not on a lakefront spot, we had a view of the water from where we were parked at Catherine’s Landing.

I'm sure this campground is busy during the summer months when guests can bring boats and other water toys with them.

I’m sure this campground is busy during the summer months when guests can bring boats and other water toys with them.

A view from our drive through the Ozark National Forest between Branson, MO and Hot Springs, AR.

A view from our drive through the Ozark National Forest between Branson, MO and Hot Springs, AR.

A typical view of calm morning lake water during our early walks.

A typical view of calm morning lake water during our early walks.

A view from the campground's boat ramp.

A view from the campground’s boat ramp.

 

Missouri Part II: Forsyth

Our second stop in the Show Me State brought us to Forsyth in the Ozarks, on a bluff above Shoals Bend Lake, about 15 miles northeast of Branson. We stayed at a Jellystone Campground which is part of the Yogi Bear franchise. The owners were very nice; the park was neat and clean – and practically empty, so we had the place virtually to ourselves for two-weeks. We were at this location during Christmas and New Year’s, so we tried to take advantage of all of the holiday festivities this tourist area had to offer. The only thing we did not see during our visit to Branson was a show (I know, how lame of us). The problem was that all the shows we had selected to see were closed for the season by the time we got to town. It didn’t really matter to us, we still enjoyed our time here.

This stop concludes our month in Missouri. On Monday, 1/5, we move to Hot Springs and start our month of January in Arkansas.

On New Year's Eve we went to the Butterfly Palace in Branson. This black and white butterfly landed on Mike's left shoulder and 'hung around' for about 10 or 15 minutes. It waited while we took pictures of it, while Mike took pictures of other butterflies, while we walked around the trail through the landscaping... until we finally took this selfie. When we told it we had to go have Indian food for dinner, it finally flew away.

On New Year’s Eve we went to the Butterfly Palace in Branson. This black and white butterfly landed on Mike’s left shoulder and ‘hung around’ for about 10 or 15 minutes. It waited while we took pictures of it, while Mike took pictures of other butterflies, while we walked around the trail through the landscaping… until we finally took this selfie. When we told it we had to go have Indian food for dinner, it finally flew away.

We were hoping this beautiful black and purple butterfly would land on my shoulder.

We were hoping this beautiful black and purple butterfly would land on my shoulder.

The Butterfly Palace.

The Butterfly Palace.

It was cloudy during most of our time in the Ozarks. Here is one sunny shot of Table Rock Lake as we drove across a bridge. The water was so blue in the lake!

It was cloudy during most of our time in the Ozarks. Here is one sunny shot of Table Rock Lake as we drove across a bridge. The water was so blue in the lake!

We paid a pretty penny to walk the path at Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve. I can't say that I remember ever paying $13 per human to walk six miles... and I can say for sure the dogs have never paid $3 each to go with us. However, in this case we paid the fee and it was worth it. I'm glad we watched the weather forecast and picked a day with beautiful weather. I think the sun and blue skies made the hike that much more beautiful.

We paid a pretty penny to walk the path at Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve. I can’t say that I remember ever paying $13 per human to walk six miles… and I can say for sure the dogs have never paid $3 each to go with us. However, in this case we paid the fee and it was worth it. I’m glad we watched the  forecast and picked a day with good weather. I think the sun and blue skies made the hike that much more beautiful.

 

The lady at Dogwood Canyon's front desk told us we might see some bald eagles.

The lady at Dogwood Canyon’s front desk told us we might see some bald eagles.

She was right!

She was right!

Trying to get the perfect shot of the bald eagles flying above us.

Trying to get the perfect shot of the bald eagles flying above us.

The streams at Dogwood Canyon were stocked with all kinds of trout.

The streams at Dogwood Canyon were stocked with all kinds of trout.

One of the waterfalls that flowed into emerald blue water at Dogwood Canyon.

One of the waterfalls that flowed into emerald blue water at Dogwood Canyon.

We also paid too much money to visit Silver Dollar City Amusement Park in Branson. Only one of the roller coasters was running because of the cold temperatures (not that I would have ridden anyway). We basically paid $125 to walk around the pretend 1880's village for 2-plus hours.

We also paid too much money to visit Silver Dollar City Amusement Park in Branson. Only one of the roller coasters was running because of the cold temperatures (not that I would have ridden anyway). We basically paid $125 to walk around the pretend 1880’s village for 2-plus hours.

Once the sun went down at Silver Dollar City, it was obvious that the lights were SPECTACULAR. They outlined every inch of every building, and covered quite a few trees from base to the very last limb.

Once the sun went down at Silver Dollar City, it was obvious that the lights were SPECTACULAR. They outlined every inch of every building, and covered quite a few trees from their base to the very last limb.

The tree at Silver Dollar City.

The tree at Silver Dollar City.

Big Cedar Lodge is owned by the same folks that have Bass Pro Shops. Over the past couple of years I have started a list of fancy or cool hotel resorts that I would like to come back and stay in. The place made my list.

Big Cedar Lodge is owned by the same folks that have Bass Pro Shops. Over the past couple of years I have started a list of fancy or cool hotel resorts that I would like to come back and stay in. This place made my list.

The marina at Big Cedar Lodge. You can bring your own boat, or rent one of theirs (with our without a captain).

The marina at Big Cedar Lodge. You can bring your own boat, or rent one of theirs (with or without a captain).

We enjoyed a luxurious Christmas afternoon brunch at the 1921 Worman House at Big Cedar Lodge. A beautiful expansive view of Table Rock Lake was the backdrop through a wall of windows in the dining room. One of the best parts about this Christmas was that the sun came out and the temperatures warmed up to make it a splendid day.

We enjoyed a luxurious Christmas afternoon brunch at the 1921 Worman House at Big Cedar Lodge. A beautiful expansive view of Table Rock Lake was the backdrop through a wall of windows in the dining room. One of the best parts about this Christmas was that the sun came out and the temperatures warmed up to make it a splendid day.

The entrance into Big Cedar Lodge includes a beautiful view of Table Rock Lake through the trees.

The entrance into Big Cedar Lodge includes a beautiful view of Table Rock Lake through the trees.

There was an undeveloped subdivision behind our campground, so we got to take the dogs on long PAVED walks almost every day that we were in Forsyth.

There was an undeveloped subdivision behind our campground, so we got to take the dogs on long PAVED walks almost every day that we were in Forsyth.

I looked up the details of our abandoned subdivision. The lots were basically 5 acre parcels at $20,000 - owners could subdivide once. Seems like a good deal for someone that wants to live out in the middle of nowhere - with electricity, water and sewer.

I looked up the details of our abandoned subdivision. The lots were basically 5 acre parcels at $20,000 – owners could subdivide once. Seems like a good deal for someone that wants to live out in the middle of nowhere – with electricity, water and sewer.

I wish I could have snapped this photo on a clear sunny day, but we didn't have too many of them during this stop.

I wish I could have snapped this photo of the Ozarks on a clear sunny day, but we didn’t have too many of them during this stop.

We found a Methodist Church in Forsyth. We were able to enjoy the Christmas Pageant on the Sunday before Christmas, and a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. The greeter ladies by the front door always teased Mike about his longhorn hat when we arrived.

We found a Methodist Church in Forsyth. We were able to enjoy the Christmas Pageant on the Sunday before Christmas, and a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. The greeter ladies by the front door always teased Mike about his longhorn hat when we arrived.

Mike's favorite thing about the Methodist Church in Forsyth was this cool space shuttle bus. It took me a while to figure out that it couldn't actually be driven.

Mike’s favorite thing about the Methodist Church in Forsyth was this cool space shuttle bus. It took me a while to figure out that it couldn’t actually be driven.

Branson Landing is located between the river and historic downtown Branson. They have a water fountain that 'dances' to music. Each hour on the hour they feature a song that includes fire too!

Branson Landing is located between the river and historic downtown Branson. They have a water fountain that ‘dances’ to music. Each hour on the hour they feature a song that includes fire too!

A giant nativity scene sits high up on a bluff across the river from Branson Landing.

A giant nativity scene sits high up on a bluff across the river from Branson Landing.

Some of the Christmas lights in front of the fountain at Branson Landing.

Some of the Christmas lights in front of the fountain at Branson Landing.

We took advantage of as many Christmas activities that we could while we were in Branson during the holidays. This was a drive-through light display on our way to eat Thai food.

We took advantage of as many Christmas activities that we could while we were in Branson during the holidays. This was a drive-through light display on our way to eat Thai food.

Mike figured out how to attach the swag we bought from Ted Drewes in St. Louis to the front of our coach.

Mike figured out how to attach the swag we bought from Ted Drewes in St. Louis to the front of our coach.

Our spot at Jellystone Campground - W4.

Our spot at Jellystone Campground – W4.

Mike ordered a bunch of parts from China and made his own rope light (complete with remote control). We put it in our front window as part of our Christmas décor, but I think it is going to stay permanently. When it is not Christmas, we will program them to be blue, green and purple to match the inside decorations.

Mike ordered a bunch of parts from China and made his own rope light (complete with remote control). We put it in our front window as part of our Christmas décor, but I think it is going to stay permanently. When it is not Christmas, we will program them to be blue, green and purple to match the inside decorations.

Santa said he wasn't quite sure if he would be able to find Piper and Cessna on Christmas morning, so he gave them their presents early while we were at Branson Landing.

Santa said he wasn’t quite sure if he would be able to find Piper and Cessna on Christmas morning, so he gave them their presents early while we were at Branson Landing.

At least the Longhorns made it to a bowl game, although the outcome was not pretty.

At least the Longhorns made it to a bowl game, although the outcome was not pretty.

Missouri Part I: Danville

We started our month of December in Missouri with our first stop in Danville. The Lazy Day Campground was located just off of I-70, about 1 hour west of the St. Louis Metro area, and about 45 minutes east of Columbia and the University of Missouri. We were also about 45 minutes northeast of the state capital, Jefferson City.

Our campground was very nice. The owners were very friendly and had purchased the place about 20 years ago. It was obvious that they had invested lots of money into the property because the infrastructure and landscaping were so attractive and established. There were about 65 total spots, but there were no more than six other sites occupied during our stay. It seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves for the two weeks we camped there.

We had Sunday Brunch at a Cajun place that was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Highway 61 Roadhouse. Joel Olsteen and mimosas, go figure.

We had Sunday Brunch at a Cajun place that was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Highway 61 Roadhouse. Joel Olsteen and mimosas, go figure.

Cutest totem pole I've ever seen.

Cutest totem pole I’ve ever seen.

The owners of our campground were big dog lovers, so the dog park at Lazy Day was extra great. Piper and Cessna had tons of room to roam and play chase. Lucky for me, it was a great spot from which to watch the sunrise in the mornings.

The owners of our campground were big dog lovers, so the dog park at Lazy Day was extra great. Piper and Cessna had tons of room to roam and play chase. Lucky for me, it was a great spot from which to watch the sunrise in the mornings.

We stopped at the famous Ted Drewes during one of our daytrips to St. Louis. I got a micro concrete mint chocolate chip.  I can understand why this place is world famous. During the slow months of Winter, the genius proprietor started selling Christmas trees to supplement his income. While we were there, we selected a natural pine swag to put on the front of the Monaco.

We stopped at the famous Ted Drewes during one of our daytrips to St. Louis. I got a micro concrete mint chocolate chip. I can understand why this place is world famous. During the slow months of Winter, the genius proprietor started selling Christmas trees to supplement his income. While we were there, we selected a natural pine swag to put on the front of the Monaco.

Approximately 250 fiberglass cakes are scattered throughout the St. Louis region. They’re placed at notable locations to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis. This one was in the neighboring community of St. Charles.

Approximately 250 fiberglass cakes are scattered throughout the St. Louis region. They’re placed at notable locations to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis. This one was in the neighboring community of St. Charles.

Historic downtown St. Charles.

Historic downtown St. Charles.

Taking a family hike down to the lake below our campground.

Taking a family hike down to the lake below our campground.

We signed 'the wall' at our campground.

We signed ‘the wall’ at our campground.

Our campground had a wall beside the office that was signed by campers. It was fun to read where everyone was from.

Our campground had a wall beside the office that was signed by campers. It was fun to read where everyone was from.

The Shaved Duck in South St. Louis. DDD Restaurant - one of the BEST we have visited. You are looking at French fries topped with pulled pork and rib meat, smothered in special cheese sauce and then topped off with some white cheddar cheese. We dipped our bites in their house-made bbq sauces. This is not all we ordered... it was merely the appetizer!

The Shaved Duck in South St. Louis. DDD Restaurant – one of the BEST we have visited. You are looking at French fries topped with pulled pork and rib meat, smothered in special cheese sauce and then topped off with some white cheddar cheese. We dipped our bites in their house-made bbq sauces. This is not all we ordered… it was merely the appetizer!

The captain of our adventure commemorates our time in the Midwest and anticipates our future heading west.

The captain of our adventure commemorates our time in the Midwest and anticipates our future heading west.

We spotted this outdoor fireplace at the Budweiser Brew House when we were wandering around downtown St. Louis while the temperatures were in the 30's. Seemed like a perfect excuse to sit down and have a drink.

We spotted this outdoor fireplace at the Budweiser Brew House when we were wandering around downtown St. Louis while the temperatures were in the 30’s. Seemed like a perfect excuse to sit down and have a drink.

Gateway to the West

Gateway to the West

We were the only ones parked on the historic St. Louis waterfront on the day we visited downtown.

We were the only ones parked on the historic St. Louis waterfront on the day we visited downtown.

Lewis and Clark are big around here.

Lewis and Clark are big around here.

The Missouri State Capitol

The Missouri State Capitol

The Missouri Governor's Mansion sits high on a bluff above the Missouri River. I can only imagine what the view looks like from those third floor windows.

The Missouri Governor’s Mansion sits high on a bluff above the Missouri River. I can only imagine what the view looks like from those third floor windows.

The Missouri River.

The Missouri River.

Merry Christmas from the Martin Family.

Merry Christmas from the Martin Family.

Downtown Hermann.

Downtown Hermann.

The historic town of Hermann is a popular location for tourists because the German community features several wineries located in the surrounding hills.

The historic town of Hermann is a popular location for tourists because the German community features several wineries located in the surrounding hills.

The Columns at the University of Missouri - a symbol of the Tiger spirit of resiliency.

The Columns at the University of Missouri – a symbol of the Tiger spirit of resiliency.

Jesse Hall (built in 1893) is the main administration building for the University of Missouri.

Jesse Hall (built in 1893) is the main administration building for the University of Missouri.

The Bell Tower of Memorial Union on the University of Missouri Campus.

The Bell Tower of Memorial Union on the University of Missouri Campus.

Our site a Lazy Day Campground.

Our site at Lazy Day Campground.

Crossing the Mississippi River, again.

Crossing the Mississippi River, again.