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March 25, 2008

Arkansas 2008

IMG_6193_editedHot Springs, AR, the city, sits around, between and inside Hot Springs National Park.  The naturally sterile water in the 47 springs is at a temperature of 143F.  The water (about 800,000 gallons a day) is purported to have medicinal properties and had been known to the American Indians long before Hernando de Soto visited the  springs in 1541.

IMG_6189By 1832 the springs had created so much tourism the federal government set aside the springs and surrounding area as the country’s first park-type federal reservation – it became a National Park in 1921.  There are still 8 bathhouses along Bathhouse Row although at the moment only 1 is still providing baths and massages.  Some of the hotels also provide baths.  The park Visitor Centre is in another one that can be toured and we saw at least 2 others that were under renovation and restoration, by the National Park Service.

We climbed the hill, then went up the Mountain Tower and looked down on the town, specifically on the Arlington Hotel. (see the top photo).  This is luxury accommodation that dates back to 1875 and the current hotel dates to 1924.  As with so many old buildings, fire destroyed the previous structure.  We had lunch in the lobby restaurant.

Hot Springs was the boyhood home of Bill Clinton and there was a very good display of memorabilia on the observation level of the Tower.  We drove past his house, but it is a private residence so we could only look. 

One afternoon we attended the thoroughbred races at Oaklawn Park.  That was great fun but we didn’t win anything.  I gather this is quite a well known racetrack.

IMG_6210_editedIt was a short 60 miles to Little Rock so we arrived quite early in the afternoon.  We had been hearing about the flooding along the rivers in Arkansas so were glad to be over the bridge that crosses the Arkansas River. Our campground was right on the water and as you can see the river was very high.
Texas and East 131

Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas and the capitol building, patterned after the US Capitol, is beautiful.  It was built between 1899 and 1915, the interior marble from various states and  the exterior limestone from Arkansas.  Since it was Sunday we were unable to take a guided tour but we were given access to the Governor’s Reception Room and the Senate and the House Chambers. 

That afternoon we visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.  It is where the official records of the Clinton Presidency are kept. 

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 It also includes displays of  gifts received by the Clintons, exhibits relating to life in the White House, as well as a full-scale replica of the Cabinet Room and the Oval office. 

Texas and East 151_editedThere was a  special exhibition during the time that we were there.  It was a scale model of the White House, 60 ft long by 25 ft wide, constructed in a one-inch-to-one-foot scale.  It took 32 years to complete and includes hand-carved furniture, tiny paintings that replicate the original works of art,  actual working miniature televisions and clocks and of course hundreds of tiny lights.  There are even miniature place settings and wine glasses on the tables!

It was an excellent afternoon and we could have spent much more time looking at the exhibits.  Think we’ll stop again when we are down that way.

We had been hearing about the extensive flooding in northern Arkansas, with some of the Interstate and State Highways being closed.  We decided that we would get across the Mississippi into Tennessee before the flood waters peaked – just to be sure.  

IMG_6214_editedDidn’t have any problems as we travelled but the White River looked more like a lake – with trees growing in it – than a river and the Interstate Rest Area getting closer to the Mississippi was closed as water covered the exit road.  This picture was taken as we drove along the raised highway that went for miles.

Memphis – our next stop.

Bernie & Ross

Posted by Bernice at 05:04 PM | Comments (2)

March 20, 2008

The rest of 2008 Texas

P1020593_editedAustin, the Texas capital, is named for Stephen F Austin, who brought the first American settlement to Texas in the early 1880s.

The current capital building was completed in 1888 and is clad in Texas “sunset-red” granite.  It is set on 26 acres of landscaped land and is very impressive.  We took the guided tour and as we were the only ones on it, we had great opportunity to ask all kinds of questions.

Driskill Hotel_edited

At the corner of Brazos & Pecan sits the Driskill Hotel.  Built in 1886 this elegant “grande dame” of city hotels has aged beautifully.  It was the center of power brokering in Austin, at the turn of the century.

We toured the hotel and enjoyed a drink in the lobby bar.  The ceilings are the original pressed tin and the decor is very elegant.


We often try to take a city tour as you get so much local history and colour.  In Austin we went on the Duck Adventure – an amphibious military landing vehicle.  Not only did the narrated tour take us through the historic district, the U of Texas at Austin and around the Capitol, but we also had a cruise on Lake Austin.

We’ve never been on an amphibious vehicle before so it was strange to drive down the boat ramp right into the lake.

The final day we toured the Texas State History Museum. It’s a wonderful sprawling 3 floors of interactive exhibits that show the history of the state, from the earliest inhabitants and explorers right up to the contribution to space travel.

P1020604The owners and staff at campgrounds where we stay, have given us some of the best hints of things to do, sites to see and places to eat.  We took their suggestion for Texas BBQ and stopped in Lockhart on Sunday, March 9th, on our way from Austin to San Antonio.  

Many communities  in the U.S. are built around a center square with the Court House in the middle. Most of these buildings are quite impressive but Lockhart, with a population of  11,000+ took it to unprecedented levels.  It was magnificent!

Unfortunately the properties facing into the square did not live up to the grandeur of the Court but there were two that were picture worthy.


We thought perhaps the “World Finance” was a little overstated.

Oh yes!  The BBQ was fine – a pulled pork sandwich – and the restaurant was doing a bang up business, particularly with the take-out, after church lunch crowd.

IMG_6174This was our second visit (see Journal February 07) to San Antonio and we planned on seeing sites we had missed last time.

Back then we had visited the Riverwalk at night, so this time we spent an afternoon strolling along the waterway and walking through the historical part of town.  There weren’t a lot of people around and away from the river many businesses were not open, but it was a very pleasant time.

In 1718, a Franciscan mission, San Antonio de Valero (later renamed Pueblo del Alamo) was built on the  river. Over the next few years a line of missions were built along the river south of town toIMG_6159_edited populate and preserve Spain’s hold on the region.  By the late 1700’s and early 1800’s the mission era came to an end and the lands were redistributed among their inhabitants.  The Spanish missions helped form the foundation for the city of San Antonio.  Fortunately, the community has worked since the 1920’s to preserve them. 

We took the guided tour of Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo.  It was a model of organization and a major social centre.  At its peak around 1768, when this building was being built, there were 350 Indians residing in the 84 two-room apartments built into the mission compound walls.  San Jose mission continues as an active church in the community.

We headed out to the north east, on Thursday March 14th, for the two day trip to Rusk, TX.  Our first night was spent near Brenham and on the advice of a variety store owner, we visited a small Mexican restaurant and had some very excellent food.  You never know what you will find where.

Rusk 002_editedWe needed to be in Rusk on Saturday so that we could take the early morning excursion train on Sunday.  We stayed at the campground right beside the railway yards at the Texas State Railroad State Park. 

This railroad was built  around 1881 by prisoners, to transport iron ore to the smelters at the East Texas State Penitentiary in Rusk. 

Rusk 004_editedWe travelled about 25 miles each way, through the local countryside and had lunch in the park at the halfway point.  The railway cars and engines have been restored and interestingly it was again prisoners who restored the actual rail line.

It was an interesting day and Ross certainly enjoyed his contact with the railway equipment and employees.

Texas and East 082

On Monday, March 17th, we continued our slow road home, travelling to Texarkana, which sits right on the Texas/Arkansas border.  The state line runs through the middle of the Post Office – apparently the only federal building situated in two states. Special legislation by both states created unique legal jurisdictions, applicable only in the building.
Texarkana theater Sometimes, we unexpectedly find absolute architectural gems.  The 1924 Saenger Theatre (now the Perot Theatre) appeared to be closed, but the box office staff (thanks Traci) were great and we were given a private tour of this marvel.  The building has been faithfully restored to its original appearance and is spectacular.  It is the center of the performing arts scene and brings classical music, ballet, jazz and Broadway productions to the region.

After our tour of the theater, we walked the short distance to the Regional Arts Center. It shows National touring art exhibitions and is housed in the renovated 1909 District Courthouse.  That day they were setting up a show about “hats”

Texas and East 091_editedThe next day we toured the “Ace of Clubs House”  which is a 22 sided house that was built with the winnings from a poker game.  It has 3 octagonal wings and one rectangular wing.  Looking down on it forms the distinct shape of a “club”.  Most of the furnishings are original and our guide was very knowledgeable about the house and family.  She had done a lot of her own research so we got excellent information.

Texarkana, which was home to Pulitzer Prize winning composer Scott Joplin, turned out to be a much more interesting stop than we had anticipated.

Arkansas is a state the we had spent little time in,  It was the next state on our way home so seemed the logical way to head.

Bernie & Ross



Posted by Bernice at 12:29 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2008

West Texas 2008

It was Feb. 25th and our plan was to head back to Texas and the Rio Grande Valley where a number of Ontario friends were wintering.  Unfortunately we received word that due to family and health reasons most of them were heading home early.  The best laid plans oftenIMG_6119_edited get changed!

We were already on our way east so we continued toward Texas, boondocking overnight at Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino just outside El Paso.  Early in the morning, the horses were on the track, right close to our trailer, to be schooled in the starting gate.  It was interesting to see the younger ones just being led through the gates with no saddles. There was a progression of education right up to experienced horses being started as if it were a race. Fascinating watching – but then I’m a horse fan.

In 2006 we had passed through Fort Stockton (it is on I10) and decided that perhaps we should have a closer look.  Back then, Bill at the Visitor Centre, had told us that they farmed shrimp in the desert.  Ya sure!  Well, he was correct.  IMG_6125_editedWithout a doubt the absolutely, positively best shrimp we have ever eaten – grown right there in Imperial, about 20 miles north of Fort Stockton.  Apparently, millions of years ago the whole area was covered by the Permian Sea. The sea receded but this area – the Permian Basin – still has salt water beneath it.  Bart and Patsy Reid pump the salt water into 4 acre ponds, seed the ponds with shrimp in the spring and harvest them in the fall.  The shrimp are certified organic as the water is absolutely pure.  They only produce enough to supply there own facility – The Shrimp Store.  So if you want to try some, you have to visit them.  It’s worth it.

About another 260 miles further east is Fredericksburg, a lovely town with a German heritage. We stopped there for 5 nights as there P1020483_editedwas so much to see and do.

Enchanted Rock, about 20 miles north of the town, is a massive granite out cropping that rises 400 feet above the surrounding countryside.  It is a 1/2 mile steep hike up to the top but we had a great view once we got up there.

P1020517Have you heard the Willy Nelson & Waylon Jennings song about Luckenback, TX.  We visited the “town” one day as it’s only a few miles south of Fredericksburg.  It is actually a private community with a population of about 3 and it’s slogan is “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenback”, Live music, by local musicians, is featured there just about any day of the week.

P1020526-1_editedThis house was built by President Lydon Johnson to recreate the home that he grew up in.  It sits in the same location as the original.  We took a tour of the Johnson ranch, which is located about 15 miles east of Fredericksburg.   Lady Bird spent a reasonable amount of time here at the ranch until her death  last July.  Both she and LBJ are buried in the family cemetery on the property.

P1020551_editedWe spent time wandering the main street with its restored buildings, visiting the Art Co-op, visiting a winery (yes, there are a number in the area), having a great German meal in town and finally spending an afternoon at the National Museum of the Pacific War. 

We were stymied as to why such an important Museum would be in a small town in the middle of Texas, until we found out that Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II, had been born in Fredericksburg.  Worth visiting.


We were on the move again, on March 4th heading east toward the capital of Texas, Austin.

On the way, we stopped and hiked down to the river in Pedernales Falls State Park.  The water was absolutely clear and a beautiful blue green.  We walked out on the huge rocks that had been carved by the river.  After we parked and all the way to the river there were large yellow warning signs that the river was subject to flash flood and to immediately move to higher ground if the water started to rise.  From the way the bedrock had been scoured smooth, it was obvious that this happens regularly.  Different warnings than we see in Ontario.  

We haven’t spent any time before in Austin so are looking forward to the visit.

Bernie & Ross

Posted by Bernice at 04:44 PM | Comments (3)