Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wagons Ho! Southbound

From Covered Wagon Campground, Abilene, Kansas       Our two day journey from Rapid City, South Dakota to Abilene, Kansas was uneventful except for the aggravation that comes with the loss of cool in the coach's chassis air conditioning.   That coupled with the ever warming outside temperatures made us quite unhappy. This happened last year about this time and we had freon added in Foley, Alabama. I think there's a leak in there somewhere. Anyway, we arrived Abilene in a scorching 91 degree, sun drenched afternoon and waited for the world's longest train to make it's way through town just two blocks before we reached the campground.  Insult was heaped onto injury when the campground parked us in a treeless field. A final slap would be the horrendous black flying gnats that swarmed our heads when we dared to venture outside. Egads.  Good news is we are but a block or so from the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and boyhood home -- the reason we came here.

Here is a map of our route from Hart Ranch in Rapid City to Covered Wagon Campground in Abilene.

Without notice on the first travel day, we happened upon Carhenge, (think Stonehenge) an ingenious display of old cars, stacked and half buried in the dirt in the tiny town of Alliance, Nebraska. Evidently, the idea was conceived in 1987 buy a man in England to memorialize his father.

Late in the afternoon we came upon this spectacular Archway spanning I-80 near Kearney, Nebraska. This beautiful archway represents 170 years of westward movement by Americans. From what I read, the archway has a variety of interesting displays.

The original plan for this destination was to rendezvous with Joyce and Charlie who live about a hundred miles south of Abilene in Wichita.  Two weeks ago, however, Joyce began her long awaited cataract surgery and it didn't go well. She's had several follow-up visits with the eye doctor and she is better, but her vision still isn't even as good as it had been before the surgery... much less better.  Joyce and Charlie are also in the midst of extensive remodeling of their home and the timing just didn't work out for them to be away during this time.

So on Tuesday morning we left Lexie and Ozzie at home in their play pen and drove the short two blocks from the campground to the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and boyhood home. To make the best use of our time, the ticket clerk suggested we go first to the Place of Meditation, where President Eisenhower, wife Mamie and first born son, Doud are buried.

The President's grave is on the left, First Lady on the right. Four year old Doud is buried here too but it's not clear where.
This purple banner hangs in the Place of Meditation and is apparently the words of then General Dwight David Eisenhower in prayer sometime before the war.

A bit of DDE trivia.  At birth, he wad David Dwight Eisenhower, but somehow upon enrollment at West Point, his first and middle names were transposed and he forevermore became Dwight David.

From the Place of Meditation, we walked to the boyhood home. This is where the Eisenhowers lived from 1898 until mother Ida Eisenhower died in 1946.

Concrete work is being done at the front of the house so tours were conducted through the back door, near where I'm standing in this picture.
The Eisenhower home remains on the original site and contains original furniture and household items just as they were when the family lived here.

The sitting room

The parlor

Dwight Eisenhower's mother, Ida. She lived in this house until she died in 1946.
Service men often came to the house after the war to pay respects to the Allied Commander. Mrs. Eisenhower usually had lemonade and cookies on the front porch for the unannounced visitors. 

The Eisenhower family Bible is on display in the house. 

The original telephone was never changed.  
The Eisenhower Museum was built by the Eisenhower Foundation with funds raised through public gifts. It is made of Kansas limestone and is a short sidewalk walk from the Eisenhower home.

Highlights of the Eisenhower Museum for me were:

Mamie's wedding gown and a display of wedding invitation, a pair of pearl earrings given her by Ike and a tiny piece of wedding cake contained in the small shield box.

Mamie's first inaugural gown

A personal card of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer S.S. and personal stationary of Adlolf Hitler
Original watercolor by Adolf Hitler

The D-Day Planning Table

The Inflatable Rubber Dummy. Hundreds of these were ejected from planes over the Normandy coast. The silhouette gave the appearance of Allied troops parachuting to the ground. The dummies exploded when they hit, making the Germans think they were being fired on. The blast destroyed the decoy, causing the Germans to believe the soldier had moved out of the area,
This letter, marked "Personal and Private" was special to me too. It was from British General Montgomery to General Eisenhower.  Because it's hard to read, I typed the message in the caption block under the picture.

Dated: 27-9-44   "My dear Ike, H.M. The King has asked if he can come and stay with me for 3 or 4 nights, and see his troops. He proposes to arrive on evening 10th October. I have told His Majesty that I am sure will have no objection to his visit. He is anxious on of the of these days of his visit to lunch with you (as I think you asked him) and to visit American troops in the First U.S. Army next door to me. My tentative programme for him would be as follows. Does this suit you?
11 October - Second Army, 12 October - Canadian Army, 13 October - Lunch with you and see American troops.
14 October - Return to England. I am keeping the whole thing very secret and no one here knows anything about it except myself, and Lt. Col. Downey, my M.A.    Yours ever, Monty"
General Eisenhower's 1942 Cadillac Staff Car

After the War 

Eisenhower accomplishments - Both extremely special for us in our retirement travel.

A built bullet-proof podium built for Ike by IBM 

Ike's golf clubs along with a scorecard showing his play against proffessional golfer, Bobby Jones. 
Following our visit to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, we enjoyed lunch at a local cafe in nearby Abilene Old Town and then rummaged around a consignment shop where I bought two nice, functional baskets. We returned to the coach, loaded Lexie and Ozzie and toured the rest of Abilene.

We followed signs to the Lebold mansion, not knowing what we'd find. Turns out this property site is that of the first cabin in Abilene Overland and Butterfield Stage Line. The couple who lived in the cabin were the parents of the first white child to be born here. They also were responsible for naming the city of Abilene.

Trains are everywhere in Abilene. I saw two depots. Wayne swears he saw a third. 

Lebold Mansion is for sale.  Completed in 1880, this 23 room mansion was built by a local banker who lost it after the depression of the late 1880's. For some 53 years, the building served as an apartment building, a telephone office and an orphanage. Restoration on the home didn't begin until 1972 and still is incomplete.
By 3:30, with our city tour complete, we returned to the coach.  Our time here is short as the weather is miserably hot. We pull out tomorrow, continuing the southeastward travel where I don't expect we'll get much cooler.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Our Sixth Year On The Road.....

From Bigfork Motorcoach Resort, Bigfork, Montana       Today marks the end of our sixth year traveling full time.

Six years ago last night we slept, for a final time, in our Franklin, Tennessee home. All our furniture and excess belongings had been sold or donated by that time. A contract on our house would be finalized within a few days -- executed through a power of attorney. We had no debt, no worries, no regrets and were truly unencumbered. We celebrated our personal Independence the next morning, July 4, as we struck out on our retirement journey.

So today we reached another milestone bringing our total retirement RV travel to a whopping 54,109 fun-filled miles.

The 6,418 mile sixth year travel began in Tennessee and took us to North Carolina, Alabama, through Mississippi without stopping, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado (briefly), Utah and Montana, in that order.

For three months of the sixth year we traveled with our friends Joyce and Charlie, seven with Pam and Ernie.  For that reason, a good number of my favorite pictures this year include the four of them.

Our plan to travel Alaska with Pam, Ernie and a few other couples was aborted when Pam's mother became ill. Disappointed? Not really. There's so much yet to see and enjoy here in the lower 48 and Alaska will still be there another year.

And so today, wishing everyone a happy Independence Day, we begin the 7th Lucky Year!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Golden Spike National Monument and Brigham City, Utah

From Golden Spike RV Park, Brigham City, Utah    Our week at Park City, Utah, and indeed our seven months of group travel, ended on yet another cool, rainy day.  Sweet Joyce surprised Wayne and me our last morning with a parting gift of her delicious homemade chicken enchiladas. They came ready to bake, along with chips, dip and the precious enchilada recipe.

Goodbyes are tearful for us so Joyce, Pam and I tried to keep our conversation light and happy that morning. Here's our last girl group photo -- it was taken in Pam and Ernie's coach.

The previous weekend, Lexie's health had become a concern again, so we started her on strict crate rest again. We were still convinced the problem was spinal.  Her walks were very short -- just a few short steps to do her business and then back into the crate. Confined, she seemed to feel better.

Mid-morning we were gone, heading north to Brigham City where we hope for warmer temperatures if not a bit more sunshine. Elevation here is a full 1,000 less than Park City.

The town is small but pleasant. Everything here revolves around the Mormon Church.

By far, this church is the finest building in Brigham City. This photo was taken on a Sunday morning.
Notice the horseback riders. 
We arrived at Golden Spike RV Park in plenty time to bake Joyce's enchiladas for an early dinner. Yum. They were good, cheesy and warming. I tried not to think of the calories and cholesterol. I'm down thirteen pounds and anxious to keep them off.

Chicken, cheese, heavy cream, cheese and more cheese. 

So rich, one is enough, along with a salad. 

The first few days at Brigham City, were filled watching Lexie and doing housekeeping chores, including making a change in the sleep arrangement for Lexie and Ozzie. That called for a visit to the local Ace Hardware where we found a nice thin but sturdy board to put under our mattress. At night, we simply slide the board part-way out and put their beds on it with the wall to support the other side. We also did some de-clutter work that resulted in a couple of visits to a local charity. The fire pit we bought in Gulf Shores last fall was among the donated goods. No place to store such an infrequently used and dirty item.

Golden Spike National Monument 

The location of the final spike driven into the steel that completed the transcontinental railroad is at Promontory Summit north of the Great Salt Lake and 32 miles west of Brigham City. The location is designated as a National Historic Site and Monument.


We scheduled a day to go, taking Lexie (crate and all) and Ozzie with us. The day was mostly overcast and plenry cool for them to remain in the truck during the short time we were there.

Scenery along the way to Promontory Summit
In 1862 Congress authorized Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads to undertake the mammoth task of connecting the two halves of the American continent. A central route near the Mormon Trail was chosen with Omaha as the terminus. Each railroad company received subsidies ranging from $16K to $48K per mile of railroad built, depending on the level of difficulty of the terrain covered.

Central Pacific broke ground in January 1863 and Union Pacific, the next December. Progress was slow and most of the country's attention was on the Civil War. Central Pacific crews struggled through the Sierra Nevada range and there were raids by the Sioux and Cheyenne. Material had to be shipped around Cape Horn. Workers were driven relentlessly until they could routinely lay two to five miles of track in a day.

A Record! April 28, 2869
The laborers in the railroad building effort were diverse: Union Pacific Railroad worked America's unemployed -- Irish, German and Italian immigrants, Civil War veterans, ex-slaves and American Indians. This volatile mix brought bloodshed and drunken brawls in the "Hell On Wheels" camps thrown up along the way. Because of the drain on the California labor pool for the gold and silver booms, Central Pacific Railroad hired mostly Chinese immigrants who became the backbone of the company's work force.

While railroad workers didn't always get along, they were effective in laying track that always measured exactly four feet, eight and one-half inches apart. They joined two oceans and cemented the political union of the country with a physical link that snaked across hundreds of miles of sparsely settled land. It was a formidable task. The two railroad companies raced toward one another through Utah, each hoping to claim more land subsidies. They pushed so hard that, at one time, they drove workers nearly 200 miles in opposite directions on parallel grades.

The final obstacle would be here at Promontory Summit
Finally Congress declared the meeting place to be Promontory Summit.  On May 10, 1869, two locomotives -- Central Pacific's Jupiter 60 and Union Pacific's 119 pulled to the one-rail gap left in the track and the symbolic golden spike was tapped into the rail.

The "purpose built" replica of Union Pacific Railroad 119

I never saw an explanation as to why the "purpose built" Jupiter 60 replica was not on site. 
In the end, Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of railroad and Union Pacific laid 1,086 miles. Combined, they crossed 1,776 miles over desert, rivers and mountains, including the Rockies.

The locomotive makes regular runs for visitors to the site.
They merely fire up the the engine, back it up a ways and return it to the monument site. 
Engraved on the Golden Spike is "May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world." The gold colored spike in the photo below is just a replica. The original spike was removed from the rail when the ceremony was complete and is on display at the Smithsonian.

Souvenir golden spike. 

Following our visit to Golden Spike National Monument, someone on Facebook made reference to "Hell On Wheels" and the good looks of an actor in the television series. I didn't know what they were talking about. Wayne and I watched a few of the remaining A&E episodes but didn't find the show or the actor appealing.

The stay at Golden Spike RV Park in Brigham City began as two days and turned into thirteen -- a frequent phononomen for us. The weather was warm for the most part and we had a good place to walk the dogs. Lexie remained confined to the crate but her back was sensitive to the touch. We both were worried.

Our campsite at Golden Spike campground was quite pleasant, mainly because we were on the front row, facing out onto a nice green, treed lot with the street beyond it. The street in front of us made for a really good little dog walking place. I recorded this little video to share with Pam and Joyce when we first arrived.

During our time at Brigham City, Joyce, Charlie, Pam and Ernie drove up from Park City one afternoon. We all enjoyed a really fine dinner at Maddox Ranch House Restaurant, although the wait for our table was long. It would be the final meal together for us and the end of our wonderful fall/winter/spring cross-country excursion together. Once more, Joyce, Pam and I managed to avoid a long, tearful farewell. I knew I would miss them and I did. The withdrawal was awful for several weeks.

Golden Spike RV Park 
On Thursday, June 2, we finally left Brigham City, Utah in route to Montana for summer.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Park City and Utah Olympic Village

From Park City RV Resort, Park City, Utah      Pam and Ernie arrived Park City ahead of us, on May 10th, while we were still in Grand Junction, Colorado. Charlie and Joyce followed within another day or so when they finished their visit to Capitol Reef National Park. This is our final stop as a traveling group.

Along the road to Park City from Salt Lake City (elev. 7,000')
The day of our arrival, the day was warm and sunny, but once again, we seem to be a step ahead of bad weather. Most of our week in Park City was just downright cold and/or rainy. Drat!

One of our few afternoons to be outside.
Our campsites all had nice views, overlooking a stream and mountainside.
Left to right: Ernie's head, Pam (sunglasses), Joyce, Wayne (white cap) and Charlie

Park City is a special place and one could feel the urge to ski by just being here. Not me though. I am a Southerner want no part of snow chains on my tires or winter sports injuries. However, on some of the rare warm days, we enjoyed browsing downtown Park City and feeling the youthful enthusiasm of those who dare to embrace winter activities.

Joyce, Pam and I encountered these three handsome senior fellows in downtown Park City.
Charlie, Ernie and the Wayner. 

Zoom is restaurant is associated with Robert Redford. We hoped to eat here (just to say we did) but to our surprise, found Zoom closed for repairs... indefinitely. 
We stopped in for libation at the No Name Saloon & Grill in downtown Park City.
Left to right is Ernie, Wayne, me, Pam, Joyce and Chuckles.
As often happens, Pam and Ernie ran into someone from their hometown. 

Pam and Ernie have visited Park City in years past. Charlie too -- on a business trip. They knew about the Olympic Park training facility here. They said watching summer ski jump practice might be a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

So we made a date and watched the strange sight of snow skiers flying down the high slopes into a swimming pool. Frankly, I don't know what keeps them from killing themselves, but they didn't and the practice was a memorable thing for me.

Hard to see but there is a skier on the slope between my right elbow and shoulder.
Despite our best efforts, getting the "perfect" photo was near impossible.  

View from alongside one of the lower slopes.
Our ski-jump viewing area was the middle patio of the building in the picture.

Air injectors are turned on just before the skiers hit the water.
The bubbles are turned off between skiers.

Here you can see the bubbles in the pool as the skier hits the water.

This facility was built for the 2002 Winter Olympic games and now offers a variety of tours and visitor activities.  The park hosted bobsled, skeleton, luge, Nordic ski jump and Nordic combined events.

Today the venue is an active Official U.S. Olympic Training site providing a facilities for Olympic and development level athletes.  A very reasonably price shuttle tour of the property was next on our agenda. I think it was $5 or $10 each, for seniors.

Our shuttle driver was a former competitor who works here while he awaits his next gig. Too old to compete now, he is a sports announcer who has worked most Winter Olympics since 2002.  I forgot his name but he told me he expects to be called any moment for the next job.

As interesting as the shuttle driver was to talk to, the tour guide was equally as interesting visually. The tall, lanky self-described "ski bum" considers himself an old man among skiers. His knowledge of the property and the sports was impressive.

Pam and Ernie listen intently to some of many winter sports facts as explained by our guide, whose name I have forgotten. 
A few facts about the 2002 Winter Olympics:  The area formed a ring of five connecting cities, with metro Salt Lake serving as the center ring. These northern most city was Ogden -- Provo and Orem were in the south. Park City and Heber were the easterly rings while Kearns and West Valley City served as the westernmost rings.  The Olympic area was 70 miles long and 50 miles wide. Olympic Village was on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Our guide narrated as the shuttle took us up the mountain side to Bobsled Plaza where the bobsled, luge and skeleton events begin.

Ongoing activities for summer visitors on the Olympic property began the week we were there. Alpine slide, biking and hiking trails, a mountain challenge and adventure course are available to the public. During Charlie's first visit here, he took one of the bobsled ride and said it was exciting but rough. A zipline is on the property but was not functioning when we were there.

View looking down over the bobsled course

Men's luge start is the white ramp to the left. Women's luge start is to the right. 
The shuttle took us on to Peak Plaza where this K-120 Ski Jump view awaited those of us willing to look. Gulp. No, I can't imagine how it would feel...

Looking out over some lower, smaller ski jumps and the beautiful Utah countryside. 
In the picture above, the grassy area to the right, near the road, had been an Olympic event parking area in the winter of 2002.  It was taken up after the games.

Our time together was winding down during the week at Park City. Wayne and I will move along to Brigham City, Utah, where the lower elevation should translate into warmer days. The two other couples will stay on in Park City for a few weeks before they go on to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

We did get one more short afternoon together at Brigham City, where we did, of course, go out to eat. As so often happens, we found a terrific restaurant at Maddox Ranch House. Oh... so good.