Thursday, December 24, 2015

Back in the Springs

Doe in the snow
December wouldn’t be complete without my annual pilgrimage to Crystal Park to visit Bek and Mr Twister. Two previous blog entries will give you more information about the area: Colorful Colorado and Springing to Manitou. Needless to say, I’m enamored of this place.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Aliens and Spiders and Dinos …Oh My!

Seuss Landing
Although we spent a fair amount of time in the Wizarding Worlds, there are 11 other venues for entertainment. And there are things to do that don’t make you risk life and limb – or at least threaten to separate you from any loose objects. Walking through the parks is a visual treat. As with the Harry Potter areas, attention has been given to creating realistic (or fantastic) ambiance. For instance, The Lost Continent is constructed from sandstone, making the statues appear realistic and creating a desert ambiance that had me looking for camels. I’m not quite sure what I was looking for at Seuss Landing, but the fanciful creatures that greeted us made me smile. Horton was there, listening to a Who, and the Cat was wearing his big Hat; lots of children were wearing t-shirts that labeled them ‘Thing 1’ or ‘Thing 2’. But in the distance we could hear something growling…

Friday, December 11, 2015

Let the Adventure Begin!

Entrance to Islands of Adventure
My birthday trip didn’t have a propitious beginning. We were an hour delayed leaving DFW airport and all the kids waiting were far beyond restless; so was I. The parents seemed to have bulging jaw muscles and rictus smiles. Once in the air calm was restored, especially when ‘Frozen’ began playing on the drop-down screens.

Friday, December 4, 2015

It was a dark and stormy night…

Well it wasn’t stormy, but it was exceedingly dark and I had been stuck in traffic for an
Grapevine spillway and fall foliage
inordinate amount of time. So knowing that I had a GPS, I turned off on a road that I thought went the direction I wanted to go and headed west. Very shortly I was driving through a warehouse district, and shortly after that a tree and field lined lane. I was exceedingly happy to see lights of what looked like stores just ahead. The signs said, ‘Lakeside’ and I still wondered where I was. Eventually, with a lot of twists and turns through rural Texas, my GPS got me back home. I was determined to find the places I’d not seen in the dark and find out if there was anything interesting in the area. It turned out that I’d been winding around through a corner of Flower Mound, a city just north of Grapevine and west of Lewisville.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Square Meal in Waxahachie

Gingerbread house
Since it was a lovely autumn day, we decided to take a leisurely drive down to Waxahachie. The town is not named after an ‘Indian tribe’, but may mean ‘river of buffalo dung’ or simply ‘buffalo’; it depends on who you talk to as to the meaning of this name.  Of the possible Native American language origins, the Alabama language, spoken by the Alabama-Coushatta people who had moved to eastern Texas in the 1850s seems the most likely point of origin. However, in the Alabama language, waakasi hachi means ‘calf's tail’. In any case, Waxahachie was founded as the seat of Ellis County in August, 1850. The land was donated given by Emory W. Rogers who had come to Texas in 1839. With the arrival of a rail line from Waxahachie Tap Railroad to Garrett, Texas, the population increased, making Waxahachie a viable community. This area was once home to thick groves of sycamores as well as one of the largest primary cotton markets in Texas. A textile mill using the lower grades of locally produced cotton, manufactured duck and other heavy materials. There were also two large cottonseed oil mills and a cotton compress. During the Civil War a powder mill was operated by the Confederate government in Waxahachie, but an explosion ended the enterprise in 1863. The city was also the site of Trinity University. This school was in operation for about 40 years, moving in 1942 to San Antonio.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Off to Alvarado

Top L to R: Horse sculpture, downtown area
Bottom: Downtown area
It was a rainy, fall day in North Texas and we wanted something to do so we took a drive to Alvarado for lunch. Alvarado is the oldest town in Johnson County and is fairly calm until Saturday nights when it gets marginally more exciting, according to local residents. Located just fifteen miles east of the giant metropolis of Cleburne, it began when David Mitchell established a trading post near Alvarado in 1849, about the time colonists of M.S. Peters’ empresario land grant began of settle the area. William Balch settled this area, then returned with his family in the spring of 1851. He established the Sprawler Hotel, so named because his many guests sometimes had to sleep on pallets in the front yard. Balch became known as the ‘Father of Alvarado’ for having the town site surveyed in 1854, establishing the first general merchandise stores on the square and for donating land for a cemetery, school and union church. This first school had a sturdy, eight-foot fence to keep the students from being trampled under the hoofs of passing north- and west-bound herds of cattle.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Retreating in San Diego and Reviews

Dome of new San Diego Public Library
In the 1990s I spent several summers teaching hands-on science to elementary teachers in San Diego, California. It was also in this lovely city that I acquired my obsession with tiny glass beads and my passion for making beaded jewelry. So when the opportunity arose to come back to one of my favorite places and to indulge my appetite for beady creations, I didn’t hesitate. On all of my previous visits, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wildlife Park were on my list of things to do, but this time I decided to forego these two favorites for the exploration of some places I hadn’t seen. Each earlier visit had also required that I rent a car, but on this occasion I decided to use other methods of transportation to get around the city; this turned out to be a good idea.

Friday, November 6, 2015

White Rocks and Foreign Food

White Rock Lake
There aren’t too many times that I actually go to downtown Dallas, but I do end up in ‘North Dallas’ rather frequently. Although ‘North Dallas’ used to be thought of as just north of downtown, the area has grown to include the area all along Central Expressway. However, this visit took me to a spot very near White Rock Lake. Although I’ve never been there at night, many people have reported offering a young woman who is dripping wet a ride to her home on Gaston Avenue. When they get to the house, the woman has disappeared, leaving the car seat covered in water. The ‘Lady of White Rock Lake’ was drowned during a boating accident in the 1930s.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Other Arlington, the One in Texas

Eons ago the big thrill in my young life was to get to go to Arlington, Texas for dinner, or shopping. A bit later this was the place to go on Friday or Saturday night to see and be seen on the University drag, and even later still it was the location of the first home I owned. While traffic is still a headache, the town has changed, growing larger and enticing businesses, tourist attractions, and sports venues to the central part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Back to the Smokeys

Grove Park Inn Grounds
Once again a group of us made the trek to Black Mountain, North Carolina for a week of laughs, hugs, creativity, and togetherness (See Mountains of Art for more information about this wonderful area). For the last 21 years a bunch of imaginative people have come together to fashion beaded jewelry. This year wasn’t any different, except that now we are tapping the teaching prowess of the members of our group to generate a variety of pieces.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Feed, Seed and Beer to Go

Thurber Smokestack
For years Dave has been visiting Thurber and Mingus to celebrate the beginning of the deer hunting season. What he enjoyed, more than the hunting, was the food that was available. Mingus, with its small downtown not only has a post office, but a convenience store called the Feed, Seed and Beer to Go. The area is full of West Texas whimsy. Thurber is now a tiny unincorporated community in Erath County about 75 miles west of Fort Worth. However, between 1888 and 1921 it was one of the largest producers of bituminous coal in Texas and the largest company town in the state. Thurber’s coal-mining operations began in 1886 and peaked in the 1920s. The mining attracted workers from Italy, Poland and Mexico to this company town that was owned by the Texas and Pacific Coal Company (through their subsidiary the Texas Pacific Mercantile and Manufacturing Company). This company served the Texas and Pacific Railway to whom it provided fuel until 1920 when the locomotives converted from coal to oil. The other industry booming in Thurber at this time was the production of vitrified paving bricks; these bricks are still in use in Texas and in the southern half of the US. Next door to Thurber is Mingus. Even though it’s smaller than Thurber, it has a post office. Named for William Mingus, it was the location of the 1881 construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway. The community served local farmers and ranchers, as well as a place for truckers and hunters to stop for supplies and/or refreshments.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reviews of the Road Trip to Yellowstone

Bears at Elk Antlers Inn
This was really a ‘trip down memory lane’ because we visited many of the same places I had visited as a graduate student then later as an instructor in field ecology. This trip, however, was different because on previous visits we had camped, and cooked our own food. We stayed in some nice places and ate some really remarkable meals. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Towns along the Road

Top L to R: Bridge at Gardiner, 45th Parallel
Bottom L to R: Moon at Gardiner, Elk
Since we could not get a place to stay in Yellowstone National Park for more than two consecutive days at a time, and because we really didn’t want to pack and unpack that frequently, we stayed outside the park in the small town (pop. 875 in 2014) of Gardiner, Montana. For the tiny population, there are an amazing number of very good places to eat dinner, but a dearth of places for breakfast. While we were there, the main road was being re-paved; the rest of the streets in town are gravel. This is a busy place for travelers all year round because of Gardiner’s proximity to hunting and fishing, as well as several areas for camping and hiking and the north entrance to Yellowstone. On our morning and evening travels out of and back into town, we got to see a herd of antelope grazing next to the main drive; one evening the traffic in town was a pair of elk wandering along one of the city streets. The town of Gardiner was founded in 1880, but has been the main entrance to Yellowstone National Park since its creation in 1872. The original arch still stands and a new road will route visitors through this historic gate in another year or two. One of the oldest businesses in town is Parks' Fly Shop, begun in 1953 by Merton Parks,
Laundry Sign
it’s just down the road from one of the newest firms, the Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center. And of course, there’s the Fluff and Fold where you can get a shower, wash your clothes, and go online all at the same time. Gardiner was named for Johnson Gardner, a fur trapper who worked in the area in about 1830. He named river and the valley after himself, but a later expedition misspelled the town’s name and that name stuck. J.C. McCartney and H. R. Horr claimed land that eventually became part of Yellowstone, building a rudimentary hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. In the late 1800s a territorial post office was established, giving an air of respectability to Gardiner and attracting the railroads. Railroad service lasted until about 1948, and work in Gardiner has focused on tourism ever since.

Original North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 1

Rafters on the Snake River
Jackson is a town in Jackson Hole valley; both are incredibly scenic. Although we visited in the middle of the summer, the nights in this area are a bit cool. Walking around the town was a study in international affairs in that we met travelers from all over the world and all were trying to see the sights, get something to eat and/or do some shopping. Jackson is the closest entrance to the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. This area is almost as crowded in the winter because Jackson is also near to several ski resorts. If you’re into art, there are galleries in town as well as the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and the Center for the Arts. The landmarks in town that tourists flock to are the large arches of shed elk antlers at the four entrances to the town square; these were put in place in 1953 and were restored in 2015. The only group allowed to collect antlers is the Boy Scouts. They go out onto the Elk Refuge, pick up the antlers, donate some to the city, and sell the rest to artists and folks interested in using them in folk remedies. Jackson Hole was visited at least 11,000 years, when the first hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians began migrating into the region looking for food and supplies. It was originally populated by the Shoshoni, Crow, Blackfeet, Bannock, and Gros Ventre who used this lush valley as a place to hunt, fish and camp. Trappers and explorers traveled through the area in the early 1800s, and in the late 1800s William Henry Jackson was so taken with the scenery that he photographed Teton Mountains and Yellowstone. The first permanent white settlers began arriving in the 1880s; the Town of Jackson was established in 1894 and some of the early buildings can still be found in the Town Square area. In 1920 Jackson made history by electing the first all-woman city council. U.S. Government expeditions to the region started in the mid-19th century as a result of Yellowstone exploration. Although photographs taken by William Jackson and the sketches by Tom Moran were used as evidence to convince Congress to protect
Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, it wasn’t until 1929 that Grand Teton National Park was created. In the 1930s, conservationists led by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. started buying land in Jackson Hole which could be added to the existing national park. However, public opinion and Congressional efforts were against these efforts. The conservationists prevailed and Jackson Hole National Monument was established in 1943. In 1950 the monument was abolished but 30,000 acres of the monument land was added to Grand Teton National Park.

Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 2

We left Jackson and the Tetons behind (although we did stop for several more pictures of
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
those grand mountains) and headed on up the Teton Park Road into our oldest national park. Yellowstone National Park is located mostly in Wyoming, but it also spreads into Montana and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. This park is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser. It has a variety of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is most common. Yellowstone is named for the igneous, volcanic rock rhyolite that changes to a yellow color as it ages and is exposed to the weather. When I was a geology student, our professor called this yellow rock ‘rotten rhyolite’ and I suppose I will always think of it as such. There are also other igneous rocks to be found in the park, including obsidian, a natural glass that the Clovis culture used to make cutting tools and weapons. In the 1950s, an obsidian projectile point of Clovis origin dating from about 11,000 years ago was found near Gardiner, Montana (the northern entrance to Yellowstone). Early explorers told stories of the existence of an area of ‘fire and brimstone’, boiling mud, steaming rivers, spouting water, a mountain of glass and yellow rock and petrified trees were dismissed as the result of either delirium or over-active imagination. Bad weather and the American Civil War prevented any exploration of the area until 1869 when the privately funded Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition finally made it from the Yellowstone River to Yellowstone Lake and began a detailed study of the area. With the evidence of this and subsequent expeditions, as well as the photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, Yellowstone was given the protection of National Park status. However, poaching and destruction of natural resources continued until the U.S. Army came to Mammoth Hot Springs in 1886 and built Camp Sheridan. Eventually there was enough funding and manpower to maintain protection of the park’s wildlife and natural resources. These policies and regulations formed the basis of the management principles adopted by National Park Service when it was created in 1916.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Diggin’ Dinos

Meeker, Colorado
It’s a long way from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming so we decided to spend the night in Meeker, Colorado. I was introduced to this interesting little town back in 1981 when all that was there were a couple of bars and a public park. In fact, we camped in that public park on every visit that we made bringing teachers from the Science/Mathematics Education Department from UT-Dallas to Yellowstone. The last time I visited there was a bar that, for a couple of dollars, you could rent a towel and get a shower; that was real luxury compared to where we’d been camping! I’m happy to say that the town hasn’t changed much, except for the addition of several places to stay and a few restaurants.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Colorful Colorado

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak
Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs are two of my favorite cities and I’ve written about them previously, so if you want to know more about the area take a look at Springing to Manitou. From Capulin National Monument it’s a short drive (about 244 miles or 393 kilometers) to Colorado Springs giving us just enough time to plan our attack on the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. The Garden of the Gods is actually a public park that was designated a National Natural Landmark (NNL) in 1971. The NNL Program is the only national natural areas program that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. The program supports voluntary preservation of sites that strengthen the public's appreciation of the country's natural heritage. The National Park Service administers the NNL Program and may assist NNL owners with the conservation of these sites. At the Garden of the Gods there is a Visitor’s Center with lots of information about the geology and ecology of the park; there is also a restaurant and a gift shop.

Friday, September 4, 2015

On the Road to Yellowstone

Across the valley to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Road trips are not my favorite way to travel, so why do I go on them? Generally I use this mode because I can’t see something I’m interested in any other way. One really good reason is to gain an appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us. Someone, and I can’t remember who, said that if you’ve never seen something you can’t appreciate it, and if you can’t appreciate it you won’t be moved to take care of it, and finally if you don’t take care of it, it may be gone forever. This is particularly true of the natural world. I spent a lot of years teaching about the ecology and geology of our country and I never saw a student who wasn’t moved to become a better steward of the land and perhaps inspire his/her students and family to become stewards, as well.

In 1981 I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time. On the way there, we stopped at several other National Parks or Monuments. These are the gems of the US and should continue to be treated as such.

“The National Park Service invites you to find your park! In celebration of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, we are launching a movement to spread the word about the amazing places we manage, the inspirational stories that the national parks tell, our country's natural resources, and our diverse cultural heritage.” 
~ National Park Service 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review of Traveling through the Netherlands and Belgium

Bruges Canal
Traveling through the Netherlands and Belgium was fun and there are a lot more places to stay, things to do and fabulous restaurants. I’m thinking that I may have to make a return trip, soon. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Staying in the B&B: Brussels and Bruges

Everyone rides the train in Europe and few understand that folks from the US are mostly
Live news report
clueless about how to use this sort of transportation. So with the help of a few kindhearted souls we made our way from Maastricht to the interesting city of Brussels.  Being near the border of France, the city is officially bilingual; and English is very common, as well since there are so many tourists. Historically a Dutch-speaking city, Brussels has seen a major shift to French since Belgian independence in 1830. Founded by a descendant of Charlemagne in the, 10th century Brussels has grown from a fortress town to a fair-sized city and, in effect, the capital of the European Union (EU) as well as headquarters for NATO. While we were there, a great debate was occurring about whether Greece was going to adopt the austerity measures set out by the EU or whether they were going to go ahead as usual.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Magical Maastricht

Maastricht, the capital of the province of Limburg in the Netherlands and the birthplace of
Hell's Gate built in 1229
the European Union, is a really nice city. It straddles the Maas River where the Jeker River joins it, providing lovely views of the river from the many bridges. Maastricht is much smaller, cleaner and nicer than Amsterdam although it has its full complement of bicycles; fortunately, the riders here are much more polite. This is a very historic town with 1677 national heritage sites within its borders, and although we didn’t see them all, we enjoyed many of them. The town still has a part of its original wall, connected to Hell’s gate, which dates from the 1200s and is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands. Early on Maastricht was conquered by the Romans, but later became a religious center and finally an industrial city. It was also the site of this year’s International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) 44th Annual International Conference and the 17th International Forum on Research in School Librarianship. Hearing the research at these meetings is always enlightening, as is getting to speak with the people conducting the studies. It’s also a lot of fun to reconnect with folks I haven’t seen in a year and to meet new people interested in how learners use the library resources.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Around Amsterdam

One of the canals
Two of us arrived in Amsterdam after a not so positive adventure transferring from American Airlines to British Airlines through Heathrow. Although the airlines tell you that you can make your flight if you have at least 90 minutes, this is not actually the case during high season. We did make our plane, but our luggage did not. It showed up at our hotel a few hours later, in good repair, so we were able to continue our adventures on a more positive note. The lesson from this, plan for a two, or better yet, three hour lay-over in Heathrow rather than sprinting through the airport and sweating through internal security that does nothing in a hurry. You’ll arrive at your destination a bit later, but without the anxiety of trying to make a connection that could depend on the whim of a security person, bus driver, or gate clerk.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Meditating in Milwaukee and Reviews

Lake Michigan from Milwaukee Art Museum
One of my great pleasures is making beaded jewelry and it’s been years since I attended the Bead and Button Show, so I got myself on a plane to Milwaukee. I knew that the town was in an area of Wisconsin that had once been home to several native American tribes. These groups, the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) native Americans, described the area as a ‘Good’, ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Pleasant Land’ and as a ‘Gathering place by the water’; Milwaukee is all of those things – at least in the spring and early summer. I’m not so sure that the descriptions fit in the winter when the area can be covered with several feet of snow.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review of the Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris

Viking Ship Idun
We booked the Cities of Light tour with Viking Cruise, leaving from Prague and arriving in Paris. The only other small boat cruise I had been on had traveled through the Inside Passage in Alaska. I was prepared for this to be more like a ‘big boat’ cruise with average facilities, food and tours that cost extra. I could have not been more incorrect or happier about my misconceptions. We were aboard the Viking Idun; we learned later that this ship is rated number three in the world for river cruising. We chose a Veranda room because I simply can’t stand to be unable to see out of a hotel room. We did use the balcony a bit, but the weather was chilly enough that we chose to sit inside and looked out through the glass doors instead. While neither the room nor the bath was huge, each was efficiently arranged so that we did have room to move around and to store luggage out of the way; we were quite comfortable. The closet was large enough for our clothes and then some. Everyone from the stewards to the waiters to the captain treated us with courtesy and respect. Our room was cleaned while we were at breakfast every
Veranda Room with Balcony
morning, but I did notice that there were several people who hung ‘Do not disturb’ signs and rose a bit later (or quite a bit later).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pausing in Paris

Bridge over Seine River
Paris is one of my all-time favorite cities! Perhaps the only thing I don’t like is the number of tourists. As we wandered the streets, renewing old acquaintances with landmarks and eateries, it dawned on me that I’ve never been to Paris without a jacket and without needing a raincoat. This trip was no exception; we got damp and chilly, but it didn’t dull our enthusiasm. I was surprised, however, at the increase in the number of people who spoke to us in English. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need any French to travel in France. Having a few phrases (please, thank you, where is, I would like, what does it cost, etc.) are always helpful, particularly if the person with whom you are dealing has the same level of English as you do of French. And being polite goes a long way toward getting folks to communicate with you. Although the French have a reputation for being surly and rude, I have not found this to be the case; rude people are everywhere and there are no more in France than in the US. As a population, they are more likely to speak more than one language and are much more tolerant of poorly spoken French than Americans are of poorly spoken English.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Towns along the Mosel

Faust Gallery

Bernkastel, Trier and Luxembourg were the last three places we stopped before heading into Paris. In many ways they were the same as the other towns we’d visited: a long history, relics of medieval architecture, and winding streets. In other ways they were quite different.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Along the Rhine

Low bridge!
The captain of our ship referred to the Main River as a ‘creek’ with innumerable locks that had to be negotiated, keeping the passengers from enjoying the upper deck most of the time. The Rhine, in contrast, is a deeper, broader river with a few low bridges that require the wheelhouse to be lowered, but allowed us to spend our time enjoying the upper deck. A few times I thought I might be able to touch the bridge girders; they were just a bit beyond my reach.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Meandering in Miltenberg

Top L to R: Duck, Swans
Bottom L to R: Walking couple, Camp
It’s a scenic trip from Würzburg to Miltenberg along the Main River, so we spent some time watching the world go by. Mallard-type ducks seem to be common around the world with their iridescent green heads and their wiggly tails. There were also a variety of wading birds that looked a good deal like our own blue herons, but what we don’t see a lot of in the US are wild swans. Those large, white, elegant birds seemed to be around every turn as we sailed down the river. People out for a stroll are not uncommon on the trails along the river and we did see a couple, who could have posed for Grant Woods’s American Gothic, pause to watch our ship. Not far from the walkers were very neatly arranged campgrounds. In the summer, families camp in certain areas and spend their time on the river. Some of the spots have been used by the same groups for years, but most of these folks aren’t ‘roughing it’; the camping trailers look very comfortable.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Following the Romance Road to Rothenburg and Würzburg

Rothenburg from the Wall
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the ‘Red fortress above the Tauber’ is a small German town with many of its buildings preserved from medieval times. Rothenburg has long been valued as a prime example of a ‘German Home Town’. During Nazi rule followers were brought from all over the Reich to see the ‘the most German of German towns’. And during World War II, the U.S Assistant Secretary of War knew the historic importance and beauty of the town, thus ordering the army not to use artillery in capturing Rothenburg. A US military leader was sent to the local German military commander to negotiate the surrender and save the town, in spite of Hitler’s decree that all towns would fight until destroyed. After the war ended the residents, with the help of funds from around the world, rebuilt what had been damaged during the war. More lately, the traditional buildings of Rothenburg have appeared in several movies. In the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio it was the model for the village. The
Medieval Rothenburg
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) movie featured Rothenburg in the trailer with the camera flying over the town from the valley towards the Town Hall. It has also been used for location shots in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 in 2010 and Part 2 in 2011). Dave noted that pretty much every medieval community from Prague west could have been in the Harry Potter movies; he’s not nearly the fan I am.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Unexpected ~ Nuremberg and Bamberg

Nuremberg Market
All I knew about Nuremberg was associated with Nazi occupation and with the later trials; Bamberg was just another city in Germany to me. Local guides in both cities were excellent at using history to explain how these cities had changed and how they had retained the heritage they wanted the German children to embrace. I have a greater appreciation for the people, past and present, in these cities and how they are building their culture.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Peeking in on Prague

The next series of Near-Normal Traveler Blogs reviews our tour/cruise with Viking. Since I’d
Alexej on the right
not taken a formal tour of anywhere in years, I had a bit of adjusting to do. First, and happily, I wasn’t in charge of anything. Second, and irritatingly, I wasn’t in charge of anything. In this episode we were taken around the old area of Prague by an excellent local tour guide. Alexej had been speaking English and doing tours for about 20 years – since she’d been in high school. When she began taking her required foreign language courses, the only language provided was Russian. However, midway through her junior year, Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic; the students in the language classes refused to learn any more Russian and demanded to learn English. Luckily, their teacher spoke English and could comply with their wishes. That summer Alexej’s mother got her hired by a tour company and she’s been leading groups ever since.

Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Road to Cresson and Restaurant Review

Well, why not go to Cresson since there’s supposed to be a good place to have barbecue? Cresson is a really small town with the population of about 700 folks on the way to Granbury, Texas. There are at least three stories about how it got its name. The first is that a captain of a wagon train, John Cresson camped on this site and lent the area his name. The other story is that one of the officials of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railroad was named Cresson; and since there was a stop in this area it was named for him. The third is that it is named after a railroading town in Pennsylvania.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Way Back in Weatherford and Restaurant Review

Parker County
When I was a little kid one of my parents’ friends teased me that I was actually Cynthia Ann Parker and had a son named Quanah. Although I never believed him, Cynthia Ann and Quanah populated my imagination for years; there were days that I was a Comanche looking for a place to put my campfire and build my teepee. Eventually I learned that Parker County was named for State Representative Isaac Parker, the uncle of Cynthia Ann Parker. The town of Weatherford is the seat of Parker County and the place my parents headed when they wanted to get married just days before my dad was shipped out to Hawai’i in World War II. Since none of us had been to Weatherford in a while we decided to go take a look at the courthouse and have lunch on the square. It surprised us all at the time it took to get from south of Fort Worth to Weatherford. The last time we made this journey it took at least two hours; this trip was only about 45 minutes around the highway.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Two Sides of Southlake and Restaurant Review

Large house in Southlake
When I think of the Southlake area I generally think of grand homes and upscale shopping complexes. However, there is another side to this fashionable community. Although not incorporated until 1956, Southlake was first settled in the 1840s. It was part of a group of small settlements that included Dove, Jellico, Union Church and Whites Chapel.

Known for the growing of cotton and melons, the Dove Community began in the 1870s. The addition of a store, post office and Lonesome Dove School helped solidify the town, as did the Lonesome Dove Baptist Church and Cemetery. The construction of Lake Grapevine caused some families to relocate and the annexation by Southlake put an end to the Dove Community, but remnants of it still exist. Another small town, Jellico, was established in the late 1880s. It consisted of a post office, a cotton gin,
Top: Log house
Bottom: Barn at Bob Jones Environmental Center
blacksmith shop, grist mill, syrup press, and school. With the waning of cotton prices, the town failed. Union Church probably had the same history as these other tiny towns, but it seems to have faded into history ~ or at least I can’t find anything about it. White's Chapel was actually not a town but a Methodist Church with its community that grew up around it. It began as a log meetinghouse and was the first Methodist church in this area. Eventually a school and a cemetery were built. While Dove, Jellico, Union, and White’s Chapel schools all served this area, the school that led to the development of the Southlake-Carroll school system was the Carroll school. In 1919 the school had three teachers to instruct 97 students in nine grades in a wooden building. It continued to serve as an elementary school until 1970.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Walking around Watauga and Restaurant Review

Watauga City Hall
Watauga is a tiny town sandwiched among Keller, Fort Worth, Haltom City and North Richland Hills. However, this hamlet has an interesting history beginning with its name: Watauga is the Cherokee word for ‘village of many springs’. Early Anglo settlers built farms and ranches, creating a rather successful agrarian area. Following these pioneers came folks from Watauga, Tennessee; they eventually formed a small town. This town included the establishment of the Willow Springs Presbyterian Church in 1867, which is still in operation, today. With the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway, the Watauga population grew. This railroad actually brought the people from the east and west coasts to Fort Worth with freight cars transporting cattle across the US. Although this industry was a boon to the city, two tragedies are associated with it. The first came in 1909 when the depot was completely lost in a fire; evidently no one was injured. The second disaster was the ‘Great Watauga Train Wreck’ of 1917. Completely ignoring warnings from stations along the way, a Katy passenger train rammed head-on into a Katy bound freight
Watauga Presbyterian Church
train. The impact threw both trains off the tracks. Most people in Watauga arrived shortly after the wreck to help survivors and to begin cleaning up the wreckage. Industry in the surrounding areas has helped increase the population to its current level.

Since it’s next door to where we live, we’re in Watauga all the time for shopping. We also have to drive through this hamlet any time we head south so it’s no wonder that I was curious about its roots and decided to add it to the list of places Near-Normal Travelers visit. Watauga has more than its share of places to shop along the Old Denton Highway and some good places to eat. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Arkansas Art and Reviews

Yellow wildflowers
I’d heard about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and since it's spring I thought it would be nice to drive up to the northwestern corner of Arkansas. I’d expected lots of wild flowers and was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t made their appearance yet, but the vistas were still lovely in their shades of new spring green. One of my favorite places to go in either the fall or the spring is Queen Wilhelmina State park. Getting to the museum and back was surely going to consume more than one day, so an overnight at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge seemed like a great idea. Just like the late-blooming flowers, the lodge was a late-bloomer, opening this summer after extensive renovations. Oh well, the views from the Talimena Scenic Drive were lovely.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Along the Chisholm Trail and Restaurant Review

Pink Indian Paintbrush
There are no firm records about when Jesse Chisholm was born, but researchers seem to agree that it was around 1805 or 1806. The son of an Irish farmer and an Indian mother, Jesse established himself as a trader and scout. Although he is best known for the Chisholm Trail, he spent his life developing trading posts among the Plains Indians. Once the Civil War ended, he settled in Kansas and improved a trail that had been used by the military so that it would accommodate the heavy wagons he used to carry the materials he traded. This road (Chisholm’s Trail, re-named Chisholm Trail once the cattlemen began using it) went from his southern trading post near the Red River, to his northern trading post near Kansas City, Kansas. This road became important to Texas cattle ranchers when their trail drives were blocked by local Missouri farmers in an effort to keep tick infestations out of local herds. This meant that the cattle drives had to be re-routed to an area near Red River Station in Texas. The first herd to use the Chisholm Trail belonged to O. W. Wheeler. He brought his 2,400 steers from Texas to the Abilene, Kansas stockyards, paving the way for some 5,000,000 head of Texas cattle to reach Kansas using the Chisholm Trail.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spinning the Wheel and Restaurant Review

Fort Worth’s Jacksboro Highway was one of those places my parents forbid me to go when I
Top L to R: Lake Worth, Bluebonnets and Spanish Dagger
Bottom: L to R: Indian Paint Brush, Prickly Pear
and Bluebonnets 
was in high school. It was lined with beer joints, dance halls, and other hangouts for ne’re-do-wells. Of course, that only lent force to its attraction. However, one time was enough; my girlfriends and I decided that there was nothing attractive about either the drunks stumbling from the bars, or the scary, poorly lit side streets. Farther out of Fort Worth, in the little town of Lake Worth, there was a place I wish I had gone.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Home on the Range and Restaurant Review

L to R:Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman
So we’re off to run some errands and since I’m not driving I’m looking out the window. All of a sudden I get a glimpse of Paul Newman. No, I think to myself, that can’t be. A few minutes later, I see Yul Brenner; still, I doubt my eyes. Then I see Clint Eastwood. Okay, this is just an anomaly of the particular street we’re traveling along. A few days later, on a different street, I spot John Wayne and Lee Marvin. Now I’m on a quest. How many more Hollywood cowboys are there in North Richland Hills, Texas? As it turns out, there are a total of ten.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Trekking to Tyler and Restaurant Review

Redbud flowers
Tyler, Texas is the ‘Rose Capitol of the World’ (or Texas depending on who you read and just how you see your home state). It’s about 135 miles south east of Fort Worth and a pretty drive, particularly if you take the back roads (US Highway 80 to US 64 or to US 110) instead of Interstate 20 and don’t travel during ‘drive times’. Since the Rose City Artisan and Flower Market was going on and I wanted to see meet two people whose work I admire, we hit the road. Although the wildflowers weren’t quite at their peak, Lady Bird Johnson’s idea to plant them along the highways has made for colorful viewing. We saw a few flowers, but what I enjoyed the most were the redbud trees and the crabapples. Redbuds aren’t red, but rather a hot pink to mauve; the crabapple blossoms are a bright, light pink. It’s been a wet spring so the lush green grass that added a nice base to these brightly colored trees.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Running in Richardson and Restaurant Review

Richardson, Texas was once a town of the ‘deep South’ in that it was settled by folks from
Near the now defunct Owens Country Farm
Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1840s. It was named after railroad contractor, E.H. Richardson, and although the center of town was near present-day Richland College, the city center moved closer to the railroad station. Rather than a steam locomotive, an electric railway connected Richardson, Denison, Waco, Corsicana and Fort Worth; Interurban Street in old downtown Richardson is a remnant of that enterprise. The red brick streets in downtown are also a reminder of Richardson’s past. By the 1950s, Richardson was a bustling town, but the population, economic status and land values really took off with the opening of Texas Instruments on its southern border. This once small town now has four Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail stations and the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts. It has been featured in a television series about business-makeovers and used as a model for the setting for the TV show King of the Hill. Richardson also has a vibrant ethnic population that includes about 60 Chinese cultural organizations and the India Association of North Texas along with the main Indian-American grocery store in DFW.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Aloha – Coming and Going – Reviews

Diamond Head from Waikiki
I have always enjoyed the Hawaiian Islands. I like the climate, the plants, the beach, the mountains, hiking, swimming, scuba diving, the food, the culture and the people. I’m comfortable spending the day in sandals, a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, with little to do but enjoy whatever comes along. But this trip to O’ahu was bittersweet. Perhaps it was the time of year or the amount of road construction, but I don’t remember that the traffic was ever as difficult as it was this trip. I also don’t remember the large numbers of homeless people (locals and foreign) nor the regularity with which we encountered the obviously habitually inebriated (either through drugs or alcohol); for the first time I did not feel particularly safe walking just a block off the tourist areas. The environment seemed tired (for want of a better word), with litter in the streets, along the beaches, and even in some of the out-of-the-way places we visited. The local population of all of the Hawaiian Islands continues to rise as does the tourist population; perhaps population stressors are finally having a visible effect. Would I return to this island? Yes, but only to visit the few places I have not seen and to eat at one or two favorite restaurants. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Vog and other Scenic Events

Diamond Head in the Vog
Out and about in the morning, we were surprised at the amount of fog that was covering the mountains. We were also surprised that our eyes itched and noses burned. It’s not the fog but the vog. Vog is a form of air pollution that results when sunlight hits a mixture of oxygen, moisture, and the effluvia, namely sulfur dioxide, other gases and particles from an erupting volcano. The culprit in this case is Kīlauea on the Island of Hawaiʻi, with the prevailing winds sending vog across to O’hau. We shouldn’t have been too surprised that we would get some interactions since the Hawaiian Islands are continuously formed from volcanic activity at a hotspot. As the Pacific Plate moves to the northwest, the hotspot remains stationary, slowly creating new volcanoes; the only active volcanoes are located around the southern half of the Island of Hawai’i. The newest volcano, Lōʻihi Seamount, is near the south coast.