Thursday, April 29, 2010

Small Rocks and Bright Lights

I see I have some "catching-up" to do. We've been sooo relaxed the past few days, working on projects and writing in the Journal have suffered in lieu of building campfires and watching the 'ol Miss flow past our campsite.

After visiting with our Cedar Falls friends on Monday evening, and after a very good nights sleep, we finally had everything ready for another day of travel by 10am on Tuesday. The drive was an easy one... about 130 miles, mostly eastward, to Dubuque, across the US-151 bridge over the Mississippi River, and just a little further to the town of Dickeyville. From there the bus-house took us northward on WI-35/US-61 to the twin communities of Tennyson and Potosi, and down a rustic road to the Grant River Corps of Engineers Campground situated hard along the banks of the big river.

We camped here during the Fall of 2008 [link to Journal article] and thoroughly enjoyed it. Grant River COE has about 60 campsites for RV's and a few additional for tenters. The only negative about the place I can come up with is that it's situated smack between the river and a pair of busy mainline railroad tracks. However we've found that we're rarely awakened during the night because the bus-house does a good job of keeping outside sounds outside.

Since we were here last they've spent some considerable money on the Campground... new asphalt roads, many more concrete parking pads, tree trimming, new grass, and a general neatening up (not that it needed it!). So many other Federal facilities we've stayed at recently have clearly been neglected and apparently on the short end of the budget stick. I'm not sure why this one is different, but it's good to see.

Yesterday, while exploring the area, the car started making a terrible grinding noise. Further examination (Dar running alongside the slow-moving car trying to figure out if she could isolate the noise to a specific wheel or area) determined that whatever it was was coming from the front right wheel. (What were the neighbors thinking?) The best way to describe the noise was a grinding sound -- a loud, finger-nails-on-a chalkboard, grinding sound. A couple years ago we had a similar thing happen with the Chevy Blazer. In that case I just ignored the sound, turned the radio up a bit, and it eventually went away. I figured it was a small rock caught in the brake someplace and, I surmise, it (the rock) wore completely away. It was easy to ignore the sound on the old Blazer... less so with the new Focus.

While working on a plan of action (nearest Ford garage?... can we make it?... call tow-truck?...) I saw a small gas station that also installed tires. Imagine that, a real service station -- just like the good old days. I drove in and in less than two minutes the owner was listening to our problem -- both my verbal description and the obvious grinding sound from the wheel. And in less than another five minutes, he had the wheel off. There, on the ground under the removed wheel, was the culprit... a small rock or stone that had apparently lodged itself into a recess between the brake caliper and the spinning wheel. The way it was stuck it just remained in the recess and ground against the wheel as it spun. There was a small grove worn in the wheel and a matching shiny flat spot on the rock. As with the Blazer, it would have eventually ground completely away and the problem would have righted itself. I guess the moral to the story is that simply ignoring the problem can work.

Oh, by the way, the service station guy... he refused to charge us anything. Even after repeated pleading, he would not take anything for his time and effort. Now that doesn't happen often, does it?

Every night we've been here along the Mississippi there's been a campfire at the TDHoch campsite. We love watching the fire as well as the stars above. Often, just after sunset, we'll see satellites in orbit -- little dots of light that move silently and steadily across the sky. Last night, Wednesday night, about 9:20pm I spotted a very bright light moving upward just over the horizon to the Southwest. Thinking it was really a plane with it's landing lights on (it was very bright), and thinking I could put one over on Dar, I pointed it out to her as I announced the first satellite sighting of the night. She didn't believe it, thinking (like me), that it was a plane too. But planes don't fly with landing lights on unless close to an airport and this thing wasn't turning, wasn't landing, wasn't dimming, wasn't making any noise, and wasn't showing any other navigation lights that all planes have.

 We both watched it closely as it climbed almost directly overhead, and we both became increasingly convinced this wasn't a plane... it was indeed something in orbit. It acted like a satellite... but the brightest I ever remember seeing. After some online investigating this morning I was able to confirm that we saw the ISS... the International Space Station... which, after all the recent "room additions" is now much larger than it was the last time we saw it soar overhead. It was a real treat for sky-gazers like us. And, by the way, it's making a few more bright passes the next few evenings. If clouds don't get in the way we'll be out watching.

If you'd like to get a schedule of all the space junk flying overhead (your tax dollars at work) so you can waste campfire time by staring up once in a while, check out this site www.heavens-above.com . Once you punch in your location it'll produce a list of stuff you can amuse yourself with... as the world turns.

Musing along the Mississippi
T

Monday, April 26, 2010

Evening with Friends

It's 10pm and we just got back from a very enjoyable dinner and evening with some of our Sandollar Texas friends... David & Carol Ann and Andy & Betty. Thanks, all of you guys, for a fun evening. We'll see you all next winter.

Earlier this morning, amid remnants of light rain left over from the storm of the past few days, we left that great campsite at Lake Red Rock and headed north to the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, where our aforementioned friends live. It was an easy drive, and only 120 miles. We found a convenient campsite at Black Hawk County Park, and get this... with full hook-ups. It's been a couple weeks since doing laundry so we're taking advantage of this opportunity to catch up in that department a little too.

But our Cedar Falls stop is a short one and we'll be on the road again tomorrow... Tuesday. We'd like to spend a few days at another Corps of Engineers campground in Southwest Wisconsin before we wrap up this leg of the Sabbatical.

Tired, but typing away...
T

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Confidence

Since Friday a big storm system hanging around the Upper Midwest has been responsible for a spell of "stay-inside" weather and the more than 3 inches of rain that was in the rain gauge this morning. Today, while the rain abated somewhat, it's been just nasty outside -- cold wind, drizzle -- you just want to curl up around the heater with a book (or a PC if you've got I.A.D. like me) and let it blow. Warmer days are ahead.

Since we're parked below Red Rock Dam and right on the banks of the Des Moines River it's good to have confidence in the U.S. Government and the Corps of Engineers if you want to get a restful night's sleep in this campground. You see, the lake above the dam is fairly full. Heavy winter snows in Iowa recently melted and nearly filled the lake. Sure, you say, but they could just let more water out -- pull the plug on the old bathtub and let 'er drain out. But you'd be wrong, at least if you care about the good people of Ottumwa Iowa who are already dealing with downstream flooding problems from this same river. The last thing those folks need is even more water coming at 'em.

But the rains of the past few days also have to go somewhere -- so the lake level is certainly rising again. That dam is already holding back a wall of water some 80 to 100 feet high. I'm sure they think it can hold a little more, especially if it's going to help the people of Ottumwa. They have confidence.

Couple all that with the sign in the campground, just down the road from our site, that graphically reports the high-water level from a flood a few years ago -- it was way over my head. Well, you just gotta have confidence!

So, as the rain poured down on the camper last night, I put my head down and fell quickly to sleep, confident that the 40 year old dam was properly designed and constructed, and will continue to do it's job... at least for the next couple days. There are some things you've just gotta trust, at least if you want a good nights sleep around here.

-----

We had been planning to leave today, but the prediction of a much better travel day on Monday changed our minds. So tomorrow morning, we pull up jacks and head north to a rendezvous with some friends near Cedar Falls.

Wondering how long I can tread water...
T

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Drug Buy

I take a daily medication to help keep a mild case of hypertension in check. Normally, my doctor writes a prescription for a 90 day supply with three refills... a years worth of this med... during my annual physical exam. That prescription is then sent in to the drug provider designated by my health care insurance plan. When it's time to order another 90 day refill, I go online and place the order, paying a co-pay of $15. The prescription is then filled and the medication sent via US mail. Because of our nomadic lifestyle, it get's sent to my "address" -- my top-notch mail-forwarding service in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The next bundle of mail from our forwarding service that gets sent to us along the trail will then include the prescription med that, by the time I get it, has traveled more miles than a near-sighted cat being chased by the hood ornament of a cross-country Mack truck.

Well, the other day I noticed that the number of pills left in my last bottle of this medication was less than the number of days until my next doctor's appointment in May... the result of a timing issue between physicals. What to do..?

I called my Doc (actually his assistant) and arranged to have a prescription for a single 30 day supply of this medication electronically sent to a pharmacy near our camp in Iowa. I would then run over to the pharmacy and pick it up... problem resolved. She asked where I'd like the prescription sent. Not knowing particular pharmacies in the area, I was aware that there's a Super Walmart just down the road... and that's where I had her send it.

The next day we were out exploring and we stopped to pick up the order. The drug I take is an older drug and has a generic, which my health plan requires if I want to get by with just the $15 per 90 day supply co-pay. But since I'm getting this order outside off my plan's maintenance medication program, I figured I'd probably be paying "big-time" for this 30 day supply even though I'll still be getting a generic. So I was prepared when I headed for the pharmacy... check book, credit card, insurance card, drug plan card, grubby clothes so I'd look a little destitute, maybe needy of a good deal, resolved to be on my best behavior, prepared to do a fake Grand Mal seizure when I was told the price... which was bound to be high, very high.  I was ready for $50... oh, I would have happily settled for $50... but was fearing $80 maybe more than $100. These dang drug companies! Those greedy insurance companies... always ready to stick it to those who don't jump through the right hoops in the right order. Dang-it...I was ready!

They found my prescription, it was all bagged up and ready to go. (OK, here goes --) "and how much will that be?" as I reached for my check book.

"That'll be 4 dollars."

"What?... are you talking per pill?"

"No sir... it's 4 dollars total"

"What?... are these sugar pills?... placebos?... cough drops?  I mean, a medium bag of M&M's cost more than $4"

"No sir... this is the medication you ordered."

"And there's 30 tablets in there?"

"Yes sir"

"Why is it only 4 dollars?  What's going on here? Is this candid camera?"... as I look around for the hidden camera.

"No sir... Walmart has a prescription program for hundreds of commonly prescribed medications. They're all $4 for a month's supply... and only $10 for a 90 day supply."

"Don't I have to give you my insurance card or drug plan card or Walmart savings card, or fill out any paperwork, or be part of a club or something?"

"No sir. This is as complicated as it gets... you give me 4 dollars... and I'll give you this bag."

"What?... that's less than my super-duper special deal worked out by my health care plan that ships my medications to the moon and back..." Befuddled, I just didn't know what else to say. I quietly put my checkbook back in one pocket, found a couple crumpled $1s and some pocket change in another, paid for the order, and walked out of the store mumbling... "four dollars... just four dollars... what the..."

Later it occurred to me that this experience, the underlying idea, may play a part in lowering health care costs in the USA... inject a little more competition into the system. Don't just assume you're getting the best deal... look around, question your doctor, ask for alternatives that may be less cost,  do you really need this or that test?...push back a little. How often in the past few years have we heard about unexpected serious side-effects from the latest and greatest and grossly expensive medication that TV adds have convinced many of us we've got to have... and has turned out to not be fully tested or fraudulently approved for sale or actually dangerous. Speaking for myself, I think I like the idea of the staying with the older and proven medication.

And I may stop slamming Walmart for ruining America.

Hmmm, I wonder if Walgreens could do it for 3 dollars?

Thom


Courthouse Stories

Official records from the mid-1800's can be unreliable, error-prone, or missing altogether. That's what we found during our visit to the Marion County Courthouse on Thursday. According to the County Register, records of births, deaths, and marriages weren't mandatory until 1940, and prior to that, depended on the whim and diligence of those responsible at the time. And there was no system in place to capture the information so it was a haphazard process to say the least.

Land transactions were another story however. It was more important, apparently, that things dealing with ownership and wealth were accurately detailed and recorded than things like births or deaths -- an understandable if not somewhat inconvenient fact for genealogists. We found detailed records of the original land transactions by my ancestors way back to 1870. And we found a number of historical plat maps that showed ownership as early as 1875. Here, through the magic of digital photography, is an example.


Instead of paper photocopies, we documented much of our findings by simply snapping digital photos of the documents. As long as the light is right the detail that can be captured is far better than a traditional photocopy.And it's much more convenient to store these images electronically and, if necessary, print copies on demand.

The Marion County Courthouse itself is an impressive structure, one of the nicest we've seen during our travels. Originally built in 1896, it went through an extensive refurbishing during the 1970's. Inside there's a central rotunda that extends through the four main floors -- a feature not common in often utilitarian county courthouses.


I'm also happy, if not somewhat relieved, to report that I found no records of my ancestors doing time in the county pokey. One can only assume they were hard-working, law-abiding, God-fearing, citizens -- right?

After all that time in the bowels of the courthouse archives it was time for an early dinner, and a nearby Applebees served the purpose perfectly. Besides tasty entrees, a sparky waitress made the stop fun too. Then it was back to camp and an evening bike ride through the park which produced sightings of deer, geese, and large fish (carp?) jumping and splashing in the river. Finally, we watched the sun set behind the dam as we toasted the end of another day of exploration.

This morning we woke to rain. And it's supposed to be wet all day. So I think we'll spend the day at the bus-house and get caught up on a few things.

T

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tour Around the Lake


During our travels around America we occasionally find areas that just feel right, comfortable. Lake Red Rock is one of those places. Because of it's location near Wisconsin it may well become a regular stop during our annual travels to the upper Midwest.

I've written before about Corps of Engineers campgrounds. If you like "camping" and can live without full hookups, they are often among the best choices. But, as you'd expect, some are better than others. Some are older and designed for tent campers or small camping trailers -- with smaller sites that can often be very un-level. Others handle larger campers and motorhomes just fine. The Lake Red Rock COE campgrounds are among the best we've experienced, clearly designed for big rigs, and maintained very well.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we took a circle drive around the lake, stopping and checking out all the other COE campgrounds (yes, there are more than one), a county park with RV camping sites, and the Elk Rock State Park. All the COE campgrounds were of the same quality as the one where we're camped. The county campground was not bad either. But the State Park was not really appropriate for campers like the bus-house.


Lake Red Rock is the largest lake in Iowa, formed when the Red Rock Dam plugged up the Des Moines River in 1969. It's primarily a flood control project and as such the level of the lake can vary considerably. It's maximum size is about 70,000 acres, but most of the time it's more like 15,000 to 20,000 acres. Long and narrow, it stretches 15 or 20 miles in length. The photo above is a composite of 5 separate photos, and can be enlarged by double clicking. The dam is way off on the extreme left side.

The lake is pretty full right now, the result of heavy snowfall in Iowa during this past winter. They're dumping a lot of water through the dam and keeping the Des Moines River below as full as they dare. We know this because we're camped below the dam and the river goes right by our campsite... and you can be sure we keep an eye on the water level. Now, I trust the operators of the dam know what they're doing, but in the spirit of self-reliance and keeping us safe, the Safety Director has me go over to the river every morning and do a measurement, just to make sure.

Today we're going into Knoxville to haunt the Courthouse archives... the next phase of Dar's genealogy project. She's going to focus on birth, death, and wedding records of my ancestors. My job is to check out the jail house, court, and police records. Hmmm.

Rapidly Researching near Lake Red Rock...
Thom



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grave Tuesday

One of the reasons we're camped in this part of the world is so Dar can do more family tree research. In the middle 1800's ancestors on my Dad's side settled in this corner of Iowa after having immigrated from Germany and spending some time in Bucks County Pennsylvania. They left behind a lot of descendants, gravestones, and colorful stories over the years.

We stopped here in the Fall of  2008 to meet with Kevin, a 2nd cousin of mine, who grew up in the area. He spent a day driving us around, meeting people, seeing homes and churches and cemeteries, and showing us where all the bodies are buried. His own extensive family research made him the perfect guide on our tour of Marion County.

But this year, with renewed vigor, more questions than answers, and new family tree software on her PC, Dar needed to gather more information to fill in some of the gaps. So on Tuesday, we spent the day haunting cemeteries all over the area and taking more photos of headstones than I thought I had ancestors. But when one generation has ten kids, and each of them have large families, an each of them...  well, after a few generations it'd be possible to fill a small stadium with them all.

Just between you and me, I'm glad Dar is into this. I love reading about it, studying the charts, hearing the stories, but at some point my eyes glaze over and my mind shuts down when the details become overwhelming.

We stopped in the little town of Lacona, one of the place names mentioned in all the research. There's not much to Lacona -- another of those little rural towns that were so important during an earlier time, but in slow decline today. There is a farmer's co-op grain elevator, feed mill, gas station, a church or two, a couple bars, and a nice collection of homes, most of which are cared for and in good condition -- so the little place isn't giving up easily.

Since it was mid-afternoon and we needed to quench our thirst, we picked one of the bars and went in. Inside was the woman who owned the place and three other guys at the bar. After ordering a beer and taking stock of the situation, which seemed light and friendly, I asked, in a loud enough voice so everyone could hear, "Do any of you folks know any Hoch's?" Immediately a couple hands pointed to a fellow standing right next to me... Ed Hoch... a distant cousin. I wasn't surprised. Where else would one expect to find a Hoch in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon?

Well, Dar went out to the car and dragged in some of here papers, and she and Ed went over things while I chatted with the now even more friendly crowd. We were only there for an hour or so and by the time we left we felt like regulars... knowing everyone on a first name basis. Dar picked up a few more clues to add to the growing pile of data that her new PC program was supposed to eliminate. Hmmm.

Later we met Kevin for dinner on the south side of Des Moines and had a very enjoyable time. After dinner he invited us over to his place so he and Dar could compare family tree information and to just chat. But faced with an hour drive back to the bus-house I disconnected the genealogical workshop after a couple hours and we headed back home.

With Dar processing all the grave details...
Thom

Monday, April 19, 2010

Camping versus Parking

During the past few weeks we've stayed at RV parks and we've stayed at campgrounds. Comparisons are easy when both types are sampled repetitively in sequence. And this recent experience has confirmed our strong preference for "camping" over "parking". For us there's just no comparison. Camping wins hands-down. It just feels right.

But this isn't a one-size or one-type fits all lifestyle. There are times when camping isn't the best or preferred choice.  We're completely self-sufficient and self-contained (no hookups) for up to two weeks. It just makes sense to use that ability when you need to, or want to, depending on the circumstances. We may love camping in the true sense of the word, but we try not to be constrained by that preference when common-sense suggests alternatives. Here are a few examples:

We've parked overnight at Walmart or Lowes or other places when all we needed (and wanted) was a few hour rest during a long multi-day drive. This doesn't happen often, a handful of times in the past 3 years, but why not use the option instead of paying RV park fees when you don't need hookups or any other RV park amenities? There are thousands of places around the USA where this is possible including big-box stores, casinos, truck stops, designated highway rest areas, and some large chain restaurants. All you've got to do is look and ask. I should add that we always patronize the businesses where we park.

We've parked five city blocks, easy walking distance, from the French Quarter in New Orleans when we wanted a more complete experience that would include late nights and the possible consumption of adult beverages. It was the most we ever paid for RV parking, but the location, convenience, and the security was worth it.

We've parked in friends' and relatives' driveways when invited and when it meant we could spend more quality time with the people we came to see. If that wasn't possible, the nearest RV park made sense too.

We've parked for extended periods of time in RV parks, all lined up and packed together like soda crackers, when we wanted a more social and community atmosphere with a group of people we really like. Some people prefer the activities and amenities of large RV parks all the time, and that's OK too.

The point is that needs change, so why not adjust expectations and apply some common sense to each situation?

But, for us, when it comes to enjoyment of the place itself, camping is hard to beat. Being close to nature, perhaps under some trees or in a forest, along a stream or a lake, being more separated from other campers, having wildlife all around, having a campfire once in a while... it's good for both mind and body.

Thom

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Red Rock Lake in Iowa

This is going to be short... no long update tonight!

We got things running by 9:30am this morning and had a very agreeable drive into Iowa. We landed at another Corps of Engineers Park... this one on Red Rock Lake, just southeast of Des Moines and very near the community of Pella. We're planning to be here for a week while Dar does some family tree research and I veg-i-tate with a book and other projects recently spinning around in my head.

More tomorrow...
Thom

Iowa, Here We Come

By the time you read this on Sunday morning we should be warming up the bus-house and making final preparations to head out from Nebraska City and into Iowa. The direction today is East.

The government weather kids are forecasting sunny skies and mild winds, so that's a good thing. And the route we think we're taking is mostly lazy 2 lane State highways. If all goes well, we should end up somewhere near Red Rock Lake, just southeast of Des Moines, by mid-afternoon.

If we don't end up upended or upset by an uprising of upper classmen, I'll try to upload a journal update from my upgraded and up-to-date computer if I can find an uplink, perhaps at an upscale coffee shop along the upper Des Moines River in uplifting and upbeat Iowa, where uproarious and uptight upholsters, uprooted from upstate New York caused some upheaval and an uprising when they failed in their bid for upward mobility during the 20's. The upshot is that we'll be up early, but not before sun-up. (I think I'm going to upchuck if this goes on any longer.)

See you tomorrow.
Thom

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Lewis & Clark Refresher

Readers may have noticed that I've been playing around with a new header format for this blog. Using Picasa, the most user-friendly program for handling digital images I've ever used, I'm creating custom-sized collages of varying numbers of recent images and, again with Picasa, adding some jazzed-up title text. The finished product is a single image which can then be easily inserted into the header position of the blog. So far, I'm liking the look but will probably keep playing around with it to see where this goes.

It was 36f degrees when I woke this morning but there'll be no complaining from this writer. Except for a little problem with allergies, I've been enjoying the Spring during our trek northward this year. We've been able to avoid any run-ins with the usual springtime thunderstorms (or have they been avoiding us??), nature is blooming all around us, and the calendar's promise of warmer temps makes cool mornings like today's easy to take.


Yesterday afternoon Dar and I dropped by the Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center just down the road from our camp and atop the bluffs overlooking the river. It's been two years since our adventure tracing the route of this amazing band of explorers as we ventured toward the Midwest from Oregon and Washington... wow, time flies. Even though we were just a couple miles away we didn't stop at this one at that time, probably a little weary of seeing much the same stuff at so many other similar places along the way. But now, after two years, walking through the exhibits was an enjoyable refresher course in the L&C story. They maintained a series of short trails through the wooded bluff overlooking the river and we enjoyed hoofing it down every one.


Today is "get ready to move again day" and tomorrow we'll make some easterly progress toward our Wisconsin target. I've got my eye on another Corps of Engineers Park not far from Knoxville Iowa and Dar has her eye on more genealogical mining that she can do in the same area.

T

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lovin' Lincoln

After an efficient morning... no lingering or lazy wafting around the internet world... we headed west for our day in Lincoln. The drive was quick as NE-2 is a great four lane slab of concrete the entire distance of 45 miles. As the miles were ticking by I glanced off to the south side of the road and saw a small body of water... a creek or perhaps a pond... and there, sticking out of the water, was the Loch Ness Monster. Don't ask me to explain more, I can't. Apparently someone's idea of entertainment out here on the great plains. And no picture... it happened too quick to get a snapshot.

It's been many years since I've been to Lincoln. It was on the circuit of towns I'd occasionally hit during an early chapter of my business days. But I really don't remember much from those visits. The metro area has a population of about 300,000, a nice size, and generally appears neat and cared for. One thing we did notice while driving around town was the large number of city parks, many of which are linked by almost 100 miles of biking/walking trails that weave through town. Lincoln is also the home of the University of Nebraska.

Finding the Capitol was easy -- go downtown and look around. At 400 feet tall, it's the second tallest Capitol in the USA just behind the similarly designed Louisiana Capitol (430 feet). Both of these are non-traditional in that they are not "domed" Capitols but high-rise towers.

Designed by Bertram Goodhue this building is the third Nebraska State Capitol, all of them built on the same site. The first two suffered from poor construction and building materials. The current building was constructed between 1922 and 1932 in four phases based on the availability of money since the State constitution mandates a balanced budget. (Pay-as-you-go... How's that for a financial concept??!!)


From the air, it's easier to see the "cross within a square" design that makes up the lowest four floors. The first phase of construction was to build the north, east, and south sides of the outer square.around the existing but crumbling second Capitol. The second phase razed the old Capitol and finished the north, east, and south arms of the central cross. In the third phase, the tower was built. And the west side was completed in the fourth phase. Overall, it costs $10 million to build.

I read somewhere that this is the "heaviest" Capitol building of any sort in North America. I can't verify this, but if true it's due to the large number of huge limestone blocks that make up the massive structure.

The first word that came to mind when we entered the building was "dark". The interior has a definite "cathedral" or "castle" feel to it. The north entrance is considered the "front door" and the area just inside is the Foyer, with floor medallions and ceiling mosaics representing the past, present, and future activities of all the cultures of Nebraska.

Extending from the Foyer to the Rotunda is a long very ornately decorated area called the Vestibule -- which is very cathedral-like, with massive columns holding up a high arched ceiling. Your eyes are drawn upward to the walls and ceiling which tell the Story of Nebraska. The Rotunda is situated under a domed ceiling 110 feet above the mosaic floor. The tower rises above this ceiling.

Off the Rotunda are two Legislative Chambers, originally the Senate and the House. But in the early 1930's, after growing concern about the inefficiency and cost of having two governmental bodies working on the same issues, a movement to eliminate one of the Legislative bodies was successful and, starting in 1937, the powers of the House were given to the Senate, and the Senate was renamed the "Nebraska Legislature". [Click here] for more information on the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, the only one of it's kind in the USA.

Much of the originally planned art was never done, the result of a lack of money during the depression years when the building was finished. But in later years more art was added as money was available, some of it more contemporary than originally envisioned. There are some very nice exterior sculpture ornaments carved into the limestone structure too.

A quick elevator ride to the 14th floor (top floor) takes you to the observation deck and Memorial Chamber, under a golden tile domed ceiling, which is dedicated to public service.

The Nebraska State Capitol is an impressive structure and well worth a few hours of time to visit.

After seeing the Capitol we drove around the U of N campus and then met up with Ben & Sarah, my Nephew who's doing grad work here. They took us to a cool place for dinner, Lazlo's Brewery and  Grill, down in the trendy Historic Haymarket area of downtown. After an excellent dinner we dodged a few raindrops to explore other parts of campus and see some of the historic battlefield project he's working on.

Thanks Ben & Sarah for a thoroughly enjoyable night.

We had a great day and left with a very favorable impression of Lincoln.

Thom

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Slow Wednesday

Things were pretty slow around the bus-house today. The weather has been mostly cloudy and we've had a few drops of rain. It was a good day to stay inside and get some work done.

Now, by "work" I mean being productive in some loose way. So to me, work includes writing and making changes to our website and the online journal, email correspondence, reading, planning, paying bills, backing up computers, tracking expenses... you get the idea. However there's no amount of justification that can turn "watching television" into work... at least in my book. And the TV wasn't on at all so far today... that may change tonight however.

Dar has her head buried in the computer again, working on family tree and genealogy research. When she really gets going she doesn't stop for lunch or much else for that matter. It's almost an obsession... but I stop short of using that term. If I did she'd have some comments about my time on the PC too -- mean, retaliatory comments that could be colorful and pointed and hurtful. So I will not say that she's obsessed with her family tree. Get it??

It looks like tomorrow, Thursday, will be the day we're going over to Lincoln. We made contact with Ben (my nephew) and we'll see them after we visit the Capitol. It'll be good to see them again.

And on the pollen/allergy topic -- things seem to have eased somewhat today. Any relief is welcomed.

Enjoying life at my pace...
Thom

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

It didn't take a whole lot of effort or diesel fuel to drive north today. We were literally blown out of Kansas by near-gale force winds, much the same, sans the twister, as the duo of Dorothy and Toto many years ago.

But this time, the wind was directly at our back, a rare but greatly appreciated tailwind. Side winds are the worst for the bus-house -- those big flat sides catching the full brunt of the wind and forcing you out of your narrow lane and off the road.. A direct head wind doesn't usually blow you around too bad, but the noise from the high winds added to the speed the bus-house is already traveling can be deafening. If we're traveling down the road at 60 mph and we have a 30 mph head wind, the speed of the air over the nose and sides will be 90 mph. But when that same 30 mph wind is a tailwind, like today, and you're traveling along at 60 mph, the speed of the air over the cabin is only 30 mph -- making for much less noise. Traveling with the wind today was quiet, peaceful, and relaxed, almost library-like.

And unlike Dorothy, we didn't land in Oz. We're in Nebraska City (which is, as you might expect, in Nebraska). But come to think of it, I have seen more short people around here than we saw in Topeka. Hmmm. I wonder...  No, it couldn't be!

We're staying at Victorian Acres, an RV Park, for a few days... maybe until Sunday. Our objective is to see the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, just 50 miles to the west. We also hoping to connect up with my nephew Ben and his bride Sarah -- remember Ben and Sarah from the Florida wedding in February? Well, he's going to grad school in Lincoln and I'm sure they could help us find some good local craft beer.

In a few minutes we're going to run out and find pizza for dinner tonight. It's been a long time since we've had pizza and it sounds so good.

... not in Kansas anymore.
Thom

Topeka or Google?

Monday was another Capitol exploration day. The weather was perfect for the drive to Topeka, a mere 40 miles away. But as we progressed northward I wondered if we were going to Topeka??... or if we were going to Google??

Early in March the Mayor of Topeka officially changed the name of the town to Google. [Link to Official City Proclamation]  That's right, for the month of March, Topeka was, in fact, Google, Kansas.

Then, on April 1st, Google changed it's name to Topeka. [Link to Google Blog]  All day that day, we didn't "google" topics for research, we "topeka'd" them. It's all very confusing to an old guy like me who still remembers what an IBM Selectric is and has never heard of a town changing it's name for just a month!

Turns out both name changes were attempts at humor (April Fools!) and self-promotion. But on our way into the Capital City, I wasn't real sure what we'd find.

Regardless of which name was correct, we did eventually find the Capitol of the State of Kansas. Topeka isn't all that large --  a population of about 200,000 including suburbs. Getting around town didn't seem tough at all, but we were there on a Monday and the Legislature is on recess which means all the lobbyists were gone too.

First impressions of the Capitol are favorable. It's dome is taller and more slender than others, but not offensive. The proportions still work. And the rest of the building is designed in the traditional four wing style. Again, no surprise there. The exterior is primarily limestone and exudes massiveness and solidness.

Kansas was made a state in 1861, right at the start off the Civil War. The issue of Kansas being a slave state or a free state prior to Statehood attracted all kinds of wackos, including John Brown and William Quantrill, both of whom left a red stain on the new State during a period called "Bloody Kansas". With so much going on any thought of building a Capitol would have to wait until after the Civil War.


But in 1866, the new Capitol was started. It was built in phases during the next 37 years. Depending on the availability of money (known as "pay-as-you-go") they built, in sequence, the East Wing, then after a few years, the West Wing. For a number of years a drafty wooden covered walkway connected the two separate structures. Eventually the North and South Wings were done, as well as the Rotunda and dome in the early 1900's. Small elevation differences where the floors from one wing adjoined the floors of the next wing are evident, managed with slopping thresholds.

Like other Capitols, this one was neglected and went into decline during the middle 1900's. But in 2002, a multi-year restoration project began with the objective of preserving the building for future generations. Murals and decorative stenciling, that were simply painted over during earlier days were restored to their original grandeur. The entire building was built for $3.2 Million, but the restoration project alone has cost the good citizens of Kansas over $200 Million thus far.

There's a lot of marble, many different kinds from many different places, a lot of copper and brass, and some gold leaf. The amount of art and symbolism is impressive too. Probably the best example of the completed restoration was the Senate Chamber which was just stunning -- among the best we've seen. This picture doesn't do a good job of representing what we actually saw.



Unfortunately, the restoration project is currently working on the North Wing and the Rotunda, so we could only see the inside of the dome through a small construction peek-a-boo window.


This was the 14th Capitol that we've explored. For me, it ranked up there near the top.

Reporting from Topeka (or is it Google?);
Thom

Monday, April 12, 2010

Campfires

First off, Happy Birthday to our wonderful daughter Andrea, who is also, along with Gage our Son-in-Law, co-producer of the two coolest, neatest, smartest, and best looking Grandsons anyone could hope for. We hope you have a great day and can find some time for yourself between keeping an eye on those two little boys and your work and your house and ?? We love you and wish you all the best today, and every day... but especially today... but every day too... oh, you know what we mean.

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When we're "camping" (as opposed to RV parking) we both enjoy an evening campfire. While many others are huddled in their campers, the tell-tale blue-gray glow of the TV sneaking out around tightly drawn shades, we prefer watching and poking at, feeding new fuel to, and being mesmerized by this little chemical reaction we've learned to love. It soothes the soul, melts away worries, and somehow brings one into contact with that power greater than all others. And what's really great about it is that usually the cosmos is spread out above the little campfire... millions of burning stars that add perspective to nature's scale and spectacle, and which I like to watch as much as the campfire.

In the past few months we've had far too few campfires because we've been mostly in RV parks. Many RV parks don't allow campfires at all because smokey fires and RVs packed tightly together like soda crackers don't mix very well. And that's understandable. We, too, have become annoyed when someone next door starts a campfire and the prevailing wind is directly toward the bus-house. Too little common sense and consideration for others can cause ill feelings.

But if the wind is right, and there's plenty of space between you and the next nearest camper, there's nothing like a campfire to make you feel like you're, well, camping... outdoors and in touch with nature.

You can probably tell we've had a bunch of campfires lately, almost every night. COE parks are usually campfire friendly and we've thoroughly enjoyed every one.

Trying to figure out if it's smoke or pollen making my eyes water...
Thom

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Burning Kansas

A few lines in yesterday's post referred to the 17th Governor of Kansas, one Edward W. Hoch. Subsequently, Dar dug up a little more information on the man from the Boston Evening Transcript. In the 1903 article, Hoch is referred to as: "... a tall, angular, slow-moving man. His face is so homely the farmers' wives of Kansas agree it would sour fresh milk." Well, considering these new facts he might very well be a closer relative than I thought.

Yesterday, we explored a wider area near Melvern Lake, including the towns of Melvern, Williamsburg, Pomona, and Lyndon... a loop drive that included another COE dam project named Pomona Lake. These little towns all have one thing in common -- they're dying. Their small business areas are mostly vacant and falling-down. There might be a school, but what's going to keep any of these kids here when they're old enough to make that choice? One Kansas historian, Daniel Fitzgerald, estimates there are hundreds of ghost towns and thousands of dwindling communities in Kansas. There's just not much to keep people out on the prairie, especially when the larger cities beckon with promises of opportunities, jobs, and vibrant retail and night-life choices.

This "rural flight" phenomenon isn't unique to Kansas, but Kansas' situation seems, in my opinion, to bring it to a higher level. The decline of a community is as depressing, maybe more so, than it's original rise was invigorating and exciting. The people that built it saw so much opportunity and promise. They built houses and businesses, made homes, raised families, and took pride in their accomplishments. And when, eventually, those accomplishments included cheap easy transportation on a scale never imagined by those early pioneers, much of the economic purpose of their small towns was eclipsed by the economics of scale available in the larger cities. There's nothing that realistically could be done... water doesn't flow uphill. When the number of people in an area no longer support local grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, hardware stores... the necessities, those remaining wonder why they are driving 20, 30, 40 miles to buy bread and milk. And rural flight continues.

Last night we were sitting around our campfire, enjoying a warm and pleasant evening. Our campsite is on the edge of the park, against a small wooded area and a corner of a privately owned field. Dar noticed how there was a glow coming from the field and wondered what it was. As we watched, the glow got brighter and widened. It was orange-ish in color. Shortly we heard ATV's, two of them, and could see the silhouettes of two riders setting fire to the grass in the field. What the heck?


A little research found that burning the prairie in this part of Kansas is a traditional and accepted practice. In fact, most farmers burn their fields every year or two, in the Spring. There are two primary reasons... the burning puts nutrients back into the soil and promotes lush new grass growth. The other reason is to inhibit the intrusion of woody plant growth (shrubs, trees, etc.) into these grazing fields. Livestock thrive on the new grass growth, weeds are controlled, and fields are kept healthy... the way it was for thousands of years before settlers arrived and storm created wildfires burned the prairies with the same result.

But the Safety Director wasn't happy about these fires so late at night and so close to a campground. What if the fire made it's way into the woods, got into the crowns of the trees, and started a forest fire? Oh Boy! For a couple hours we were on fire-watch. Strangely, I didn't see any concern at all among the other campers -- most of which were from Kansas, and most of which just take the burning of Kansas each year in stride. "It's the way it's always been done!"

Eventually, though much later than I'd hoped, the fires mostly burned themselves out and sleep was now possible.

What a surreal scene though... camping in the woods, your own small campfire crackling away, stars salting the black sky, a slight breeze wafting through, and the bright orange glow of burning Kansas just on the other side of the fence, maybe 200 yards away. It's a picture I'll not soon forget.

Thom

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Pollen Trail

One of the downsides, for people like me, of traveling northbound through the mid-section of the country during the Spring is pollen. Everything is in bloom... trees, bushes, grasses, wildflowers, weeds... and it all looks so beautiful through my itchy, watery eyes. I take in as much of the splendid colors as I can between sneezes. By moving north, we're at the bloomin' edge of Spring during the entire trip so there's really no chance to escape it all. But that's OK... I deal with it... it is a nice time of the year otherwise.

Yesterday Dar and I explored the area around Melvern Lake. The Lake was created by a Corps of Engineers dam finished in 1972. It's primary purpose is to provide flood control on the lower Marais des Cygnes River. It's a small lake by COE standards, maybe 10 miles long by a couple miles wide. But there were no less than 6 different campgrounds developed when the dam was built, the largest of which was given over to the State of Kansas to operate and is known as Eisenhower State Park. We're at Outlet Park campground, the only one on the lower side of the dam.


During out explorations yesterday we found a Hoch Road. A little research later found that there was a Governor of Kansas named Hoch in 1905 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_W._Hoch] so perhaps the road was named for him? Didn't find out much more. But Dar has been heads-down on the computer and digging into family tree research with renewed vigor since we got back. One of these days, I fear, she'll find some sordid and dark branch of the family that my ancestors long ago tried to forget.

The weekend weather looks good. We've decided to make our Capitol run into Topeka on Monday, so we've got all weekend to work on projects around here.

Along the Pollen Trail in Kansas...
Thom

Friday, April 9, 2010

R&R on Melvern Lake

Yesterday, Thursday, was another moving day. Our time at Oologah Lake had come to an end. (As an aside, Will Rogers used to tell everyone he was from Claremore because no one could spell Oologah). I thought getting out of our campsite would be tricky, what with one-way roads, a tight turn, and a few ominous low-hanging tree limbs. I was right. Despite both of our best efforts to keep an eye on everything, the stub of a previously trimmed limb, about an inch in diameter, ended up hard against the side of the bus-house. I had to stop moving, climb up, and cut it off before moving further to avoid even more damage. We're now the owners of a new tree-limb scrape that I'll have to try to polish away -- or at least minimize.

But you know, if you're going to really use these big campers,...if you're going to push the envelope and get them back into those more rustic campsites that we like... you're going to end up with a few brush scrapes. While not happy when it happens, we've come to accept that the bus-house ain't gonna be a polished gem that only stays in antiseptic RV Parks. We're using it. But the next RV will be smaller.

Leaving Oologah northbound, we stayed on US-169 to Nowata where we headed west on US-60 to Bartlesville. There we headed north again on US-75, into Kansas at Caney and through Independence, Buffalo, and Burlington. We found the roads in Kansas, so far, to be far better than Oklahoma roads, which appear little improved since the depression in the 1930's. Many Oklahomans like to boast about their low taxes and the lack of government intrusion in their lives. But low taxes mean less money to spend improving roads, and the roads in Oklahoma, in my experience, are among the worst in the country. If you want low taxes and don't mind living on a dirt road, Oklahoma is the place to be.

Just a few miles north of I-35, as we continued north on US-75, we saw a bunch of RV's parked around a lake that Dar identified as Melvern Lake. We knew there was a Corps of Engineers campground here (there are actually 4 of them on the Lake) but had targeted another Corps park a little closer to Topeka. But this one looked really nice so we threw out the anchor and found our way in... and we're really glad we did.


Outlet Park at Melvern Lake is among the best of the COE Parks we've used. The place is clean, well-maintained, and has full hookups at many sites (a rare thing at many COE Parks). The sites are among trees and well separated, and, by my criteria, this is "camping" as opposed to "rv parking". There's evidence that they're actually spending money to improve things further -- the loop we're camped in has 30amp power, but they're running new cable and will soon have 50amp available. The pads are all macadam and level. And the sewer hookup means we can get caught up on laundry again!

We're only 40 miles south of Topeka so the drive in to see the Capitol should be easy. The weather looks good for the next few days so, at this point, we think we'll be here until Tuesday or thereabouts.

T

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kansas, the 34th State

Kansas was the 34th State admitted to the Union. That happened in 1861.

But Kansas is also the 34th State officially explored by our Intrepid Explorers. That happened today.

How's that for a coincidence?

T

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Will Rogers

It's one of those things I really like about our life right now... discovering something like the birthplace of Will Rogers just down the road a piece from our camp near Oologah. And then finding the Will Rogers Memorial Museum a little further down the road, in the opposite direction. And then taking the time to learn more about this one-of-a-kind cowboy, what made him tick, and how he fits into the historical fabric of the USA. It's an eye-popper!

I had heard of Will Rogers... thought I knew a little about him too. I'd seen photos, heard audio clips, and generally knew he was a humorist and respected commentator back in the 20's or 30's. But I couldn't have told you he was from Oklahoma if I had a gun to my head. And I certainly didn't know anything close to the full story of his life. Some of these deficiencies I took care of today.

I could hammer away on the keys and try to adequately recreate a little of what we learned today, but I won't. This website...http://www.willrogers.com/ ... covers the subject in much greater detail and probably more accuracy. If you spend a few minutes looking it over you might get hooked.

Oh, and if you've never heard of Will Rogers (1879 - 1935), you have a choice. Either forget I mentioned the name and press on to the next item in your blog-roll... or take some time to learn about this truly unique, intelligent, and fun individual. And see if you can't get a lesson or two about dealing with life.

Thom

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Back in the Woods

Our motorhome, dubbed the bus-house by our Grandson Ryan, has two bedroom slide-outs. The queen size bed sits cross-ways and along with the head board moves with the slide. When the slide is open, there are two small windows, one on each side, that are positioned right next to our heads when laying in bed. Laying on my left side I can see outside... the stars, moon, shadows, and any activity on that side of the camper. What's more, those windows open to let a little of the outside in.

We're getting back to that time of the year when we can sleep with those bedroom windows open all night. It's a small thing, but those little windows make me feel like I'm camping. For me, a breeze of fresh air makes for great sleeps. Other senses get involved too -- the scents of pine or lake, or even a hint of campfire add to the effect; the sounds of waves lapping on the shore or a stream flowing over rocks or the wind blowing through tree-tops or leaves rustling on the ground. Even if the outside temp is getting down into the 30's, and as long as the wind isn't blowing too bad, I prefer to just add another blanket and sleep with the window open and invite nature in for the night. Yes, it's a small thing. But it's something I've come to really savor.

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I think I mentioned some of this in last night's late journal entry. We blew into Oologah Oklahoma yesterday afternoon, and headed directly to the Hawthorn Bluff COE Park. This time of the year most campgrounds are only lightly used, especially during weekdays, so finding the right site for us was quick and easy.

Getting into the site wasn't quite as easy. The bus-house got a couple more low-hanging limb scrapes and at one point I had to climb to the roof for a little tree trimming exercise, but we eventually got in and leveled. And speaking of "level", there aren't very many sites here within our leveling capabilities. We love COE (Corps of Engineers) Parks, but you've got to be selective about sites as many won't work for the bus-house. That's another reason we never make reservations without knowing what we're getting.

We made contact with an old buddy of mine... a good friend that I used to work with in my business life. After setting up camp, we drove over to Stan and Sue's house and then to dinner at a great Mexican restaurant down the road. It was a very enjoyable night and it was nice to catch up with them. Time goes by sooo fast and there was no shortage of things to talk about.

The birthplace of Will Rogers is just a couple miles from our camp, and a Will Rogers Museum is just down the road too. We're planning to stay here until Thursday and, as always, there's plenty to do.

Thom

Monday, April 5, 2010

Oologah?

This is gonna be quick. It's late, we just got back from dinner with some good friends, and my slow internet connection is not just slow... it's painfully slow.

This morning, Monday, we got the bus-house fired up and we were on the road just a few minutes after 9am. The route took us eastward, OK-33 to I-40 for a few miles, then the Creek Turnpike around the south end of Tulsa to US-169 which we took to Oologah Oklahoma on the north end of the Tulsa Metroplex. There, we found suitable accommodations at the Hawthorn Bluff Corps of Engineers Campground on Oologah Lake. It's a great campsite with a view off the lake from the bus-house windshield, and it's somewhat hidden behind a hill that cuts the wind.

We think we'll be here for 3 nights.

till tomorrow...
Thom

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Guthrie, OK

DSCN1045 We gave things a chance to settle down a bit after the thunderstorms of yesterday morning before driving into Guthrie and exploring around town a bit. Guthrie is significant because of its unique and outstanding collection of late-19th and early-20th century commercial architecture. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

It all started with the land run of 1889, a method used by the government to distribute land that had previously belonged to American Indians. From wikipedia…
DSCN0952 At noon on April 22, 1889, cannons resounded at a 2-million acre (8,000 km²) section of Indian Territory, launching president Benjamin Harrison's "Hoss Race" or Land Run of 1889. During the next six hours, about 10,000 people settled in what became the capital of the new Territory of Oklahoma: Guthrie. Within months, Guthrie became a modern brick and stone "Queen of the Prairie" with municipal water, electricity, a mass transit system, and underground parking garages for horses and carriages. Hobart Johnstone Whitley, also known as HJ and the Father of Hollywood, built the first brick block building in the territory for the National Loan & Trust Company. He was asked by the local people to be the first Governor of Oklahoma. Whitley traveled to Washington, D.C. where he persuaded the U.S. Congress to allow Guthrie to be the new capital of the state of Oklahoma. By 1907, when Guthrie became the capital, it looked like a well established Eastern city.
But politics and circumstances conspired to strip Guthrie of it’s State Capital-ship just three years later. The more populous settlement of Oklahoma City, 30 miles to the south, had the votes to force the change and the Capital was moved there in 1910.

Stripped of it’s economic base, Guthrie slipped into a 70 year long period of stagnation. But one happy result of Guthrie's misfortune is that the city is now a perfectly preserved Victorian enclave. While growth and poor urban planning caused other Oklahoma towns such as Oklahoma City to destroy much of their early downtown architecture, most of the entire central business and residential district of Guthrie is totally intact.
Downtown Guthrie
Today Guthrie has a population of about 10,000 people and is considered a northern suburb of the Oklahoma City Metroplex. Walking around the downtown it becomes clear that, while the buildings themselves are marvelous, the underlying economic conditions of the downtown area are not. Vacant stores and for-sale buildings sit sadly… remembering the “hey-days” of more than 100 years ago.
Guthrie's Carnegie Library
We spent a couple hours in the Oklahoma Territorial Museum which is loaded with artifacts and stories of the ‘89 land run and the process of becoming a State. Adjoining the Museum is the old Carnegie Library built in 1902 and paid for by a grant from Andrew Carnegie.
Masonic Temple
We also explored the grounds of a huge Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, one of the largest in the world. Built in 1925 it’s unclear to me why, in the years after Guthrie lost the Capital and it’s economic base, the Masons would build such a large and grand structure. Before I knew what it was I assumed it was the first Capitol of Oklahoma… it looks like a Capitol. But there never was a Capitol building in Guthrie. The functions of State Government took place in various meeting halls and miscellaneous buildings around town. Even after some time researching the subject online I’ve found very little explaining that impressive Masonic Temple.

Just imagine the frenetic activity of those early days of Guthrie… all the construction of buildings, houses, roads, infrastructure, and all the support and service businesses needed to make it all happen, and all the people working to make it shine. And in an instant the purpose for it all vanished.

On one level, Guthrie feels like it’s getting along alright – tourism catering to history-buffs and those looking for quaint old towns for quiet weekend getaways… bed and breakfasts… stately old Victorian houses… streets still paved with brick. Sadly, it even has a Super Walmart on the edge of town.

But on another level, Guthrie feels like a populated, well-preserved, ghost-town. The stories those old buildings could tell…

Thom

Friday, April 2, 2010

Morning Thunderstorms

The NOAA weather radio alarm went of this morning about 5am, waking me from a deep sleep. That thing could wake the dead. There's NO ignoring it.

Lightning was visible to the southwest, so I hopped on the computer to see what the radar looked like. There was a thin line of strong thunderstorms coming our way... no possibility of avoiding it. The predictions of strong damaging winds (70mph), hail (quarter size), and heavy rains prompted the safety director to order all slides brought in and to rig for rough weather. "Aye Aye, Sir!" With preparations made, we made coffee and waited for the show to start.

We did have some small hail, but the wind and rain were not as heavy as the worst predictions. It was all over quickly and the forecast now is for a string of several nice days. The strong winds of the past few days are supposed to lighten up too.

With all that behind us, and since I was already up, I threw a couple eggs on the griddle and enjoyed the morning. Dar nodded back to sleep.

So, we survived our first Oklahoma thunderstorm! But this is rough and tumble Oklahoma...  where anything can happen at any time... and usually does.

Thom

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

15 years ago this month I was on a business trip to Oklahoma -- Tulsa to be precise. On April 19th, I had finished with my business, made my way to the airport about Noon, and that's when I learned about the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City earlier that day. People throughout the airport were huddled around TVs and the place was quieter than usual. I'm not sure anyone understood the true level of destruction and loss of life... I know I didn't. Many of us were still making business phone calls while keeping one eye on the story. News video from the scene showed a building still standing, albeit with a third of it collapsed.

I had a similar feeling early on in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center... an airplane had hit the building... I didn't know how big or type of plane... wasn't clear if it was accidental or intentional... and just assumed that the fires would be extinguished and the building repaired and life would go on. But in a flash, when I saw, live, the second plane hit the other tower, some of those questions became instantly crystal clear: We were under attack! And later that morning, when first one tower collapsed and then the other collapsed, our lives truly changed forever. Someone had found a way to topple two of the largest towers in the world. International terrorism had found its way to the safe and secure USA.

Until 9/11, the largest act of terrorism and the greatest resulting loss of life was the April 19, 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. In the days that followed the real scope of what had happened became more clear. So many lives were lost, including 19 small children in a day care center on the second floor of the targeted building. What a waste, what a senseless act, what twisted mind could have devised such a thing? And when we found out it was US citizens, some who had served their country in the military, it became even harder to understand.

I wasn't prepared for what we found at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum during our explorations on Wednesday. I hadn't expected to relive that day so intimately... listening to the explosion on a recording of a business meeting taking place just across the street... listening to 911 tapes... police and EMS radio chatter, early news reports... the first close-up video from a news helicopter. At 9:01am, everyone was having just another normal morning, going through their routines, having a second cup of coffee... just a normal morning. By 9:03am, just two minutes later, everything had changed. Many were dead, many more injured. The affected area was far larger than you'd think... buildings blocks away were hit with flying debris, windows blown out causing more injuries.

The Museum takes you through the day, minute by minute, and then through subsequent days and months. You experience it from a number of different perspectives... the victims, the rescuers, the police and investigators, the news people, the government, and the bombers themselves. There are countless artifacts and photos and videos that suck you in, make you feel like you're there. It's very well done and very effective.

The outside Memorial is built on both sides of the street that once ran in front of the Murrah Federal Building. It's like a cross between a quiet park and a cemetery. The block is contained within two large 4 story high bronze-clad "gates" -- the east gate is the 9:01 gate that represents the innocence of the City the moment before the bomb, and the west 9:03 gate represents the the moment after the bomb when we were changed forever, and the hope that grew out of the horror in the days, months, and years following.

That one block long section of 5th Street, where the Building once stood, is now closed and part of the Memorial. Where the street used to be is city block-long reflecting pool. On the adjoining hillside in the footprint of the building is a Field of Empty Chairs... one for each of the 168 victims. They're arranged in rows that represent the floor that person was on at the time of the blast. Each chair, made of bronze, stone, and glass, is similar, but unique... no two are alike... and they're softly illuminated from below at night. The children's chairs are smaller. Very effectively, these empty chairs remind us that these people are no longer with us... but at the same time, they are very much with us.

Directly across the street from Murrah Federal Building was an American Elm tree that took severe damage, had it's leaves stripped bare by the blast, and absorbed significant amounts of shrapnel and debris. Yet today, it still survives. Called the Survivor Tree, it represents the resilience of life and the human spirit.

I was surprised at the large number of people at the Memorial and the Museum on a regular Wednesday afternoon. It's good to see, 15 years later, that the memories of that horrific event are still remembered and, it can only be hoped, a lesson can be learned about the senselessness and the terrible impact of violence... to prevent this from happening again.

We were both moved to tears by the visit. I highly recommend the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum to everyone -- it's a "must see". If you're anywhere nearby, stay an extra day, do whatever you have to, but make a visit and spend a few hours remembering and reflecting. I think you'll be glad you did.

A little quiet right now...
Thom

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quirky Camper Videos

I don't often do this... put videos relating to RVs in the Journal. But these two caught my eye today and I thought I'd share them.

The first is an idea from he 1970's. The car involved is a classic VW Beetle. I owned one almost exactly like the one in the video. If I'd have kept it we could have saved a huge amount of money. Check it out...


The next one is just humorous, I can't explain anything about it... the circumstances, when, where, why, etc. But it made me laugh.

The Little Car that Couldn't...

An OK Capitol

Yesterday, Wednesday, we drove into Oklahoma City to visit the State Capitol and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. This journal entry will be on the State Capitol portion of the day.

In 1907 Oklahoma was the 46th State to be admitted to the Union. Only New Mexico (1912), Arizona (1912), Alaska (1959), and Hawaii (1959) were later. It seems the Oklahoma Territory was being used as a dumping ground for American Indians as they were "removed" from their native areas around the USA, and there was little interest in Statehood for a primarily Indian Territory. Eventually though, enough white settlers moved in, outnumbered the Indians, and progress toward Statehood began in earnest during the 1890's and 1900's.

Originally, the Capitol was in Guthrie, now a suburb of Oklahoma City and where we're currently camped. That building still exists and will be the topic of another exploration in the next few days. But in the middle of one night in 1910 the State Seal was secretly moved from Guthrie to OKC, making it the Capital, where it remains to this day.


The current Capitol is an impressive structure built between 1914 and 1917. It's very much in the, what I might call, traditional style of stately and ornate Capitol buildings of many other States. The exterior is limestone and pink granite. The six story structure is large, containing 650 rooms and 11 acres of floor space. As construction neared completion in 1917 the decision was made, due to lack of available funds, to not build the dome... and for over 80 years it was one of only a handful of dome-less State Capitols in the USA. That changed, however, in 2002, when the State strong-armed a number of large corporations (Halliburton, General Motors, Conoco, etc) and wealthy families (Express Personnel -- Bob and Nedra Funk??, The Stipe Family (currently under a cloud suspicion for alleged wrong-doing), etc) for the $20 Million to finally build the dome and finish the building. The quid pro quo for those donations was to have their names prominently and boldly encircle the interior dome base for all to see forevermore.



Also unique are the oil wells that dot the Capitol grounds. I don't think any of them are producing anything anymore, but the drilling towers are still there as monuments to the oil industry and the importance of petroleum to the history and economy of the State.

During a tour we encountered a large glass case that contained the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma. Interestingly, it's the largest, longest governing document of any government in the world at over 100 handwritten pages. Compare that to the original 4 page Constitution of the United States. Apparently the designers felt the document should be a codification of laws instead of a set of guiding principles -- to such minutiae as specifying that the flash point of kerosene used for lighting purposes should be 115 degrees! Teddy Roosevelt, President at the time, was not impressed with the document and was quoted as saying his opinion of the Oklahoma Constitution was not fit to print. Changes to a constitution are much more difficult than changes to legislated laws -- and that's part of the reason so little changes in Oklahoma.

In the last 20 years the building has been renovated, updated, and brought back to it's original grand state. Originally, there was very little art and symbolism inside the building. That too has changed the past few years... to the point where I don't think they'd want to add much more.


Overall, our visit was an enjoyable one. It's truly an impressive building and does it's job of  imparting the power of the people, the reverence for the rule of law, and the struggles and effort to make it all possible. The tour-guide was knowledgeable and full of background stories, and even made an unflattering comment about a State Senator we encountered -- which drew a chuckle from the group.  Both houses of the Legislature are in session this time of year and the building was a bee-hive of activity.

I think this is our 13th State Capitol that we've explored and, in our opinion, it ranks up there in the top half.

Thom