Friday, May 30, 2008

Lincoln Town

Springfield, Illinois is a town with a theme. Although he was not born there, Abraham Lincoln lived 17 years of his adult life in Springfield. Everywhere you go, it's Lincoln Laundromat, Lincoln Deli, Lincoln Car Wash - you get the idea.

This sign on a restaurant was my favorite - I wonder how Honest Abe would feel about pushing hot dogs.

Like all good tourists, we went to the Presidential Museum. It was really very well done and not even too much standing. Here I joined the Lincolns for a stroll around the lobby. (Or as Ron says, "the Lincolns and their maid."

Back outside, Ron had a nice visit with the great man himself. (That's Union Station behind them.)

We also went to see the house where the family lived. I took a picture, but I actually preferred the models because you get the bird's eye view. This is what the house looked like when the Lincolns bought it.

And this is what it looked like by the time Abe had all the improvements done.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moving Day

Today we made our way from St. Louis to just south of Springfield, Illinois. Now normally I wouldn't post anything on a simple move, but I was just tickled by a couple of things today and I had to share.

First of all, we desperately needed to do laundry. I was down to my last pair of underwear (and I don't want to hear any suggestions about turning them inside out!) We drove into Pawnee thinking it was about the right size for a laundromat and Voila! This was as convenient as having five washers and dryers in the RV. You can't see the door, but it was almost even with our door. Obviously we were the only ones there.

Maybe this doesn't mean as much to people with houses, but I got a kick out of it anyway.

We continued on to our destination - Sangchris Lake State Park. Judging by this one, we are very impressed by Illinois Parks. They even have the option of boondocking, so we're only paying $10 a night. Since everybody else wants hookups, there is only one other site occupied in this loop.

But this was what really got me giggling. Who ever heard of a Coke machine in the middle of a campground loop?

We can see it from where we're parked and it shines like a guiding light in the night.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

St. Louis, MO

Yesterday Ron and I left the WINs and headed to St. Louis. We're staying in the Harrahs Casino parking lot for a couple of nights - not quite as quiet as we're used to. Since other WINs are also heading north, a few of them also landed here. Always nice to see familiar faces.

Today we went downtown to see the world famous St. Louis Arch - the Gateway to the West. Its official name is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and it took two and 1/2 years to build. At 630 feet, it towers over the surrounding city and the polished stainless steel skin shines in the sunlight.

We parked along the waterfront and climbed the hundred or so steps up to the base.

There are two trams, one in each side of the arch, that carry visitors to the top. Each tram has eight capsules, which hold five persons each. Electric motors keep the capsules level as they ascend and descend. They put one on display so you can decide if you might have a problem with claustrophobia.

Here's Ron about to enter our capsule (or egg, as I like to call it.)

I really appreciated the view from the top because when I was here about ten years ago, it was windy and raining. Of course, I still had to go to the top and there was no view. However we could see the rain falling below us - that was interesting. I told Ron that the arch sways 14 feet in the wind and it's actually about 14 inches. It just felt like feet.

Ron's looking at the Mississippi River far below.

This is it. Along with everywhere we've been this spring, the river is higher then normal. And just as muddy as its reputation.

The closer bridge is the Eads Bridge. Completed in 1874, it was the worlds first alloy steel bridge, the first to use tubular cord members (whatever that means,) and the first to depend entirely upon the cantilever. It was the first large bridge to span the Mississippi and the first to carry railroad tracks. It is a double decker bridge with railroad tracks below the roadway. Of course, back in 1874, the upper deck was for pedestrians and trolley cars.

I think this is the postcard spot. The sun was not quite right, but I thought it still turned out okay.

These guys are blurry since they were zooming away from me. Daddy goose stayed on shore and actually hissed at me.

This lovely building with the arch in the background is the old courthouse. It's now the park headquarters and a museum, but had quite a history. It was where the famous Dred Scott case was originally tried. Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom and his case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Although he lost the case, the publicity increased the turmoil between the slavery supporters and opponents and may have hastened the start of the Civil War.

I thought the rotunda was particularly lovely.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Springs, Falls, and Max

The gathering here in Alley Spring CG was officially over today, but some of us decided to stay another night and not drive on Memorial Day. Although Ron and I opted out, eight of the WINs couldn't resist a final kayak trip. Once again, the dump hat that I talked about in the last post, changed hands (or would that be heads?) Surprising to all of us, Max earned the honor when his kayak flipped and his paddle took off downstream without him. If it wasn't for that telltale paddle, he would never have admitted it.

The women decided to cheer him up - it looks like we were successful.

Yesterday we toured some of the local sights. This is Falling Spring Mill. The spring is actually a waterfall behind the mill that was routed into the waterwheel. The boardwalk was torn off its base and ended in this odd position.

We saw a lot of these during our kayaking, although this one was in the mill pond. We think it's a banded water snake and hopefully non-poisonous.

Then we hiked down to Greer Spring - listed in a brochure as 1/2 mile down and 5 miles back up. It really wasn't that bad, but we all complained about the humidity.

Along the trail, Judy couldn't resist playing Tarzan.

Our final stop was gorgeous Rocky Falls. Unfortunately we were looking into the sun, so the picture isn't the best. It was fun to watch the families playing in the water on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Ron bravely climbed over the rocks to get this picture for me.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Alley Spring, MO

For the past few days, we've been at Alley Spring campground along Jacks Fork River. This is the final stop of the WIN's Arkansas and Missouri kayaking tour. The WINs are a unique and special group of people and we have had a terrific time for the past five weeks from Hot Springs to here. We've participated in lots of kayaking, hiking, eating and, most of all, experienced wonderful companionship with our fellow RVers. I always say that if you're feeling low, just come to a WIN gathering. It's our family on the road.

We are within easy walking distance of Alley Spring and Mill. I went several times trying for the perfect shot - this is as good as I can do.

Yesterday we kayaked 15 miles (!!!) from here to the confluence of Jacks Fork and the Current River. Max took this lovely shot of me, proving that I really do this.

Oh, no, what's this? I guess I wasn't paying enough attention and ran into a tree. Happily (??) Max was there to capture the moment.

For the second time in five weeks, my boat got stuck sideways and just filled up with water. Luckily I remembered Bill's advice, "If you think you're going to drown, stand up." I tried to tell everybody that I thought there was a tick in my boat and just wanted to rinse it out, but they didn't buy it.

A kayak full of water is impossible to move, so I just waited for help. Marvin and Ron were my heroes, dumped the water out, and got me safely back on my way.

The WINs have a tradition that whoever goes in the water gets to wear the dump hat until somebody else dumps. Since we don't wear it on the river (after all, it might get wet or lost,) the ceremony is held at afternoon circle.

Here I am receiving the coveted duck hat from Ernie who wore his official WIN kayaking shirt for the occasion.

I didn't keep it though, since three others dumped after I did that day. The hat moved on to Patrice, Geraldine, and Sharon.

After all our hard work on the river, most of us went to nearby Eminence (pop. 548) for dinner. We sat out on the balcony of the Ozark Orchard and feasted on all the goodies on the buffet - catfish, hush puppies, and black-eyed peas. But best of all, there was blackberry cobbler for dessert!

In town, we found this interesting wagon for sale. Inside it looked like a fully functional RV, and you can buy it 'loaded' for $25,000. We just weren't sure if that included the team of oxen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ready, Set, Kayak

On our last day at Big Spring, the waters finally reached a manageable level. At 9am, the river was only 1/2 inch over the five foot flood stage. We figured, "What's a half inch?" and off we went.

Since I don't take my camera along on these 'floats', this is Ron's picture of us preparing to put-in. I'm in there, if you look hard enough.

I had checked the weather and knew we were in for a head wind, but figured the swift current would make up for it. However, I almost quit before I started when Bill, who is one of our most proficient kayakers, capsized just as somebody gave him a shove off the bank. It seems the combination of the helpful push and the current just flipped him right over. Whoa!

Benefiting from his demonstration, the rest of us all got off to a good start. That's me in the middle of this picture.

Although the current was swift, there weren't many obstacles (like downed trees) and only one set of rapids which most of us went around. This time Ernie was the sacrificial lamb who showed the rest of us which way not to go. (Never, ever be first going through rapids!)

Just look how happy Ron is!

I shamelessly stole the last two pictures right off of Sharon's blog. To read her version of our adventures, click here.

As for the tick problem, I've been assured that our next and final stop on this kayaking tour is tick free. Or at least they're not as numerous.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

Beautiful as this country is, we have two major problems. First, and most distressing to me, is that we seem to be in the tick capital of the known world! We have speckled ticks, ticks with a single spot on their back, and worst of all, little ticks about the size of a pinhead, which I understand are the ones that carry lyme disease. And although you can understand picking them up in the woods, the clever things have figured out where the WINs gather to have circle at 4 o'clock. We carefully position our chairs on pavement away from any bushes or grass and they just appear out of nowhere. I'm going to suggest that we move circle and try to outsmart them. After all, they only have teenie, tiny brains.

Then there is this. . .

The flood stage of the Current River at Van Buren is 5 feet. Last Friday, due to rain before we even arrived here, the river rose to over 7 1/2 feet. We got the link to the official USGS site so we can monitor the water level, but unfortunately it doesn't recede as quickly as it rises. We are very hopeful for tomorrow since it only has to drop about three more inches. I bet the USGS is wondering why they're getting so many hits on their site.

So to cheer us up, Ellie (in the pink hat) made us an authentic Italian spaghetti meal. Here she is feeding the masses.

She made the sauce from scratch (you mean you can DO that?) and gave very specific directions to her helpers who cooked the pasta. (Do you know the proper way to cook spaghetti? Well, thanks to Ellie, we all do now.) Some other helpers heated the garlic bread or made the salad. Some of us brought dessert - I made chocolate chip cookies, because, heaven knows, I don't cook.

It was delicious and everyone even forgot about the ticks for a short time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big Spring, MO

On Thursday, Ron and I met back up with the WINs at Big Spring campground just south of Van Buren, Missouri. Since we were late, the campground loop with electric was pretty full with our friends, but we had our pick of the non-electric sites in the next loop.

Here we are in all our solitary splendor.

Actually, we're very happy with this spot - lots of sun, clear view of the southern sky for satellite TV, and no nearby campfires. (I know, what kind of a camper am I anyway?) However, as I sit here composing this post, it occurs to me that it's awfully noisy. Between the whip-poor-will, the crickets, and something else which might be frogs, I can hardly hear myself think!

The 'Big Spring' is the largest in Missouri with an average daily flow of 286 million gallons. It varies according to rainfall with sources as far as 40 miles to the west. Traveling through underground cracks, the water can take 130 days to reach the spring's outlet. The gorgeous aquamarine hue is due to minerals dissolved in the water.

Today we took a hike along the lovely Ozark Trail. Using multiple vehicles, half the group started at one trail head and half at the next one, six miles farther.

Here are Ron and Billy, who when in the lead, kept losing the rest of us.

At one point they were so engrossed in hiking (and I bet talking,) that they walked right by this car without seeing it. The rest of us wondered why they didn't stop since it was an odd sight in the middle of the woods.

At the halfway point, there was a ceremonial exchanging of the car keys. These WINs are pretty clever.

I've been getting a lot of hummingbirds on my feeder here. (Or maybe it's just the same hungry few.) I can't resist trying to take pictures even though I don't have the right equipment and I'm taking it through two windows.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Branson too!

As I mentioned in the last post, we each selected a show to attend while in Branson. Ron picked Yakov Smirnoff - who I remember as the famous Russian-born comedian from the 1980s who always exclaimed, "What a country!" It turns out he is much more. In addition to being a great comedian, he is also an artist and holds a masters degree in philosophy.

The fun starts on the street with the most imaginative sign in town.

His little feet (well, not so little) are mechanized and move up and down as if trapped in the sign.

Here's the man himself signing autographs during intermission. He is very gracious with the audience and said he would stay after the show until everyone who wanted an autograph, had one.

The show was not quite what I expected. Sure, it was very funny, but also thought-provoking, poignant, and, above all, patriotic. He truly loves his adopted country and reminds us how special it is to be an American.

Good news! While walking around town, Ron finally found that elusive turkey he was hunting in Arkansas.

And I found a nice, cuddly teddy bear.

We had been told there are no bad shows in Branson. Wednesday night we found out even the free ones are terrific. This talented couple, Gordy Wensel and Debbie Kaye, came to our RV park and entertained in the social hall.

They are very talented singers and connected with the small but enthusiastic audience with jokes and playfulness. They are hoping to have their own show in the fall and will be appearing all over South Texas this winter. I told them I would put them on my blog - after all, it's read by tens of people!

Obviously Ron had a good time.