February 17, 2015

The Resort Life

After our quick, two-week trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma, we returned to the Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, Texas, on December 15 for a month-long stay.  This would be our “home” during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  It really was like returning home when we pulled into the resort and checked into our new site in the Executive area.

One of the things I dislike about most private campgrounds, including much of Buckhorn, is the layout.  In so many RV parks, resorts included, sites are laid out side-by-side in parallel rows.  This means that you are parked right next to your neighbor, resulting in a distinct lack of privacy.  That’s the type of site we had at Buckhorn during our Thanksgiving visit.  Another characteristic is a lack of trees.

When we were walking around Buckhorn at Thanksgiving, we came across the Executive area, tucked away in a hidden corner of the property.  Although a bit more expensive, the area is so much nicer.  This is an adults-only section, which would be a very desirable feature when school is out.  We were drawn to the fact that the area has a much better layout, with only 20 RV sites.  Each site is huge with much more privacy, especially the ones around the perimeter.  Mature trees are a bonus, as is the creek that runs along the edge.  We were immediately drawn to this area and lucked out with snagging the last site that was available for a month.

Our site turned out to be one of the nicest in the entire section.  It was on the end, so there was no other RV on our door side; it was adjacent to the creek and it contained a mature tree (even though it had no leaves at the time).  The site was even larger than most and had many of the features that I look for in a natural campground.  Yet, it had all of the amenities of a resort.  Maybe this was the best of both worlds. 
Our Site Was Behind the Tree in the Center of the Photo

This Was a Site I Really Enjoyed

The monthly rate was amazingly affordable, especially compared to the daily rate, and was way under our budget.  I had always read that one way to save money is to stay at a campground for a month, and found this to be very true.

Although Tim and I are not social butterflies, we did make an effort to take part in many of the activities offered in the week leading up to Christmas.  I somewhat reluctantly attended a ladies lunch, where I met a group of very interesting women.  We attended a social hour, as well as a park-wide gift exchange.  Almost everyone we encountered was friendly, particularly our neighbors.

Tim and I became the curiosity of the park since we are full-timing in a Class B RV.  Almost everyone else travels in a very large motorhome or fifth wheel, and no one can believe that we survive in such a tiny space.  We even gave tours to multiple people.  We always admit that we are in the 1% of all full-timers who travel this way, but so far it has worked for us.

The Christmas potluck at the park was a bit more subdued than the one we attended at Thanksgiving, with perhaps half as many people in attendance.  However, the food was great, the company was delightful and the atmosphere was festive.  If we couldn’t spend Christmas with friends or family, this was a great alternative.

A Nice Place to Enjoy Christmas Dinner

The View from Our Site

Lights Added to the Festive Spirit during Christmas

Unfortunately, the weather was not great during most of our time at Buckhorn.  Like most of the country, days were gloomy, chilly and rainy. We did enjoy the occasional sunny, warmer day, but we mostly hung out in the RV.  I’ve found that when we stay somewhere for a longer period of time, we do less touring than when we move more frequently.  Just like when we were living in a house, we seem to adopt the mentality, “Oh, I can always do that tomorrow.”  However, we often don’t do it tomorrow either.  In addition, if the weather is less than ideal, it is easy to postpone outdoor activities.  When we are touring, we generally can’t postpone our activities for too many days, since we may not have the luxury of time.

Staying at Buckhorn introduced us to a totally different type of RV lifestyle than we had been used to.  Many of the folks we met were snowbirds.  For snowbirds, or for full-timers who settle at Buckhorn for much of the winter, life is more akin to living in a house, and we also seemed to fall into that type of routine.  As someone said, “stay-put RVing” is a lot different than “traveling RVing.”  Life seemed to focus on living in the park and the RV park itself, not touring the area.  That’s why parks like Buckhorn offer so many activities. 

Although Buckhorn is a great park, and an even better park to be in during cold, wet and gloomy weather, it’s not where I want to be for more than a month.  I much prefer the traveling RV lifestyle, although not one where we move every few days.  A week usually seems like the right amount of time to be able to tour an area and sit back and relax for a few days.  I can see spending a month in one place, especially over the holidays, and taking that time to recharge and simply catch up on chores.  I was never unhappy during our stay at Buckhorn.  I was just eager to get back on the road.

With the gloomy weather, we turned our attention to planning for our summer adventure – a trip to Alaska.  I always enjoy the planning part of travel, so I loved this.  We typically don’t do a lot of planning, but Alaska requires it. 

New Year’s Eve brought more cold, rain and gloom.  We did venture out and even attended the party at the resort.  Harry and the Hightones provided the entertainment, and we enjoyed the band and the music.  However, we’re not big partiers and didn’t even make it until midnight.  I guess we’re just a bunch of party poopers.  On New Year’s Day, I was able to prepare most of my traditional Southern dinner in the RV.  We may have had to settle for frozen black-eyed peas and collard greens, but we did find real country ham in Texas. 

Ringing in the New Year at Buckhorn

We were ready to say goodbye to 2014, which was a wonderful, but exhausting, year, and greet 2015.  This New Year holds lots of promise and we have much to look forward to.  Despite more of the same weather, we did manage to get out and about before we left Buckhorn.  I’ll tell you more about that in the next post.

February 10, 2015

It's All About the Water

Chickasaw National Recreation Area was one of the parks I wanted to visit during our trip to Oklahoma.  Tim had worked in this park this past summer, and I wanted to see what it was all about.  The drive from Oklahoma City to Chickasaw on December 12 was an easy one, although it turned out to be another gloomy day.

The Cottage Where Tim Lived During His Time
 at Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Water is the primary resource at Chickasaw, just as it is at Hot Springs National Park, which we visited earlier on our two-week adventure.  Although both parks were originally set aside to preserve mineral springs for the enjoyment of all people, the parks are very different.  The signature feature at Hot Springs is the historic Bathhouse Row, which creates an urban spa experience.  At Chickasaw, the water features are scattered about a more natural area.  The springs are also more visible at Chickasaw, even though drought and a low water table have caused many of them to disappear.

Chickasaw has an interesting history.  People have lived here for thousands of years, and the mineral water was always thought to possess healing properties.  The land that is now a part of the park came under the control of the Chickasaw Nation in 1855, after the federal government relocated several Eastern tribes to Oklahoma.  Over the years, the Chickasaw Nation sold or leased part of its land around the springs to private parties, which began to exploit the springs.  Fearing that the springs would be lost forever, the Chickasaws convinced the federal government to purchase the land in 1902 and set aside the mineral springs as a reservation.  The reservation was soon expanded and became Platt National Park in 1906.  Platt was among the first ten national parks established, and one of the smallest.

Each Spring Has a Different Mineral Content

Platt’s heyday came in the 1930s when the National Park Service designed a new, cohesive landscape plan for the park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps implemented the plan and constructed roads, trails and waterfalls throughout the park.  More than 500,000 trees and shrubs were also planted.  I was drawn to the wonderful structures that were constructed by the CCC.  Most of the pavilions that cover the springs, as well as other structures throughout the park, were built of native stone and designed in a rustic style.  It’s still amazing to me how many parks throughout the country owe so much to this amazing program and the young men who did such beautiful work.

Bromide Pavilion

Interesting Elements of the Landscape Plan

Flower Park

On the Way to Vendome Well

Vendome Well

One of my favorite structures, however, was not constructed by the CCC.  The park’s signature landmark, the Lincoln Bridge, was built in 1909 and features a lovely stone arch over Travertine Creek. 

Lincoln Bridge

In 1976, Platt National Park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create the new Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  The former Platt National Park is now known as the Platt Historic District.

Our plan was to spend a night or two at one of the park campgrounds.  Most of the campgrounds are located along the Lake of the Arbuckles, which is the main recreational draw of the park, so we headed to the south end of the park and snagged one of the best sites at Buckhorn Campground.  The sites were huge and very well designed, and there was lots of privacy.  We even had a great view of the lake (when it wasn’t fogged in).  Unlike most national park campgrounds, this one had water and electric hookups.  It is without a doubt one of the nicest National Park campgrounds that we’ve stayed in.

Our Campsite Overlooking Lake of the Arbuckles

As you can tell, I really loved the campground.  This campground and the Corps of Engineers campground where we stayed near Fort Smith, Arkansas, again reminded me why my favorite campgrounds are usually the more natural ones, especially ones with a water view.  It would have been heavenly to spend a few days here, but we reluctantly decided to stay for just one night because major thunderstorms were in the forecast.  We saw no need to drive in weather like that if we could avoid it.  That’s the beauty of our type of flexibility.

When we left Chickasaw, we pointed the RV back to Texas.  It was about 500 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort, where we would be staying for one month, so we knew we wanted to break the drive into two days.  Although we intended to spend just one night on the road, we extended our stay so we wouldn’t have to drive in the rain. 

We took back roads to avoid having to drive I-35, one of our least-favorite interstates.  It was a pleasant drive, but the highlight was our stop in Llano, Texas, for lunch at Cooper’s, one of the top-rated barbecue restaurants in Texas.  And what an experience it was!

Let me tell you how it works at Cooper’s.  First, you stand in line outside (luckily, there was no line when we got there after the lunchtime rush).  Next, you walk by the enormous outdoor grill, examine the different meat offerings and make your selection.  The pit man then slaps the meat on a tray, which you carry inside for weighing.  The price is determined by the pound.  Although assorted sides and deserts are an additional cost, beans and bread are on the table.  Once you seat yourself at one of the many picnic tables, you unwrap your barbecue and dig in.  Cooper’s is known for its big chop, and that’s what Tim selected.  I’ve never seen a pork chop that enormous – 1.71 pounds – or that tender.  The chop was wonderful, as was my brisket, and Cooper’s was a great way to end our two-week adventure.

So Many Choices

Here's Our Selection

Tim's Gigantic Chop

February 5, 2015

A Memorial and Cowboys

For two people who claim that large cities are mostly to be avoided, we have actually spent a surprising amount of time in urban areas, especially on our two-week excursion into Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Although it’s not that big of a deal to drive our RV, we’ve found it to be much easier to leave the RV and the cat behind at the campground and drive the Subaru into the city.  On our two-week trip, however, we were traveling without the car.

In Little Rock, we were able to visit the outlying sites on a Sunday and then park the RV at a campground directly across from the downtown area.  We could then get around on foot or on the streetcar.  That worked out perfectly.  A similar solution, however, was not available in Oklahoma City, the next stop on our itinerary.  When we arrived there on December 10, we selected a campground just outside the city and figured we’d drive in and hopefully find a level place to park at the three stops we wanted to make.

Every now and then, a light goes off in my head, and in Oklahoma City I came up with the idea of renting a car.  The idea became even more appealing when I realized that I could use my Hertz points at a neighborhood location.  Not only would the rental cost less than $2.00 for the day, but Hertz would also pick us up at the campground.  Sold!

Our first stop was the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a place to remember the bombing that targeted Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and to honor the victims, survivors, rescuers and everyone else who was changed forever.  The design of the outdoor memorial was selected in an international competition and includes a number of symbolic elements.  Perhaps best known, and most touching, is the field of empty chairs.  Each chair symbolizes a life that was lost.  It was very special to visit the memorial in December and to see the wreaths that had been placed on every chair.  It was a gloomy day while we were there, but the weather was actually appropriate for this somber, yet uplifting memorial.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Field of Empty Chairs

The adjacent Memorial Museum is housed in the former Journal Record Building that withstood the bombing.  Interactive exhibits led us on a chronological journey through the events of April 19, 1995, and presented the story in a very compelling way.  It took me a few minutes to understand the first few chapters until I realized that we were meant to actually experience what began as a day like any other, but soon would erupt in confusion and chaos.  The sounds and visuals were so real that I actually had chills.  Although loss is certainly a major focus of the exhibits, the amazing journey of resilience, justice and hope gets equal billing.  I admit that I had been somewhat reluctant to visit the museum.  I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.

Viewing TV News Reports on the Bombing

Examples of Devastation - The Clock Stopped at 9:02

The Damaged Area of the Journal Record Building

Perhaps we should have saved the memorial and museum for the end of the day, but we were able to change gears and make our next stop at the Oklahoma State Capitol.  Although every capitol is unique in its own way, this is the only one with an oil well in the front yard.  Yes, we are in oil country!  Another unusual tidbit concerns the dome.  The capitol was constructed between 1914 and 1917, but the dome was not added until 2002.  It is a beauty!

Is That an Oil Well in the Front Yard?

We enjoyed our self-guided tour of the building and especially admired all of the artwork.  Most are contemporary pieces installed during the capitol’s centennial and are intended to celebrate Oklahoma’s history and its prominent citizens.  I especially admired the bronze by Allan Houser, one of the most renowned Native American artists of the twentieth century.  The piece is entitled As Long As the Waters Flow, which refers to President Andrew Jackson’s vow to Native Americans that they shall possess their land “as long as the grass grows and the rivers run.”

Paintings Are Scattered Throughout the Capitol

As Long as the Waters Flow, by Allan Houser

Tim and I saved the most lighthearted stop for last – the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a first-class museum – but I tend to smile when I’m looking at cowboys!  After enjoying a great lunch at the museum restaurant, we tried to make the most of the short time we had.  There is so much to see, and an hour or two is not enough time to do justice to the numerous exhibits.  But, we tried.

The museum’s permanent art collection contains a broad representation of the paintings and sculpture that tell the story of the American West.  I discovered a few new-to-me artists, as well as many old favorites. 

End of the Trail, by James Earle Fraser

We skipped the firearms exhibit and moved directly to the Western Performers Gallery.  This exhibit brought me right back to my childhood and the TV shows and movies that I grew up with – from James Arness and Gunsmoke (the first show that my family watched on our very first TV) to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (the one song that my father requested for his funeral – “Happy Trails”).  And, let’s not forget John Wayne.  These movie cowboys were all heroes to me.  It seems I’ve always been a sucker for a good, old-fashioned Western.

Western Performers Gallery

I Grew Up with Movie and TV Cowboys

Tim Is Also a Western Movie Fan

We wrapped up our tour with a stop at the American Cowboy Gallery.  Cowgirls were not forgotten here, nor were Native American and African American cowboys.  Naturally, we had to admire the boots and the hats and the saddles.  This tribute to the working cowboy, as well as to cowboy history and culture, was a fitting way to end our visit to one of my favorite museums.  

A Lone Cowgirl in the American Cowboy Gallery

February 3, 2015

Turbulent History on the Arkansas Frontier

Although we enjoyed our brief visit to Little Rock, it was time to move on.  It seemed as though Little Rock did not want us to leave, however, as we never thought we’d find our way out of the city.  Finally, we were free of urban expressways and on to country roads.  Ah, what a relief!

We traveled along the West-Northwest Scenic Byway, much of it within the Ouachita National Forest.  It was interesting to cross the Ouachitas, which are the only mountains in North America that are oriented east-west.  Despite enduring the worst lunch since we’ve been on the road, it was a pleasant day.

We ended the day near Fort Smith, Arkansas, at Springhill Park, another wonderful campground run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  It was great to be back in nature and on the water.  Although I enjoy many features that are unique to resort-type campgrounds, I do love natural parks, and so does Kitty.  My only wish is that we could have stayed more than one night.

Now This Is a Campground that I Really Like

Kitty Walked the Rails at the Campground

A Peaceful Lake View

The following morning we toured Fort Smith National Historic Site, a significant outpost that reflects the turbulent history on America’s westward frontier.  Fort Smith includes the remains of two frontier forts, the historic jail and federal courthouse of “hanging judge” Isaac C. Parker, as well as a direct connection to the Trail of Tears.

The first Fort Smith was built in 1817 to keep peace in the Arkansas River Valley between the native Osage Indians and the newly arriving Cherokee.  In 1836 the fort served as a supply depot during the tragic removal of five Eastern tribes from their homelands.  This forced relocation to Oklahoma became known as the Trail of Tears.

The park’s existing historic structures date from the second Fort Smith, which was established in 1838.  The former barracks-courthouse-jail is one of the more handsome brick structures I’ve seen in the many forts we’ve visited.  I especially love the stone detail that surrounds the tall windows on the jail wing.  For me, it is the architecture of forts that draws me in.  I’m not so interested in military history, but give me a beautiful building or interesting site plan, and you’ve got my attention.

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Beautiful Brick Buildings

The former barracks-courthouse-jail serves as the park’s visitor center and museum.  A wonderful volunteer at the front desk provided us with an amazing amount of information and suggested how best to tour the facility.  We started with the basement, which originally housed the primitive jail nicknamed “Hell-on-the-Border.”  This jail was used for a short time after the Army left Fort Smith in 1871 and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas moved into the building.


The exhibits on the second floor tell the story of Fort Smith’s 80-year history in an interesting format designed around what may be sections of the building’s original walls.  Tim and I were especially drawn to the exhibit on domestic life at the fort.  Included here are drawers that contain broken pieces of household dishes uncovered during the archeological investigations at the park.

Exhibits Tell the Story of Fort Davis

One of Our Favorite Exhibits

One of the best-known exhibits is the reconstructed courtroom of Judge Parker, who presided over the federal court from 1875 to 1889.  Judge Parker was a reformer and attempted to make the court system honest.  However, this aspect of his career is overshadowed by the fact that he hanged more criminals and lost more deputy marshals on duty than any other federal judge.  Keeping law and order in Indian Territory was a tough job!

Judge Parker's Courtroom

As we walked the grounds to view the footprint of the first Fort Smith, we noticed a man who was traveling by bike with an amazing amount of gear.  We were so surprised to see him walking a cat near the river.  We spoke with him and found out that his cat travels in a carrier strapped behind his seat.  That was so cool to see.  And we thought our kitty had some interesting adventures!  This cat would really have some incredible stories to tell!

Fort Smith National Historic Site was definitely worth a stop.  It wasn’t like many of the forts we’ve visited in that the city of Fort Smith grew up around the fort.  The fort is now a part of the city.  Although few original buildings remain, those that do are beautiful.

It was with some reluctance that we left Arkansas.  We were amazed with how much there is to see in that state, and we only scratched the surface. The state parks especially look very inviting.  I can see us coming back and spending a good amount of time there.  As we crossed the Arkansas River, we found ourselves in Oklahoma, the state that we dashed through on our way south from Kansas to Texas.  Oklahoma City, here we come.

Onward to Oklahoma

February 1, 2015

A Day with Bill

In an effort to try and catch up on the blog, I’ll take us back to Arkansas, where Tim and I spent a few days in early December.  On our second day in Little Rock, we decided to spend the day with Bill – Bill Clinton, that is. I don’t make it a point to visit every presidential library on our travels, but I had heard such wonderful things about the Clinton Presidential Center that I really wanted to check it out.

We crossed the Arkansas River on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, the former Rock Island Railroad Bridge which was constructed in 1899. The bridge was converted for pedestrian use in 2011 and is now a part of the Arkansas River Trail.  The bridge provides a great view of the center.

Clinton Presidential Park Bridge as Viewed from the Clinton Presidential Center

Although some people have compared the design of the center to a double-wide trailer, I actually liked the architecture.  It is a commanding structure and an even more amazing facility.  Tim and I decided to take a tour, and our volunteer guide did a wonderful job of interpreting many of the exhibits on display.  After first viewing the reconstructed Oval Office, we stepped into a replica of the White House Cabinet Room, where Tim proceeded to sit in the chair reserved for the Secretary of the Interior.  How appropriate!

Clinton Presidential Center

I Guess Every Presidential Library Has a Replica of the Oval Office

Serious Discussions in the Cabinet Room

There were lots of highlights, but I particularly loved the many piers that are filled with blue archive boxes containing White House correspondence.  Another exhibit offered an interesting peek into life in the White House.  It would have been easy to spend the entire day at the center, but we knew there were a few more things in Little Rock that we wanted to see.

Piers Filled with Blue Archive Boxes

Ready for a State Dinner

Some of the Clinton Administration Accomplishments

Before we left the Clinton Presidential Center, however, we stopped for lunch at Forty Two, the on-site restaurant.  Its reputation as a quality farm-to-table experience was well-deserved.  We also visited the center’s temporary exhibit featuring Dale Chihuly’s glass works.  The intricate designs and bold colors were a feast for the eyes.  I’ve always enjoyed Chihuly’s work, and it was an unexpected treat to see such a large collection here.

Chihuly on Exhibition

Chihuly's Mille Fiori

After finally tearing ourselves away from the center, we took the electric streetcar to the River Market district, where we wandered down to the riverfront park.  We then re-boarded the trolley and took the complete tour of downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.  Our driver’s commentary tended to be more hyperbole than fact, but I did love his reference to the National Register of Interesting Places.  Say what?  Did he mean the National Register of Historic Places?

Touring Downtown Little Rock by Streetcar

"Where Shall We Go Next?"

After completing the streetcar circuit, we walked back across the Arkansas River on the Junction Bridge, another former railroad/current pedestrian bridge, and arrived back at our campground on the river.  It was a very good day.

Crossing the Arkansas River on the Junction Bridge