Friday, September 30, 2011

Fort Worth, Texas

Roger here...  We recently crossed over the Texas State Line at Texarkana.  That border crossing marked the half-way point in our trip to Mission, TX from Indianapolis.  Texas is a big place.  

We did not need a Welcome to Texas sign to know that we had returned.  This state has a feel to it that is immediately recognizable.  Here are a couple of examples:  

The Texas flag flies EVERYWHERE.  You can hardly turn around without seeing it.  Texans are truly proud of their state. 

 They are also proud of their high school football.  Friday Night Lights is not just a great TV show.  Check out one of the many high school stadiums that tower over every Texas town --- large or small.  In Indiana, stadiums that are nowhere nice as this one have caused tax revolts.

After a nice overnight stop at the Ramblin Fever RV Park ($12.50 for full hookups with Passport America) in Mt. Pleasant, we drove along the south side of Dallas.  Our destination was Holiday Park (Corps of Engineers) on the Benbrook Reservoir, just outside Fort Worth.   Fort Worth was our home for five nights.

We had a beautiful, huge, secluded spot --- right on the lake.  Wait a minute, where is the water?  Oh yeah, it hasn't rained here for a while.  The entire green area from where I was sitting to the tree line was once part of the lake.  Scary.  Hard to believe that there is not global warming when you see something like this.
If you look on the right side of the photo below, you can see what is left of the lake in the distance.

 We spent our time here visiting with my cousin, Beth, who recently lost her husband.  We helped (in a very, very small way) her get ready for a move to Chattanooga, where her kids are.  Dianne helped her erase the hard drives from the computers that she did not intend to keep, while I went on a crusade to find moving boxes.  I hit the jackpot at the Fossil Creek Liquor store in Arlington.  It was so good to see her.
We also spent time reading under the trees at the campsite, walking and biking.  

One of our first walks was through the dry lake bed to the water.  We thought that Bandido would have fun in the water, but there was a lot of broken glass, etc. that made us uncomfortable.  Dianne was also afraid that there might be the proverbial snakes in the grass.  So, this was a one-time walk.  Check out the cracks in the mud.  They were about an inch wide.  When looking straight down into the crack, the bottom was not visible.  Creepy.  While we were walking by, a small frog hopped out of one of them.  That, at least, made us smile and took our minds away from the dry conditions.  (The next morning I awoke to itching legs due to multiple insect bites of some kind. Yuck.)

At one point, this dry lake bed was obviously soft, but now it has dried to the point that it was like walking on concrete.  The foot prints are from someone else, who was here before it dried out. -- D.  Back to Roger....

The views along the lake were fascinating in a depressing kind of way.  Look at the dead tree trunks that were supposed to be under water.  I have seen low lake levels before, but nothing like this.  I hope that Fort Worth has another source of water.

The eerie views at twilight actually had a kind of stark beauty.

The other notable feature that we experienced at Benbrook Lake was, unfortunately, the odor.  Though not overwhelming, it was ever-present --- difficult to explain.  It had the essence of burnt popcorn, mold, and plant decay.  I have never smelled anything quite like it.  It was not pleasant, but it did not keep us inside.   

Don't misunderstand me.  The Holiday Park facility is outstanding.  We will go back again, but the next time, we'll check the water levels beforehand :-).  (I'd try for site #83 again; it was huge and would be right on the water.  If the lake was at normal depth, this would have ranked as one of the top camp sites we'd ever had -- D.)

Believe it or not, it has rained since we've re-entered Texas.  I like to think that we brought the rain with us.  The  pet picture of the day shows Bandido attempting to hide under one of the motor home front seats.  He is still (and probably always will be) afraid of thunder and lightning.  Poor baby.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Digging for Diamonds

Hi all, Dianne here.  We put on old clothes and took a day trip from Lake Catherine State Park to Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, Arkansas for a day of prospecting for diamonds at the only productive deposit of precious mineral diamonds in the United States.  Best of all, it's "finders keepers" -- you pay an admittance fee and any diamond, rock or mineral that you find is yours to keep.  

We did a little research and discovered that dogs are allowed, so Bandido came along for some digging in the dirt.  (In May of 2009 a Yorkie actually found a 1.11 carat white diamond at the park!)  

We also knew that it would be a long, long day, so a picnic lunch was packed and off we went.  We made a wrong turn that added at least a half hour to our drive over there; by the time we actually arrived we were ready to eat our lunch at the scenic picnic area next to the parking lot.

Then it was time for a treasure hunt!  We knew ahead of time that our chance of actually finding a diamond was small, but there were lots of other interesting rocks to look for, including amethyst, jasper, agate, and more.  

The visitor's center showed displays of what to look for, instructive videos showing surface searching, dry and wet-screening techniques, and friendly park guides on hand to verify your findings at the end of the day.  We rented a screen and trowel and headed to the plowed field.  

The decision was made that one of us would walk up and down the plowed rows with Bandido, doing some surface searching.  We planned to take turns sitting in the dirt and digging and sifting with the screen.  I ended up doing all of the digging and sifting, because I was having so much fun doing it.  I hadn't had that much fun playing in the dirt since I made mud pies as a little girl, decorating the tops with dandelions and whatever else caught my imagination.  

The area is large -- 37 acres -- and the whole field is purported to be diamond-bearing soil.  There were several other folks spread out over the field digging, searching, and wet sluicing.  We learned that diamonds have no static charge and will always stay clean; dirt and mud will not stick to them.  For that reason it's possible to just do the surface searching technique, watching for shiny objects on the surface of the soil.

Typically the diamonds found are about the size of a match head, and either white, yellow, or brown.

I had lots of fun digging in the dirt, but had no luck at all finding any diamonds or minerals.  Roger found lots of pretty stones while surface searching, including a small, shiny stone that had possibilities;  we learned at the end of the day it was an agate.

Bandido started panting and acted like he was getting too hot, so we moved to a different area of the field where there was nearby shade.  When we walked closer, I realized that there were actually dog pens in the shade!  

What a nice surprise.  We made Bandido comfortable in the shade with some water, and continued our search nearby.    

We spent about two-and-a-half hours prospecting before we decided to call it quits and start the long drive back to the campground.  No diamonds, but  we had a lot of fun looking.  We came home with some nifty Jasper stones to add to our collection, along with Roger's tiny agate.  What a unique experience!    If you'd like more information, here's a link to their web site:  Crater of Diamonds State Park

Gotta say, though, that by the time we reached our site back at Lake Catherine I was totally exhausted -- wiped out -- from the hot sun and exertion of the day.  Would I do it again?   Sure would!

The pet photo of the day shows that I wasn't the only family member exhausted by our field trip.  Bandido was "out" the moment he hit the back seat and slept all the way home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hot Springs National Park

Hi all, Dianne here.  We spent four nights at Lake Catherine State Park.  In addition to hiking the rugged trails, we spent one afternoon in nearby Hot Springs and the next day at Diamond Crater State Park in Murfreesboro. 

 This third "catch-up" blog will detail our visit to Hot Springs:  

Hot Springs National Park is a unique historical park, showcasing the restored Fordyce Bathhouse and the lovely street known since the late 1800s as "Bathhouse Row." 
 There are 23 restored rooms in the bathhouse, where individual tubs in private cubicles once had natural hot spring water piped into them.  The rooms also include steam cabinets, Zander mechano-therapy equipment, massage tables, "cooling off" rooms for both men and women, and ornate dressing rooms.

I took a photo of the ornate stained glass ceiling in the men's central bath area.  There was no such stained glass ceiling in the women's side -- although, I don't think they would have appreciated the naked mermaids as much as the men probably did --

Two more outdoor shots:

Pretty much all Roger and I did was visit the National Park visitor's center and restored Fordyce bathhouse, and have a delicious lunch at a local cafe across from Bathhouse Row called "Granny's Kitchen" (grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches to die for, and wonderful homemade blackberry cobbler a la mode).

  Back in the day, Hot Springs was Al Capone's favorite getaway.  Other notables who came "in season" to take the waters include Lillian Russell, President Herbert Hoover, Bugsy Siegel, and Will Rogers.  Hot Springs is also where former president Bill Clinton spent his childhood and graduated from high school.  

The rest of Hot Springs didn't hold our interest, so we headed back to our shady glen to do a little lake watching under the trees, and enjoy our nightly glass of wine and campfire.

The pet photo of the day is a pretty portrait of Charlie the Cat that Roger took one evening as Charlie kept a watchful eye on the wildlife outside his big window.  (R:  Do you think he has green eyes?)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lake Catherine State Park - Arkansas

Here's the second of our "catch-up" blogs:

Roger here...  The trip from Rend Lake, IL to Lake Catherine State Park, which is located just south of Hot Springs, Arkansas, involved two days of driving.  The first day was one of those frustrating days.  We attempted to stop at four different RV parks at the end of the day.  Two were scary looking.  One was OK, but exorbitantly priced (and the guy behind the desk in the office was wearing pajamas at 2:00 p.m.)  The fourth evidently no longer exists (we could not find it).  We eventually settled into a safe spot at the Lonoke, Arkansas Wal-Mart.  The irritating day of driving proved to be worth the aggravation when early the next day we arrived at Lake Catherine.  The opening picture gives you an idea as to why we were so pleased with our four-night stay.

What a beautiful campground.  We were parked in a huge back-in site across from the lake.  We had the most magnificent view from our front windshield every morning.

Dianne here:  The only downside to our beautiful site was that once again, we were nestled in deep woods, with no chance of satellite internet or tv.  We scoped out several other camp sites, including this one (site #45) that we plan to reserve next time:
Here's the view of the lake from site #45:
Back to Roger....

Our full-hookup site (#65) backed up to the woods and it was huge.  The hook-up area was set in concrete, among the best I have ever seen.  There was a large compressed gravel sitting area that included a metal picnic table, a grill stand, and a fire pit.  In addition, a separate tent pad, also compressed gravel was located at the back of the site.  A great spot to sit in lawn chairs to watch deer wander by.  I hear that those fluorescent blue eyes are very rare.

We went hiking every day.  All the trails departed from the campground.  After passing through a covered bridge that included a colored mural of the trail system and a description of the trails, the fun began.

We went up.

We went down.

We rested.  (Well, Dianne and I rested.)

We took in panoramic views and walked through a pristine woods.

And we rested.
(I love this picture of Dianne.)

Bandido waded in the water.

We took time to appreciate the small things - the brilliant green moss and the huge praying mantis.

Every hike ended by crossing a very cool suspension bridge.  The first time that Bandido and I crossed it, a man hollered behind us to be careful because he had built the bridge in 1981 and it might not be stable any more.  Of course he was joking.  We had an interesting talk as we approached the campground.  He told me that he had built all of the stone steps on the trails, as well as the amphitheater and, of course, the bridge.

Bandido took the man's words to heart.  After that first crossing, our brave dog resisted going across the swaying bridge where he was unsure of his footing.  Look at our poor boy as he creeps next to me - his legs as far apart as they can get without straining ligaments.

The end of each day always ended with a nap on the picnic table....

And a campfire by the lake.

The pet pictures of the day are entitled:  A Man and his Dog -- A Dog and his Duck.