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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Summer Travel Plans

Pulaski County

Have you planned your summer? I love thinking ahead and planning for future trips. By the time spring arrives, I always have several trips on my agenda.

We plan to leave Texas and head to Kansas City in mid-May. Our first trip, to St. Louis for a graduation, has me salivating over photo ops. I know we plan to visit the old historic St. Charles, MO. We've driven I-70 more times than we can count, but we've never taken the time to explore. Can't wait for this one!

Hopefully, this trip will also give us an opportunity to detour to Elephant Rocks State Park again. We visited years ago and I fell in love with its beauty and history.

On old Route 66
in Pulaski County
In early June, I fly to Indianapolis for CrimeCon 2017. I'll be joining Joyce Faulkner and Micki Voelkel and a couple of Micki's friends for this fun event. Although Joyce is working on a true crime story with two others - JB King and Sandra Linhart - I will be searching to improve my knowledge for fiction only.

Following the conference, we head to Pulaski County, MO, to introduce the anthology from last fall's Pulaski County History Crawl. Can't wait to revisit one of my favorite places. The history, the landscape and the people add up to a great place to visit. I plan to visit Cellar 66, ( and of course, learn more history at the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville (

The Clayton Home in
downtown Ft Smith
The next weekend will find us in Ft Smith, AR - another favorite place. I had a marvelous adventure there last summer and am looking forward to discovering more about the area. We can't wait to see all the new street art (part of the continuing The Unexpected Project) that well-known artists painted after our last visit. Oh, and we plan to enjoy some great restaurants.

Bricktown Brewery,
Ft Smith
Check out my previous posts on The Clayton House at and how the Arkansas River defined Ft Smith history at Also check out Joyce Faulkner's three best bites at

Then it's home for a couple of weeks (maybe I'll sneak in a day trip or two), until we head to Colorado the first part of July. I can never say enough about Colorado - home to friends, family, wonderful memories and incredible natural beauty. I hope we take the time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park again. (

The rest of the summer is unscheduled at this time, but I hope that soon changes. There's so much of our country to explore and so little time!

I'm ready for the challenge!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Traveling across Texas

There are several routes to travel across Texas and they all have two things in common. One, they are long and two, the diversity is amazing.

I've learned that one of life's greatest blessings is to focus on the journey and not just the destination. This is especially true when traveling.

From Texline to Brownsville, one sees a whole country in one state. From the mountains on the horizon and the ranch lands at the Texas/New Mexico border, we passed wind farms and a herd of pronghorn antelope before reaching Amarillo. Just about 20 miles from town, we discovered Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a natural wonder that is all the more amazing because it is totally unexpected. Check it out at

From there we founds miles of cotton fields - a surprise for me because I thought cotton grew in wetter, more humid climates.

We passed the WASP Museum in Sweetwater
( We had visited the museum on an earlier trip. The photos and stories of the women who served are fascinating and well worth the visit.

Mid-March brought the beginning of the wildflower season. I know if we'd been a couple of weeks later, we would have seen more, but the ones we found were stunning. I love the colors.

Although we didn't stop in San Antonio this trip, it is definitely a highlight of Texas. From the Alamo and the River Walk to the old missions, there's lots to see.

For those of you who have traveled I-37 from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, you know how growth is happening. Not so many years ago, there was nothing between the two but new stores and restaurants are cropping up.

In Robstown as we turned on I-69, we stopped at Taqueria Jalisco for a delicious dinner before driving the rest of the way. Along 69, enjoy the wildflowers and occasional palm trees that tell me we're getting closer to the Rio Grande Valley. Even checking out the progress in turning US-77 into an Interstate (I-69) is fascinating. One of my favorite rest areas is on this stretch of highway.

We finished our drive home in the dark, but woke up the next morning amidst our palm trees, blooming prickly pear cacti and lovely Rio Grande Valley home.

Life is good!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Capulin Volcano National Monument

Sixty thousand years ago, a volcano erupted in northeastern New Mexico. Today visitors can drive to the top of the conical formation and look down into what was once a mass of gaseous lava that cooled quickly. Today the crater is filled with vegetation. As you look over the crater, you see mountains in the distance. As you look the opposite direction, prairie grasslands reach as far as the eye can see.

Pronghorn Antelope
The drive to the top is definitely a mountain road that winds its way to 8,182 feet above sea level. The views are fabulous and if you're lucky, you might spot some of the deer and other animals that inhabit the national monument grounds. Just before we entered the park, fortune blessed us with a sighting of several pronghorn antelope - definitely a highlight for me.

We visited in mid-March when just a hint of spring filled the air. I would love to go back when the spring flowers are in full bloom.

Five trails offer various levels of difficulty and different views including the Greater Vent Trail that leads to the bottom of the crater.  The lava flows cover more than fifteen square miles and are best viewed from the crater rim. The volcano is extinct and, therefore, in no danger of erupting again.

Located off Hwy 67 between Raton and the Texas border, the Capulin (cap-poo-LEEN) Volcano National Monument is definitely worth a stop.

Just a note - at the time of our visit, the visitors center was closed for renovation. A temporary center and restrooms (porta potties) serve visitors during this time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon

Even when travel is unplanned, it is rewarding to discover new places along the way. I had heard of Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, Texas, but had never visited.

I didn't realize that Texas is home to a beautiful canyon carved out thousands of years ago by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.
CCC building from the 1930s

The canyon is 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep. Called "the Grand Canyon of Texas," it is an unexpected natural wonder amidst miles and miles of ranch land in the Texas panhandle.

The park opened in 1934, and encompasses 29,183 acres of the northernmost part of the canyon. Developed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), it is a visitor's delight. Rock buildings from the 1930s enhance the park and provide camping and cabin facilities.

At different times, the canyon was home to the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Indians. In 1874, the US Cavalry were dispatched to the area to move the Indians to Oklahoma. They captured more than 1400 horses, keeping some and destroying the rest. Without their horses, the Indians surrendered.

In 1876, the JA Ranch was opened by Charles Goodnight. At one time, the canyon was home to more than 100,000 head of cattle. A piece of the ranch is still operational today.

For park information, visit

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Behind the Scenes at a Zoo

Galapagos Tortoise

A trip to the zoo is always a fun experience. Yesterday we participated in our first behind-the-scenes tour of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, and have already put it in our list of favorite adventures.

We started with coffee, juice and pastries as we learned about the zoo. Then we began our walk through the working sections. We saw the food storage, the animal hospital, the quarantine zones and discovered other facets of life in a zoo. Jaime, our guide, told us about the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) certification program. Gladys Porter Zoo is proud of their long history of accreditation with the organization. In terms of budget and size, the zoo is considered “middle-sized.” Close to 60% of the species in the zoo are considered endangered, and conservation is an important aspect of their work.

Baby Galapagos Tortoise
Our first big adventure was to hang out with the Galapagos tortoises in their habitat and hand feed them (they love celery). One tortoise, at the ripe old age of 108, still wanted as much celery as our group could feed him. Later, Jaime showed us a 2-year-old that was about five inches long. They grow from the size of a golf ball as hatchlings to several hundred pounds and up to six feet long as adults.

These tortoises are nearly extinct in the wild, but several U. S. zoos are successfully breeding them in captivity.

The next highlight was feeding the exotic birds including the scarlet ibis and the roseate spoonbill. They eat mostly seafood and small crustaceans. Both species derive their stunning color from their diet.
Eating their greens

Then we had the thrill of feeding a couple of hungry giraffes. Each of us offered them a few greens, which they gobbled like candy. There was one baby, born last October. He stayed in the background.
Our lunch visitor

After our tour of the zoo, we went back to the education center, where we were treated to a delicious lunch and a visit by a baby Galapagos tortoise and a flamingo.

As we enjoyed photographing the flamingo, we learned what working in a zoo really involves – armed with paper towels, the staff spent their time cleaning up after that beautiful bird.

If you’ve never taken a behind-the-scenes tour, we’d highly recommend it. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, and we loved the close-up encounters with the animals. If you’re in Brownsville, check out the Gladys Porter Zoo. If you’re in other parts of the country, check your local zoo to see if they offer similar programs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Unexpected Dining Pleasures

Fajitas at Tequila's Northwood

I know we're already in a new year but I'm stuck in the old - reliving some of my favorite places.

My hubby and I eat out a lot, and while we usually visit places we enjoy, there are those times that we come upon something new that is such a great experience that it sticks in our memories long after.

Echo Bluff for which the
park is named
Four places from last year come instantly to mind. Let me preface the first by saying that we try Mexican restaurants almost everywhere we travel and enjoy most of them. Perhaps the most unexpected place we found was in a small town in northern Iowa. When I thought of Iowa, I didn't think of Mexican food, but Tequila's in Northwood changed that. This great little restaurant is owned by a young couple who understand that a combination of good food and friendly service can't be beat.

Blackberry Cobbler at Echo Bluff
We found the second restaurant in a not-so-ordinary place; the new Echo Bluff State Park in southern Missouri. We attended a pre-opening event and expected the beautiful surroundings. The park amazed us - from a top-class resort to a great dining experience. Mix that with a friendly staff and it makes for an outstanding adventure. Think canoeing, fishing or sightseeing followed by a fantastic dinner!

Doe's Eat Place
We had driven around Fort Smith, Arkansas, a number of times on our way south, but had never spent time there. But last summer changed that when we spent a week exploring and eating our way through the city. I should mention we tried several excellent places including Bricktown Brewery and R Landry's. I can still taste the homemade bread pudding at R Landry's!
Small filet mignon

We still talk about Doe's Eat Place. While I understand it is a regional chain, we had never heard of it. The steaks - as well as everything else we tried - were superb. The restaurant is located in an old brewery and we were seated in the cellar - talk about atmosphere. I admit we don't eat steaks often, but we loved the thick, juicy cuts. He had the porterhouse and I tried the filet mignon.

The 39th Street pizza
I recently wrote about Artego's in Kansas City, the place we found when looking for another. Located in Westport, next to Q39, the well-known barbecue restaurant, Artego's serves delicious pizza. We consider it a real Kansas City find.

Okay, I'll stop now and look forward to new experiences in 2017, but I certainly don't want to forget the treasures we found in 2016.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seven Travel Highlights in 2016

Memories are the fabric of life. Like many travel bloggers, I am bringing 2016 to a close with some special travel memories.

I discovered Iowa.
I visited Echo Bluff State Park, Missouri's newly opened park.
I gathered pieces of Pulaski County (MO) history.
I explored Fort Smith, Arkansas.
I stood in awe at the beauty of Petit Jean Mountain State Park in Arkansas.
I stood on the sand of a beautiful North Carolina beach - Wrightsville Beach.
I gathered pieces of Pulaski County (MO) history.

Iowa may be known to some as a flyover/drive-through state, but those who never stop miss some enchanting places, good food and friendly people. The list is long, but my special memories include the Grant Wood Statue Trail in Cedar Rapids, the lifestyle and architecture that characterize the Amana Colonies, the tulips in Pella and the revitalizing of main streets in Webster City and Northwood.

The Amana Colonies
Cedar Rapids successfully merges the old and the new with ethnic neighborhoods and shopping districts. The downtown, rebuilt after a devastating flood in 2008, holds a special charm with its combination of old theaters, restaurants, microbreweries and modern architecture. The city emits a feeling of community - aided, I must add, by the great oatmeal-cookie smell that emanates from the Quaker Oats factory. This year the city celebrated the 125th birthday of its famous citizen, artist Grant Wood, with American-Gothic statues throughout the city. I'm proud to say I found 23 of the 25!

The Amana Colonies had long been on my to-visit list. I fell in love with the simplicity, the pace of life and the friendliness of the residents. A first step to any visit is a stop at the History Museum and the viewing of a film about the religion and culture, as well as the settlement in Iowa.

Plan to visit Pella in the spring. Famous for its Tulip Festival, the city showcases more colors and varieties of tulips than I ever imagined. Just know that you will take lots of photos.

Northwood and Webster City are both small towns in northern Iowa, alike in some ways and oh-so-different in others. Northwood is slowly regenerating its downtown area. The schools and the county have benefited from the Diamond Jo Casino, which is on I-35 just a few miles from town.

Webster City is farther along on its revitalization efforts and takes pride in its agricultural heritage. One of the highlights for me was a ride in a new John Deere tractor, courtesy of Woodstock Equipment in nearby Blairsburg. I experienced the pride that Iowa farmers take in supplying much of the corn and pork consumed throughout the world.

Old Settlers Day, Pulaski County
Missouri holds some special memories. I fell in love with Echo Bluff State Park and the surrounding area. The state park resort offers it all - comfort, great food, beautiful surroundings and plenty of outdoor activities. Whether it's fishing or canoeing the Current River, visiting the old mills and historic sites, hanging out at the resort, or taking a tour of the nearby Peck Ranch in search of the elk herd, visitors will find much to enjoy.

I visited Pulaski County twice this year and still have so much to learn about its history. I am fascinated by its early history, the Trail of Tears, its role in the Civil War, and much later, its part of Route 66. And, oh, the stories I heard! Believe me, this area never had a dull moment.
Belle Point, Fort Smith

The Unexpected - Street
Art Fort Smith
I spent a week in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and realized I had no idea of the history that began in that area. From the Cathedral to the bordellos, from the Trail of Tears to the Civil War, from the Wild West to Judge Parker's famous courtroom, I could have taken a month to explore.

US Marshal hat from Civil Rights era

The US Marshals Museum will soon have a home in Fort Smith and the art scene is exploding with the 2nd year of The Unexpected Street Art Festival.

I've heard of Petit Jean State Park for years, but had never visited. Heavily forested, the park overlooks the Arkansas River and much of central Arkansas. It is one of those places for the whole family - plenty of hiking trails, caves, scenic overlooks, a romantic legend and two lakes for fishing.

Carolina Beach
Last but not least, I visited Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. I'm new to the Carolina shore and I enjoyed the boardwalks and frequent accesses to the beach. I loved the picturesque view of all the boats in their docks. I visited in December but imagined what the coast would look like in the summer. I intend to find out.

As you can tell, each destination fascinated me with its history and beauty. Although I love the solitude of photo sessions and the opportunity to ponder the earth's wonders, I have to admit that the best part of travel is the people I meet along the way.

I made new friends and spent time with some fascinating travel bloggers and tourism folks. The locals who shared their stories greatly enhanced each visit. I may be wrapping up 2016, but I'm already looking forward to my travel experiences in 2017.