Saturday, July 31, 2010

Our Time in the Land of Lincoln

We loved the Double J campground at Chatham, IL. Beautiful trees, lots of open grassy areas, many great amenities. I'd definitely stop there again.

On Thursday we went to the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. It was so well done. There was a Disneyesque quality to the presentations. The first film had vibrating seats, cannons booming, hologram people in the film, etc. Then we attended a live play detailing what transpired around Ford Theater the day Lincoln was shot. It was all based on fact and not conjecture. Several things that Booth did that day in hindsight were clues to his intentions. Everything was presented in such an interesting manner. It was well worth the visit.

I always try to learn something and I learned the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free any slaves. It freed them in the north, where there weren't any; in the south, but he had no authority in the Confederacy and the four union states that did have slaves were excluded. The consummate politician! It was the 13th amendment that actually did it for the whole U.S. The most interesting thing was a photo of Lincoln in his open casket. When it was taken Mrs. Lincoln demanded it be destroyed. The surprise print was found in a book in 1952 and is on exhibit.

Pictures were only allowed in the gallery so I have just a few.

From there we went to the Lincoln Tomb. Lincoln's wife and three of his four sons are buried there. His fourth son is buried at Arlington at the request of his son's wife.

The present tomb had to be expanded because this single door could not handle the crowds who visited the tomb. Now they enter from the front.

A seven ton piece of granite marks Lincoln's tomb. A small version of the Lincoln Memorial sculpture graces the rotunda.

We've traveled quite a bit of the Mother Road, Historic Route 66 so we couldn't let the present opportunity go by. We headed to Cozy Dog, a remnant of days gone by. Ted had one cozy dog and I had a Cherry Coke. We talked to these folks in town for the Thunderbird Classic Car Rally. They had orange drinks in Route 66 bottles. We had a lot of fun with them.

The next day we visited Old Salem where Lincoln lived as a single young man. He met Herndon who would eventually be his law partner. The village was reconstructed on foundations by the CCC in the 1930s. It has been kept as simple and realistic as possible and it is a beautiful area.

Today we drove to Columbia, MO. When we pulled into the campground we both realized we stayed here two years ago on our way to Denver! We went to church at 4:30, had dinner and came home. The County Fair is going on next door so we did a Tom Sawyer/Becky Thatcher and slipped through an open gate between our campground and the fairgrounds. We walked the midway and watched a show with live bears. The tractor pull was making a lot of noise and smoke and the bears were very distracted so they cut the show short. Ted wanted to watch the tractor pull but you needed a ticket which we didn't have. So we went to the show ring and watched the awarding of the show horse ribbons. They were such beautiful animals.

Tomorrow we move on to Lake Jacoma, a Jackson County, Missouri campground that is southeast of Kansas City. We are going to see Brian who Ted worked with at Abitibi years ago. More later ... much later since I don't think I'll have wifi until next weekend.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing Catch Up

We left Wisconsin Dells on Monday morning. All I can say is that the roads are horrific on I-39 in southern Wisconsin. I was afraid to look inside the trailer when we arrived. Sure enough, a kitchen cabinet had popped open, expelled a Corelle bowl, and then closed itself. I'm still finding little white shards in the darnedest places.

We went to Hickory Hollow Campground in Utica, IL. We stopped here on the way out west last year and it was by far the best Passport America park we stayed in so we came back. Our reason for stopping was not only that it was a good travel distance but that our friends from the European riverboat cruises live in Joliet. They had agreed to drive to the park to see us and have dinner.

After our arrival we went to Starved Rock State Park. It has the stone canyons like the Dells. There are also 30 tree trunks carved into art objects but of course I forgot my camera. We went to the Lodge and had their buffet lunch which was very good. Then we went to Buffalo State Park. We had great views of the walls from the overlooks. But the buffaloes were not visible in their pen. On the way home we stopped at August Hill Wineries in Utica to get wine for Tuesday night's dinner.

Tuesday was cleaning, laundry and getting ready for dinner. Having spent a total of almost six weeks with these folks, I know their eating habits and it is usually pretty healthy. So Ted's Skyline Chili just wasn't going to do nor were hamburgers. I made pork tenderloins in au jus in the crockpot, baked a wild rice dish in the outside oven (to keep the RV cool), steamed asparagus on the stovetop and had made cucumbers and key lime pie that were ready in the refrigerator. They must have liked it because there wasn't a lot left.

We had a great visit and were sorry to see them go. They invited us to go on a Panama Canal trip in February but I don't think we will. I thought they were thinking about France in the spring next year but they said the fall. Either way, we are definitely interested in the Paris to Normandy trip. Bob is our "ambassador" and he makes all the arrangements. I'm so used to being "tour director" that it's nice to sit back once in awhile. It's like when we go to Disney, I tell Kara to tell me where to be and when. She has the parks down to a fine science. Our last two trips were over Christmas and we never waited more than 15 minutes to ride anything. What's not to like about that?

Today we moved on to Springfield, IL where we will be checking out the "land of Lincoln." Today is hot so we've stayed close to home. Ted has gone for a drive to find the gun club someone told him is 10 miles down the road. I'm content to just stay inside with the A/C. We (I climbed up on the roof) tried a Wineguard add-on antenna but it would have hung over the roof when retracted so we took it back. Ted says we're getting Direct TV or Dish at home so we can take a receiver on the road with us. He's getting tired of PBS. We've been pretty remote this year (and last) and pickings are slim if the park doesn't have cable. I like to read so it doesn't bother me.

Next up: The Lincoln Library and Museum and whatever else strikes our fancy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wisconsin Dells or Branson Meets Gatlinburg

As I mentioned, there wasn't much of anything that interested us as we drove Wisconsin Dells Blvd. However, kids would love it and break the bank while they were at it.

The rain finally stopped mid-morning Saturday so Ted went to Baraboo to shoot skeet. He found out some info while he was down there so we left to attend St. Joseph Church in Baraboo at 4 pm, followed by dinner at The Farmer's Kitchen and then on to the Dickinson Family's Wisconsin Opry. It was a nice day that didn't involve trying to drive around north of where we are camped. At the restaurant, we happened to sit at a table next to a couple we had sat in the pew with at church. We spent a great deal of time talking to them. At the Opry, Mrs. Dickinson came over to tell us she attended Baylor University and visits Austin frequently. Very nice people here in Wisconsin.

Today we bit the bullet and drove into the mayhem to take an Original Wisconsin Duck Tour. Getting there wasn't bad and they had a good sized parking lot. We enjoyed the drive through the hardwood forests and on the Wisconsin River and Delton Lake. Most interesting to me was the area that collapsed in 2008 after 10 inches of rain. Delton Lake emptied over the road into the Wisconsin River destroying the highway and taking four houses with it. The driver showed us pictures of what it looked like then and we could see the new dam and repairs now in place. The roof of the "duck" made it difficult to take pictures but I got a few to share. The sandstone is very soft and the layers are easily visible.

When we left, the streets were like a parking lot. Ted turned around and headed back to Baraboo and we went to the Ho Chunk Indian casino. We stayed there several hours and came back with more than we went so that was good.

We stopped at the grocery on the way home. We've invited two couples that we traveled to Europe with to have dinner with us at the campground in Utica, IL on Tuesday evening. We are leaving here tomorrow morning.

Ted grilled steaks and I baked some potatoes for an early dinner. We've reworked our itinerary a little bit and are set now (until we change it again). Tom called and asked for our Cancun flight numbers so he can arrange airport transportation once we arrive. He said we are all pre-registered at the hotel and have a reservation for transportation so we can just go right to the hotel instead of waiting for their flight to arrive.

Here are the Wisconsin Dells pictures taken from the Wisconsin River portion of the tour.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The House on the Rock

We drove to the Wisconsin Dells area in a driving rain. We stopped twice but it never let up so we just continued on. It took a break when we first arrived so we were able to get most of our set up done before it came again. But we both needed to towel off when we got inside. Later it stopped and we went into town. Here is the dam on the Wisconsin River just gushing. There's not a lot here that interests us.

Friday, after checking to be sure there were no flooded roads where we wanted to go, we drove about 60 miles to Spring Green to visit The House on the Rock.

I'm not sure I can explain this place to you. It was built by Alex Jordan on a rock outcropping in the middle of a farm. How he managed to build this is amazing. He kept the contours of the rock and worked around it. He kept adding on either to display his collections or to fulfill a vision he had for a specific area like his "Streets of Yesteryear," a peek into the shops and homes of a century past. You can visit everyday of your life and see something you didn't see before. I think anything you name could be found here. The lighting is low. I'm not sure if this is to help preserve things or to keep you from taking pictures. I couldn't get many at all.

Large brass planters like this line the driveway into the house and are featured in the gardens surrounding it. The first garden was this Japanese one as we entered the house from the welcome center.

Here are a few pictures I was able to get of the first part of the house where the rocks are the walls. It was not a house to live in but rather a retreat to escape to so there were many cozy sitting areas.

His most amazing feat was the Infinity Room. It extends 218 feet into space, 156 feet above the valley floor. As we walked out people were turning back. The slight bounce of the floor and the height were too much for them. We walked out and took a picture of the view and one through the glass in the floor.

Mr. Jordan created many instruments using existing ones combined into a new one. Pneumatic pressure powered the levers that played violins, cellos, banjos, organs, pianos, etc. We were given tokens to make some of them play along the way. This one has five different instruments. He had a whole orchestra of 100 people and a circus band, all of which were holding instruments that were played with this pneumatic pressure. He and Walt Disney would have gotten along just fine.

This is a three story elephant, part of the circus parade. This whole building is dedicated to the circus theme and includes the band, the parade, miniature circuses, clown things, popcorn machines, anything remotely connected to the subject. It was immense. And he did this for many, many collections.

This is the women's bathroom where he displayed his glass bottle collection.

This is the Red Room also called the Mikado Music Machine. It was enormous but I could only get a small portion of it where there was enough light. There were so many beautiful and astonishing things that I just couldn't take a picture of because of the low lighting. There was a Blue Room also that looked like a ballroom in Vienna and the instruments play The Viennese Waltz.

Here is a model of the Delta Queen, a riverboat that had its home port at Cincinnati. I was glad there was enough light to take this picture. And what piece of Americana would be complete without a few Burma Shave signs.

Mr. Jordan started collecting things to build the world's largest carousel. It displays 20,000 lights and 269 hand crafted animals - not one of them a horse. So he used hundreds of them to decorate the walls.

It took us four hours to tour the house and galleries. This is the final garden we saw as we ascended the stairs to the parking lot.

I can't believe the Laurium Manor was mentioned in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die and this place wasn't. I guess there's no accounting for some people's opinion!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Northern Woods of Wisconsin/Minnesota

Here are a few pictures at our campsite. A pine tree, loaded with cones, that we had to deal with in relation to our door and DR/LR slide. But it's so pretty, we just stopped short of it and moved the picnic table. There's a robin's nest with two babies just getting their feathers. And what a sunset! Add the delightful temps and no humidity and it's close to ideal. Also, there is no traffic in Duluth. We've gone over the river on the expressway several times and there is never traffic. This morning at 10:30 there weren't five cars all at the same time counting both directions. Oh how I'll miss all this back in Houston.

Monday we took a quick trip to the Duluth Downtown Waterfront District and visited the Maritime Visitor Center. We saw a couple films and toured the museum area. Ted always wants to drive!

This is the Aerial Lift Bridge. The bottom section raises up to allow ships through and then goes back down and traffic resumes crossing it. We hoped to see an ore carrier come through but no luck.

The next day we went back and walked through Bayfront Park to get to the Wm. A. Irvin retired ore carrier for a tour. Mr. Irvin was the fourth president of U.S. Steel. This carrier is 610 feet long and 60 feet wide. However, the newer carriers are 1,000 feet long, carry three times as much cargo using less men, does not use coal as fuel and can complete a run in four days versus the Irwin's seven days. It just wasn't cost effective to keep it running. This picture faces the pilot house, the next one faces the front and shows the covered hatches where ore is loaded into the hold of the ship.

We saw the engine room, crew quarters, galley, mess hall and the captain's area. We also saw the four staterooms on board for VIPs and their spouses. These were men important to the shipping industry - mine owners, bankers, etc. They received free passage on a week long Lake Superior cruise and received treatment much like an ocean cruise today - waiters, food, drinks, etc. Some things never change. We had to climb 18 steep iron stairways during the tour.

Our tour ticket gave us entry into the IMAX theater where we saw Stormchasers. It's the first time one of these type of films made me queasy. I must be getting old.

Today we chose to drive Scenic Hwy. 61 to Two Harbors, MN and Gooseberry State Park. We visited Lighthouse Point and walked out on the breakwall to the old lighthouse. We were across from the ore loaders and they said a ship would be in that afternoon.

We had lunch in town then drove to Gooseberry State Park to see the falls. There were upper, middle and lower falls. The water levels were down which allowed us to walk around the base of the middle falls.

We watched a film about Lake Superior in the Visitor's Center (Lake Superior contains 10% of the world's fresh water). It was well done and informative.

We then returned to Two Harbors to wait for the ore carrier to come in. It was fascinating to watch the captain park this huge ship right up to the loaders.

We stopped for fuel since we're heading out tomorrow and also bought 3# of wild rice. Ted used to bring it home from Winnipeg when he traveled to the Pine Falls mill. It's hard to find plain wild rice. Some of the Uncle Ben boxes have some mixed in it but I use plain wild rice for my recipe.

Tomorrow we head south for the first time since May. Next stop - Wisconsin Dells. I'm not real sure what we'll find but since we're driving past, we may as well stop.