Saturday, May 25, 2013

Shaw Nature Center, St. Louis, Missouri

Today, Stop # 15 on our 2013 Summer Tour was at the Shaw Nature Reserve thirty-five miles southwest of St. Louis.

The Shaw Center has 2,441 acres of natural beauty which include fourteen miles of hiking trails.  It was purchased in 1925 as part of the expansion of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  The increasing level of smog in the air of the city of St. Louis was having an adverse effect on their world famous orchid collection  So land was purchased some distance away from the city in order to find space in which the orchids might again flourish.

This area, the Shaw Nature Reserve, has nothing to do with those orchids.  Its purpose is "to inspire responsible stewardship of our environment through education, restoration, and protection of natural habitats and through public enjoyment of the natural world."  That last purpose, to promote "public enjoyment of the natural world" describes today for us. 

The above quote from theologian Soren Kierkegaard was posted prominently in the restrooms at the Visitor's Center.  We decided to heed its advice, so we started walking. 

We began our exploration in the five acre Whitmire Wildflower Garden.

All the plants, shrubs and trees in this wildflower garden are native to Missouri.
Many of the beds included plants and grasses I consider weeds (and would pull out!) but, in that setting even the weeds were beautiful.
The variety of colors were a delight to our eyes.
Some of the flowers, like this wisteria, were familiar to us.  Most were not.
So we were very thankful for the labels identifying some of those floral beauties.
Paths criss-crossing thru the wildflower garden invited us to hike further.

Our truck provided us a picnic shelter for lunch and space for a short siesta while a rain storm delayed our hike.  When it was past, we set out on one of the hiking trails.  Past restored prairies, ponds, tree stands of pines and hardwoods, and over a small creek we hiked and back to our starting point.  We had hiked nearly five miles!
I was glad to find a spot to sit down and rest -- and make faces at myself in the reflecting pool!
Tomorrow we're off to Peoria, Illinois for a family visit.  These two days in St. Louis have been exciting, but exhausting.  We'll be glad for a quieter pace for a few days.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri

Here we go again!  Out running around and having fun.  Today, for Stop # 14 on our 2013 Summer Tour, we are in St. Louis, Missouri, exploring the west bank of the Mississippi River.

In February of 1764, Pierre Laclede stood on this very spot and instructed his aide, Auguste Choteau, to build a city.  Today, nearly 250 years later,  the founders would have a hard time recognizing it.

Tourists flock to the same point to admire the view.  They have the possibility of touring the river on a steamboat, getting an overview from a helicopter, or touring the old part of the city by horse carriage.  We chose to walk instead!

One thing the founders might recognize two and a half centuries after establishing that great city is the annual spring flood waters of the Mississippi River.  We have no idea who this statue represents for the name was hidden by high water, but he seems mighty happy to have survived -- again!
We enjoyed walking along the Mighty Mississippi but that's not really what we braved the downtown traffic to see. 

We had come to see the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park.The park, operated by the National Park Service, is located on one of the hills that overlooks the river from its western shore. 
Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States at the time of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The purchase included 828,000 square miles of land and the total cost was $15M, about three cents per acre!  Eventually, that expansion became part or all of fifteen states of the United States located west of the Mississippi River.
The centerpiece of the National Park is the Gateway Arch, identifying St. Louis and the Mississippi River as the "Gateway to the West."

The Arch stands 630 feet tall and was designed by noted Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.  Building was begun in February of 1963 and completed four years later at a cost of $13M.  It was opened to the public In June of 1967.  It is the tallest man-made monument in the United States.
Not only is it impressive to look at from a distance, it provides a lovely lawn-like  park between its sprawling legs.  But, underneath the grassy park there's another surprise:
The Museum of Westward Expansion!  In an attractive, circular design it contains exhibits of the presidents and major actions they took to encourage national expansion to the west."  The Great Expedition" made by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark is illustrated in video, art work and excerpts from Lewis' diary of that journey of exploration to the Pacific Ocean.
In our day and age of travel by car, train or plane, museum exhibits reminded us how our ancestors traveled.
on horseback
by covered wagon (the original RV?)
or by stagecoach.
There were also exhibits that reminded us of some of the painful chapters in our national history: the Dred Scott case, the Civil War, Lincoln's assassination, and the "Indian problem:"
the displacement of the Cherokees, the denial of citizenship and voting rights to the Sioux, the extermination of several native tribes.  Several of the great native American heroes are pictured and honored for their wisdom and courage.
We'll never know how our society might have been enriched if we had listened to Tecumseh instead of confining him and his people to reservations, poverty and hopelessness.
What a fun, informative, and exciting afternoon!  I can hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Heifer International World Headquarters

 Officially, the Little Rock, Arkansas River Trail Trolley is described as "Replicas of vintage trolleys [that] transport people between Little Rock and North Little Rock downtowns.   Attractions being serviced include Verizon Arena, the Statehouse Convention Center, the River Market, hotels, restaurants, the Historic Arkansas and Discovery Museums, Robinson Center Music Hall and Riverfront Park and Amphitheater.   Also en route is the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer Project International World Headquarters." 
Our main interest in the trolley this afternoon was to rest our weary feet after a lengthy walk through the River Market area of  Little Rock.  As we climbed off the trolley at the end of the line, we realized that we were just across the street from the World Headquarters of Heifer International.  

Heifer International is one of our favorite charities which we have supported since we were small children.  In those days, it was called Heifer Project and was a very small program of the Church of the Brethren, our church family.  Its philosophy was to help the poor and hungry of the world help themselves.  The practice of the organization was to give a poor family a live animal instead of a hand-out.  The only requirement was that they "pass on the gift," that is, donate the animal's first offspring to a needy neighbor.
The program is now known as Heifer International.  Since the 1970s, it has become  an independent, ecumenical,  and worldwide development agency with International Headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Although we have supported Heifer International generously over many years, we had never visited its offices.  We decided it was high time we did so, so that became Stop # 13 in our summer journey for 2013.

This sculpture near the entrance walk begins to orient the visitor to the purpose, philosophy and practice of the agency.  A woman, carrying a lamb, peacefully walks with three other sheep across a bridge.  Heifer's original purpose and philosophy have not changed.  The agency is still committed to fight hunger and poverty by the donation of live animals, but their practice has expanded well beyond the original program.
The types of animals donated now include sheep, goats, pigs, horses, guinea pigs, honey bees, llamas, camels, and water buffalo as well as cattle.  Instruction in proper care is given with each animal donated.
Heifer International's attempts to eradicate hunger and poverty has branched out into several other areas of development as well.  Health care and disease prevention, including immunizations, has become a major focus.  Another is nutritional education and guidance and the provision of pure drinking water. An emphasis on sustainable agriculture emphasizes planting or re-planting of trees where forests have been cut and the use of animal waste for crop fertilizer.
 Perhaps the major emphasis in the international development efforts of Heifer International is education.  They provide "schools in a box" for children in third world countries without access to public education, and encourage the education of girls and women in many countries where this is not available.
But perhaps the greatest challenge for Heifer International is to educate those of us who do not personally experience poverty, hunger, malnutrition, disease or lack of education and sensitize us to those realities.  For millions of the world's citizens those conditions are a daily reality but there are ways we can help to improve their lives.  Financial support of self-help charities like Heifer International is one way.
What an exciting and informative day for us in Little Rock, Arkansas.


William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Today was our scheduled rest day in Little Rock, Arkansas.  (Yesterday's adventure was finding this RV Park in the wilderness of Little Rock suburbs.  But, thank goodness, the GPS lady knew where it was and was able to direct us there along narrow, curvy, hilly county roads!)

We decided to take in some of the sights of the big cities of Little Rock and  North Little Rock.

Our first stop, Stop # 12 for our summer tour, was here at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
The building has a creative and unique design.  It is shaped as a large rectangle, and both ends extend out beyond the lower floors.  The advertising posters prominently displayed on the front of the building are for public events to be held there in the near future.
It was an interesting -- and informative -- trip for us thru the era of national history which we remember.  We were reminded again of some of his achievements: negotiating an end to the Balkan war and a preliminary agreement between Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu (which never came to fruition!), promotion of world trade agreements and economic assistance to several debt-ridden third world countries, and the passage of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban.  Perhaps his most amazing achievement is almost unimaginable in our current state of political chaos: the achievement of a balanced federal budget!
We were curious to see how the exhibits and information explained President Clinton's personal ethical lapses and the congressional attempt to impeach.  The moral missteps are not denied but much of the political results are credited to a "struggle for power" between President Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.  From this non-objective, Democratic point of view, Gingrich and the Republican congressional leadership resorted to "character assassination" in their attempts to undermine the President's influence. 
(On the basis of this interpretation of events, Bruce and I have decided that everyone should have the right to create a personal library which includes information that will re-interpret any personal lapses of behavior.  That way, everybody can leave a legacy of untarnished success and achievement!)
We had a delicious lunch in the "42 CafĂ©" (remember, Bill Clinton was the nation's 42nd president) in the downstairs of the Library building.  Well-nourished, we went upstairs and finished our tour, including admiring a model of the White House table set for a formal dinner, and reviewing some of the more striking of First Lady Hillary Clinton's gowns.
After such a mental overload, we decided to enjoy some physical exercise.
Little Rock has a beautiful and very extensive system of hiking/biking trails.  This trail was connected to the plaza of the Clinton Center.  It uses an old railroad drawbridge for foot and bike traffic across the Arkansas River.  It was a lovely walk until preparations for the up-coming Memorial Day Riverfest re-directed us up to city streets.  We walked so far we decided to catch a ride back to where our truck was parked.
The River Trail Trolley line tours the downtown areas of Little Rock and North Little Rock, including the main tourist destinations, for 50 cents apiece for senior citizens.  What a bargain!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On the Road Again

No more sitting around vacationing; we're back on the road heading north at our "break-neck speed" of 200 miles per day or less.  Tonight we're just south of Little Rock, Arkansas, listening to the rain fall gently -- and almost continuously -- on the roof.  We are so very grateful that we were east of the killer tornadoes that caused so much destruction and death near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

We spent last night at Piney Point Corps of Engineer's Park near Queen City, Texas.

As you can see, our site was high above the shore of the lake and the setting was beautiful.  The park is located in a lovely grove of tall, straight pine trees.  We managed to get in a nice long evening walk to explore the park and see more of Wright-Patman Lake.
I'll call this place Stop #11 on our summer 2013 tour and it didn't take long for us to add it to our "Let's come back here again soon" list.  It more than made up for our overnight lodging of the night before near Palestine, Texas.  If I were to number that stop, I'd have to give it a minus 10!
Hasta luego -- until next time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Texas A & M University

Aggieland!  That was stop # 10 on the Rosenberger 2013 summer tour.

That was yesterday's destination.  Bryan/College Station, the location of the university, is just about 35 miles from the state park where we are staying.

Our first stop was at the Bonfire Memorial.

Some of you may remember the 1999 news item of the collapse of the traditional bonfire tower being constructed by A & M engineering students.  Twelve were killed and 27 injured in that accident.

Bonfire Memorial
The memorial is an esthetic and touching reminder of the ten men and two women who were killed.  Each concrete pillar wraps around a bronze arch containing the image, signature and some biographical information about one of those killed in that event.  We understand that the bonfire has not been sanctioned by the university since that tragedy.

Old Administration building

The campus is very large, 5200 acres housing ten colleges and 50,000 students.  We walked its lovely and tree-shaded paths and sidewalks for about two hours admiring its buildings, old and new.  We marveled at the variety of agricultural and mechanical specialties represented in the classroom buildings we passed: a huge veterinary hospital,, and classroom buildings with labels such as "Geoengineering", "Tectonophysics", "Petroleum Engineering,"and an extensive horticultural facility.

Cadet Parade Ground
Military training has been a major focus at the university since its founding in 1866, This parade ground is maintained for current cadets' military education.

Despite off and on showers of rain, we enjoyed our tour of Texas A & M campus.  Even Blayde seemed to have a good time -- especially when he was getting carried!


The Art of Eating an Artichoke

DEDICATED: to Rebecca Coombs who took us artichoking for the first time on May 14, 2013.

Eating an artichoke’s tricky;
A fine art, and a bit of a mess.
You can learn it if you want to.
Will you like it? That’s anyone’s guess.

This well-cultured cactus is ugly;
Its thick outer hides what is within.
You can’t tell a book by its cover,
And you can’t tell a ‘choke by its skin.

It’s hard and rough, and very green,
And oft times it is spiny.
If you forget to clip the thorns
Your guests might get quite whiny!

Boil it whole in water ‘till tender;
If large, it could take some time.
Then rescue the fruit and serve it
While it’s still in its juicy prime.

Be careful and don’t burn your fingers
‘Cause now there’s fun underneath.
Pull off one leaf, turn it upside down,
And scrape off the soft with your teeth!

Repeat this process, leaf by leaf,
There’s a tiny taste on each one.
It may take awhile; it’s not fast food,
And you’ve really just begun.

The heart of the artichoke’s the best
After leaves are all tasted and thrown.
It’s all tender, as a heart should be,
And almost as sweet as your own!

Dipping sauces enhance the taste
And help slide the fruit down your throat.
That’s the art of enjoying – not choking –
When you’re eating an artichoke.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lake Somerville State Park, Birch Creek Unit

Here we are at Stop # 9 on our summer tour: Lake Somerville State Park, Birch Creek Unit.  The park is located about 35 miles southwest of Bryan/College Station, Texas.

We managed to find our way here even though the GPS lady didn't seem to know where it was.  She took us cross-country on two-lane, county gravel roads that were better suited to tractors than RVs! 

Twice the route she was  directing us on crossed load limited bridges, both limited to less weight than we were towing.  Neither bridge collapsed while we were on it, so I guess the bridge inspectors left a little "wiggle room" in their signage.  On one of those bridges, Willis and Rebecca saw a water moccasin snake moving slowly across the bridge.  He stretched from side-ditch to center line!  Rebecca said she tried to run over him but couldn't tell if she was successful.

The park is lovely, and we were both able to get assigned to lakefront sites.

which were quite close together.
The hiking trails are great, and we took advantage of them as often as we could.
The trails took us through meadows, tall grass prairie areas, along the lake shore, and thru woods.
We humans really enjoyed our hikes
and sometimes even Blayde got to go along.
We're enjoying some brand new varieties of wildflowers and marveling at some really unique critters, such as this red caterpillar which becomes a beautiful blue-black butterfly.
On one of our hikes we caught a brief glimpse of a curious looking animal.  The cat was the shape and color of a bobcat but was larger and had a tail.  Rebecca did a little research on-line and discovered that cougars (mountain lions/panthers) occasionally mate with bobcats and produce viable offspring.  The ranger agreed that was probably the animal we saw.  The next morning we discovered that the cat had left his muddy paw prints all over our truck, apparently smelling food inside.
One other kind of critter around here is a real nuisance: the lovebugs.
They get their name from the fact that they fly about as a pair, connected at the back; one head points ahead and the other points behind.  When they swarm they are not easy to chase away as they do not move very fast.  They don't bite or sting but driving thru a swarm of them leaves marks on a vehicle that are very hard to remove, their revenge for invading their territory apparently.
But, despite the critters -- or maybe because of them! -- Lake Somerville State Park is a beautiful place. Gazing out across the lake is restful, relaxing, and renews our spirits.  

 We wish you could enjoy the view with us here at Stop # 9.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Practicing Backing Up

Bruce decided that I needed to practice backing our truck and trailer.  I don't know why that was so important to him; he's done such a fine job of it for the past eight years.  But he decided that it was past time for me to learn that skill.  (I hope he's not planning to have a heart attack or stroke in the near future!)

So, a few days ago he took me out to a rarely traveled stretch of road in the park, set out orange cones for me to use in spotting my position, climbed down from the drivers' seat, and said, "OK.  Now it's your turn to back this rig straight back this road."

Reluctantly, I climbed behind the wheel and began playing with "Reverse."  Patiently, time after time, he talked me through which way to turn and how far to turn the steering wheel.  Over and over again I backed slowly, then pulled forward and backed up again. This went on for over an hour!
I did not run off the road (very far).  I did not hit anything.  I did not get into such a tight jack-knife angle that I couldn't get out. I did get a better feel for how to get the rear of the trailer to go in the direction I want it to go. I did NOT, however, master the technique of backing a 32 foot trailer with an F350 truck.  I'll need lots more practice, if my nerves -- and Bruce's -- can stand it.