Saturday, May 31, 2014

Robertsville State Park, Missouri

State Park campgrounds are among our favorite places to park our RV and enjoy the great out-of-doors.  Sometimes we return to state parks we have enjoyed in the past, but often we visit parks that are new to us.  This weekend we wanted to spend time at Shaw Nature Reserve on the south-western outskirts of St. Louis, so we chose Robertsville State Park, close to the Shaw Nature Reserve.

The Meramec River borders Robertsville State Park
on the north and west sides.

A beautiful pond in the center of Robertsville State Park.

Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri

We had so thoroughly enjoyed a visit to Shaw Nature Reserve last year that we decided to return again this year.   If fact, we spent parts of two days enjoying the wildflower gardens and hiking the trails.  Located near Exit 253 of I-44 at Gray Summit, Missouri, Shaw Nature Reserve is a division of Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.  The 2,441 acres provides for many educational opportunities for children and adults as well as for research and habitat restoration.

In the Wildflower Garden
More wildflowers

The wildflower gardens are carefully maintained.

Such a peaceful view.

One of the many nature trails.

View from a nature trail.

One of several varieties of Spiderwort found in the Reserve.

Iris in the wild.

Indian Pink.

The reason we enjoy Shaw Nature Reserve.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Route 66 Themed Rest Stop on I-44

While traveling eastbound on Interstate 44 in Missouri yesterday we stopped for a break at the unique rest stop near Mile Post 111.   It has a Route 66 theme – retro gas pumps, a map of the historic route from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, painted on the floor, and picnic shelters with Route 66-related "storefronts," including a barber shop and a diner.

The walkway through the center of the picnic area has a yellow dotted line painted in the center and there are a variety of Route 66 signs all along the walkway.

As we traveled from Oklahoma City, OK, to St. Louis, MO, on present day I-44 we have seen many businesses and community organizations celebrating Historic Route 66 -- colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road.  Route 66 was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wichita Falls, TX

After spending a bit over a month sight-seeing and traveling though the Big Bend area and other interesting parts of west Texas, we spent our final night in Texas at the Wichita River Bend RV Park. It is a facility operated by the Parks and Recreation Department of Wichita Falls, Texas.  After dinner we walked a two mile walking path through Lucy Park -- just across the river from the RV park.

In the morning after our trailer had been prepared for travel, we took our morning walk on a different path and were pleasantly surprised to encounter the Wichita Falls.

A few hours later we crossed from Texas into Oklahoma as we traveled on to new adventures.

Hords Creek Lake

After leaving San Angelo, we were eager to head toward Illinois.. But we have learned from experience not to count on finding available campsites during a holiday weekend without having reservations. So we made reservations to spend the Memorial Day weekend at Hords Creek Lake -- at the campground operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Upon arriving at our campsite we immediately noticed that the water level of the lake was very, very low.   But that was not surprising as every other lake we have seen this spring was also very, very low. 

All around San Angelo we had seen signs saying, "Pray for Rain"  and it was not long  before prayers were being answered.  Shortly after we got set up, it began to rain and it rained all weekend.   Wonderful rain.  We did not mind at all sitting indoors and reading during the rain because the Texas drought is so severe that every drop of rain is deeply appreciated.

There were some breaks in the rain and we got out and enjoyed some long walks.   Corps of Engineers campgrounds are among our favorite places to stay.

International Waterlily Collection

While we were visiting in San Angelo, Texas, we enjoyed a visit to the International Waterlily Collection which is displayed at the Civic League Park in San Angelo.

We learned that all the water lilies are kept indoors during the winter months and that they were just then being brought out of doors and placed in the summer display area for the public to enjoy.

It was a special treat to be able to talk for just a few minutes with Kenneth Landon, the creator of this wonderful collection which has been his life work. He has been described as having "the mind of a scientist, the heart of a poet and the soul that embodies preserving waterlily heritage for the generations to come."

The display of the water lily collection in the Civic League Park is generously underwritten by the City Council of San Angelo and many additional supporters and volunteers.

We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the water lilies that were on display that day and can hardly imagine seeing the collection later in the summer when they are at their peak.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

San Angelo, Texas' Unique Museum

Every community -- large or small -- celebrates its special contribution to history, often by preserving its memories in a museum.  Visiting those museums is a great way to learn history you never would have read about in textbooks, and it is one of the joys of our travels.

We learned about the Pony Express and the history of psychiatric treatment at museums in St. Joseph, Missouri.  We re-lived the days of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn at the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.  In Kansas City, Kansas, we got insights into the personal hardships of early westward pioneers at the Overland Trail Museum.  At Alpine, Texas we got new insights about the Big Bend area at the Big Bend Museum on the campus of Sul Ross State University.  And, of course, we have often visited the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg and the Old Pumphouse Museum in Hidalgo, Texas.

But, yesterday, here in San Angelo, we visited a museum like none other we had ever heard of: Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum!  It's on a main street in downtown San Angelo and was fascinating.  There we learned quite a bit about a stream of history that is often kept hidden.

A newly-wed couple, Mr. and Mrs. Hatton, built a home in San Angelo in 1896.  It was a large, two-story building which housed Mr. Hatton's business -- a saloon -- downstairs and living quarters for the couple upstairs.  Not long after they moved into the house, they divorced.  In the divorce settlement, it was stated that Mr. Hatton retained ownership and use of the first floor for the operation of his business and Mrs. Hatton -- Hattie, by name -- retained ownership of the second floor.

In 1902, Hattie, too, opened a business in her half of the house: a bordello.  It wasn't a large business -- she only employed about five "girls" at a time -- but it became quite profitable.  Despite plenty of competition for business in town, Miss Hattie was soon rumored to be "the richest person in San Angelo."

Hattie's Place was at the top of a long, steep, dark stairway which opened into a waiting room furnished lavishly with red velvet settees.  Hattie's elegant desk sat in the corner of that front parlor with her office just behind it.  Above her desk was a buzzer.  It sounded whenever law enforcement officers or an enraged wife made their way up the stairs.  When the buzzer sounded, the "girls" and clients exited through a secret door, walked a catwalk across to the second floor of an adjoining building.  Another secret passageway opened from the bank next door, which generously shared its clients with Miss Hattie, sometimes as their unsuspecting wives and children waited in the buggy in front of the bank!

Down a long dark hallway, each of Hattie's "girls" had her own room which she could decorate as she chose. There were also several "sitting rooms" and a "card room." There gentlemen could spend an evening with their men friends without the danger of an interruption by an angry wife.

 Miss Hattie's rules were strict, "No alcohol," and apparently her prices were reasonable.  She charged  from $1 to $2 per "favor," depending upon the popularity of the "girl" chosen.  Sixty percent of that income was returned to the "girl" by Miss Hattie who kept the other 40% for the business. To insure that all financial transactions were honest, only Miss Hattie handled  any money.  She exchanged the clients' money for tokens with which they paid the "girls."  The "girls" then took the tokens they had received in payment to Miss Hattie to be redeemed for cash.

Miss Hattie, herself, always "dressed like a lady" and saw to it that her "girls" were dressed in the  very best.  She owned the first automobile in the city and faithfully took her "girls" to church in it each Sunday.  Each Sunday it was to different church and she never announced in advance where they were going to attend in case any judgmental members or pastors might make their presence uncomfortable.

One of the "girls" employed by Miss Hattie for a while was a married woman from Oklahoma. Her husband had contracted TB and the family had fallen deeply in debt so it was necessary for the wife to go to work.  She worked for Miss Hattie and while there became pregnant and delivered a child.  Not long after her baby was born, she returned home to Oklahoma, having earned enough to pay off the family's indebtedness.  Her husband, now recovered, received her back joyfully and accepted the child as if it were his own.

For nearly half a century, Miss Hattie's Bordello was a busy spot on Concho Street in San Angelo. Over the many years of its operation, there were three Miss Hattie's:  the original Hattie Hutton, a Hattie Foster who was the widow of a Fort Concho Army officer, and a third proprietor who was "run out of town" in 1948.  Local law enforcement officials were too deeply enmeshed in the business to force it to close.  Finally, in 1951, the Texas Rangers closed down Miss Hattie's Bordello.

This was quite an enlightening tour for this girl who had led such a sheltered life she didn't even know what the word "bordello" meant!  But it was fascinating to see that slice of life from the side of the women who earned their living by it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fort Stockton, Texas

Historic Fort Stockton offers an interesting Driving Tour designed to give visitors a glimpse of Fort Stockton's past.  Beginning at the Historic Railroad Depot and Visitor Center the tour continues through the historic district.  We enjoyed the entire driving tour of all seventeen sites.   We took photos only at the fort.

Fort Stockton protected mail, freight and travelers
on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from 1858 to 1886.

Foreground: original limestone Guard House
Left: original parade ground
Distant:  Enlisted Men's Quarters

Officers' Row
Managed by the Fort Stockton Historical Society and listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, Historic Fort Stockton is owned by the City of Fort Stockton.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fort Davis National Historical Site, Fort Davis, Texas

Imagine a fort without walls.   When we visited Fort Davis we were surprised to learn that generally military posts in the west did not have walls surrounding them.   Indians avoided attacking a well-armed post.

Fort Davis was one of several military posts along the 600 mile San Antonio-El Paso Road.   From 1854 until 1891 troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers -- including those on their way to California seeking gold.

The restored Commissary is just to the left of the center of the photo.
In the foreground are some of many remaining foundations.
The fort was established on the eastern side of the Davis Mountains in a box canyon near Limpia Creek, where wood, water, and grass were plentiful.  The elevation of Fort Davis is 4,900 feet above sea level.

Left and center:  Officers homes.
Right:  Two-story Officers Quarters.

Of special interest is the role that the Buffalo Soldiers played at Fort Davis.  The Buffalo Soldiers were the African American enlisted men in the army after the civil war.  Both African American and white soldiers manned Fort Davis at different times during its history.
  • 1854-1862: All white
  • 1867-1881: All African American
  • 1882-1885: Both
  • 1885-1891: All white
With the end of the Indian Wars in west Texas, Fort Davis was ordered abandoned in 1891, having "outlived its usefulness."  Civilians resided in the quarters for a number of years.  The National Park Service website reports: "In the 1930's the owner performed much repair and maintenance work thus sparing the rapid deterioration that befell most abandoned forts. Fort Davis is today one of the most complete surviving examples of the typical western military fort to be found."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

McDonald Observatory

We spent our morning today visiting the McDonald Observatory located in the Davis Mountains in Jeff Davis County, Texas.  The site is the property of the University of Texas at Austin.

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center
In the photo above the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is seen at the peak of Mt Fowkes at 6,600 feet above sea level.  Dedicated in 1997 the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world.

The dome housing the 82 inch telescope.

Dedicated in 1939, the 82 inch telescope was named
after Russian-American astronomer Otto Struve.

Groups very seldom get to tour the 82 inch telescope.  However, because of maintenance being done to the 107 inch telescope normally visited by tourists, our group got to see the 82 inch telescope.

The 82 inch telescope is located on an official Texas highway
and TXDOT has posted this sign recognizing Mount Locke
as the highest point of Texas Highways.
We enjoyed our daytime tour at McDonald Observatory today.   Tomorrow evening we return after dark for a Star Party featuring telescope viewing, a constellation tour and additional astronomy programs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PS to "Creation's Leftovers"

We spent this morning touring the Big Bend Museum on the campus of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.  It was fascinating and very informative.  The exhibits dealt primarily with the human history of the Big Bend National Park. Beginning with the ancient peoples who left impressive pictographs on cave walls, there were excerpts from Cabeza de Vaca's (earliest Spanish explorer of the region in about 1517) journal, reflections on the mixing of native and European cultures, Native American  conflicts in the Big Bend area, the activities of the "Buffalo Soldiers" in protecting settlers, stagecoach and railroad transportation, ranching, mining, the Pancho Villa raids, and the creation of the National Park in 1944.

As we were preparing to leave, I was struck by the following message, on the wall near the exit:

In case you find it hard to read, it says "According to Indian legend, when the Great Creator made the earth and finished placing the stars in the sky, the birds in the air, and the fish in the sea, there was a large pile of rejected stony materials left over.  Finished with His job, He threw this into one heap and made the Big Bend." -- Ross Maxwell, geologist and first superintendent, Big Bend National Park.
Great minds -- ancient Indians', Ross Maxwell's, and mine -- run in the same channel, don't you think?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creation's Left-Overs

When creation was almost completed, God was pleased with the work. "That’s good. That’s good,"
 the Creator murmured quietly. "That’s very good."
 But then the Divine remembered that there was a problem.
"What am I going to do with all these left-overs from creation?" the Celestial Builder wondered.
 "I can’t just pile them in some corner here in Heaven and let them gather dust.
 They’re much too beautiful for that.
 True, they’re an odd collection – 
flat plains and plateaus, 
lots of cactus, 
leaf-bearing trees and pines,
 volcanic rocks, sandstone cliffs, limestone peaks. 
And that’s just the beginning of this pile of left-overs from creation."
"I guess I didn’t plan too well in quantities for some items. Seems to me that I planted lots of mountains all around the world but I still have plenty of them left.  They were not too popular in many places, like the Sahara desert and the Kansas prairies.
" Oh, and the cactus!

 I can count the hairs on each human’s head but I can’t begin to count all the cactus I have left over.
 I think they’re beautiful 
– all spiny and oddly shaped. 
Their blooms are just gorgeous; 
yellow, pink, purple, orange, red, white, rose. 
 But they weren’t as welcome as I thought they would be in many areas.
 I guess it has something to do with the thorns.

"I don’t really have too many pines or leaf-bearing trees left.
 They were welcomed by nearly every cool spot on earth. 
But, even so, I must have overestimated the demand.
"And rivers, I don’t have a single one left.  Every place on earth was in need of water 
and rivers were just the solution to that problem. 
 So I placed rivers everywhere I possibly could and I am completely out.
"Rivers.... Hmm.... That gives me an idea. I placed a pretty little river in the southern part of the American land mass, right between what will someday become North America and Central America. In a few million years or so, it will be designated as the border between the countries of the United States and Mexico.
   It’s a grand little river that winds its way through lands which the early Spanish explorers called
‘Los Despoblados,’ or ‘The Uninhabited Places.’
"Hmmm... I wonder.... Maybe if I gave that river a little tug to the south, put a big bend in it that is,
 I could make enough room there for all my left-overs from creation.
 That way, at least the scenery wouldn’t be boring!
 I think an extra 800,000 acres would be about enough space
 to locate all the other beautiful things I have left over. 
"Of course I can’t add any more rivers; I’ve used them all up.
 So it’s bound to be a pretty dry and dusty place even with my lovely additions.
"Oh, well. In a few hundred thousand years, when I put the dinosaurs to rest,
 I’ll get the National Park Service to add roads, 



and gift shops.

 Then all the visitors that come to see that grand little river in the dry place
will never know that they are admiring creation’s left-overs!"
And so, it was – and apparently is to this day.

All photos by Bruce E. Rosenberger
taken at Big Bend National Park and
Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas.