Friday, November 29, 2013
|Billy the Kid's birthplace|
|This horse-drawn trolley travels the main street all day and evening|
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
After a three-hour drive from Texas into New Mexico where we saw more many more oil wells than we had in Oklahoma (but we also got our first glimpse of a real Western mountain range, the Guadalupe Mountains), we settled into our campground at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns NP. We got up early and ended up spending all day down in the cave. We did the self-guided tour of the "big room" and ranger-led tours of the "Kings Palace" and the lower cave. Having read a lot of peoples' comments about Carlsbad, I had high expectations--and they were exceeded.
This is a very spectacular natural wonder. The beauty and variety of rock formations and the size of the big room (either 8 or 14 football fields, depending on which sign you read) affected me like very few places I've ever seen. Being here on a relative off season, we wandered around the big room for 1-1/2 hours and felt like we owned it, other than a few rangers we never saw another person as we took in the features. Pictures cannot come close to conveying what this place is like.
The ranger-guided tours were informative and fun, especially the tour of the "lower cave", which is not lit with electric lights so we had to wear hardhats with headlamps and special gloves so we could touch the rocks without damaging them (skin oils can eventually destroy the delicate crystal formations. For three hours 12 of us descended knotted ropes, steel ladders
and slippery slopes; crawled through narrow openings, hit our heads on low-hanging rocks and even had to crawl on our hands and knees for about 15 feet through a tunnel with the only light being our headlamps. Carlsbad doesn't get the "press" of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, but it is every bit as amazing and wonder-inducing.
|Exploring the lower cave|
|New Mexico sunset|
Monday, November 25, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
|Diner booth...all we need are milkshakes!|
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
|Some of the signed guitars in the HOF|
|The best thing about downtown Muscogee is the collection of artist-decorated guitars randomly distributed|
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Branson is kind of like Vegas without the gambling, or the bright lights or the theme-park hotels...basically everything except the Elvis impersonators, washed-up country acts and magicians. The town itself is a vision of city planning gone bad--fast food, motels, theaters, mini golf, "museums" like the Titanic Museum and Ripley's Believe it or Not all jumbled up on a gridlocked "strip" about two miles long. Discount ticket agencies are everywhere, most requiring a timeshare sales pitch to get the discounts. We found a legit 2-for-1 ticket agency and bought most of our tickets there. We saw seven shows that ran all gamuts from bad to great and from tiny, low-budget productions to huge staged estravaganzas. Some of our favorites were the Haygoods, a family of five brothers and a sister who grew up poor in the Ozarks but had been performing literally since they were toddlers. They played several insturments each, sang really well and had a production with lazer lights and video that was nonstop two hours of true entertainment. "Six" was similar in scale but was six very talented brothers who sing a capella for two hours. They make all the instruments with their voices, including drums, bass, electric guitar and trumpet. Their show was very fun and entertaining too.
We also took in a couple of tribute bands, one for the Eagles and one for Journey. Both were very good bands and musicians, but the Journey band was amazing because of the lead vocalist, who sounded just like Steve Perry. Jason Yeager was his name and he was a finalist on season 7 of American Idol. His story is kind of sad because he got a raw deal on American Idol and was eliminated sooner than he probably should have been. He and his band put on a great show and were the best act we saw all week in Branson. The most entertaining tribute (in a funky sort of way) was Joseph Hall's Elvis show. He is a mid-twenties kid who played Elvis from his start as a rockabilly artist up through his Vegas superstar-in-a-rhinestone-covered-white-stretch-suit act. The audience of mostly elderly ladies went crazy over him and some nearly passed out when "Elvis" came out to the audience to give them a scarf and a kiss on the cheek. (Lynnae was not one of the passed out ones, she insists I inform you.)
One other interesting thing we did was to eat dinner at the College of the Ozarks. This college, founded in 1906, is unique in that it is tuition-free for all students who earn their keep by working 15 hours per week. So the restaurant on campus is staffed completely by students, who also grow the vegetables, raise the dairy cows and pigs and cook everything from scratch. The food was fantastic, the kids were as Ozark-mountain polite as you could want and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
We actually enjoyed our whole time in Branson, but we were ready to leave and begin the drive across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas to cover some parts of the old Route 66 and catch such other wonders as we can find there.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
We didn't set out to come to Branson but it wasn't far off our way and we like live music so we decided to check it out for a few days. I will add to this post over the next few days, but as of now we have been here for four days, have seen four good shows and one poor one and will stay for two more days then head off to Oklahoma on Monday.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
We drove to Peoria to spend two nights there. Why Peoria, you ask? Well, back in the summer we bought tickets to see Keith Urban in concert in, of all places, Peoria, and to some extent built the schedule of our travels around that. We've seen Keith live about 8 times and this show was among the best. He is an amazing guitar player and singer and performer and after two warm-up acts (Dustin Lynch and Little Big Town), Keith played for 2-1/4 hours and as usual brought down the house. The only other experience I can compare a Keith Urban concert to (and I hope my Boston friends will forgive me this one) is seeing the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway in a close game where the Red Sox come from behind in the ninth to win. The crowd was that fired up! I was playing Keith songs all night in my head.
As we drove south from Peoria yesterday, we kept seeing signs about "Route 66 Historic Byway", so Lynnae read out loud the Wikipedia entry for Route 66 and we stopped at the Route 66 State Park visitor center in Missouri. So it turned out to be fitting that the next leg of our trip, after visiting Canada and spending time with Lucas, when we turn westward toward California, that we are travelling along the route of the first Federal highway to be completely paved from the East, specifically Chicago, to California. Started in 1926 and all segments finally paved in the 50's, Route 66 is the quintessential symbol for post-war America. Newly-mobile, newly affluent, optimistic, obsessed with cars and rock 'n roll music, America hit the road and Route 66, sometimes called the "Mother Road" was the place to do it. Much of Route 66 is gone completely and all of it has been bypassed by Interstates, often starving the towns that lived off the travelers on the old Route. Some of the best preserved remnants of Route 66 are in Missouri and Oklahoma and we will report on what we see over the next week or so. Stay tuned!
Saturday, November 9, 2013
We also visited Architectural Artifacts, an 80,000 square foot wonderland of weird stuff rescued from factories, buildings and homes. Want a silver-colored blast furnace suit? $14,000 takes it home. How about an 8 foot tall ceramic vat for mixing acid or a giant hamburger or an old printing press or a 12 foot table covered with crystal glass pieces from chandeliers at $1 - $5 apiece? This has to be the coolest store I have ever seen. We wrapped up our day with a trip up to the John Hancock Observatory 94 floors above Chicago, but more on that in the next post.