Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kansas Heritage

Eastern Kansas is as flat as all my images and memories of the state. Maybe that comes from driving on I-70. The last couple of legs of this journey we haven’t been on I-70, but we have seen the lush, flat farmlands the state is famous for: dark green corn fields, golden acres of wheat being harvested this month, small towns, and grain elevators. If there is a tree, it is a cottonwood. Western Kansas is experiencing drought, but the eastern part or the state is having much the same weather as Texas, which means rain. It was sooo green. We have never seen it look so beautiful.

As we came west along Kansas 156 on Wednesday, we were amazed to see water on both sides of the road. We wondered if there had been a flood, since we knew that Kanapolis Lake, which we had just left, had been flooded in May. We discovered we were driving next to the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, held by the Nature Conservancy. The 7,300 acres of marsh wetlands host nearly one-half of all North American shorebirds migrating east of the Rockies. We didn’t see any birds, but we sure did see a lot of water. In Kansas? We were amazed.

Why all this time in Kansas in late June? It isn’t the typical tourist destination. John’s ancestors were pioneers in Kansas, settling just across the state line from Missouri in Olathe in 1860. Those were the years of Bloody Kansas, when the prelude to the Civil War brought border raids between Kansas and Missouri as it was being decided whether the state would have slavery or not. Two decades later, his great-grandfather and mother homesteaded in southwestern Kansas in Kearny County. This week we found the land they settled on—where combines were just harvesting the wheat. It is very rich farmland.

It has been an interesting journey. We try to feel connected to America’s heartland, since we learned of the family connection here. Our stay at the Venango Corps Park, and earlier at Lake Stockton State Park in Missouri, put us in contact with local farmers enjoying their weekends at the lake. For many people in these states, their fate is in the hands of weather and the market for farm products. From the looks of Garden City (where we stayed in an RV Park) and Lakin, the county seat of Kearny County, where John’s family lived, farming can be fairly prosperous at times. We know that drought and hail and other factors make it very risky at other times. Many of those staying in this RV Park are part of a harvesting crew out of Minnesota, traveling throughout the plains cutting grain. Traveling across this country and into Canada helps us to understand a little of how other people live.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Friday night we were grateful we sleep in an RV, not a tent. About 2 a.m. I woke up to see lightening all over the sky, though I couldn’t hear any thunder yet. After watching it for a while, I got up and turned on our NOAA weather radio, then went back to bed. Soon the wind began blowing and the rain started to fall. It kept that up until after 7 in the morning. Not everyone in the Venango Corps Park on Kanopolis Lake in south central Kansas was as fortunate as we are.. These folk had their tent collapse and they must have moved into the 5th wheel parked on the same site. They didn’t have a good night. A number of people had moved from their tents into their cars or trucks to wait out the storm.

This is our second visit to this park. We were here in early May 2006. Our site is lovely, large and very private. The nearest campsite is offset from ours so we don’t look into each other’s units. Friday night there were very few campers. Saturday night a goodly number, but the five loops are nowhere near full. Our site has 50 amp and water, some have just electric—either 50 amp or 30/20 amp. Some have no hookups at all. Venango and other nearby state and COE parks on the lake are used almost exclusively by local Kansans.

This morning we woke up to a humid, foggy morning. These Coloradans aren’t used to seeing 68 degrees be below the dew point. But the dew gave the park a mystical feeling for a couple of hours. Many artistic spiders had been at work overnight and the dew made their webs visible. It also gave a new beauty to dandelion seeds.

Especially during the past two summers, we have experienced many parks where we joined locals in their recreation. Tourists are unusual. We are able to get a feel for the local population and what is important for their leisure time. Here, beyond camping, there is swimming and boating on the lake. Last summer in Canada we stayed in several parks that offered extensive activities for both adults and children, who returned to the same park week after week. We have camped in state parks in Idaho, Mississippi, Utah, Arkansas, Texas, Alaska, Ohio, Iowa, Vermont and New York—maybe some other states I have forgotten—as well as our own Colorado State Parks. Many states provide beautiful camping experiences for their residents and the occasional tourist who happens by.
After we left Independence, MO, we stayed in the Lawrence, KS, KOA for four nights to do a little genealogy research. We had discovered which Kansas church John’s great-great-grandfather had served in the 1860s and 1870s, so we drove to Olathe for a visit. No one at the church knew much history, but the local library did contain a church history. Earlier, at the Mid-Continent Library in Independence and the Kansas History Library in Topeka, we located more information from microfilm of old newspapers about John’s great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. We also drove to the Eisenhower Veterans Hospital in Leavenworth, KS, where another great-great-grandfather had lived for several years in the Old Soldiers and Sailors Home. The buildings that were then—the turn of the last century—are still there, though most are not in use. How interesting to see a place important to our family over 100 years ago. When we leave Venango, we will continue our research in Kearny County in west

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Independence and Kansas City

Today we did our three-mile run on the streets where President Harry S. Truman used to walk in Independence, Missouri. This is a delightful small town, clean, easy to walk and run in. After our run, we toured the Truman home, operated by the National Park Service. Then we visited the Truman Library and Museum.

The home is much as it was when President Truman died in 1972. His wife, Bess, lived there 10 more years, but she made very few changes. She willed the house and
its contents to the people of the United States. The President’s hat and coat still hang by the door where he always kept them. The home shows the humble dwelling where our 33rd President regarded as home during his 18 years in the US Senate and as vice president and then president. It really looks like the 1950s, which is when they returned to Independence for good.

The Library is outstanding. The introductory film gave some background on Truman up to the day he was sworn in as president after FDR’s death. The exhibits highlight the many major issues President Truman had to deal with within the first year in office, as well as the massive changes that occurred over his eight years in office. It wasn’t a peaceful time and not easy for our citizens of our president—from the end of World War II to the Berlin Crisis to the Cold War and the Korean War, just to name a few.

Yesterday we went into downtown Kansas City, where we ate some barbeque and toured the World War I Monument and Museum. The monument is truly impressive and the museum gives good insights into why the war came about and the life of the soldiers who fought it, as well as the effects on civilians at home, both in Europe and the U.S.

Kansas Cit
y is called the city of fountains, and we saw several near the World War I memorial. One was delighting the children on a hot and sunny day. The other stands between the Memorial and Union Station.

It has been very hot here. We are so glad we were able to repair our air conditioner. When we were at Branson, we found it main air conditioner wasn’t working right. Set at 80, it would keep working until it froze up, even as the interior temperature got down to the low 70s. We realized that earlier in the season, the furnace had continued running till the temp was over 80. That probably meant it was the thermostat that was bad. We found an RV parts store and bought a new thermostat. Neither of us knows much about those things, but we installed it and it is working fine. That is very important when we want to leave for the day with our two cats in the RV.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

We move north in Missouri

Stockton Lake State Park in Missouri was a wonderful two-day stay. It is about midway between Branson and Kansas City. There are so many birds, it sounded like we were in an aviary. Summer Tanagers and Northern Orioles were the new birds for this year’s travels. When we arrived on Wednesday, the park was largely empty. The loop with 50-amp electric (where we had reserved a site, not knowing that more than half of the 50-amp sites would be empty) had only six other rigs. We enjoyed the large sites, the privacy and quiet. I put out two hummingbird feeders and we were able to watch several birds feeding. They were sure disappointed when we removed them and drove out of the park. When we started to set up our trailer, we saw lots of bugs. They next thing we noticed was that all the other campers were wearing long pants—despite the 85 degree heat. That was probably partly due to the fact most of them are Missouri farmers. But we decided they had a good idea and we wore jeans, as well. We still ended up with bites and one tick. We were able to ride bikes at Stockton Lake, as we did at both Indian Point and Horseshoe Bend.

We had nothing but sunshine at Stockton Lake, which was a real treat after two days of rain at Indian Point. One of the things we most enjoy about RVing is being outdoors. That isn’t possible in a driving rainstorm. I don’t know how much rain we received on Table Rock Lake. But Joplin was just a little north and west and they received 13+ inches in two days.

We attended a second show in Branson, Spirit of the Dance. It was a great troop of about 18-20 dancers who do marvelous numbers in a semi-Celtic dance style. They are amazing athletes. As time for the intermission approached, I found myself wishing it would hurry so they would have a little time to rest and catch their breath. They were really working hard.

Everywhere we went in Branson, we saw discount ticket outlets. We finally asked why there were so many. The area is rapidly growing, with new resorts and condominiums being built everywhere. Each resort and condo complex has a discount ticket outlet, where you get cheaper admission in return for a 1-3 hour sales presentation. We decided to pass on the sales pitch and pay full price.

I had forgotten about the joy of seeing lightning bugs around dusk in the humid mid-west. What a treat! I’d love to chase them with my grandchildren and see if we could catch any.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Branson Adventures

This is our fourth night at Indian Point Corps Park near Branson, Missouri. Two crows are talking to each other down the hill. As the sun sets, I can see it through the trees reflecting off Table Rock Lake. We love this park. We have extended our stay for three days, though we have to move to another site tomorrow to do that.

Today we attended the afternoon performance of the RFDTV—the Theater Revue with the Sons of Tennessee and Penny Gilley. A new venture of the 6-year-old cable channel, the audience at 3 pm was small. But the price was right. As subscribers to RFDTV Magazine, it was buy one – get one free. So we got two tickets for $25—a real bargain in Branson.

The two-year-old son of one of the Sons of Tennessee joined his dad and grandpa on stage. He was so focused and so cute. Penny is a very talented singer. The performance was very patriotic and brought tears to our eyes as the focused on our soldiers in war—especially since our son Doug will go to Iraq in September.

Earlier in the day we found this Walking Stick (that really is its name, according to our biology teacher son Eric) on our door frame. It is five inches long and we don’t know if it crawled or flew there. How interesting.

Yesterday was a lost day because we got so little sleep the night before. Thursday the weather news was filled with talk of the severe thunderstorms and tornado threat heading for the mid-west, from Michigan to Texas. That storm line went right through Kansas City and Branson. We went to sleep with the NOAA Weather Radio on and were awakened four times by alert signals regarding watches and warnings. At 4:30 am the most dramatic electric storm I’ve ever seen took place all around our trailer. Two lightning bolts were white explosions of light and sound right outside our windows. I’ve always enjoyed watching thunderstorms, but this was a little too close for comfort. Earlier in the day we had watched the noon fountain show at Branson Landing, where the waters played to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, accompanied by cannon-like tubes belching noise and fire. “Bombs bursting in air” was the effect there and again the next morning in the space around our RV. No pictures of the fountain show or the thunderstorm, I’m sorry to say.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A great anniversary

Today is our 42nd anniversary. Who could ask for a better day? We were able to run 3 miles at Horseshoe Bend Corps Park, where we spent the past 5 nights. While we were running, we saw 11 deer, including two does with fawns still covered with spots. Our cat Partner spent several minutes staring down a gray squirrel on our picnic table.

After a slow, twisting drive through the Mark Twain Forest to Table Rock Lake near Branson, MO, we discovered we have reserved a site in the best loop of the park. It is paved, level, private and beautiful. It also has both water and 50-amp electric. What more could you want at $8.50 a night? We will really enjoy our visit to Branson from this spot. We have seen white-
tailed deer here, also. And we have a three-toed box turtle right below our trailer pad. That sure got Partner’s attention. (Our other cat, PC, was car sick on the way here, so he isn’t enjoying anything. He wanted to eat, then sleep.)

It is really special to spend our anniversary doing what we most enjoy—traveling. And, at age 64, being able to run 3 miles is also special. Our National Parks Senior Pass, which gives us free entry to parks and half-price camping on all federal lands, is such a bonus. It makes the cost of our travels much more reasonable.

While staying at Horseshoe Bend, we spent a pleasant day at Eureka Springs, AR, and visited Pea Ridge N
ational Military Park, where John’s great-great-grandfather fought in the battle at Elkhorn Tavern and was injured. We were able to learn a lot about what he experienced there.