Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pullman National Monument

While in the Chicago area to visit our son, we went to the Pullman National Monument. This is a very new Monument (2015) and thus doesn't have a full visitor center or many displays. In the fall of 2020 it will have a big, new visitor center and displays in the old Pullman Car manufacturing building.

The monument isn't just about the famous Pullman Luxury rail cars but is more about the planned community that was designed and built for the workers and their families. The planned community was a vast improvement over the bad living conditions in the area and thus attracted the best people available. Of course, it seems all things must have their turmoil and this was no exception. The monument will tell the story of George Pullman, his family, the town of Pullman and of course the Pullman Palace Car Company. The current visitor center was created and managed by a local group (The Historic Pullman Foundation) many years ago after saving the town of Pullman from demolition. It will continue to serve until the National Park Service has had time to bring things up to their standard.

Most of the buildings in the town of Pullman still exist but residences have been privately owned for a hundred years. The condition, therefore, varies from place to place. We drove through the streets to check it out and it is still obvious that this was once a grand town. The community church and hotel still stand as monikers of the community. The Historic Pullman Foundation has been successful in keeping an historic community from being wiped and forgotten. Now the National Park Service will bring extensive help and exposure.

Cabinet from George Pullman's home

Hotel Florence

Watch Tower in old Pullman Palace
Car Company design and
manufacturing building. This will be
the new visitor center.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Memphis, TN and Springfield, IL

Beale Street - not busy on a hot day

After Little Rock we went to Memphis where we spent the better part of a day on Beale Street. We thought it would be longer and thought it would be more crowded.  We got lucky that it was not the least bit crowded during the day. We started at the Rock and Soul Museum which gives a comprehensive history of music in Memphis. It is very well done at a reasonable price and a good place to start. We then walked up Beale Street going into places like the A.Schwab dry goods store which opened in 1876. We ended up sitting and enjoying some live music at BB Kings Blues Club.

Illinois Old State Capitol
From Memphis we took a couple days to drive to Springfield Illinois. We went to a number of places in Springfield starting with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. This is a relatively new museum (2005) and is really nice and well done. It is not your typical museum with lots of artifacts but rather is one that tells the story of Lincolns life and presidency through high-tech displays and a Disney style film presentation.

Old State Capitol - second floor
We also toured the Old State Capitol which was fantastic. Completed in 1840 and used until 1876 as the Capitol, it has been fully restored and furnished with period furnishings. This is a wonderful building ranking among the best old state capitols we've toured (and we've done most of them).

Old State Capitol - House Chamber
 Then there is the current Illinois State Capitol. They started using it in 1876 but it was not completed until 1888. From the moment you walk in the door you are saying "wow". You are struck right away with colorful marble, murals on the ceiling, gold leafing and ornate carved trim. As you walk around you also see a grand staircase, elaborate columns, paintings, statues and relief scenes. This is a building to go out of your way to see and it ranks in our top 5 of the 45 Capitols we've toured. 
Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol rotunda

Wait, there's a lot more. Another impressive site in Springfield is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. This historic site's main attraction is the home that Abraham Lincoln lived in from 1884 to 1861 and is the only home he ever owned. The world was blessed that Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert, donated the home to the State of Illinois in 1887. With it came many of the furnishings used by the Lincoln family. The home is now owned and operated by the National Park Service which has subsequently purchased and is restoring the entire neighborhood surrounding Lincoln's home. This is a gem, a remarkable place.
Lincoln Home

Lincoln Home Parlor

Lincoln Home sitting room

Our final stop in Springfield was to tour the Dana-Thomas Home which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was one of Wright's first major Prairie-style houses. It is a very unique home with an interesting story. You can only see it by taking a guided tour but you want to do that anyway to get the full story. Pictures are not allowed inside so click on the link to see some because I have none to share. We really enjoyed the tour.
Illinois State Capitol House Chamber

Illinois State Capitol dome
Note the relief sculpture around the base

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hot Springs National Park

Part of Bathhouse Row
Hot Springs NP

From our RV base in Little Rock we drove about an hour to Hot Springs National Park. This is the nations smallest National Park at only 5,550 acres and is also unique because it is intertwined with the city of Hot Springs. The city has made an industry out of tapping and dispensing the park's mineral-rich waters from hot springs that flow from the slopes of Hot Springs Mountain.

More Bathhouse Row
The heart of this park is Bathhouse Row which is the main street of the city of Hot Springs. When Hot Springs prospered as a health spa in the mid-19th century, promoters piped and diverted the water into  bathhouses. Over time, the bathhouses grew in number, size and extravagance as they competed for business from people seeking the healing powers of the water. By the 1960's the healing powers were refuted by medicine, people stopped coming and the bathhouses began to shut down. In the 1980's the National Park Service began purchasing the buildings, fixing them up and repurposing them by leasing them out for businesses. Today they stand as a row of beautiful buildings with various purposes including a couple of them still as bathhouses. 

More Bathhouse Row

The park visitor center is in the former Fordyce Bathhouse which operated from 1915 to 1962. It was extensively restored by 1989 and is a really fun building to tour. The park also preserves the "recharge zone" of the springs, the slopes where rain and snow soak into the ground, and the "discharge zone" which contains 47 springs.  Each day, the park collects about 700,000 gallons of water for use in the public drinking fountains and bathhouses.
Visitor Center
Formerly Fordyce Bathhouse

There is a drive to an observation tower on Hot Springs Mountain where you can view the countryside. We did not do this so I have no firsthand information on the drive or view.

Individual soaking tub in Fordyce

Steam cabinet room in Fordyce

Dressing room in Fordyce Bathhouse

Assembly Room in
Fordyce Bathhouse - social

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Little Rock, Arkansas

Clinton Presidential Center
from pedestrian bridge

After three days of mostly driving, our next stop was Little Rock, Arkansas for a week long stay. We had been moving at an uncharacteristically fast pace so the first order of business was to spend a day, which turned into two days, getting caught up on "stuff" and not drive anywhere. Once we got that done, it was time to explore. 

Old State House Museum
Our RV park was right on the north side of the river with two pedestrian bridges providing easy walking to the city. We walked to the Clinton Presidential Center in about 10 minutes and downtown to the Old State House Museum in about a half hour. Walking everywhere felt really good after three days of driving.

Old State House -
1836 House Chamber
The Old State House Museum is in the original Arkansas State House (Capitol) built in 1836. The building has had quite a lot of work done and the work was continuing while we were there. The museum exhibits are not amazing and the building is very basic but with no admission fee we couldn't be disappointed.

The Clinton Presidential Center has a lot of windows that look out on the river and a park. Inside, one floor of exhibits gives a chronological list of events and accomplishments of the Clinton administration and another floor has a personal history complete with pictures and other memorabilia. There are a lot of gifts on display that he received while in office. We felt the exhibits were very well done with just the right amount of detail. There are also replicas of his Cabinet Room and the Oval Office.
Arkansas State Capitol
 We also toured the Arkansas State Capitol which is all white marble. It is very clean inside and out with no over-the-top garish decorating. In fact, there is very little decorating like paintings or even different colored marble. The few paintings and painted areas are up high and subtle. It is pleasant walking around with a very bright feeling from all of the white marble. We couldn't see the House Chamber or Supreme Court room because they were closed for renovation. 
Arkansas State Capitol rotunda

Our next attraction was the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. This is the site of the desegregation crisis in 1957 when nine Negro children required 11,500 soldiers to keep them safe. It is a disturbing story in American history but in the long run the resolve of those nine children and their families was a major turning point in the progress of integration and also was an important example of simply upholding the law and the constitution. If you don't know the story, it is too long and complex to describe here but you can find plenty to read about "The Little Rock Nine". 
Arkansas State Capitol
Senate Chamber dome ceiling

Arkansas State Capitol
Dome from rotunda 

Arkansas State Capitol
Stairs to Senate Chamber

Arkansas State Capitol
Governor's reception

Arkansas State Capitol
Senate Chamber

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Fort Smith National Historic Site

After leaving Carlsbad New Mexico we had several days of driving with a couple stops in the middle of the day to see things. The first day of driving got us to very hot and humid Abilene Texas where we just stopped for the night. We continued the next day to another sleep-only stop in Thackerville Oklahoma. The next day had a mid-day stop at the Oklahoma State Capitol for a tour.
Oklahoma Capitol - oil rig in front

We had done our research on the Capitol and knew there was restoration work going on but we decided to check it out anyway. It turns out the entire building, inside and out, was being worked on. Scaffolding and plastic covered a lot of the outside of the building and on the inside you could walk around, but there were a lot of workers (except the House and Senate Chambers) and construction areas. From what we saw, it wasn't all that interesting of a building on the inside anyway so we aren't sure if we'll come back in four years for another look when the work is done.
Entering rotunda of Capitol

The next day we also had a mid-route stop but this time it was for Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith Arkansas. Fort Smith basically had three lives. It was first built in 1817 to keep peace in the Arkansas River Valley between the native Osage and newly arriving Cherokee. This small fort was made of logs and stone at Belle Point. After only 5 years, it was abandoned and the fort rotted leaving only stone foundations. The second Fort Smith was built in 1838 due to an unfounded fear of Indian attack. It ended up just becoming an important supply depot for westward migration.
Fort Smith - Visitor Center
Was Barracks-Courthouse-Jail
Fort Smith Commissary 

The military permanently closed the fort in 1871 but left behind a thriving community which began life number three for the fort. The military barracks became a courthouse and a jail and the commissary was converted into living quarters. The courthouse was used by the famous Judge Isaac Parker, aka the hanging judge, before a new courthouse was built.

The National Park Service really did a great job, as usual, on this historic site. The building restoration was superb and the displays in the visitor center were comprehensive and very well done. Only two buildings and gallows remain but foundations for buildings from both forts are clearly marked and described.
Oklahoma State Capitol Senate
Fort Smith Gallows

Oklahoma State Capitol 
Oklahoma State Capitol House

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Moving right along - this is not our normal pace but with the high heat (low 100's) we aren't inclined to hang around places. Next stop, Carlsbad New Mexico to go to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This is a long time bucket list stop that has finally fit into travel plans. We could have come here many times in the winter as we were fairly close, but, in the winter you don't see the epic flight of the bats because they aren't there.

The thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats that call the cave their summer home, migrate south to Mexico in late October or early November. They will come back in April or May. When they come back the females are already pregnant and will give birth in June. By August the young bats are already almost full grown and will take their first flights out of the cave with the adults.

The nightly exodus of the bats can be viewed at an amphitheater near the natural entrance of the cave. A ranger gives a talk a little prior to the expected flight time preparing visitors on what to expect and the rules to follow. The main rules are to be quiet and all electronic devices need to be turned off including cameras. These things mess up the bats natural sonar system. We had a clear, perfect evening with a rising full moon and we were rewarded by the spectacular show of the waves of hundreds, maybe thousands of bats at a time swirling out of the cave and flying off across the horizon to feed. Forget the camera, mental pictures are the best - especially in low light conditions trying to capture a speeding bat.

I admit that coming to Carlsbad Caverns hit the bucket list many years ago for the flight of the bats. But let me tell you, you have to tour the caves, too! I had no idea how spectacular the caves were. We did the guided Kings Palace tour and then walked the self guided tour around the Big Room. All total, we walked 3 miles in the cave. Take the guided tour because you will see incredible rooms only seen with a guide and you will learn a ton of interesting information from the guide which adds to the experience. How many times can I say spectacular? We've toured quite a few caves and this one is right at the top of the enjoyment list. A word of warning, the wait for the elevator down and up can be long so plan accordingly. An hour wait to get the ride up is not uncommon and it can be longer.

I took pictures in the cave (as mentioned, none during the bat flight) but they didn't come out great. I'll include a few to try to give an idea.

On Kings Palace tour

On Kings Palace tour

On Kings Palace tour

On Kings Palace tour

Lions Trails in Big Room

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

When we left Las Cruces New Mexico we drove south to El Paso and then east to make a stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In doing research prior to the trip we knew this was just going to be a short stop because this national park is all rugged land which can only be explored via hiking. With no campgrounds that will fit a RV our size within a hundred miles, combined with the temperature between 90 and 100, as much as I love to hike, hiking here wasn't in the cards on this trip. We were able to squeeze through the parking area of the Pine Springs Visitor Center and snuggle along the side of the road long enough to go in and find out what this park is all about and get information for a future hiking trip. 

The Guadalupe Mountains are among the best examples of a marine fossil reef formed 260-270 million years ago when a tropical ocean covered the area. The park preserves this extraordinary phenomenon and hosts geologists from around the world that come to marvel at this rare wonder. Over half the park, 47 thousand acres, is designated as protected wilderness. 

We did take time to do a little walk to the Butterfield Stagecoach Station ruins. The walk is a 3/4 mile paved nature walk that ends near a couple of stone walls. It got the blood flowing again after a 3 hour drive.