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Spring Break 2015, Day 5: Bench Rock Nature Trail

March 20, 2015

On the last day of our Spring Break vacation, Wendy and I packed out of our cabin at Sugar Ridge and drove only four miles along Beaver Lake to the Indian Creek Public Use Area. There we hiked 1.5 miles on the Bench Rock Nature Trail.

Bench Rock Nature Trail (click map for slideshow)

Wendy at the trailhead

Wendy posed for me at the trailhead, and I examined the posted map, only to promptly head the “wrong way” on the trail, at least according to the arrows on the posted markers. Wendy said there was a set of steps leading up the bluff back at the trailhead, so we flipped about. Sure enough, there were the steps and a very obvious arrow sign to guide us in the intended direction. Wendy is very tolerant of my wanderings!

The early part of the trail was buried in leaves, but soon it turned at a bluff line and began hewing very closely to the edge of the bluff, with a drop-off on the lake side of 20 to 40 feet. A segment of bluff resembled a stack of pancakes, with moss for syrup.

This trail really hugged the edge of the bluff

This trail was not kid-friendly, as it hugged the very edge of the bluff with loose rock and soil underfoot. It eventually relaxed a bit, ducking away from the edge, when the ground became a bed of pebbles. The trail had plenty of metal blaze badges, and a helpful sign indicating when it forked, where we turned to wrap back around to the trailhead.

There it descended to follow an old road bed back below the bluff line. A tree leaning far over the trail was tempting to climb for a pose, but I found the bark far too wet and slippery for that. There were still some leaves with color below the bluff, and trees covered in lichen.

Leaning over the trail

Bluff Shelter

Eventually the road passed a short side trail which led to a bluff shelter overhang. Signage indicated that the shelter here was a typical one used by Indians. More signage propped up under the narrow shelf speculated that the Indians who once sheltered here eventually migrated south to the Caddoan Mound Builders area. Wendy and I visited the Spiro Mounds site in Oklahoma back in November 2013.

The shelter here was quite narrow, not affording much protection when compared to the large shelter at nearby Blue Spring, which was once excavated for artifacts.

After the hike, we drove home by way of Bella Vista, stopping for lunch at J.J.’s Grill. Wendy loved their mac and cheese, and I had a decent “Prime Rib Samach”. It wasn’t as good as what Charleston’s used to serve, but I still enjoyed it.

Returning on a Friday allowed us to get some chores and work done over the weekend before heading back to school. It has been a rough school year, and Spring Break was a much-needed refresher.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

< Days 3 & 4: Sugar Ridge

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in photos


Spring Break 2015, Days 3 & 4: Another Drowning, but not at Beaver Lake

March 18-19, 2015

Day 3: A Drowning

The third day of our Spring Break 2015 vacation was rainy and bleak, so it was a good day for me to drown…again. Every time I’ve gone to an exhibit about the infamous sinking of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, I’ve been given a card identifying me with some male passenger or member of the crew, so that I could look for linked objects and information in the exhibit and find out, near the end, if that person survived. Given that only 1 out of 5 males aboard survived, it is no surprise that every man I’ve been assigned ended up dying in the disaster.

RMS Titanic (click photo for slideshow)

Most of my life I’ve been fascinated by the story of the Titanic going down on its maiden voyage, my interest first peaked by the 1953 movie version. It strays far from historical accuracy and concentrates its attention on Clifton Webb‘s and Barbara Stanwyck‘s troubled marriage and the story arc of Clifton’s character redeeming himself in the final hour. But that flawed film led me to Walter Lord’s great 1955 book, A Night To Remember. They say that the 1958 movie based on Lord’s book is the most historically accurate version. The best known movie version, James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster, has impressive effects and attention to detail, but primary characters which are entirely fictional.

The ship became a worldwide sensation when Bob Ballard located the wreckage in 1985. It was thrilling when, back in the 1990s, we were able to bring Mr. Ballard to Bartlesville for an evening community presentation and a talk to science teachers as part of a science teacher workshop sponsored by Phillips 66. He was a wonderful speaker, and he has long been an outspoken critic of salvaging items from the wreck. So I always feel a bit queasy about Titanic exhibits of salvaged items, although they are interesting.

Branson has a large Titanic museum on music row, one of a few temporary and permanent collections around the country. In previous visits to this and other exhibits, I’ve drowned as a member of the crew and as a passenger. This time, Wendy was with me and got the card for a second class passenger who survived the sinking, albeit only for a year, while I was a poor third class immigrant. The moment I saw our cards, I knew the cold waters of the Atlantic would claim me while she would likely be spared; only 16% of the male third class passengers survived, versus 86% of female second class passengers.

Southwest to Sugar Ridge

We enjoyed the exhibit and then journeyed westward along the full length of Table Rock Lake, although by car rather than ocean liner, to reach an upstream entry in the chain of lakes along the former White River: Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. I spent thirty years of my life vacationing at the west end of Table Rock Lake at my parents’ vacation home near Eagle Rock, so I am intimately familiar with the Eureka Springs area just northwest of the lake.

Last June, Wendy and I greatly enjoyed our stay at Sugar Ridge Resort on a bluff above the lake, so we returned there for the second half of this vacation. I’ve been tremendously overworked this school year by a greater number of demanding and overlapping projects than I’ve ever undertaken: school construction and reconfiguration with lots of work at BHS and science lab work at three different sites, extensive teacher appraisal system work, science textbook adoption, a $1.7 million dollar STEM grant at three different sites, and much more on top of my usual teaching load, which itself has been made harder by a new AP Physics 1 curriculum. Wendy has also had a rough year in her always-demanding work as a special education teacher. So we were looking forward to rest and relaxation at Sugar Ridge.

The view from our cabin at Sugar Ridge

We stopped for breakfast groceries at Hart’s in Eureka Springs, and found that the lake was shrouded from view by fog and mist when we arrived at our ridgetop cabin. Dinner was at the always-good Local Flavor in Eureka Springs since Ermilio’s, as usual, had a very long wait.

Sugar Ridge Area Stops

Story Time

Story Time

We snuggled in at the cabin for a relaxing evening, with Wendy reading to me “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor, while I read to her “The Last Night of the World” by Ray Bradbury and “The Recollection” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

As with our previous visit, a raccoon enjoyed the birdseed out on the deck, entertaining us when we weren’t entertaining each other with story time.

Day 4: Slow Day at Sugar Ridge

Relaxing at Sugar Ridge

Cloudy and colder weather gave Wendy and me a good excuse to relax at our cabin for much of the next day, watching and photographing birds of various species who were dining on the birdseed the raccoon had not finished off the night before.

The day gradually brightened, and we finally had an early dinner at Myrtie Mae’s and drove over to Beaver town to hike the short trail along the old railroad grade for a nice 0.75 mile out-and-back stroll.

Beaver Railroad Grade Trail

It was nice to walk along the shore and through the gap blasted through the rock bluff, with reflected views of the old suspension bridge and a nearby home. Castle Rogue’s Manor loomed up on the bluff; I’d love to visit that interesting venue some day.

The following and final day of our vacation would start with a nice hike on a trail new to us, the nearby Bench Rock Trail at Indian Creek.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Day 5: Bench Rock Nature Trail >

Day 2: Foster’s Museum & Owen’s Forest

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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel


Spring Break 2015, Day 2: Foster’s Museum & Owen’s Forest

March 17, 2015

Wendy and I spent the second day of our Spring Break getaway in Branson. We visited the odd Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks and hiked some of the trails at Lyle Owen’s Lakeside Forest above Lake Taneycomo just off the strip.

Branson Sites (click map for slideshow)

Ralph Foster Museum

Ralph Foster Museum

A bird collection in a men’s dormitory basement at the School of the Ozarks grew over time to include a multitude of items which eventually took over the entire dorm, turning it into the self-proclaimed “Smithsonian of the Ozarks.” The possibly unintended humor of that description applies to what became the Ralph Foster Museum when that radio mogul of southwest Missouri, founder of KWTO (“Keep Watching The Ozarks”) and of 1950s television’s Ozark Jubilee, donated money and a considerable number of artifacts. Repeated expansions have created a building that is as disjointed as the collections, which range from museum-quality displays of guns (and animals shot by guns) to cringe-worthy amateurish displays of someone’s treasures which others might term junk. A glimpse of the diversity of the collection is provided by its online Artifact of the Month entries.

Admission was $6 each, and my heart sank upon discovering that the front half of the first floor was a poorly lit assemblage of “special collections” of antique dolls, clocks, and furniture. Thankfully it turned out the museum shows its worst stuff first, hiding better displays upstairs.

The museum’s most famous item is there on the first floor: the cut-down 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster which was the truck used in the original Beverly Hillbillies television series. The show’s producer, Paul Henning, also created Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. If you know those shows, you can guess that he grew up nearby and drew upon his background for those rural comedies.

Beverly Hillbillies Truck

Henning bequeathed to the state over 1500 acres for a conservation area and gave to the School of the Ozarks the famous truck, which visitors to the museum can pay to sit in and have their picture taken, with Uncle Jed, Granny, Jethro, Ellie May, Mr. Drysdale, and Miss Hathaway as backup. Wendy and I declined to spend over $10 for the privilege. Instead we took, in the dim lighting, blurry but free photos of the truck and the creepy dolls lurking nearby. It turned out that Rose O’Neill, the inventor of the Kewpie doll, spent much of her life in the region.

Wendy liked the 1940s-era wood carvings by a Mr. Gallagher and was intrigued by the coral jewelry on display, which was worn in the Civil War era. I admired a 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental automobile.


The other half of the first floor was the art gallery, which had a few nice works and some execrable ones. My favorite was the oil painting Spring by Mary (Lee) Ilena O’Neill, the younger sister of Rose O’Neill of Kewpie doll fame. The painting is deteriorating badly but was intriguing with its personification of the season in a tree forming into a human figure.

Wendy attacks

Our favorite part of the museum was on the upper floor, with an 8,000-pound mountain diorama with goats, coyotes, and other North American animals along with many other stuffed animals, including lions and a number of bears. There were some interesting poses, and Wendy participated in one exhibit. I used my camera to menace some museum guests with one of the polar bears, while Wendy used hers to make a lion peer over a wall at us.

A lion peers at us

Back to Branson

What are YOU looking at?

After we toured the museum, we drove north into Branson for lunch at Godfather’s Pizza. The previous night Wendy had been delighted by the 43′ tall chicken at the Great American Steak & Chicken House, so we drove by for daytime snapshots of it and its disturbing gaze. Then we drove just a block off the strip at the Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area for a day hike.

The Lakeside Forest

The area that is now the Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area was first homesteaded in the mid 1800s by Bill Berry, who settled his claim to the land by trading for it a mule and a barrel of molasses. Wilbur Winchester built a three-room stone vacation home on the land in 1911. In the early 1930s, 90 acres were sold by Winchester, at $14/acre, to Dr. Lyle Owen, who taught economics at the University of Tulsa. During the McCarthy period some people referred to him as “Red Lyle”, with a graduate student explaining, “His ‘hue’ consisted of, (1) trying to get the students to look at economic systems as they really were, not as the propaganda said they were, and (2) giving assistance to the poor.” The student also related that:

Owen was actually more renowned for his grading system in his introductory course of American Government. All questions were true-false, but he penalty graded, meaning that, if you got a question correct, you received one point, but, if you got one wrong, you lost two points. This discouraged guessing and getting correct answers by sheer 50-50 chance. This could result in a student getting a negative grade. But Owen told his students the first day of class that, in the event they had a negative score, he would magnanimously raise their grade to ‘a respectable zero.’

Lyle Owen was born in Kiowa County, Oklahoma Territory in 1906, and the family later lived in Oklahoma City, moving to Erie, Kansas when he was 12 and on to Branson in 1923, where he finished his final year of high school, living with his parents across Lake Taneycomo along Coon Creek. In 1987 he related this tale about his move to the hilltop site in Branson:

I still have an amusing memory of my early moving, from my folks’ Coon Creek home to my new-bought house on the opposite side of Branson, about a four mile move. I bought my place 46 years ago, in 1934, when still in my twenties, and our family didn’t have a car then, to take over the things I wanted to borrow from them for use at the new place. I needed first a bunch of tools, and also our old iron-wheeled wheelbarrow. So I pushed that contraption, loaded full of tools, the whole rocky, rattling distance. Those four miles were all unpaved then, and my load made quite a racket. I pushed down the Coon Creek trail, around the Seven Falls way and along the present Lakeshore Drive, across the old Main Street bridge leading into town, up that long Main Street hill, and on out what is now West 76 Highway to Fall Creek Road, where I turned into my place. I am amused when I think about how impossible that wheelbarrowing would be now, what with West 76 traffic competition and all. But I did it way back in those simple, unpaved, days. My house is about 300 feet higher than the river, so there was a good deal of uphill pushing. And the barrow had the iron wheel of those days, not a modern pneumatic rubber tire.

Owen House

Owen House

His mother moved into the house in 1936 and lived there for over 30 years. His father was a wanderer who finally settled in his final years at the house in Branson with his wife until he died in 1962 at age 95. Dr. Owen retired there himself in 1973, and his mother died in 1981 at age 104. In 1998 Lyle Owen sold all but the seven acres around his home to the city for use as a public natural wilderness area and passed away a few years later. In 2010 the city acquired the homestead itself, and there are now six different trails on the property. Dr. Owen remarked in 1999:

One wonders, as the years go by, and he gets older and older, what he ever did that was wise. In thinking back, one of the things I think I did that was right, was buying the land and preserving it for the present and the future. And so I hope that people enjoy it for many years, as I have during my long ownership of that land.

Our Hike

Our hike at Lakeside Forest

The trailhead and parking lot, with a good restroom, is located right off Highway 76 on Fall Creek Road. Wendy and I hiked all of the Bluff Trail, following its route off the park map all of the way to the east property line. Our return was along parts of the Stone Wall and Owen Drive trails for a total hike of about three miles. The trails begin on level ground at the top of the property, and we walked about one-half mile south to the stone house. There was a sweeping view of a curve of Lake Taneycomo 250 feet below us, and on the opposite shore were the green lower fields of the College of the Ozarks. We could see a guy using a tractor out on the fields. With my camera’s zoom lens I could get a good view of the Keeter Center where we were staying.

Great view of Lake Taneycomo

Impressive stairs

The trail intersected the first flight of a total of 338 stone stairs which Dr. Owen and six paid laborers, including his brothers Max and Dale, installed down the bluff in 1937 and 1938 to reach a ledge above the lake which has several caves. Their work was well designed and quite durable, including nice curves. At the bottom, one step is inscribed with a start date of August 5, 1937 and a finish date of August 10, 1938 and the names Dave Layton, Layne Russell, Max Owen, Lyle Owen, Dale Owen, C.W. Sare, and Wilbur Lee. Another inscription reads:

Let those who tread here not forget, that these steps were not made of stone and mortar alone, but of sweat, blood, and agony.

We were certainly glad to benefit from their hard work! I later discovered the stairs were the aftermath of a project that built 360 feet of mortared wall flower beds and 200 feet of retaining walls around the home. The large pile of unused rock at the end of the wall-building program set off the stairs project.

One stairway landing had a large cleft in the rock that could serve as a tight shelter. At the bottom, a rock ledge led northeast along the bluff line to the Grotto, a large rock cutout which has a waterfall during rainstorms. A lady was situated there, awaiting the rest of her party who had made their way across and up to the next trail segment. I was glad she was there to provide scale for the scene.

The Grotto

Civil War Cave entrance

Wendy and I clambered across to climb the other side and followed the trail onward to the Old Soldier’s Cave, which served as a hideout during the Civil War for local gunsmith Calvin Gaylor. In 1862, at age 38, he sought refuge in the cave to avoid “helping the other side” during the war, when there was a real threat of being press-ganged into service. His wife would sneak out to the cave after dark to bring him food, up above what was then White River. There is a lot of my father’s family history in this area of the Ozarks, with ancestors serving on both sides of the Civil War. Calvin’s story reminded me of one of my great-great-grandfathers, who was shot and killed by Union guards while crossing White River many miles upstream from Branson at Golden Ford near Mano. My father still has the vest his great-grandfather was wearing, complete with bullet hole.

The cave which sheltered Calvin Gaylor has a single room about 20 feet across and up to seven feet in height, with a narrow entrance that was difficult to spot back in the war. As a boy, Dr. Owen was led to the cave by Calvin Gaylor’s great grandson, which prompted him to purchase another 40 acres in 1940 adjacent to his original purchase so as to include the cave.

Wendy above the second cave

Farther along the bluff trail I posed along a large rock shelf, and Wendy posed on an outcropping directly above the entrance to a second cave. It was a cleft which wriggled back into the rock some ways before finally shrinking to an end. We could easily walk through most of it.

The next landmark was a large rock outcropping from the bluff with large holes through it. I made a half-sphere photosynth out of it to allow one to view it in 3D, and Wendy enjoyed scrounging for interesting rocks. She managed to find one with crystals, something she always treasures.

Rock outcropping

Eventually the trail ended at a neglected set of stone stairs leading upward. We climbed them, but the trail only led a short way over to the final stream on the property and then faded away. Descending the steep stairs, whose railings were long gone, we ventured over to the bottom of the final stream, where I shot a full-sphere photosynth.

We then made our way down to the shore of Lake Taneycomo, where a couple of fishermen were out in a boat. The bluff was on our right for the trek back to climb the hundreds of stairs back up to Dr. Owen’s house.

The view from the Owen home

After ascending to the top, we admired the panoramic view of the lake and the fields. Up top were the remains of the gardens where Stella Owen, Lyle’s mother, grew wildflowers and peaches. In the 1940s Dr. Owen’s three children would spend weekends and vacations at the homestead. At the end of each day, they would head down to Lake Taneycomo to clean up, and Lyle Owen would send them down the stairs with coffee cans. Each trip up, they’d bring a can of soil from the banks of Taneycomo for the flower beds and vegetable gardens. After World War II he was able to get the house hooked up to electric power, although it would never have air conditioning, just electric ceiling fans and a wood-burning stove.

One of Owen’s many walls

Wendy and I plan to return some day to the Lakeside Forest to walk the remaining trails, but the daylight was waning, and the forecast called for rain throughout the next day. So we followed the wall along the northwest side of the homestead northeast until it petered out, and then we followed the old driveway back to the trailhead. Driveway is somewhat a misnomer, given that Lyle Owen sold the only car he ever owned when he graduated from college. He must have been a very interesting fellow; he certainly left a lasting legacy.

Dinner was at a burger joint along the strip, and the next day’s weather would keep us indoors, visiting the Titanic Museum in Branson and then driving westward the full length of Table Rock Lake to reach our rented cabin on Sugar Ridge above Beaver Lake.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Day 3: Beaver Lake >

< Day 1: Jubilee in Branson

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel


Spring Break 2015, Day 1: Jubilee in Branson

March 16, 2015

Wendy and I began our Spring Break 2015 separately, with her enjoying some antique and thrift store shopping in Claremore while I ventured to Wichita, Kansas to visit the Wichita Art Museum. Wendy discovered a disturbing doll and other troubling items, while I enjoyed seeing a father hoisting his young son overhead for a close-up of Chihuly’s Confetti Chandelier.

Art appreciation in Wichita

But on Monday we reunited for a five-day getaway to Branson, Missouri and Beaver Lake in Arkansas.

Day 1 Trip Map (click map for slideshow)


Our cupcakes from The Cup

We had a lunch stop at Houlihan’s in Springfield, Missouri, where I enjoyed a wonderfully prepared French Dip. Then we headed downtown for decadently delicious cupcakes from The Cup. I say decadent since each of their cupcakes packs in 500 Calories, which is rather ridiculous.

Also ridiculous, but amusing, was the odd parking meter sculpture on the nearby street corner. It turned out to be a “giving meter” for which the proceeds go to charity; the city has installed a number of these in an attempt to reduce panhandling.

We were glad to see that the 1910 Woodruff building is being renovated, and I took some video of the large crane elevator along one side of it. The building will become the Sky Eleven high rise, with space on the bottom floor for shops and restaurants, while the rest will be residential units, recently refocused on student housing. The building had a handsome exterior back in the early 1900s, but a late 1950s expansion apparently gave it an unfortunate aqua veneer which the new developers will evidently embrace.


Our vacation would begin with three days in Branson, which boomed in my lifetime to become a significant entertainment destination with a slew of live music shows. My parents had a vacation home on Table Rock Lake for thirty years, but it was on the opposite end of the lake at Eagle Rock. We mainly visited Branson for Silver Dollar City, and I don’t recall seeing any music shows there until my father and I saw Shoji Tabuchi’s act when I was an adult, although I did hear the Foggy River Boys back in the early 1970s, back before they moved to a Branson theater. I did not hear that group at their Kimberling City theater, but at coon hunts held in Thomas Hollow west of Exeter at Basil and Glee Duncan’s homestead, where my grandparents would always be camped out in their tiny trailer.

Branson thrift store treasures

When Wendy and I decided to visit Branson, which she had never seen before, I had her pick out a music show for us. She picked one of the oldest acts in town, and after lunch Wendy and I drove south to the Branson Tourism Center to pick up the tickets I had reserved. Then we drove downtown and shopped in the old 5 and 10 and several thrift stores, where we found more creepy dolls, a Foxy Lady, salt and pepper skulls, and disco outfits. Thankfully we passed on all of these treasures.

Dining and Lodging at the College of the Ozarks

Then we drove to the College of the Ozarks, a storied school known these days as “Hard Work U” because its students work instead of paying tuition. The concept arose in 1901 when a pastor encountered a boy on a squirrel hunt whose parents couldn’t afford to send him to the closest high school 40 miles away in Springfield. The School of the Ozarks opened in 1907 as a tuition-free high school whose students worked to earn their keep, with support including a donation from some of the founders of Nabisco. It soon moved to Point Lookout south of Branson, and in the 1950s it expanded and became a junior college, then became a four-year college in 1965, and became the College of the Ozarks in 1990.

My father introduced me to the school’s restaurant years ago, with dishes featuring food grown on the campus and prepared and served by students. All of the college’s students must work 15 hours a week at an on-campus work station and two 40-hour work weeks during break. On this trip, Wendy and I would not only enjoy their labors in a nice dinner, but over a two-night stay on campus.

The central building of the campus back in the early 20th century was the Maine Hunting and Fishing Club building, which had been transported to the site by sportsmen from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. It was renamed the Dobyns Building in honor of W. R. Dobyns, president of the trustees at the time. The building burned on February 1, 1930 but has been somewhat recreated in the Keeter Center, which has the Dobyns Dining Room as well as beautiful suites at the Mabee Lodge. We stayed in a 672 square foot Loft Suite, which was a spectacular room featuring turn-down service each night where students bring you fresh milk from the campus dairy, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and pillow chocolates. A student had called the week before so that our refrigerator could be pre-stocked with free water and soft drinks of our choice, and we were pleasantly surprised to also find a campus-created bag of potato chips, shortbread, and granola bar in our room.

Loft Suite at the Keeter Center’s Mabee Lodge

We had dinner at the Dobyns Dining Room, with me ordering the Keeter Cordon Bleu with campus ham, while Wendy enjoyed the Pork Pomodoro, proclaiming her pork medallions the best she’d ever tasted. We indulged in delicious campus ice cream for dessert and were spoiled the next morning with a hot breakfast brought to and set out in our room by a student. Every student was extremely polite and cheerful, making us feel special. It was a great experience through and through.

Presley’s Country Music Jubilee

Our evening entertainment was the classic Presleys’ Country Music Jubilee. Three years before I was born, the Presley family began a music show at The Underground Theater near Talking Rocks Cavern in Kimberling City, and they made history in 1967 when they built the first music theater on Highway 76, which is now renowned for its collection of music shows and other attractions.

Today, Presleys’ Country Jubilee stars multiple generations of Presley family members and features a variety of musical styles on a wide range of instruments.

Gary Presley provided his classic cornpone humor as “Herkimer” and was joined by his son as “Cecil” in fun skits to break up the rapid succession of musical numbers. It was like being at a live version of the old Hee Haw television show.

Beyond the Presley family, Wendy and I both enjoyed the singing and sincerity of Jay Wickizer and Bruce Haynes, although she didn’t care for Chuck Crain’s high tenor. Here is a sample of these singers as a gospel quartet with Crain singing tenor, lead by Tim Gregg, baritone by Haynes, and bass by Wickizer:

It was a fun-filled first day, and the next day would find us touring the odd Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks and hiking just off the Branson strip along the bluff of Lake Taneycomo.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Day 2: Foster’s Museum and Owen’s Forest >

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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in photos, travel, video


Tenkiller Trail Trials

February 7, 2015

The first Saturday in early February 2015 was a warm day with a high around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That convinced Wendy and me to make a 270 mile daytrip to Tenkiller Ferry Lake to hike a couple of short trails on its northern and southern ends. I first visited Lake Tenkiller in quest of hiking trails back in May 2010, only to be rebuffed by the overgrown Gum Springs trail at the eponymous state park and disappointed by the paved trail through the park. Wendy and I visited the area in early November, driving along the northeastern shore of the lake as part of a Tahlequah daytrip, and promised ourselves to return later to hike three short trails scattered along the lake shore. We’d hit two of those three trails on this outing, eager for new trails neither of us had ever hiked.

Tenkiller Trip (click map for slideshow)

We left Bartlesville around 10 a.m. and stopped 55 miles down the road at the Full Moon Cafe in Broken Arrow for lunch. The food was fine, but the waitress was fairly hopeless. She did offer to compensate with a free dessert, but we passed, not needing an unnecessary dessert to weigh us down on uncertain trails. Another 70 miles of driving took us southeastward down the all-too-familiar but thankfully speedy Muskogee turnpike and across to Lake Tenkiller, passing the enormous Greenleaf Nursery as we wound our way around to the Standing Rock area on the lake’s northeast shore.

Remnant of the Standing Rock Nature Trail

Lake nature trails in Oklahoma are often poorly maintained, and Tenkiller is no exception. A 1988 article claims:

Spectacular stone formations, huge boulders and frequent glimpses of the lake can be seen along the 1 1/4-miles Standing Rock Nature Trail. This path is made up of two loops, each with two segments: Big Pine and Three Sisters on the first loop, and Big Cedar and Hi-Knob on the second.

And the Tulsa Audubon Society mentions the Standing Rock Nature Trail trail in its entry on Lake Tenkiller. But Wendy and I found no signs or marked parking areas or trailheads, only a wide spot off the road at its intersection with Whippoorwill, where a freshly bulldozed utility right-of-way led due west down to the lake shore. I found a dim trail leading directly southwest, which was sufficient for us to lace up our boots and head out. We’d only find a trace of the promised trails.

Standing Rock area tracks

Wendy find a geocache

The trail soon led by several large boulders projecting out of the soil; I don’t know if they are the eponymous standing rocks or not. The dim trail led onward, with a view of the lake through the trees, until the trail began a very steep descent to the water. As we carefully made our way down, sharp-eyed Wendy spotted a plastic box tucked under a ledge. It was a geocache; I last stumbled onto one years ago. This one was in good shape, with a notebook to log our visit and various tchotchkes. I deposited a gold dollar, while Wendy donated a little packet of fizzy rocks candy and a DumDum sucker. This cache has been in place since 2007, although its notebook log only had a few entries from recent years. We returned the cache to the ledge and I camouflaged it with some stones and pieces of bark.

Treacherous bluff

It was treacherous making our way down the eroded bluff to the shoreline, and I slid partway and Wendy skinned up one hand on an unexpected slide. As we were bandaging her hand, the wind blew off my hat, flipping it into the water of a small cove. I had to immerse my boots and lower legs to wade out and retrieve my trusty Tilley, so I spent the rest of the day squishing around in my boots.

Fossil imprints

Some fishermen were nearby, drifting along the shore, with a couple of powerboats out on the lake. The rock we were treading on had thick cracking layers we could pry apart with our bare hands. We carefully made our way upslope, and I bushwhacked about, hoping to find another segment of trail, but nothing turned up. Meanwhile, Wendy was finding rocks with embedded crystals and fossil imprints. Bushwhacking turned up no more trail segments as we made our way back to the car.

End of the trail

Curious, we then followed the bulldozed pathway leading due west down to the shore, discovering that it was an AT&T fiber optic cable right-of-way. Two fiber optic lines emerged from the soil and headed down into the lake. The fishermen who had been near us before at the end of the old trail were making their way along the shore. We climbed back up to the car and headed off for another trail. A map from 1982 shows a small nature trail loop a bit east of our initial hike, so maybe some more trail remnants are there, leading down to the end of the cove where my hat went for a float, and I wonder if a loop once climbed the knob hill southeast of where we hiked. When we return to Tenkiller for the Buzzard Roost trail we might poke around this area some more.

Overlook/Island View Nature Trail

Looking at the hours of daylight left, we saved the Buzzard Roost trail at Cato Creek for a return trip. We drove almost 20 miles down the eastern shore of the lake to cross the dam and park our car at the nearby Overlook Park. A trail there is often called the Overlook Trail, but it is marked at the trailhead as the Island View Nature Trail. It was promised to lead along the lake shore northwest to the United Methodist Boys Ranch, a group home for foster children. The Corps website says that a second leg of the trail is under construction toward the Strayhorn Landing campground, but we found that to be out of date.

Overlook/Island View trail track


From the overlook we could glimpse the dam and a couple of islands. We found the trailhead and soon passed a bluff, but it offered a limited view of the lake below. Occasionally along the trail we could see through the winter-bared trees the lake and its islands, but the views would be largely blocked in summer.

Maintained trail

After the earlier hike along an abandoned trail, it was nice to be on a maintained trail which had decent stream crossings, including wooden bridges that show signs of both wear and maintenance. One longer bridge even had hand rails with recent repairs; the Student Conservation Association did some great maintenance on this section of trail back in 2012.

We eventually reached a fork; the right branch looked less travelled, and we took it first. Soon we reached a failed bridge, where Wendy was a damsel in distress, and I pretended I was Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, breaking the bridge at Khazad-Dum.

Damsel in distress

The trail on the other side of the bridge was much fainter, but could still be made out by its linear depression and occasional rock curbs. We passed flotsam deposited by high waters, and the trail eventually petered out where it approached a private home with its own tennis and basketball courts, with a large boat anchored nearby. We saw some large moss-covered rocks along the bluff and a large vine which had once coiled around a now-destroyed tree. Its coils resembled a snake gorging on a meal. Sharp-eyed Wendy found a rock with a heart-shaped hole.

Mossy rocks

We returned to the fork and followed the maintained trail up to the Boys Ranch trailhead. Wendy readily admits she has a poor sense of direction and was crestfallen when we reached the parking area and she realized it was the far end of the trail, not the trailhead where we had parked. We hiked under four miles this day, but steep elevation changes, faint trails, and some bushwhacking took their toll. We were both glad when we returned to the car; the winter weather has prevented us from hiking as much as we would like and our endurance has eroded.

We drove back to Tulsa for dinner at Chopsticks and then returned to Bartlesville. Tenkiller continues the pattern seen across Oklahoma, where lakeside trails vary considerably in their maintenance and a good fraction are abandoned. Arkansas has far more great trails, but few novel ones are left within daytrip range, and both Wendy and I face workloads which make overnight travel something limited to longer breaks. We both look forward to returning to Missouri and Arkansas for part of Spring Break; meanwhile we’ll enjoy familiar trails and the occasional novelty within daytrip range.

Click here for a slideshow from this daytrip

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Posted by on February 8, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel


Beautiful Skies Above Elk City Lake

January 24, 2015

Wendy and I hiked 4.15 miles from the south end of the Table Mound Trail up at Elk City Lake in Kansas. The skies were gorgeous.

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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel


Twixtmas in Kansas City

Late December 2014

Wendy and I decided to spend some of the time between Christmas and New Year’s, a period which I shall term Twixtmas, in Kansas City, MO. This shorter trip 200 miles north was a deliberate contrast to our longer vacation the prior Winter Break, when we drove 575 miles south to San Antonio, TX. Rather than fleeing it, we would allow winter to embrace us in its grip. It made our time together in the Paris of the Plains all the cozier. The map below provides the locations of the Kansas City attractions we visited, and you can click here for a slideshow of our trip.

Osage Hills

A couple of days before we embarked, we hiked 3.5 miles at Osage Hills, knowing that we’d soon be walking cold urban sidewalks. It was relatively warm and sunny on the bluff above Sand Creek. The Creek Loop was mushy, and Sand Creek was running well from recent rains.

Wendy at Osage Hills (click image for slideshow)

Union Station

Union Station

The day after Christmas we headed north out of Bartlesville, stopping at the Copan Truck Stop for a huge and delicious cinnamon roll, slathered in thick icing. We arrived at Kansas City’s Union Station in time for lunch at Harvey’s. The immense Grand Hall and North Waiting Room were decked out for Christmas. At one end was a lovely, huge Christmas Tree, with more trees and nutcracker guards up high. Holiday lighting at the entrance and along the length of the North Waiting Room invited one to walk its length to arrive at a nice display at the entrance to the Model Railroad Experience.

North Waiting Hall at Union Station

Crown Center

Wendy and Maxine (and Floyd)

We took the The Link, the enclosed elevated walkways, over to Crown Center, enjoying the view of the downtown skyscrapers. We toured the Hallmark Visitor Center, where Wendy posed with crabby old Maxine and her dog Floyd. Then we walked over to the lobby of the former Hyatt hotel, the site of the infamous skybridge collapse I analyze in my Failure By Design lesson.

Country Club Plaza

Our own hotel for this stay was a few miles to the south at Country Club Plaza. I eschewed the Best Western Seville Plaza, where I’ve previously stayed, for fancier top-floor accommodations at the well-located Courtyard by Marriott, which is housed in the 1925 building which was once the Park Lane Apartments. I am always glad when an old building is successfully renovated for continued use, and judged this renovation as a great success.

Feasting at Buca di Beppo

During the trip Wendy and I enjoyed dining at Buca di Beppo and other Plaza restaurants, although I regretted not planning ahead so that we could finally have dinner out with a gracious former student living in the KC area who has repeatedly offered her and her husband’s hospitality during my infrequent visits to the area. Wendy loves KC, so hopefully we can finally connect on a future trip.

The Plaza was outlined in lights at night, although it was not nearly as impressive as the Christmas lights we saw earlier in the break in OKC.

Art Museums

Synthesis by Tom Price

We walked over to the Nelson Atkins Museum, my favorite KC destination, which was also decorated for Christmas. Wendy liked Wayne Thiebaud‘s Apartment Hill, and I thought that the Synthesis resin columns by Tom Price looked like something out of Star Trek. We quested through the museum for truly small treasures: a few items from the city’s Toy & Miniature Museum deposited in various rooms while the museum undergoes renovation. Then we enjoyed a chocolate cupcake in the museum’s Rozzelle Court before venturing upstairs where we found an interactive create-your-own-Rodin-sculpture kiosk. Both my effort, Despair, and Wendy’s creation, Strengthmake me question what was in that cupcake.

The bright sky beckoned us back outdoors, where teepees set up on the grounds contrasted with the stately nearby residences. Along our walk back to the Plaza, we discovered, on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute, the life-size statue of Thomas Hart Benton sculpted by Charles Banks Wilson and Nick Calcagno in 1989.

No that is NOT Thomas Hart Benton; Crying Giant shows how I feel about the Kemper

On another day we walked over to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which inevitably disappoints me. Crying Giant by Tom Otterness reflected my view of most of the works on display, while Wendy is more accepting of contemporary art and enjoyed June Ahrens’ Used and Worn display of used soap and other materials. She also got a kick out of Elizabeth Layton’s I am LovedIn it, Grandma Layton (she didn’t begin drawing until she was 68) depicted an elderly woman holding her wedding dress up to her body.

Myself, I am a great admirer of Wendy’s own creations. Just before we left for Kansas City, she completed her third paper mosaic, depicting a bear hidden amongst autumn trees. It joins her earlier depiction of a winding snake and a thunderbird, all originally inspired by the tile work we saw this summer at Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre.

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My Treasure in the vault

We ventured downtown to tour the public library housed in a renovated bank building, including the big vault turned into a film room and a small vault Wendy had fun posing inside. Out of one window we spied two pigeons huddled together atop a stone eagle. Wendy and I agreed that snuggling was the best remedy for the cold weather.

We also drove to the very northern end of Main Street to walk the Town of Kansas Bridge which leads out over railroad tracks to a platform above the south bank of the Missouri River. A train passed under us as we walked toward the river’s edge, where stairs led to the Riverfront Heritage Trail. Signage provided history on the early years of Kansas City and told of the task of taming the riverfront bluffs in the mid-1850s. I found the stark riverfront and industrial zone unwelcoming, but Wendy liked it, posing atop a giant round concrete platform adjacent to the trail.

I wanted to drive along Cliff Drive northeast of downtown, but it was at least temporarily closed to vehicular traffic, and the surrounding area was too sketchy for me to feel comfortable with a long walk along it. A petition seeks to close the drive to vehicles permanently; I don’t live there, so I only have the out-of-towner perspective that I’d rather drive it than walk it. A beautiful sunset compensated for the inaccessibility of the planned cliffside drive.

Sunset behind downtown Kansas City

Wendy and I also visited The Scout statue overlook of downtown after dark to see the lights and the red glowing flame effect atop the tower at Liberty Memorial. The cold and the lack of a tripod prevented me from getting a sharp panorama, so we drove over to Liberty Memorial for a closer look at the tower and its top as well as nice views of Union Station and the old Western Auto sign. I was able to steady myself there for a sharper panorama of downtown Kansas City.

Union Station from Liberty Memorial

Heading Home with a stop in the 1950s

On our way back home, we stopped at the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee to tour their 1950s All-Electric House. The colors, fabrics, materials, and items of that era have been faithfully gathered together or reproduced in it. Some of the “modern features” were laughable, such as the switch to slide back a painting and reveal the black-and-white tube TV behind it, but some of the home automation features were quite similar to today’s Smart Home ideas. I think the real highlight of Shawnee for Wendy and me was their large Russell Stover store, where I stocked up on half-price milk-chocolate-coated marshmallow Santas.

Kansas City is always fun, and Wendy and I both look forward to returning there someday. Winter’s cold grip will probably keep us off the trails for awhile, but a wonderful New Year awaits.

Click here for a slideshow of this trip

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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in art, day hike, photos, travel, video


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