Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Together Again

We made our annual stop at Barbie and Chris' RV Park in Centennial, Colorado (southeast side of Denver). One of our very favorite places.

Actually, the RV park is their driveway where they let us park and plug in and hang out.

Many many moons ago, Shelley was born in Oklahoma City. During the early years Shelley and Barbie's moms were best buddies. Barbie and her sister Linda and Shelley and her brother Tom all went to church together, played at each other's houses and got into trouble together. Somewhere along the line, the going to church part and the getting into trouble parts went by the wayside. However, over the last few years we have returned to playing together, mostly at Barbie's house.
Friday night Chris, Barbie's husband, treated us to paella for dinner. He not only cooked the dinner but actually made the pan he cooked it in. Chris is an excellent welder and had taken an old worn out harrow disk and turned it into a fabulous paella pan that he uses outside and cooks over a wood fire. It was a really fun, and might I say delicious, dinner.

And the food hits just kept on coming.

On Saturday night we were joined for dinner by Shelley's brother Tom who lives northwest of Denver and neighbors Len and ILlynn. I think that as a prelude to July 4th Barbie fed us a huge BBQ dinner with baby back ribs and all the fixins – YUM. If there is anything that I love it is BBQ.

Sunday was spent whiling away the hours in Black Hawk, CO at the casinos. And just like the last time we went to Black Hawk with Barbie, we all came away winners – which of course makes it just that much more fun.

Went out for Mexican food for dinner and introduced Barbie to the Mexican drink Horchata. If you have never had this – you must ask for it the next time you are in a Mexican restaurant. It is totally non-alcoholic and delicious. It is a milk made from rice and flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. We first had it last year in San Antonio and have never seen it on a menu but it seems that if you ask for it all Mexican restaurants have it. I highly recommend it. (if you order it, don't pronounce the H, just drop it and ask for orchata).

And I forgot the Chocolate Chip Cookies. How could I forget that. When we first arrived Barbie came out of the house and I thought that she said she had to go back in because she was baking cookies. When I went in the house there were no cookies :( and I found out that what she had really said was she had bacon cooking. So, since I was expecting cookies – she baked a huge batch of excellent chocolate chip cookies. Thanks Barb – just what I needed.

So until next year – keep that RV site reserved for us and thanks for the hospitality.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Visit With The Harkins

After all the excitement of the visit to the pecan it was nice to dial it down a notch and visit with Sherman and Linda Harkins at their farm in Hale, Missouri.

Sherman and Monte were shipmates when stationed aboard the USS Jallao, an old diesel submarine in the mid 1960's and have remained friends through all the intervening years.
The Harkins have a wonderful farm where they raise cattle and all the food necessary to feed those cattle.

Did you know that hay is not just hay? Hay is a generic term for grass that has been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal feed. Hay can be timothy, brome, fescue, sweet clover, alfalfa and lots of other stuff. Hay needs to be harvested just before the seed heads are ripe and to get the most nutritional value from the hay. This year has been very tough for the Harkins to get that done due to weather. It has been so rainy in their part of Missouri that when the hay has been ready for harvest it has been raining and if it is cut it cannot dry and will mold before it can be baled.

On the second afternoon, Linda and I had driven to one of the fields to pick up Sherman where he had been working and on the way back to the house I spotted a dead cow down by a creek. Sherman got out of the car, climbed over the barbed wire fence and found that the cow had not been dead long. She had laid down and gotten over on her back and could not get up and, as I found out, that will kill a cow.

It is always something on a farm and being a total city kid I learned lots and lots. I learned things like what happens to a dead cow – it will be burned – and I don't mean like cooked for bbq but more like cremated on a funeral pyre.

So we had a fun and educational visit with Sherman and Linda, got to spend a little time with some of their family and best of all – had root beer floats every night!

Bet You Can't Crack This Nut

I have been waiting for this moment my entire life – the viewing of (drum roll please) THE WORLD'S LARGEST PECAN. 7' x 12' and weighing in at 12,000 pounds. Okay, so maybe I never heard of it before a couple of days ago but still – I figured it must be, at a minimum, the 8th wonder of the world.

Brunswick, MO advertises itself as the pecan capital of Missouri and this pecan is what is supposed to be one of the many roadside treasures found in the USA. Well, let me tell you – the experience was not all it cracked up to be. The “Nut House” store was closed, dilapidated, run down, a total mess. Had to stand in knee high weeds to get to the pecan.

We should have skipped the pecan and gone about 15 miles up the road to see the World's Largest Goose but guess that will have to wait until another trip.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hannibal, Missouri

Hannibal, Missouri is a small city on the west bank of the Mississippi River about 100 miles north of St. Louis. Hannibal is the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and is the setting for his most well known novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Samuel Clemens born in 1835, was forced to leave school at the age of 12 in 1847 after the death of his father. Clemens worked as a printer's apprentice in Hannibal, New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati until 1857 when he was inspired by a trip down the Mississippi to become a river boat pilot. In 1859 he received his pilot's license and worked at that profession until 1861 when the outbreak of the Civil War curtailed most travel on the Mississippi River.

Clemens then moved west, tried his hand at and failed at silver mining. In 1863 he began his career as a journalist and started using the name Mark Twain. His first great success as a writer came when his humorous tall tale "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was published in the New York Saturday Press in November, 1865. After that time his career sky rocketed and if you want to know more – Google him.

We set out to do a walking tour which quickly turned in to a climbing thing as we went up 244 steps to a lighthouse. Now get this picture, it is 95 degrees, 95% humidity, and I'm old, fat and out of shape and we did 244 steps for – nothing. The lighthouse is not open to look inside and the view of the river was not very good from there. Back down the 244 steps and on to the street where Clemens lived. Thankfully it was a very short street. Did not do any more exploration of the town as it was just too darn blasted hot.

One final note about Hannibal.

Let's not forget that Hannibal was the birthplace of Cliff Edwards (14 June 1895 – 17 July 1971), also known as "Ukelele Ike". He was an American singer and musician who enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s, specializing in jazzy renditions of pop standards and novelty tunes and was the voice of Jiminy Cricket.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

In 1803 Lewis and Clark embarked on their Journey of the Corps of Discovery from just west of St. Louis on the Missouri River. The city has many nicknames the most popular being "Gateway City" as it is seen as the Eastern/Western US dividing mark. St. Louis is also called "Gateway to the West" on behalf of the many people who migrated west through St. Louis via the Missouri River on the first leg of the Oregon Trail.

St. Louis was the fourth largest single city in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, although the city proper has since slipped to 52nd. The 1904 World's Fair and the 1904 Olympic Games, the first ever held int eh U.S. Were both held in St. Louis.

We stopped here to revisit (we had been here in 2004) the Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion that is underneath the Arch. We could have spent several more days in St. Louis as there is lots to do here be we wanted to get on down the road – so a 2 night stop. We did manage to camp just across the river from the Arch at the Casino Queen campground where just across the parking lot we were able to infuse the local economy with dollars left in their slot machines.

Nashville, Indiana

Art Colony of the Midwest

5 miles south of Bean Blossom lies Nashville, Indiana. Nashville is a destination in and of itself – if you like to shop. It is home to the Art Colony of the Midwest (who would have guessed?). Artists have been coming to Brown County since 1870 and the colony is considered to have been firmly established in 1907. I have no idea how many shops and art galleries and studios are in town but the number has to be well over 100. Many of the shops sell typical mass-made jewelry, arts and crafts. Then there are the true art galleries and artists studios which abound with all kinds of art all made by local artists. Paintings, pottery, jewelry, stained glass, mosaics, hand made furniture, and on and on. It seems as though lots of people know about this place because the streets are packed with tourists.

Brown County's picturesque rolling landscape, a gift of the Ice Age, has inspired many artists, and visitors. The glacier that flattened most of Indiana, stopped just over the Brown County line and created the hills and valleys and the "blue haze" that has Brown County Indiana well known as the "Little Smoky Mountains".

Bean Blossom, Indiana

Located about 50 miles south of Indianapolis, Bean Blossom is home to the annual Bill Monroe Memorial Bluegrass Festival. This was the 43rd year for this, the longest continuous running bluegrass festival in the world (like there are a lot of long running festivals outside of the USA). And speaking of long – the typical bluegrass festival that we go to is 3 or 4 days. This festival is 8 days long and music is played each day from 11:00 am until 11:00 pm or later.

1967 was a good year in that the first Super Bowl was held that year and then in June Bill Monroe held his first two-day bluegrass festival, which he called a Blue Grass Celebration at Bean Blossom. He brought his musician friends together to play the high lonesome sound he had pioneered. This first festival was held in the Brown County Jamboree Barn and was so well attended that Bill decided to have it annually and to build an outdoor stage to accommodate a bigger audience. Over the years the grounds have been improved, the stage has been rebuilt and enlarged. The stage sits at the bottom of a wooded amphitheater that makes for ideal viewing and listening for the bluegrass fans in attendance. Despite Bill Monroe's death in 1996, the history and tradition at Bean Blossom continues and the sounds of bluegrass still echo through the hills and trees.

We only lasted through day 7 of the festival. We are bluegrassed out for the time being.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Churchill Downs

Tuesday was a perfect day at Churchill Downs. Well, not really perfect because the horses were not running and not perfect because we got thoroughly soaked by the rain but we still had a great time. We toured the Kentucky Derby Museum, watched a 360 degree movie and took 2 guided tours. We were pleasantly surprised when purchasing our tickets the lady asked if we belonged to AAA and I said no but, on a hunch, told her that Monte belonged to the Twin Spires Club. The Twin Spires Club is Churchill Downs' on-line wagering system. If we had belonged to AAA we would have saved 10%. Monte's Twin Spire membership saved us 50%! So we were off to a good start. (Monte figures they owe him a free tour since they take his money so freely).

Spent some time wandering around the the museum which is very well done. Lots of interactive activities. Did not have a lot of time as our first tour was leaving.

Our first tour started at 8:30 and lasted an hour. It was the Barn and Backside Tour. Our tour guide loaded us in a van and drove us under the track and through the infield and under the track again and on to the backside. The backside of any horse racing track is where the barns are that house the race horses. There are more than 1,400 horse stalls on the backside at Churchill Downs and the horses that reside there need to be exercised each day. The track is a very busy place starting about 5 am – there are only so many exercise riders to go around so everyone must take their turn. We watched horses being shod, being bathed, and galloping and breezing on the track. Basically just watched the everyday activities that make it possible for us to enjoy thoroughbred horse racing. We were driven by the barns of such notable trainers as D. Wayne Lucas whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby 4 times, Preakness 5 times and the Belmont Stakes 4 times and Steve Asmussen the trainer of Curlin who was the 2 time horse of the year. We could see the barn from afar where 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner “Mine That Bird” resides (with his body guard) but we were not allowed to go get an autograph. On the way back to the museum we drove through some other areas of the infield and were shown one of 3 jails. Yes, jails. These resemble underground bunkers where those who have over-indulged in mint juleps and made a public nuisance of themselves get to spend some time (bet they smell good by the end of the day).
At 10:00 the Behind the Scenes tour began. This tour would not have been available on a race day so it was a pretty good trade off for not seeing live racing. On this tour we got soaked but that's not the point. We were taken through parts of Churchill Downs that most of the general public never get to see. Places such as Millionaires Row (large overpriced cafeteria looking room), the Media Center, the Jockey's Room, and lots of other places.

It was a 1.5 hour walking tour and well worth it – other than getting soaked. We were walking from the old section of the grandstands to the new section by way of the paddock. It was pouring rain. We got to the gate we needed to walk through to stay out of the rain and – it was locked. So we had to run across the paddock, through another gate, and then on into the building – all in the rain. Even the horses don't run when they are in the paddock. I'm sure I looked like an old wet fat nag running around.

One of the highlights of the tour was the glass replica of Churchill Downs. I thought it was going to be lame but it was actually pretty amazing. The racetrack replica is 30 feet long by 10 feet wide and stands 10 feet tall. The track itself is made of bronze mirror and has 20 glass horses being ridden by jockeys positioned on it. The stands are made of glass and mirrors and have more than 5,000 handmade glass spectators standing and sitting in them and the details just go on and on. Took some guy named Colquhoun 4 years to make it.
Interesting Churchill Downs factoid: On any given day, during a race meet, the track employs 1,500-2000 people. Kentucky Derby weekend it employs about 10,000 people.
So that was our day at the track. Hopefully on our next visit (whenever that might be) there will be live racing to see. If you ever get to Louisville I would highly recommend these tours.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jim Beam Distillery

Spent an hour or so at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY.

Today, Jim Beam Brands manufactures and markets nearly 80 brands of distilled spirits and fine wines in 160 countries across the globe. With over 200 years of history under its belt, Jim Beam has long been the world's best selling bourbon.

Shortly after the Revolutionary War, the newly formed U.S. government encouraged homesteaders to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. Settlers were promised 60 acres of land in return for clearing the land and growing corn for at least two years. Among the homesteaders was Jacob Beam, a miller from Germany by way of Virginia, who in 1788 brought his family and his belongings--including a copper still--to Bourbon County, Kentucky. And the rest, as they say, is history.

We enjoyed the visit but it was not what we expected. There is no “tour” of the distillery. There will be a tour starting in 2010 but they are now in the midst of revamping part of the property to accommodate that tour.

We did see some some freshly filled barrels headed for the rack house for aging. The big highlight of the visit. Actually that is not true, we were given a piece of bourbon chocolate candy that was darn tasty.

Our time consisted of hanging out in the gift store waiting to watch a movie. Going to the Beam house to watch the movie (7 minutes), then getting to taste a couple of Jim Beam small batch brands. Now that I think of it, maybe the tasting was the highlight. One of the brands was Basil Hayden's and it was excellent – really smooth, a super good sipping bourbon. The other was 107 proof Bakers – it was ok after adding an ice cube but the first sip about did me in. Don't worry – they only gave us about 2 sips of each kind.

The moral of the story is – if you want to go to a distillery to take a tour – make sure they have a tour before you go.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stones River Civil War Battlefield

Murfreesboro, TN

Touring Civil War Battlefields is one of our favorite things to do when traveling. However, in the last few years our travel routes have limited our opportunities to do so. So we were happy when at lunch time on June 8 we were able to stop and do a quick tour of this battlefield.

The following is a very brief synopsis of the battle.

As 1862 drew to a close, President Abraham Lincoln was desperate for a military victory. His armies were stalled, and the terrible defeat at Fredericksburg spread a pall of defeat across the nation. There was also the Emancipation Proclamation to consider. The nation needed a victory to bolster morale and support the proclamation when it went into effect on January 1, 1863. To this end, on December 26, 1862, the Union Army of the Cumberland left Nashville to engage The Army of Tennessee.

On the night of January 30, 1862 while the generals planned, the men lay down in the mud and rocks in the area of Stones River trying to get some sleep. The bands of both armies played tunes to raise the men’s spirits. It was during this "battle of the bands" that one of the most poignant moments of the war occurred. Sam Seay of the First Tennessee Infantry described what happened that evening.
“Just before ‘tattoo’ the military bands on each side began their evening music. The still winter night carried their strains to great distance. At every pause on our side, far away could be heard the military bands of the other. Finally one of them struck up ‘Home Sweet Home.’ As if by common consent, all other airs ceased, and the bands of both armies as far as the ear could reach, joined in the refrain. Who knows how many hearts were bold next day by reason of that air?”

In the days that followed the battle raged at places aptly named “The Slaughter Pen” and “Hell's Half Acre”. Eventually the Army of Tennessee retreated and they gave up a large chunk of Middle Tennessee. The rich farmland meant to feed the Confederates now supplied the Federals. General Rosecrans set his army and thousands of contraband slaves to constructing a massive fortification, Fort Rosecrans that served as a supply depot and base of occupation for the Union for the duration of the war.

President Lincoln got the victory he wanted to boost morale and support the Emancipation Proclamation (remember that the Proclamation only freed slaves in states that had seceded from the Union.)

The Battle of Stones River was one of the bloodiest of the war. More than 3,000 men lay dead on the field. Nearly 16,000 more were wounded. Some of these men spent as much as seven agonizing days on the battlefield before help could reach them. The two armies sustained nearly 24,000 casualties, which was almost one-third of the 81,000 men engaged.