Sunday, June 24, 2018

Interesting Stops Across Kansas

After Denisa's girl trip to Waco, Texas, she drove back to the Oklahoma panhandle. This is where Mark has been hanging out with his Mother. Denisa was glad that Mark had such a good baby-sitter while she was away.

Then we made yet another trip back to Kansas City. This is our fifth trip back to Kansas City from Oklahoma in the last couple months.  Since we're leaving from the panhandle of Oklahoma, we will drive the entire width of Kansas in the 6.5-hour trip. We wish we had counted the number of combines we saw, harvesting wheat all across the state.

As we neared Hutchison, Kansas, we saw an interesting road-side kiosk and decided to stop. We learned that the fertile wheat pasture on top has another valuable commodity underneath in this area. Mark is standing behind a 1,260-pound block of salt that was mined here.

The educational kiosk taught us that just two miles from here is the Morton salt company's plant. This recognizable little-girl-with-an-umbrella hangs out near Hutchison making the table salt we've used all our lives.

As we drove further east, the wheat fields turned into the flint hills and the tall grass prairie. We had passed by the Tall Grass National Preserve sign many times, but today we had the time to stop.

We had great timing, as the national preserve was hosting its annual hay-making demonstration this afternoon. 

Handsome teams of horses were hitched up and ready to demonstrate how this was done 100 years ago.

The sturdy horses pulling the all-metal swather made a nice picture with the old rock barn in the background.

There were several teams cutting the hay in the valley. We walked out in the just-mowed field to take a picture of this flat valley among the flint hills and the cloudy blue skies.

We also visited the three-story rock barn that is adjacent to the preserve's visitor center. Using an ingenious set of ramps, they could store and feed hay with a limited amount of lifting.

Plenty of rock is strewn about this tall grass prairie, and the settlers put it to good use fashioning stone fences.

The ranch house was also constructed from native stone in 1881. It is open to the public for self-guided tours as well.

We normally would have been interested in the trail system that winds throughout the tall grass preserve. But with temperatures close to 100 degrees, we opted for the bus tour instead. The semi-air-conditioned bus make the 3-mile trip to the highest point on the preserve a little faster (and just a little cooler) than we could walk it.

On the way, we passed the resident herd of bison. This picture was taken through a dirty bus window, but it gives a sense of what this area would have looked like 150 years ago before the bison were hunted to near extinction.

The bus stops at the scenic hill-top, where passengers can disembark and get a 360-degree view of the tall grass prairie. The wind was blowing around 30 mph, so the grass was really whipping. In fact, that butterfly in the foreground of the picture looked like a rodeo cowboy, hanging on to a bucking bronc.

The butterfly was so latched on to that bloom, that he didn't even notice when Denisa got close for this picture. We have to include the close-up because with the wind whipping that stem, she tried over and over to get one in focus. After twenty-some attempts, she got a clear shot of that butterfly in the wind.

Our bus driver mentioned that the question he is asked most is, "Where is the tall grass that this place is name after?" He explained that this time of year, the grass is about one foot in height. That allows for a myriad of other foot-high plants to have their season to bloom and thrive before they are shadowed by the grass that will grow to around five foot in the fall. He joked that the name of this national park should more accurately be "Tall in the Fall Grass Nature Preserve."

With the stops we made today, the usually long trip across Kansas was more interesting and educational. But we would be lying if we said we were making the trip for the views. We are returning to Kansas City again for another week to spend with our new granddaughter. She's changing every day, and we swear she has grown another pound since we saw her last week.

Mark got to spend a historic Father's Day in Kansas City. This was his first Father's Day as a grandfather. Sadly, it was also the first Father's Day since his own Father passed away. We have truly experienced the circle of life this year.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Visiting Waco, Texas's "Other" Attractions

Our girl trip destination centered around all things "Magnolia" thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines's stardom from their HGTV series "Fixer Upper." But we found other things to see and do during our two-day stay. We arrived at the Waco Mammoth National Monument even before the gates opened for the day at 9:00.

We bought the tickets for the tour that would take us down to the dinosaur dig site. It was back in 1978 that two guys saw a bone sticking out in the creek bed. Expecting it to be a cow's leg bone, it turned out to be a three-foot-long leg bone. That is considerably longer than an adult human's leg bone.

Our tour ticket included a golf cart ride for Denisa's Mother to the large (and thankfully air-conditioned) building that completely covers the area where that first bone was found. 

The ranger described the animals that roamed Waco thousands of years ago, including the owner of the bone--the 14-foot-tall mammoths.

Scientists can't determine what caused the death of an entire herd of mother and baby mammoths. But they have been perfectly preserved in the mud. We could look down to see "Female W,"
still lying on her side in the dirt that preserved her bones all these years in the same position she died.

One of the most impressive set of bones was that of Male Q. The ranger politely explained why he was found in this female herd--he was probably there "looking for a girl friend." He died in a belly-flop position. That's his rear legs on the left, and his head and long tusks on the right. The rib and vertebrae bones are in the middle, still oriented the same as the day he died.

We had a very interesting ranger, who complimented us on making it to the first tour. We saw the third tour of the day was crowded with about 25 people crowding to hear their ranger. 

Our next stop of the day was the Heritage Craft Village, a few miles north of Waco. The village is home to a self-sustaining religious group that settled here in the 1990's. We noticed the heat as we walked between buildings. But it was nicely air-conditioned in the fibers house, where visitors were working at the looms.

The blacksmith shop was not air-conditioned. In fact, this guy was heating it up with his coal-fired stove that was cooking his metal to red hot temperatures.

We also spent time at the woodworking shop. They were readying for a group of people that had paid to learn the fine art of making furniture. For example, anyone can spend 6 days here at the village, and have any of these projects finished when they leave.

We visited the grist mill, where the water wheel was turning the gears to run the mill stone to make wheat flour and corn grits. 

The view of the mill and its water wheel was a picture-perfect serene scene in the village.

We made a purchase at the grist mill. But the hand-made baskets, hand-woven scarves, wood items, and pottery were terribly expensive at some of the other buildings in the village. All this walking worked up an appetite, so we headed to the Village Cafe for a delightful lunch. It's not a great picture, but two of the meals we ordered were turkey wrap and fruit cup, and chicken tacos and spicy cole slaw. And of course, we followed it up with a piece of carrot cake. (We obviously are big fans of dessert.)

Just down the road is the Brazos Valley Cheese Company, where they make tons of cheese each year. We enjoyed samples in the store, and then took the cool trip down to the cellar where these cheese wheels are chilling while they age.

Waco is also home to the Texas Rangers Museum. Perhaps we were all tired by this time, but Denisa's favorite part was the impressive statue out front.

Waco, Texas, is the birthplace of a famous drink--Dr. Pepper. So it is fitting that a Dr. Pepper Museum is another place to stop. It was too late to go to the museum, so we took the obligatory pictures in the courtyard of the old sign . . .

and the delivery pickup. Then we went into Frosty's Soda Shop, and ordered a Dr. Pepper float, a Dr. Pepper ice cream soda, and a syrupy fresh Dr. Pepper. Our compliments to the soda shop chefs! (Sounds like we enjoyed even more desserts today.)

We also made a stop at Baylor University, home of the Baylor Bears athletic teams. Even with the hot weather, we found the two sister bears, Joy and Lady, hanging out at their habitat on campus.

They are obviously used to having guests at their window. With the students gone for the summer, they seemed happy to have our company.

A more academic stop on campus was the Armstrong-Browning Library and Museum. It was interesting to go to a library filled with stain glass windows. In fact, it houses the world's largest collection on secular stain glass windows in the world.

Every window in the building is a pictorial tribute of the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Robert Browning is famous for works like "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."

His wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is more romantic with poems that start with phrases like, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." This window is more theological, illustrating her poetic words, "I say the acknowledgment of God in Christ accepted by thy reason, solves all questions in the earth."

We also made a trip to the Collin Street Bakery. We ate the goodies before a picture could be taken. (Have you sensed a trend yet?) But we can confirm that the prices are cheaper and the lines are shorter here than at the Silo Bakery we went to yesterday. After two full days in town, we feel we have conquered the sights and tastes of Waco, Texas. The picture below was taken at Spice Village, a craft mall that is also popular among the tourists pouring into town.

We made the long trip back to Oklahoma City, with a stops for Smokin' Joe barbecue and fruit pies near Sulphur. That was a good and tasty stop (with yet another dessert option) to cap off our girls' trip of 2018. It's another batch of good memories in the record books!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Visiting Waco, Texas and the Empire that Fixer Upper Built

Welcome to Waco, Texas, the new tourist mecca thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines and their hit HGTV series "Fixer Upper." We are ready to be immersed into all things "Magnolia"--the name that the Gaines family chose even before they were famous.

Since their first episode of "Fixer Upper" was filmed in 2013, the Gaines' were catapulted to stardom. We can tell that they are loved by home and gardeners from around the country from the crowds now flocking to Waco. We visited with people from Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana . . . all of them bubbling with excitement to walk where Chip and Jo once walked. So our first stop of the day was at the Silos.

The Gaines family became famous for making old properties look better than new. They wove their magic again on this eye-sore in the middle of Waco. These rusty silos were slated to be demolished, but they saw the promise in this location.

The open area is designed for families to play corn hole and soccer and enjoy a meal at the food trucks that hang out close by. But on a sunny day with temperatures near 100 degrees, only the toughest customers were running in the sun.

Most of us were making our way to Magnolia Market, looking for the perfect treasure to give our homes the Joanna Gaines touch.

The one person in the flock that lives in a motor home didn't make a purchase, but even she was tempted. Don't expect any bargains, as most of the prices seemed a little excessive. It's hard to tell from the glare of the overhead lighting, but this section of the market was inside a very tall grain barn.

The other popular stop in this area is the Silo Bakery. There was a long line of customers that snaked its way outside in the heat. But we had shade, and a clerk was handing out menu options to speed up the process. An army of bakery-elves were filling orders. We wonder at the large number of people now hired in Waco from this bustling empire.

We tried the cinnamon rolls, cookies, and the orange/cranberry biscuit. Cupcakes are another popular option at the bakery.

The next piece of the empire is the new Magnolia Table restaurant. Because we heard that parking is limited, we took the free trolley that makes the trip between the Magnolia Market and Table every thirty minutes.

We had this stop timed well. Arriving at 10:45 should be after the breakfast crowd and before the lunch crowd, right? Wrong! After standing in line just to get our name on the waiting list, they gave us the news that our table should be available 1 hour and 45 minutes later! What?!?

There is an outdoor waiting area, thankfully shaded. But as the temperature inched closer to 100 degrees, it made for an uncomfortable wait. Denisa's Mother is 88, and the door guards thankfully welcomed her into the air-conditioned waiting area. Denisa has determined that if she and Mark ever make this Magnolia pilgrimage, we will buy some of the pimento cheese and chicken salad sold in tubs at the "take away" entrance. Pairing that with a loaf of bread would save about two hours of time and fifteen dollars according to menu prices.

We got time updates through our smart phone, complete with the number of groups ahead of us in line. After 45 minutes there were still 52 parties in front of us, and their original estimated time turned out to be accurate. People were sitting everywhere outside. We rambled around the property, and found that Chip and Jo Gaines did have a hand in this empire building.

The long wait gave us time to make our food choices. We bought the chicken salad sandwich (served on a croissant), the turkey and avocado sandwich, and Chip's favorite ham and scrambled egg sandwich. The green triangles on the plates below are avocado toast. Chip fought this menu item, until popular opinion convinced him that people would really pay $8 for a slice. We are proof that is true. Couple our sandwich lunch with two pieces of pie for dessert, and this was the most expensive meal of the trip. It's not cheap or fast to eat here.

A two-block walk in the heat took us back to the free trolley, and our car still parked in the silo parking lot. That's when we started our own driving tour of Waco landmarks affiliated with Chip and Joanna Gaines. We have been passing around their autobiography, as it was required reading for this girl trip. From its pages we learned about their first home remodels. We had just enough clues to find these two houses. The little white house on the left was their home when their first child was born. The house on the right was their first build-from-scratch project. It was fun to find them ourselves after reading about them.

We have had a fun adventure in Waco, that would have been more pleasant if the temperatures were in the 70's. But we found that hordes of people will fight through the Waco heat to enjoy all things Magnolia in this relatively new Fixer Upper Empire. The city of Waco has definitely benefited from the economic boom of becoming a new tourist destination. We spent two days in town, so we will be finding what else Waco has to offer in the next blog.