Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Branson - Hot Springs - Euless

We awoke on Sunday and figured out there was no compelling reason to stay over any longer in Branson, as few performers put on shows on Sundays. Besides, it would be nice to have a couple of days at home to regroup before heading back to the salt mines on the 15th. So, with this in mind, we hooked up after breakfast and pointed the Hornet southward. This time, we purposely avoided route 7, favoring instead highway 65 and Arkansas 9 to Hot Springs. Highway 65 is a pretty good road and not nearly as mountainous as the scenic route 7 we traveled inbound to Branson. Arkansas 9 was much more rural and took us through a lot of pretty farmland.

We arrived in Hot Springs, again at the Lake Hamilton RV Park, and decided we would have one last meal at Fisherman's Wharf. It was just as good as a few days ago, and we had a good table where we could watch boaters docking at the restaurant's pier to have dinner.

We had also decided to return to Garvan Woodland Gardens to take some photos. (The weather had been too cloudy and rainy for photos during last week's visit.) So, we got up early and trekked out there before the temperature got too hot. The place is really very beautiful and is remarkable in that none of the rock formations, ponds or waterfalls is natural. The massive rocks were placed into position under the watchful eyes of students from the University of Arkansas, studying landscape architecture. Massive pumps were installed to provide the water for the little streams and waterfalls seen everywhere. It was amazing how natural the whole thing appeared. I hope you enjoyed the sample pics I included.

Idyllic Pond at Garvan Gardens

Beautiful Grounds at Garvan Gardens

Full Moon Bridge at Garvan Gardens

Hydrangeas

This 210-acre site was deeded to the State of Arkansas by Mrs. Garvan, on the condition that it be maintained as a garden in perpetuity. Mrs. Garvan had inherited the land from her father, who ran a lumber mill and brickyard on the property in the early 1920s. When the Lake Hamilton Dam was built, the reservoir inundated 240 acres of the original 450-acre site. The 210 acres of prime lakefront property is valued now at around 50 million dollars.

After taking pics, we loaded up and came on home, turning Homer over to United RV in Forth Worth to take care of some squawks that had developed during the trip. We were sorry the vacation was over, as we had a really great time. Can't wait until fall now, so we can get outta Dodge again!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

In Branson

During these two days, we just zoned out, sleeping late, seeing shows, going for walks, watching TV, etc. We didn't even encounter anyone weird enough to write about during this time. It was very relaxing. Here are my reviews of the shows we attended:

50s at the Hop - A cute show with talented performers that is always successful in administering our nostalgia fix.
Fifties at the Hop Show

Andy Williams and Glen Campbell - These two stars were appearing together in Andy Williams' theater and, as expected, the show was top notch. Williams obviously spares no expense in surrounding himself with the very best musicians, so his orchestra and backup singers were nothing short of spectacular. This was the most expensive show in Branson at $42.00, but well worth it. Andy, who is in his mid-seventies, still has a strong voice and is able to hit the high notes, but his age has brought about a bit of wobbliness in the higher range that we didn't notice several years ago when we saw his show. I hope he has the good sense to retire before he gets to a point of embarrassment, as Perry Como did in his unfortunate performances near the end.

Frederick Antonio, Piano Virtuoso - This was a dinner show, starring an old guy with an ill-defined European accent who played a variety of piano tunes to a background track. He was just awful. He obviously had little formal training, but had learned a few keyboard licks that, to the indiscriminating ear, might sound impressive, because he hit a lot of keys. Unfortunately, they weren't the right ones. It was painful, painful to hear, and most others apparently thought so, too, as there were only seven people in the audience. This poor guy was a real bomb. Even I could have done better. The only saving grace was that we got our tickets for $11.50, which was half price, and that included a pretty good steak dinner. We slipped out after the meal, which was merciful to our ears and our digestion.

The Titanic Museum - Some entrepreneur has constructed a huge replica of the front third of the Titanic at the corner of highway 76 and Gretna Road! Inside this impressive structure is a museum containing more than 400 artifacts from the original ship. This was very well done, involving a 90-minute self-guided tour of all sorts of vignettes constructed to help visitors get a sense of what it was like on that fateful night in 1912. Of particular interest was the ship's grand staircase, which the builder of the museum had faithfully replicated in its actual size and splendor. This added a good deal of realism to the experience of imagining the opulence of this vessel and the compelling stories of its prominent passengers.
Titanic Museum in Branson

Titanic Grand Staircase

The Duttons - This show has been in Branson for eight years, but we didn't know anything about it and decided to drop in, especially since we were able to get half-price tickets to this show, too. The Duttons are a very talented family of nine who sing and play mostly bluegrass music in an engaging and energetic performance. Now, bluegrass is fine, and a lot of people enjoy it. However, it is one of our least favorite musical styles, and had we known this beforehand, we wouldn't have gone anywhere near the place. We left during the intermission.

We also made a first-time tour of the new Riverbend Center that his just opened in downtown Branson. This place is something else! It's an upscale mall, not enclosed like a conventional one, but constructed as shops on each side of a 1 ½ mile-long promenade along the riverbank. Above the shops are apartments and condos, and it looks for the world like a typical main street in mid-America. There is a large Bass Pro Shop and a Belk store as anchors, and two large hotels, one of them a Hilton, are being built nearby. The project is costing $420 million, and it will definitely put downtown Branson on the map!

One of the curious things about Branson is that we haven't found very many good places to eat, as we define them. There are many restaurants that serve fast food and all-you-can-eat buffets, but we have found the quality of the food to be well beneath our standards which, admittedly, are perhaps unnecessarily lofty. Oriental food is scarce and inferior; the mexican restaurants are a joke. And, since we avoid chain restaurants like the plague, we rarely eat out when we are in Branson. One of the nice things about Homer is that we can whip up a nice meal in the kitchen at a real cost savings. We don't fix anything elaborate, but it's always to our liking. For example, we made a killer chicken chili one night, and we keep on hand a supply of tuna and chicken salad, made just as we like them. We also get deli meats and cheeses and make gourmet sandwiches. We eat a good bit of fresh fruit, and we have a blender to make smoothies. With our nice flat panel TVs, satellite receiver and DVD player, we can have dinner and a movie right there in Homer or watch TV in the bedroom. This RV travel is pretty cushy.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Hot Springs to Branson

This morning, we tried some of the breakfast sausage we bought yesterday at the country butcher shop, and it tasted just as good as it looked. Foodies that we are, we have a lot of fun trying homemade goodies like this from the burgs through which we travel. It's almost always far better than the boring chain store offerings that I mostly detest.

We said goodbye to the Lake Hamilton RV Park and stopped in again at Cajun Boilers to have some more seafood for lunch. We were a little sorry that we couldn't eat six meals a day in Hot Springs. We saw a lot of interesting restaurants that we just didn't have enough time to try.

We pointed the Hornet northward on route 7 and quickly got into the rigors of mountain driving. I had forgotten how much of this highway is comprised of steep grades and switchbacks. The scenery is fabulous, but we could only average about 35 miles per hour for the mountainous leg to Branson, which was less than 200 miles away.

Warning to female readers: The following paragraph is for guys; you'll probably find it more boring that the rest of this pap.

While the Hornet's diesel engine has plenty of power to pull the 10,000-lb. Homer up the steep hills, I often prefer to shift the transmission manually in the mountains, because I have much better control over engine speed, EGT and turbo boost pressure. And a lower gear is essential to control the rig's speed on some of the steep descents, especially the long seven percent grade just south of Harrison. It would be nice to have a jake brake for the engine, but I have been advised by the experts that this doesn't work very well except on the 2006 Dodge diesels or later models. Seeing the value of the jake brake, Dodge designed the new transmissions to accommodate these starting this year. In addition to the extra gauges (EGT and Turbo boost pressure) I had installed on the Hornet, I also installed a transmission oil temperature gauge. On a couple of occasions today going up a long steep grade, I became a bit worried, as the transmission heated up to within ten degrees of the 220-degree maximum. I may need to check into getting an auxiliary transmission oil cooler for future mountain driving. I'm much more comfortable having a good set of engine gauges now, vice the idiot lights. Once a pilot, always a pilot, I guess.

We pulled into Oak Grove RV Park in Branson at about 7:00 p.m. I was exhausted from manhandling this rig through the mountains. This was the first time I really noticed the three thousand pound extra weight difference between Homer I and Homer II. I'm figuring this was about as much mountain driving as I would ever want to do in a day.

Vintage Trailer Outside Oak Grove RV Park

Sandy and I were famished at this point, so we walked to the Fuji Japanese Steak House just next door to the RV park. We were seated next to a charming couple from England, and we had a nice conversation with them while the chef did his obligatory tricks at the grill. The food was okay, but hardly up to the standard set by Kobe Steaks in Dallas for this type of venue. Perhaps for show, the British chap queried the waiter for an obscure brand of English beer which, of course, the restaurant didn't carry. When offered an American beer, he turned up his nose and waved the waiter off, obviously piqued at the idea of having to drink any vile American product. He then offered an unsolicited explanation that the town where he lived in England was home to the brewery having the oldest beer brand in the world, of which he was obviously enamored. He went on to reveal that the brewery had just been bought out by Coors, a sore point for him that he didn't attempt to conceal from us greedy Americans who stole his brewery. I started to point out that if it had not been for a few hundred thousand American beer drinkers in World War II, he might be ordering schnapps and speaking with a German accent. Seeing that I was contemplating such a smart aleck remark, Sandy pinched the tendon on the bottom of my right thigh where it connects onto my knee joint. Thus immobilized by pain, I could muster only a raspy groaning noise. And alas, my remark was lost to history (except as retold here, of course).

Sandy then helped me limp back to Homer, and we enjoyed the rest of the evening, situated as we were in a rather remote and quiet area of the park, nestled among tall shade trees.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

In Hot Springs, Day Two

We decided to stay another day in Hot Springs, as we liked the new Lake Hamilton RV park, and the previous day's rain kept us from getting to all the things we wanted to do before we left town. After a morning walk around the RV park, we enjoyed a breakfast of fajita nachos—yes, you heard me right. (We are a little unconventional, foodwise, at times, as most of you know.) Then we lounged around for the rest of the morning, did some e-mailing, and I worked on this journal. We were ready to get out again around noon, so we drove down the street a mile or so to the Cajun Boilers restaurant, situated on a small bay of Lake Hamilton. We noticed this place was always packed when we drove by, and now we know why. The seafood is plentiful and divine. The large fried shrimp platter was fabulous, and there was plenty for Sandy and me to share. The crab claw appetizer was also wonderful. We'll probably be forced to go back to this place before we leave.

We drove up to the Mountain Tower overlooking Hot Springs. This is the highest observation point in the area, as it stands a few hundred feet on top of a mountain near downtown Hot Springs. The view from this was terrific, but Sandy rode up the elevator as a labor of love. She is very claustrophobic in elevators—especially those rising to high elevations and having a window to view outside. This elevator had both features, and Sandy had to sit down to recover from her anxiety attack when she reached the top. Neither she nor I realized how serious her reaction would be, and I'm sure we won't be doing this sort of thing again, now that we know how much difficulty she had this time. As Sandy rested, I moved around the circular observation room where, below the windows, was displayed a timeline-style narrative of Hot Springs history circling the entire outer perimeter of the room. I found this to be just what I needed—not too much, not too little, and with large enough print—to reacquaint me with an overview of the history of the area in the time available. Hot Springs has a rich and interesting history, and I enjoyed this a great deal. The only drawback was a TV screen in the room playing a continuous video loop describing Bill Clinton's early years as a resident of Hot Springs. This was very annoying, but I couldn't reach the TV controls and had to endure this blather for the entire time.

After driving down from the mountain, we parked downtown and toured the old Fordyce bath house, restored by the U. S. Dept. of Interior to its former 1925 glory.

Fordyce Bath House

Lobby of the Fordyce

Of particular interest in the Fordyce was the far greater opulence of the men's bathing area compared to the women's bathing room. The men's area was much larger, with long marble benches and an elegant stained glass skylight, underneath which was a statue of Hernando DeSoto. The women's area was small and almost utilitarian by comparison. Ah, those were the days, weren't they, guys?

Men's Bathing Room - Opulent, Naturally

Women's Bathing Room, Not So Opulent

We then walked behind the Fordyce to see one of the 47 hot springs that give the town its name.

One of the 47 Hot Springs

Natural Spring Fountain

The mineral-infused water has bubbled from this mountain at a steaming 134 degrees since before recorded time. Because bathing in the water was so popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the flow from the springs was insufficient at times to supply all the bath houses. Someone had the bright idea that they would dynamite the opening of one of the larger springs, in an effort to increase the flow. This didn't work, but this stunt, among other problems, like the building of too many unsafe ramshackle bath houses, became catalysts for the federal government to step in and regulate the springs, setting the area aside as the first national recreation area and the precursor of Hot Springs National Park. The water coming directly from the spring is quite fit for drinking (after cooling, of course), and a free container filling station is located just off Central Avenue at the southern end of Bath House Row. As we did last trip, we filled a 10-gallon container to use as our drinking water in Homer, as we think the water is very tasty and imagine that it might be of some health benefit due to the minerals contained therein.

By this time, Sandy seemed almost to have recovered from her elevator experience, but she thought that a little shopping spree might be just the ticket to erase any lasting trauma. Not wishing to impede the healing effects that such an adventure would bring, I smiled sweetly and drove to a newish shopping center not far away. At the conclusion of this little diversion, she did indeed seem like her old self again.

Sandy's little shopping trip had such a curative effect that she allowed how her appetite had also now returned. So, we stopped at Facci's, an Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in a junky old house that had been operated by, well, a Mr. Facci, since 1975. The food was rumored to be good, although the proprietor, whom we encountered almost immediately, was sloppily attired in a dirty apron and tennis shoes, wearing his gray unwashed hair in a very long pony tail. I really don't know why Sandy and I seem to run into so many characters like this. I guess everyone else does, too, but it just seems a lot wierder out there than it used to. One thing's for sure, though: This old hippie could cook. Our chicken piccata was very, very good, although there were a few too many capers. The bread and olive-oil based dipping sauce was so good, I almost gnawed into my fingers as I gobbled up the bread.

After dinner, we drove out to Lake Ouachita, another beautiful body of water just a short distance from Hot Springs. We toured a marina and a COE (U. S. Corps of Engineers) RV park that fronted right on the lake. Every available space was taken, but that is understandable, given the inexpensive site rental fees and the picturesque location. I suppose people who live in this area could be jaded by the natural beauty so abundant here, but it would be hard for me to get tired of the Ozarks, I think. On the way back, we stopped at a country butcher shop and bought some breakfast sausage that looked good. By then, darkness had fallen, and it was time to call it a day.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

In Hot Springs

We awoke on top of the mountain to find it raining! It had been so dry in Dallas that we had sort of forgotten what rain was like! The temperature outside showed 65 degrees, so there was no need for air conditioning. We just turned on the exhaust fan (RV equivalent to an attic fan) and enjoyed the cool breeze coming in the windows. Thanks to our Wal-Mart excursion last night, we had bacon and eggs for breakfast, a big improvement from yesterday's Spam debacle. Even though we had satellite TV going, we still felt surprisingly disconnected from everything since we had no internet or e-mail access. Isn't that amazing? I'm embarrassed to admit that we have become such satellite/cell phone/internet/e-mail junkies that we can't go on vacation without all this silly technology. We are what we are, however; we just can't figure out how we got this way.

With the need to get back to civilization in mind, I was determined to pull out of Cloud Nine a day early and move to a park closer to town where we would have wi-fi and not feel like early frontier settlers waiting for an Indian attack. So, we scurried around to break camp, and when I went to the office to tell the little Nazi lady that we were leaving early, she informed me that I would not be getting a refund for the extra night. I told her that that decision would be costly for her, as I would be submitting an unflattering review of her park in RVparkreviews.com (the premier web source for unbiased info about RV parks). She shrugged her shoulders, and I left. But I successfully carried out my threat. (You can read my review at http://rvparkreviews.com.) I can guarantee that will cost her a lot more than the 27 bucks she chose not to refund. We chose Lake Hamilton RV park as our recovery location, and were glad we did. The staff was super friendly, and it was right on the lakefront, close to everything. Not only was it cheaper, but the wi-fi was excellent.

Lake Hamilton RV Park

After we got settled into the new digs, we decided to drive around the area and do some sightseeing. This was a good plan, as the clouds and rain showers gave every indication of being with us the entire day. This made for an absolutely delightful temperature that didn't exceed 72 degrees all day, and the showers were spotty enough that it wasn't a problem to get out of the Hornet now and then. We stopped for lunch at McClard's Barbecue, the Hot Springs legend that was closed the last time we came through here on a Monday. The place was mobbed, as usual, and the food was as good as ever.

McClard's BBQ

Our sightseeing then took us out to the Galvan Woodland Gardens, maintained by the University of Arkansas on a 210-acre tract on Lake Hamilton. This was well worth the six-dollar admission price, and the lushness of the place was made even more appealing in the cool dampness of the day. After our afternoon of motoring around the area, we went downtown to take in dinner at the Belle Arts restaurant. The food was Italian, and the setting was an elegant dining room with a soaring arched ceiling and a pianist playing easy listening tunes on the grand piano. Unfortunately, the meal was overpriced and disappointing. The shrimp scampi was prepared with a sauce that had tomato in it, which is just not done in reputable Italian restaurants. The garden salad had way too much balsamic vinegar in the dressing, and the cold shrimp and avocado salad was just that—shrimp and avocado—with a highly forgettable dipping sauce. Too bad—the place had a lot of potential, but should be avoided at all costs because of the unimaginative food and high prices.

After dinner, we went next door to a storefront building with a neon sign that advertised it as the Bath House Theater. We had seen a brochure for this attraction when we were at Galvan Gardens, and it billed itself as the "best live show in Arkansas." The offering, according to the brochure, was a family variety show with comedy acts and an orchestra playing popular music from the last eight decades. What's not to like about that? We paid the $13 admission and settled in for what we anticipated would be a Branson-like show. Uh, it wasn't. The orchestra members, who numbered 8 souls, did double duty as the cast players during the skits. The musicians tried valiantly, but there were just not enough of them (only one trumpet player, two trombonists, and no strings) to bring off the big-band numbers they were trying to play. The result was almost comical, in that there was a melody—thanks to the poor lone trumpeter—but two trombones couldn't possibly have added the orchestral depth required for the music that was attempted. The result was a very amateurish sound, no matter how much effort—which was considerable—they put into their performance. The owner of the theater, Tom Wilkins, was the "star" of the show, along with his wife, who was the lead female vocalist, and his daughter, who was also a singer as well as the pianist for the group. As a pianist, she was pretty good, but as a singer—oh my word! Wilkins, his wife and daughter should be banned from singing for life, with the threat of imprisonment if they ever attempt it again. Everything they did was an off-pitch, screeching mess that was just maddening to endure. The comedy skits were lame and poorly executed but, to my astonishment, some of the 50 or so patrons actually applauded what was going on. This led me to believe these poor souls might never have seen a good show before or that they were polite to a fault. Sandy and I sat there for an hour with our mouths open in utter disbelief that enough people had paid to see this artistic holocaust for it to stay in business for years. The only slightly amusing part of the show was Wilkins's portrayal of Elvis's inept imaginary brother, Buford who, according to the story line, was attempting to do a show mimicking the real Elvis. This had some real potential as a skit idea, but it was executed in a bush-league manner. It did, however, keep our interest sufficiently so as to deter us from slashing our wrists before we could escape from the theater during intermission, which we did. If this was, indeed, the "best live show in Arkansas," then I pity Arkansans. The only good thing about this experience is that it gave me fodder for this journal. It was truly more fun to write about than to watch. Hopefully, some reader will take heed and avoid wasting the price of admission to see this travesty. Other than that, I really don't have any strong feelings on the matter.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Texarkana to Hot Springs, AR

Today is notable for the occasion of Sandy's and my 30th wedding anniversary. We celebrated this milestone before we left on this trip—dinner with the Barkers and Hedlunds on Friday and dinner with Mindy on Saturday before we left town on Sunday. As anniversary gifts, I gave Sandy some jewelry (what else?) and she gave me the new recliner I mentioned earlier. I hope she's as pleased with her gift as I am with mine. We know we're getting older when people respond with, "Wow!" when we tell them how long we've been married. Or, perhaps it's an indication of the shorter duration of relationships these days. It wasn't very long ago that a couple would have to be married 50 years to get a "Wow!" In any case, we consider ourselves to be very fortunate to have found each other and to have been blessed with a great marriage. I believe God had His hand in bringing this about, as I believe He has someone in mind for each of us, if we will just be patient and sensitive to His leading. We know a lot of fine people, though, who have had a marriage breakup, so I'm thinking that even some of the spouses God favors are still humans and capable of being stupid and selfish. We just won't get everything 100 percent right this side of heaven, will we?

There are other common things about Sandy and me that aid in our compatibility. My parents, like Sandy's, grew up during the Depression and worked hard to overcome their humble agrarian beginnings. They were God-fearing, church-going, honest and humble people who cherished their families and taught their children the difference between right and wrong, spanking their behinds when they did the latter. They also modeled that essential element that seems to be missing from so many marriages today—selflessness. It seems fairly simple to me that if a spouse always conducts his or her activities according to what makes the other one happy, there won't be a lot of time left over to do things that are harmful to the relationship. In the case of the wife, she'll be so pleased and astonished that she'll let the husband get away with a lot of stuff he does that's not so selfless—and there's gonna be some of that because, well, boys will be boys. (Note to guys: As long as we're talking about this, just remember that the wife's good humor about our occasional self-indulgence is confined largely to such activities as the acquisition of guy toys or going golfing or fishing or things like that—and these in moderation. There's a good chance that if you have treated her right in your relationship, she herself will insist that you do these guy things, in which case you're home free! Please note that this does not include the acquisition of girlfriends. If this is your weakness, then all bets are off. My theory doesn't work for this; God takes a dim view of it, and I'll just pray for you.)

When we awoke at Shady Pines this morning, it became evident that I had had some serious lapses in my preparations for departure on this trip. Because Sandy does the lion's share of getting us ready for RV trips, it is usually my self-appointed task to load the food items aboard Homer before leaving. I had been determined to select a rather minimal amount from the supply in our house, because we have learned that this can get out of hand, as we mostly eat out when we travel. For us, it's better to buy a few food items at grocery stores as we go. This assumes, of course, that we do indeed supply the trailer with a few basics to get us going, especially refrigerated food that would go bad if left behind. It was here that I had a problem. For reasons that still aren't clear to me, I took cereal from the pantry, but no milk. I took lunchmeat, but no bread. I also failed to take any eggs, bacon or any other kind of breakfast-type food. The result was that our breakfast here in Texarkana consisted of Spam, cream cheese and grapefruit. How pathetic is that? Sandy was very sweet about it, I think because she felt sorry for me in my exasperated state. This was one of those terribly embarrassing moments when I realized that the old brain has lost a few million more cells and that I will soon be a drooling mess.

One of the hosts at Shady Pines was a delightful lady of about 65, who was a charming conversationalist with an inexhaustible supply of things to say. I had walked up to the office to get some ice and escaped 30 minutes later when she paused long enough during her monologue to take a breath. She felt compelled to give me a seemingly endless exposition about her trials and tribulations of getting the park's wireless internet system set up. The system did work well, but my eyes glazed over after about the first five minutes of the story. Fortunately for me, it is usually Sandy who gets drawn into this type of conversation, as she has an engaging personality that makes perfect strangers spontaneously begin talking to her. This happens all the time, and I suppose they see her as easy to talk to. She is, indeed, friendly, charming and animated around people, even those whom she doesn't know, and I guess their response should be expected. Sandy doesn't seem to mind, however, for she is seldom at a loss for words herself—a fact that she will readily admit. One of her favorite articles of clothing is a tee shirt she bought for herself on which is stenciled, "I'm talking and I can't shut up!" This is just part of the mystique of a woman, I guess. Thankfully, guys only have to be concerned with simpler things, like nuclear physics or interplanetary space travel.

Ah, I see I have digressed quite a bit. We reluctantly said goodbye to Shady Pines and went immediately to Bryce's Cafeteria, which was celebrating its 75th year of hardening customers' arteries. I have already written about Bryce's in last year's Branson excerpt from this rag, so there is no need to revisit it. It should be required, however, that all who travel I-30 should remove their hats and observe a moment of silence as they pass by the tall Bryce's sign. And yes, it was just as good as ever. The peach cobbler was such a work of art that I can only speak of it in hushed tones, not wishing to diminish the religious experience.

The relatively short pull to Hot Springs was uneventful, and we settled in at the Cloud Nine RV Park, where we had made a reservation. This place was way out in the country on top of a mountain, where there was plenty of quiet and solitude with nice views of the surrounding hills.

Cloud Nine RV Park

When we checked in, we were greeted by an older woman with a German accent who, when I asked her about it, informed me somewhat brusquely that the wi-fi was not working. About this time an older man who had preceded me in registering came back into the office and requested a pull-through space rather than the back-in parking spot that he had been assigned. The German woman immediately began to chide him for his poor driving skills, saying the assigned space was plenty wide, so what was his problem? I was dumbfounded by her demeanor, as was the old man, who was quite embarrassed. I began to look for a swastika somewhere on her clothing, but then I let it go and paid for two nights, thinking that my T-Mobile card, while slower than wi-fi, would do in a pinch for internet surfing and e-mail. But it was not to be; we were too far out in the country for T-Mobile's signal to reach. After setting up, we motored back into town and had dinner at the Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant on Lake Hamilton. We had cold boiled shrimp and herb-crusted tilapia, both of which were excellent, as was our window seat on the lake.
Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant on Lake Hamilton

Hot Springs from West Mountain

Then we drove up West Mountain, within the Hot Springs National Park, where we saw some great views of Hot Springs and the surrounding mountains. After motoring around a bit more, we decided to go to Wal-Mart and get some of the food essentials that I had overlooked on departure from home. I guess Sandy didn't want any more Spam for breakfast the next morning.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Euless to Texarkana

Frankly, we hadn't planned to do Branson again so soon after the last trip a year ago. I wanted to go out west, and Sandy wanted to go out east. We had even mentioned Maine in the last Branson travelogue. Well, experience has taught us that you don't take very long trips in an RV unless you have lots and lots of time. The reason is the roadweariness factor. RV travel is best when you drive a little and stay a lot. Ideally, you move from place to place, spending a couple of days or more in each stop to check out everything. I don't think very many people enjoy driving most of the day every day, setting up in the evening and breaking camp in the morning. Fairly short trips, like Branson, aren't so bad, because you can easily get there from the Dallas area with one overnight stop on the way.

So, having a bit of a time problem with my work schedule and the swirl of Mindy's high school graduation events, ten days is about all we could muster for our spring trip this year. If we were to go to the west or east coasts, it would take a minimum of three weeks and preferably a month. But then, we definitely prefer to dawdle along the way. Half the fun is stopping in some interesting little town and patronizing a mom-and-pop fruit stand or a farmer's market or festival, or checking out something unusual or historical. Although that's very enjoyable, it definitely slows one's progress, and that's why we will need more time. We have learned that the words, "RV travel" and "hurry" should not even be used in the same sentence.

Today brought a new and shameful low in our ability to cast off the lines and make a timely departure from home base. I had to go to the office for four hours this morning, just to get things in shape for me to leave. I am sometimes jealous of my employees who are not in management. You don't see them working on Sunday, by George, and most would tell you they wouldn't have my job under any circumstance. I often think they're a lot smarter than I am.

So, by the time I got home from work, ate lunch, and started the departure checklist, it was already 1:30 p.m.! Sandy was busy all morning, getting the laundry caught up and trying to police up after Mindy who, we are certain, will simply not be able to function in society because she is so disorganized. I think her going away to college will be a real eye-opener for her, as mom and dad won't be there to tend to all the little details that she forgets or ignores.

We brought Homer to the house yesterday, and I spent most of the afternoon inside, putting together a new Euro-style recliner Sandy gave me to replace a small and woefully inadequate upholstered chair that came with the trailer. I really like the new recliner, but it's so annoying to have to assemble everything nowadays. Sometimes I think that if the factories didn't spend so much time packing all the pieces just so, along with the multilingual assembly instructions, little labels on the parts and countless little baggies full of nuts and bolts, they would have time to go ahead and assemble the chair! The cotton-picking thing was in a million pieces! (Excuse me while I vent--this is really a pet peeve of mine.) I'm surprised the instructions didn't direct me to slaughter a cow and tan its hide to get the chair covered!

I hate to admit that it was almost 4:00 p.m. when we pulled away from the curb at the house in Euless! I can never rag on Bubba Barker again about timeliness. The trip through Dallas, which should have been a breeze on Sunday afternoon, was slowed to a crawl on I-30 just east of downtown, as workers had the freeway shut down to repair a bridge. This cost us another half hour! It was an uneventful pull for the rest of this leg, and I marveled at the fuel mileage showing on the Hornet's computer—15.2 mpg! That's really good for pulling a trailer and about twice the mileage most folks get in a motorhome. We stopped at Burton's Family Restaurant in Sulphur Springs for dinner, where we had some outstanding catfish, coleslaw, fries and pineapple-coconut pie. We were a bit apprehensive on our entry into the restaurant, as we were the only patrons, and the manager was mopping the rather dirty dining room floor. The staff was very friendly, though, and almost everything we had was scrumptious. Only the hushpuppies were disappointing. They served the little frozen pre-formed sticks that are ubiquitous these days. I thought of my recently departed mother's mastery of the hushpuppy and how she would have sneered at these tiny inedible cornmeal logs.

At Mount Pleasant, we abandoned I-30 and zigzagged over to U. S. 67 for the 65 remaining miles to Texarkana. It was a good choice, as our campground—Shady Pines—is on 67 just southwest of the city, and the drive was very nice through the few small towns along the way. The highway was well maintained, and there was very little traffic.

Shady Pines RV Park

We turned into the entrance of Shady Pines at 8:30 p.m. and nosed into a nice concrete pull-through pad near the back of the park. Shady Pines is a newish park and oh, so neat and clean. Wow! The place was manicured, with all the lanes and pads paved with concrete. I didn't see a single speck of litter anywhere. The price was also right at $22.50 with a Good Sam discount, and I was surprised how few campers were there. As I'm sitting here in Homer writing this at 7:20 on Monday morning, I notice another trailer moving slowly by, heading for the park exit. I am mystified as to how anyone can get up, have breakfast, break camp and be on the road so early. It's just not normal; there's something definitely wrong with those people!