Sunday, November 1, 2020

Touring Kentucky and Oklahoma

We arrived at our Harvest Host site in Kentucky, an organic vegetable producing farm, where we would spend two nights.  Dad was super excited to restock up on fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and zucchini.  The owners were very welcoming, inviting us to walk the trails and relax by the lake on their property.  Even more fun was getting to visit with their horses, who immediately befriended me when I bestowed them with carrots.   Most importantly, the farm was within a 45-minute drive of our destination:  The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.   What a magnificent project!   Built to the specifications noted in the Book of Genesis within the Bible, the replica Ark is ginormous!  Despite the scope and magnitude of the project, I was astonished to learn construction was completed within 6 years! The explanations and depictions provided on “kinds” of animals in Biblical times and how food storage/animal waste were handled make a compelling argument for the authenticity of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood.  We spent hours within the Ark plus we visited the outdoor petting zoo and partook of lunch at Emzara’s Kitchen.  Afterwards, we attended the gospel music show.   Visiting the Ark Encounter is a fun, educational, and spiritual experience which I highly recommend, though it don’t come cheap:  Adult tickets are $49.95 each plus tax.


When you carry carrots, its is easy to make friends with horses!



 

 

Scale model of the 3-tiered Ark


Housing for some of the smaller animals.


Food storage/preparation area.



One of the "kinds" (vs species) of animals in existence at the time of the Great Flood


One of the exceptionally interesting exhibits, this time about DNA and skin pigmentation.  We are all of one race--humankind.

I just had to ride the Camel!

Some lazy joeys soaking up the afternoon sun.

Thoroughly enjoyed the gospel music show.



We departed early the next morning to glorious weather and the sweet smell of corn in the air, which was emanating from the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  Originally built in 1792, it has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the U.S.A., earning its place on the National Register of Historic Places and its designation as a National Historic Landmark.  Because of COVID, the distillery limited the number of tours offered, it restricted group sizes, and it required advance reservations. So, we were not able to do any touring/taste testing this time around.

 

We visited Mill Springs National Cemetery in Nancy, Kentucky.  Originally, it was the site of a January 1862 civil war battle that signified the first significant Union victory.  The casualties of the battle were buried en mass on site.  After the Civil War, the site was one of the very first National Cemeteries created.

 






We spent the night at another Harvest Host location, an apple orchard.  The 450-acre orchard has been in business since the late 1800s, and has been operated by 5 generations of the same family.  Mom was disappointed that the U-pick season was over.  But we purchased a variety of apples:  Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and my favorite Jonagold.  The store sold everything apple, from fritters, pies, and turnovers to  cider and salsa.  I’ll take one of each, please!

 


As we traversed Kentucky, I enjoyed the pastoral scenery.  Rolling hills, silos, cows in the fields—all embraced by earth’s blanket of fall colors.

 







The next day we arrived at Paducah, Kentucky, home to the National Quilt Museum.  In honor and in admiration of our quilting friends, we just had to tour the museum.  Wow, what works of art and labors of love!  The special animal exhibit was amazing.  These quilts were so detailed, they were almost like photographs!       

 






Paducah was first settled in 1821 and named Pekin.  In 1827, William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) surveyed and laid out the town, renaming it Paducah.  Located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, we watched the barges come downriver during the sunset.   I didn’t realize that Western Kentucky has the most navigable rivers in the world.  We walked along the seawall, admiring the many murals that depicted the history of Paducah.   I can’t imagine the flood of 1937 when the Ohio River crested at 60 feet above sea level!  A large section of Paducah is on the National Register of Historic Places, so we strolled through the historic district which consisted of restaurants, boutiques, and novelty shops.  But COVID has been cruel to these small business owners.  Despite it being a Friday, most places were closed.  We walked outside the historic district and found Branch Out, a small vegan restaurant, open for dine in.  Among its menu selections are Mediterranean bowls, bean burgers, and falafel, all of which are tasty, freshly made, and satisfying.  We topped the evening off at Craving the Curls, which offers a unique rolled ice cream dessert.  And best of all, it has a vegan alternative!  The process used to create these scrumptious delicacies is very cool to watch, too!  Craving the Curls is a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese award winner for sure!

 






While in Paducah, we stopped to visit Whitehaven Hall.  Not only is it a Welcome Center for I-24 travelers, it is a stunning restoration of antebellum architecture.  It was closed to tours (due to COVID) when we visited, but we took the time to peek in the windows like the kids at Higee’s Department Store (if you read my last blog, you know this is a reference from A Christmas Story).  Pre-COVID, Whitehaven Hall also offered special holiday tours, adorning the home with period decorations.  

 





We reached our next Harvest Host site, a family-owned dairy farm.  Once again, our hosts were friendly and accommodating.  After a fitful night’s sleep, we awoke to watch the cows being milked.  What a fascinating operation!   The farm had lots of other animals, too, like chickens, pigs, turkeys, and adogable canines!

 

The girls lined up waiting for the automated milking process to begin.



Just one of several of the property's canine hosts.



I should mention that our travel path back to Texas was a bit strange.  Dad rerouted us due to anticipated hurricanes/tropical storms in the Gulf.  I didn’t mind the change.  It gave me an opportunity to see more of this great Country.

 

So we found ourselves heading back to Missouri with Mom at the wheel and white knuckled as we entered St. Louis.  She was praying Gretchen the GPS didn’t route us through the middle of downtown (a situation that occurred many years ago when we were just RV vacationers rather than full-timers).


Soon we were at a Harvest Host brewery off historic Route 66.  These friendly hosts provide a huge, flat, dry, open field for parking.  We enjoyed the locally-brewed beers and live musical entertainment.   And we chatted with the car owners at the brewery-hosted Corvette Show. 



Some fine looking Corvettes on display!


Our re-route also brought us back to Branson, Missouri.  Instead of staying near Branson Landing again at Escapees Turkey Creek RV Park, we opted for a Harvest Host site about 20 miles outside the City.  The hosts were super welcoming. They have multiple RV sites on their farmette, so they are flexible to letting you stay an extra night.  And most of the sites are equipped with electric hookups for which the Hosts charge a minimal fee should you require pedestal use.  With only a pair of baby moo cows on their property, they have no gift shop or country store from which we could make reciprocating purchases.  We noticed, however, they were motorcyclists like us, so we presented them with new Harley Davidson T-shirts. 


Adorable baby moo-moos


Mid-October is shoulder season in Branson, so tourism is minimal.   And most of the shows were “dark” (sure glad we got to see “Noah” and “Anthems of Rock” when we were here in early September.)   Hence, we visited Table Rock State Park and Dam.  As we have found with most government-operated recreation areas, the Visitor Center was closed due to COVID.  But we strolled along the hiking/biking trails, enjoying the scenery and area inhabitants--insects, reptiles, and amphibians.


 



Turtle


Frog



Common buckeye butterfly


A rather large lizard-type creature.

My motto is never mess with perfection!    Therefore, after our hike at Table Rock we partook of another delectable meal at Billy Gail’s.    We stopped for dessert at the Fifties Diner, a retro eatery complete with jukebox, poodle skirts, and an Elvis impersonator.  He sure rocked us around the clock!  They also show old TV shows at their drive-in movie, so it was a hoot to watch favorites like The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges.

 



The next day we departed to a crisp, autumn morning, but that didn’t last long.  Temps increased significantly as we entered Arkansas.  We stopped at the Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs, which Dad found on the Roadside America website.  What we didn’t realize was that in addition to the magnificent statue of Jesus, the site includes a replica of the Holy Lands and a Passion Play.  Unfortunately, our timing was off.  The Holy Lands tours didn’t start until 2 p.m. and there was no Passion Play scheduled that day.  We will definitely have to return here in the future.  There are dozens of hiking and biking trails here as well, so we got in a quick 2-miles.  There is also a section of the Berlin Wall on display.

 




Section of the Berlin Wall






Set for the Passion Play.  You can see the statue peaking out above the trees in the right background.



We entered Oklahoma and began getting our kicks on Route 66.  We toured the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum in Sapulpa, where I found several vehicles that would suit my needs just fine!  We remained on Route 66 all the way to Oklahoma City, passing through Depew, Stroud, and the Sac and Fox Nation Reservation.

The Remains of the  Rock Service Station

Rock of Ages Hay Farm












This vehicle was the perfect size for this stuffed rat!






In Acadia, Oklahoma we visited other roadside attractions like the Red Round Barn.  The original structure was built in 1898 using all hand tools.  Its circular design protected it from tornado destruction.  You see, flat sides would be blown down by the impact of tornado winds.  But the circular design allowed the winds to go around the structure.  We then stopped to view the World’s Largest Soda Bottle.  Truthfully, this was a bit anticlimactic, but it was fun to go inside the old-school luncheonette and gift shop to see all the varieties of soda pops.  Of course, Mom had to get one for the road.



The restored Red Round Barn


The domed ceiling of the barn


World's Largest Soda Pop Bottle

A small sampling of the HUGE selection of soda/pop brands and flavors




We arrived at Roadrunner RV Park, where we would put down our jacks for a few days of touring Oklahoma City (OKC).  Sure hope no tornado comes through here and destroy rigs like it did in 2015!

 

We visited the OKC Memorial, purchasing tickets in advance for our specific-timed self-guided tour.  Like visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, it was a heartbreaking tale about the decimation of human life and yet a poignant tribute to the victims of terrorism.  After seeing remnants of 1995 technology like cassette tapes, clunky cell phones, and bulky computer monitors, it is hard to fathom the tragedy was only a quarter century ago.  We refrained from taking photos of the bombing exhibits inside the Memorial, respecting the lives lost and recognizing these as hollowed grounds.

 









Hard to believe amidst the bomb's blast, the elm tree (left foreground) survived and now thrives.  



Reflecting pool and Field of Empty Chairs


Jesus Weeps Statue across the street from the Memorial


We were emotionally spent after completing our tour.  We began walking through the City, eerily quiet for noon on a Friday, compliments of COVID.  Nothing soothes the soul better than some comfort food, and Dad’s Happy Cow app directed us to the Sunnyside Diner.  There are several plant-based options from which to choose, but they offer eggs, burgers, and sandwiches for us non-vegans as well.  Everything was tasty and cooked fresh to order.  Daniel our server was friendly and super attentive, making a great meal even better.  Nice sized portions and reasonable prices make this a recipient of Rambling RV Rat’s 5-cheese award.

 

The next day we toured Bricktown, which is the entertainment hub of OKC.  Celebrating OKC as the  birthplace of legendary Yankee Mickey Mantle, Bricktown has baseball fields, sports arenas, eateries, breweries, even a boathouse row.  What it didn’t have was anything going on.  For a Saturday, the place was dead, obviously heavily impacted by COVID closures.  We returned to Sunnyside Diner for lunch, getting Daniel as our server once again.  Needless to say, we enjoyed our dining experience immensely.

 







The American Banjo Museum provides a great history lesson on the roots and progression of the instrument and music.  But the Museum touches the hearts of my family on a deeper and more personal level because its outstanding collection of banjos on exhibit includes those manufactured by my Mom’s ancestor! (In fact, there is one on exhibit just like the one my Mom proudly displays in our home on wheels.)  The detailed inlaid and carvings on some of these instruments make them true works of art in my humble opinion.  Pre-COVID, banjo players would come to the Museum to play for patrons in a small, intimate setting.  I sure wish we could have participated in that!     



Look at the details on the backs of these banjos!


One of my favorite pieces.

We were so excited to find banjos created by Mom's ancestor included in the Museum's exhibit!

The Museum room where we could have enjoyed listening to banjo players before COVID reared its ugly head.


We left OKC early on a dreary overcast morning.  The sun fought long and hard to break through the cloud cover, but was unsuccessful—until we entered our beloved state of Texas.  We overnighted at a Harvest Host alpaca farm.  We learned quickly through our tour that alpacas are very loveable and friendly, but they are as bad-mannered as llamas when it comes to spitting.  The gift shop has gorgeous, fine quality alpaca-wool items for sale. You will be hard-pressed to spend only the recommended minimum $20 at this Harvest Host.  Mom dropped $150 of my cheese inheritance on a gorgeous blanket.

Mother and child

Amigos


Loving couple



Well, we were glad to be on our last travel day.  We had learned from friends/neighbors that Livingston had a very dry summer and had no significant rainfall for several weeks.  I don’t have to tell you that we arrived at our lot for the first time in 5 ½ months in the midst of a torrential downpour and thunderstorm.

 

Despite COVID cancellations and restrictions, we had a healthy and fun-filled post-shelter-at-home travel season.  Since leaving Texas on May 6, we towed Suite Retreat 8,382 miles through 15 states!   And for my Aunt Laurie (our personal “COVID police”), we followed the rules in effect within each state, locality, and attraction we visited, which varied widely.  With COVID, as with all decisions we make, we evaluate the detriments and benefits of each situation.  We don’t criticize folks who exercise their freedom to choose nor do we get abusive towards employees/management who enforce their establishment’s rules.  If we don’t like a rule, we simply do not visit that establishment.  Ditto if we “don't feel safe” with a lack of compliance at a business.  Our ultimate goal during our travels was to support the various local economies and small business owners, and we feel we were successful in our mission.