Give Me A Break!

Give Me A Break!

Often, when we travel, we do not stop very long in one place because we are trying to collect as many counties as possible and this means a lot of distance has to be covered in a short amount of time. This means that often all we see of a town is the courthouse and the travel center, gas station or restaurant. But is this really enough for those long 400-1,000 mile trip.  We decided a couple of months ago, we were going to do more than just a quick stop at a gas station and call it good. There needed to be more movement and less spending of money; it would help our health days after a trip and save our wallet. But how were we going to do this without looking like those strange people who pile out of their vehicles and do yoga at every rest stop they come to? A plan needed to be made; even if it wasn’t a planned plan.

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Scott doing the Pirate Rum Stretch at Petit Jean State Park
Because we are driving across counties to learn about them, their people, and cultures, we felt we needed to start spending just a bit more time seeing what made each county special. This has caused us to find some pretty unique things in the places we visit. We do not really plan more than a destination and a basic route there. There really is not a plan as to where to stop for a driving break, we just allow Serendipity to do what she wants. Since we started doing this, we have found some of the most amazing places and events.

Standing in awe of a true national treasure.
We had taken a planned trip to the Black Mesa State Park in the panhandle of Oklahoma, the most western park in the state. Since Scott could not get dark sky photos due to clouds, he wanted to go see the mountains in nearby New Mexico. Thinking this would be a day trip, we headed to Cimarron, New Mexico. To our surprise, there was a National Scenic Drive, a National Monument, a National Forest, and two State Parks just west in the mountains. We went and ended up taking the Enchanted Circle Drive finding a rather wonderful place to stop and stretch our legs. About three miles west of Taos was the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and we were going to drive across the bridge over the gorge. This is the second highest bridge in the United States and we just happened to need a break and it was the perfect spot to do so. We ended up staying overnight in Eagle Nest, which was a wonderful opportunity to rest in itself.

What a surprise to find a museum about the beginning of Wal-Mart in the Bentonville, Arkansas, town square.
We visited Bentonville, Arkansas, recently to attend a viewing of photos for the Bedford Photography Contest entries and capture the Benton County Courthouse (by capture, I mean we took a photo). While we were there, after spending two hours in the SUV, we needed a break. Since the gallery for the photos was closed, we were not happy about the idea of spending two more hours headed home so we wandered about the quaint Bentonville downtown square. As we walked through the area, we found The Wal-Mart Museum! What a surprise! This place was free to the public, had all types of historical memorabilia, and a refreshing soda fountain type restaurant. We, of course, didn’t partake in the ice cream and such since we are on a budget and a diet, but it was there and we were so stunned to find this little gem to help us relax a bit before we headed back home.


A bit of history to help refresh us.
Sunday as we sped along Missouri Highway 176, we were capturing another county courthouse when Scott noticed something about a Y Bridge Park. It intrigued us and, realizing we probably needed a short break from hours driving, we decided to see what it was all about. There, over the James River, was an old 1926 built bridge. Often, when a new highway is made, the old highway dies. Fortunately for this county seat Galena, Missouri, they took their Y-shaped bridge and turned it into a tourist stop. We took advantage and spent a good thirty minutes wandering along in, filming. I was even able to get a great close up of the cutest little caterpillar. It was one of my favorite stops so far.

I think this is a Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillars.

We love traveling and finding interesting things. Since we have decided to stop more often, we hope not only to help our bodies be less stressed after a trip but feed our minds as well. This will enable us to enjoy the long drives more and help us have more to share at the end of the adventure.

Thanks for traveling with us,
Ren and Scott

Just Because I Have An Eye

Just Because I Have An Eye

Scott is really the photographer between the two of us. He geeks out over the cameras and their settings, while I am just trying to understand it all. I am told I have a great eye, but I just can’t seem to the get the excitement that he has. This can be rather frustrating for him, I fear. At one point we were at a Texas State Park called Mineral Wells State Park just outside of Mineral Wells, Texas. He was taking photos of the dam while all I could see was the tall grass against that turquoise water. When we compare shots, he had some of the prettiest dam shots and all I got was this grass photo. I think it is one of my favorites that I have taken.


Fort Worth’s Sundance Square taken by Ren
I tend to take photos of shapes, reflections, and down below shots. There is something about the dark shadows against the bright sky that just thrills me. Scott seems to prefer landscapes, but those tend to bore my eye and I don’t take photos while he is snapping away. I can, however, tell him which shots he should take. It doesn’t annoy him though because he uses that information to take some pretty amazing shots. He wanted to walk the Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth and I kept getting distracted by the patio cover where we sat. It seems the photo came out rather well.


Fort Griffin State Historic Site Campground’s Mill Creek Access photo taken by Ren
We visited a place that was once a fort to protect the Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. Fort Griffin was occupied from 1860 to 1881 to assist Texas Settlers from Comanche and Apache attacks. They are a historic site today with many ruins that make amazing backdrops for photography. Scott has taken some amazing photos of the ruins agains a dark, very stary sky. While these photos are beautiful, it was the steeps down to the Mill Creek access from our campsite that caught my attention. There is something about the lush green against the red clay dirt here that just took me away to another time.


Street Sign at the Veterans Park Southern Tip taken by Ren
Tulsa is, for now, our home. We are trying to learn as much as we can about as much of it as possible to help us appreciate the place we are living in. It’s just what we do every place we move to. There are so many wonderful parks in this city, we decided to see what type of photos we could get. As always, Scott was taking these amazing shots of the skyline, the statues, and the landscape. Me? I was taking obscure shots of tree limbs, flags and street signs agains the beautiful, golden-hour sunrise. This is one of those shots that just capture my imagination. Were they thinking this would someday be the perfect photo opportunity when they named these streets? Who knows, but I took the opportunity and have a great photo; if I can say so myself.


Selfie time! Me at Fort Griffin State Historic Site
I have to admit, I love taking selfies! I know some people think it is narcissistic, but I just love seeing the changes time has on me. There is just something about documenting what I am doing or who I am on that day and time. I am trying to learn to take better photos, even if this means selfies, so I am always thinking about the type of light and what the surrounding will look like. This is a good thing, really. It makes me more aware so I am paying attention to detail.

I don’t take many photos with an actual camera, but when I do I try to do the best I can. The photography is more Scott’s hobby, but to make it more enjoyable for him I join in. I can always tell a difference when we work together on a set of photos because he is happier and always appreciative for my input making his photos better. If that makes any sense.

Thank you all so much for taking a few moments to view my photos. I don’t share my own photos often, but you all have been so encouraging I felt they would be appreciated.
Ren

Bluebonnets and Petrified Wood

Bluebonnets and Petrified Wood

One of my favorite places in Texas is Glen Rose. This small, quiet county seat of Sommerville County was once a place where people traveled miles to see dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy River. People were, as they are today, dinosaur crazy; especially here. Within the Paluxy River, the last untamed river in North Texas, Sauropod and Theropod tracks are found throughout. Geologically, this area and layer of rock are known as the Glen Rose Formation; named after this sweet little town.
One of the things about Glen Rose is that almost all of the old buildings are built with petrified wood and various dinosaur tracks. They would haul the rocks and petrified wood into town and the masons would build buildings, fountains, and fences out of it. This was all the rage and it is rare at this point to find any stray petrified wood upon the ground near there. A great example of the building is found just on hold highway 67.


In the 1920’s this was a gas station. Amazing, right, but it was. The owner’s name was Ed Young and he was definitely a man of means. This was an area where traffic was high and he knew people would need to purchase gas before they headed east towards Cleburne. Looking at the structure, you can see the brick trimming out the building giving the petrified wood and quartz the perfect opportunity to shine.

However, the more interesting thing to this building is not the petrified wood, but it is Ed Young. He had decided, since it was the prohibition era and Glen Rose was known as the moonshine capital of Texas, he would take a chance and provide more than just gas to passing travelers. It has been said he sold more moonshine than gas during that time period and at one point Bonnie and Clyde were his best customers. However, that last bit is just hearsay and has yet to be proven; but what a story it tells about Mr. Ed Young.

When you go to visit the work of art that is known as the Old Stone Gas Station on Old Texas Highway 67, take a bit of time and visit the town of Glen Rose, Texas. Here you will find a beautiful town square complete with county courthouse (yes, built with petrified wood as well), a bandstand, fountain, and artwork. The little shops are quaint and the historical park running alongside the Paluxy River is a nice place to cool off in the summer heat. It is such a beautiful little town and I am sure you would love it.

Thanks so much for traveling with us today,
Ren

For more information about the petrified wood built houses in Glen Rose, Texas, please visit: https://www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/life-arts/irreplaceable-works-of-art

The Mountains Are Calling And We Must Drive

The Mountains Are Calling And We Must Drive

If you want to watch the video that matches Scott’s post, visit our dTube channel and view https://d.tube/#!/v/xcountytravelers/065bt48w

As I’ve said before, there is something about mountains that call Ren and I. When we get to the mountains, it feels like coming home. I don’t think we have ever visited the mountains without at least discussing the possibility of moving there, and I expect that eventually, we will do so.

One of my favorite trips was in June of 2016 when we headed west to Davis Mountains State Park. As you would expect, this is a State Park located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. There are several attractions in this are that make it worth the trip.

After a long drive, our first stop before heading to the park was the nearby, Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas. This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool. Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside. We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round. We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.


After our swim, we headed for Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas. Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks. DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park. Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s. It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.

The Park is between Five and Six thousand feet in elevation, the days were warm, but with the low humidity, not too uncomfortable, and the evenings were downright chilly. We spent the first day exploring the Park. The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain. You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions. From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east. You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot. Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view. One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

We spent the next few days exploring the many things this area has to offer. We very much liked the town of Fort Davis. It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism, They do a good job of making you feel welcome. The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.

This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The Fort, the town, the mountain range, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established. Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier. Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning and other modern conveniences.

As the day got warmer we took advantage of the air conditioning in our truck and drove through the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side. The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas. It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.

Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive. This is an extremely remote and empty country. Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis. There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day. The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along. Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss. This was my favorite part of the entire trip.

We drove the loop from Fort Davis to Alpine, to Marfa, and back to Fort Davis. While this is not officially a Scenic Byway, it could be. The scenery is beautiful and dramatic, and Alpine and Marfa are both interesting towns, well worth a visit.

We were there during the day, so we did not have a chance to look for the famous Marfa Lights, but we did spend a few hours at an interest resort called El Cosmico. El Cosmico is a resort that is an odd mixture of tents, mobile homes, RVs, tipis, and yurts. It has something of a hippy vibe to it. We relaxed for a while listening to obscure 60s LPs and drinking homemade sangria.

Nearby is the McDonald Observatory. We had not made reservations in advance, so we were not able to get tickets for the evening star parties, but we did attend the daytime tour and solar viewing. If you get in this area I highly recommend it. The tour is very interesting. The telescopes are impressive, and the views from the mountain are amazing. Be sure to reserve a space in advance, they do sell out.

Back at Davis Mountain State Park, they close Lookout Mountain after 10 PM, but for a small fee, you can get permission to stay up there after hours, which we did. This is one of the darkest areas of Texas, and famous for stargazing, but we were only a day or two away from the full moon, so the conditions were not especially good for astrophotography, but I took the camera and setup anyway. Ren brought an air mattress and a blanket and slept in the back of the truck while I, and another photographer we met there, took pictures. I did get some nice photos of all the cars driving back to the park after the star party ended at the observatory. I combined them to make a light trail.

It really was an amazing trip, and I look forward to going back for another visit, preferably when the moon is not full. What is your favorite story about the mountains? Let us know in the comments.

Travel safe my friends,
Scott

It’s About Sharing With You

It’s About Sharing With You

This has been the first week of school in our town and I have been picking up two of my GrandGeorges while their parents work. Even though this takes up about two hours of my day after I have picked each of them up and Scott from work, I am still able to get plenty of writing and website work done. However, I am finding it a bit stressful at times because I have added so many things to my day. There are the daily household chores that range from cooking, cleaning, and running the errands Scott isn’t able to do since he has a fulltime job. We have also decided to go full blast with http://crosscountytravelers.com website which is a full-time job in itself, add the travel, photography, social media, and blogging, I’m extremely busy. I knew this would be the case, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for it 100%. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to have the opportunity and I am doing what I can to make sure I stay on top of everything.


Spending time with my favorite son.
At the start of the day, I was worried that I would not be able to get a blog post out because my “to do” list was a mile long and getting longer by the minute. You see, on payday Fridays, if we aren’t traveling”, I have a full day of errands starting with laundry at the laundromat by 7:30 am to grocery shopping at five different stores to taking care of any other things that come up. Fridays are such busy days. Fortunately, I decided to spend some time with my son, which is extremely rare since he has a daughter and a fulltime job. We went out for lunch where I was able to introduce him to a Peanut Butter Burger and watched him enjoy every bite. Because both of us needed to do some big box grocery shopping, we went to Sam’s where I only lost him once. Ah, memories.


Snuggles with the fuzzy butt.
I arrived home with just enough time to put groceries and laundry away, then have a little bit of fuzzy butt snuggle time. It was short, but I got it in there before I had to pick Scott up. Once I picked the husband up from work, it was a mad dash to complete a few odd errands left for us both. It was nice spending time together, but I rather enjoyed my time sitting in the SUV reading about Capulin Volcano National Monument. I find myself doing a bit here and there on the smartphone so I am not overwhelmed the next day.


Still in the car, but still being productive.
Unfortunately, we are not on the road every day, but that is what makes the trips we do take very special. I long for the full-time travel and the days when we are going from county to county to meet new people and see amazing things that we can share with you. For us, this blogging is not about getting famous and rich; it is about making friends and sharing our lives; encouraging you all to get outside of your comfort zone and see the world around you one county at a time.

Safe travels
Ren

7 State Parks in 7 States

7 State Parks in 7 States

Traveling Thursday
August 30, 2018

When we talk about wanting to share our travels with those who are not able to travel, at first that mostly meant my mother.  She always wanted to travel, but because she started a family early there was no time. Later she was a foster parent and adopted three small children in her later years.  There was really no time or money for travel other than occasional visits to see family. She told me once that she loved following our travels, with the photos and video she felt like she was there with us.  With us living in Texas and her in Oklahoma, we didn’t see each other as often as we would have liked, but our travel blogging was a way to let her keep up with what we were doing. Ren and I talked about our travels with my parents one evening and they both encouraged us to pursue what made us happy, and not to put it off.  

Last year we lost my mother in a car wreck.  In September we took her ashes to Piggott, Arkansas, to be buried next to my Father’s family, where he will one day rest. I had not been back to Piggott since we moved away when I was twelve.  Since she loved our travels so much, we decided that we would do something special on this trip. The burial was to be on Saturday, so we left a few days early, and set out to visit seven new state parks in seven different states.   She would have been amused by us cramming in as much as we could.

We set out on Thursday morning and our first stop was a few hours up the road on Grand Lake.  Twin Bridges State Park in northeastern Oklahoma. This is a very pretty area and was extremely peaceful when we were there in the middle of the week. Here we were able to see an old stone barn being used by the park to store their landscaping equipment. We had seen this type of structure in the area, but often those buildings are no longer in use.  The highway 137 drives through the middle of the park separating two campgrounds leading down the hill to the boat ramp area. It was here we were able to see a squadron of pelicans on the Grand Lake on their yearly trek south.

After a brief detour to the OK – KS – MO Tri-State marker, we headed up into Kansas to visit Crowley Fishing Lake.  Now we have been to a lot of parks on a lot of lakes, probably hundreds by now, and we always try to find something that makes each special.  This particular park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back during the depression, as a way to put young men to work. That in itself is not unusual, so many state park systems got their start from the CCC, and we always enjoy seeing the CCC construction.  It has a very distinctive style that we really like. This particular park had a monument to the CCC and an outdoor museum.

That was it for parks for the first day.  Now we had to put some miles behind us as we headed across southern Missouri to our hotel in Sikeston in the SE corner of the state.  We were driving through the northern Ozarks, and it was our first trip into Missouri. We found it just a beautiful as NW Arkansas and were making our plans to return.  We would have six counties left to someday collect, but this was not one; however, by the time we reached the hotel, we had collected 15 counties in Missouri. The next day we would get more, but now it was time for sleep.

Friday morning we got up and headed the short drive down into the Missouri bootheel to Big Oak Tree State Park.  Most of the old growth forest in this area was logged long ago, but they preserved this small patch. It contains some of the largest trees of various species in the state.  The area is a bit swampy, but they built an elevated, metal walkway through the forest. The trees were awe-inspiring, though the forest was dense enough that it blocked any breeze, so it was muggy and buggy, but worth it.   On the way out Ren tripped and hurt her ankle. She insisted we complete the trip, but it did limit our activities for the rest of the journey.

After we left Big Oak Tree we headed up the west side of the river to Cape Girardeau where we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, where we gave into our inner bunny and briefly entered bunny-trail mode.  We found a historical marker that led us to Thebes the original County seat of Alexander County. Abraham Lincoln once practiced law here and Dred Scott was held in the jail while awaiting trial. We then headed up through Jonesboro where we stopped at a park where one of the Lincoln – Douglas debates was held. 

Exiting bunny-trail mode, we headed up to the town of Makanda and Giant City State Park.  We immediately fell in love with this park. The trees, the creek running through the gorges, the beautiful drives.  We were not able to take any of the hikes to see the parks best features, due to Ren’s ankle. But what we saw of the park we loved; we seem to be suckers for big rocks and massive elevation changes.  After a quick picnic, we got back on the road. Due to our detours, we were behind schedule.

We headed south to the town of Cairo, the current county seat of Alexander County.  Located at the southern tip of Illinois, on a narrow peninsula between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  This is where we were to cross the river into Kentucky. Cairo itself is not much of a tourist destination.  Just south of town is Fort Defiance State Park, once it was a state park and before that, it was a fort during the Civil War. This is at the point where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi River and it was there we took a photo of us standing “in the confluence.”   It was pretty, but we did not linger; this whole area did not feel like a place you wanted to be after dark.

We headed across the river and drove down the eastern side of the Mississippi headed toward Columbus Belmont State Park in Kentucky.  This is the site of another Civil War battle and runs along the Mississippi River where the Confederates placed a large chain across to keep the Union at bat.  By this time it was getting dark, and Ren was in extreme pain causing her to not leave the truck; this is definitely not like her, so it must have been really bad.    We drove through the park, and I got out to take a few pictures from the bluff overlooking the river.

We continued South along the river and passed into Tennessee.  By now it was fully dark and we had one more stop to make before heading to our hotel room in Piggott.  Reelfoot State Park. We certainly did not do this park justice. It was dark and we were exhausted, but we did do a quick drive through to see what could be seen from the road.  Grabbing the first state park sign we could, we took what we could; however, within a mile, we were able to find the actual state park sign. Unfortunately, Ren’s ankle was causing her too much pain to do anymore and we just took a photo of the sign without us in it.

Finished, we headed south to the nearest bridge across the river, crossing back into the Missouri bootheel before crossing the St Francis River and finally entering Arkansas. Piggott is tucked right up into the bootheel and we were quickly at our hotel.  After visiting with the family awhile and getting Ren’s ankle up and iced, we headed to bed. Our total for the day, four parks, and Ren was sure Mom was cheering for us all the way.

Saturday was spent with family as we buried my Mother’s ashes, and spent time getting acquainted with family we hadn’t seen in many years.  Ren and I made time to tour the places where I spent my childhood such as the elementary school I attended was closed and abandoned. The giant hill I used to race down on my bicycle, looked so tiny and hardly terrifying at all. We also took a few hours and visited   Later a few of us drove over to Paragould where my Mother’s parents are buried.

Sunday we got up and hit the road as early as we could; everyone needed to get home.  We headed back to Tulsa on highway 412, crossing Northern Arkansas. It is definitely not the fastest way home, but we’ve always thought the journey was something to savor;  we seldom take the interstate unless we are trying to get to a specific place in a short amount of time. We dropped south to visit Davidsonville Historic State Park, our seventh and final state park in our seventh state.  Located on the Black River, this park has a lot of history to explore. It was originally the country seat for this entire area of the state before being broken up into several other counties. We are suckers for the historical parks and spent more time here than we planned.  

Leaving the park we continued west into the town of Hardy.  My grandfather had been the pastor of the Methodist church there when I was very young, but I remember visiting them at this river town.  Ren and I took a few minutes to see if we could find the old parsonage; I’m still not sure if we did or not. We spoke with someone who worked there, but she had no information she could share.  Deciding it was time for lunch we found a very nice little park next to the Spring River, where we stopped for lunch. Ren tries very hard to make sure we always have plenty of food that we will eat when we travel. It has helped us to keep our expenses down.  She had not let us down at this point either.

We continued west across Northern Arkansas, and I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed a drive more.  This is some of the most beautiful country anywhere, and we’ve fallen in love with Arkansas. Ren thinks it is because it is our “home” and wants to live in the Arkansas Mountains, but when does she not what to live where we visit?

Eventually, we made it home, much later than we had planned, but we always do.  It probably sounds strange to say that I really enjoyed the trip to bury my mother;  it sounds strange to me too, but the burial was several weeks after the funeral, and my memories of that weekend are an odd jumble.  The burial, visiting both of my grandparents’ graves, spending time with family, revisiting where I grew up, and all the wonderful places we visited, all just kind of blend together.  Travel is how I cope with the stresses of life. It’s how I heal and how I nourish my spirit, and I am so lucky that I have a wonderful and amazing person to share all that. I returned from that trip feeling at peace and  I know Mom would have appreciated and approved of it; she would have asked to see the pictures for sure.

Safe Travels

Scott