Friday, January 20, 2017

Magnolias, Mammoths and Memories

January 16-19, 2017
Waco, Texas

For many years I have been a big fan of HGTV shows - the lovely escapism of home buying and decorating with someone else's money. Bill would rather eat glass.

Until we discovered Fixer Upper with the talented and silly Chip and Joanna Gaines. He enjoys it every bit as much as I do. The show is set in Waco, Texas, and when they first bought the Silos near downtown we agreed we had to make a stop when we got to Texas.

Our Monday drive is one of the nicest we've had in a while. The sun is shining, there's no wind, the truck traffic is minimal, Interstate 35 is in great condition. 

We're heading to an RV park east of town, set on a small road in the trees. About eight miles north of Waco we see the I-35 RV Park along the highway and immediately change our plans. With more rain in the forecast, and plans to be away from home while we're here, this looks better for our needs. The park has level gravel pads with a little grass, no picnic tables or fire pits, FHUs with 50 amp, laundry and showers, and a very nice swimming pool. A real surprise is free, hot, to-order breakfast each morning from 7-9 AM. What a treat!

After set-up, we take a quick drive into town. It's so nice to have sunshine, we check out the older parts of town and drive by the Silos. At 3 PM the place is packed, with a line out the door at the little bakery, and a full courtyard. Cars line the street for six blocks, and the church parking lot who is getting $10 per car is nearly full. I'm not surprised, I've read the store is already in the top ten stops in Texas!

The tall Alico building is a landmark

Old churches and big oaks

Love this old Gulf filling station, complete with a Citron at the pump.

Clint is the special carpenter on the show, we stop by to see his shop.
Waco is still rough with a lot of blighted areas. But it is also undergoing a lot of re-gentrification. It is much bigger than we thought.

Monday the clouds and fog are back. We enjoy a little breakfast at the park's cafe and get to the Silos before 10 AM. Much better - no crowds!

Remembering what it looked like when they bought it, it's lovely to see their dream realized.

The huge silos frame the multi-use stage

In addition to the stage and food trucks and picnic area and courtyard, the outdoor area includes a large turf play area surrounded by bean bag chairs - brilliant!

As expected, big and beautiful. They employ over 300 staff. All that we meet are friendly and fun. I fail to get a pic of Tessa's new best friend, Lane.


Everything is displayed with Joanna's flair - and ship lap and subway tile, of course.

Family references are found throughout. Here, a blanket with Duke's name - the youngest son.

Morning is definitely the time to visit. 
Lemon-lavender and Vanilla with cream chocolate
It is a wonderful stop, the place just feels so good. We pick up a couple requested items and of course a couple delicious cupcakes from the little bakery.

For something completely different in the afternoon, we opt for the nearby Waco Mammoth National Monument. One of the many places protected by President Barack Obama, this dig site entered the national park system in 2015. Rain is threatening and the temps have dropped to 45 degrees as we join a small tour of the grounds. With our America the Beautiful pass, the tour is just $4 each.

You can visit the site without the tour, but there are very few information signs, and I'm glad we joined the group.

In 1978, two teenagers found what turned out to be the femur of a Columbia Mammoth. Related to the Whooly, these huge animals lived in the area during the ice age. We learn that south of Kansas, the ice age looked more like the savanna than the arctic. 

The original site produced the remains of numerous juvenile skeletons, a nursery herd. Archeologists determined that mudslides trapped them here during massive flooding. The skeletons are all preserved at Baylor University.  

Years later there was a second find just yards away. This site was covered with a large tent for years until the Mammoth Site Foundation raised $4M to construct the climate-control dig building where the bones remain in situ. Our park ranger guide explains each of the skeletons, the environmental facts of their lives, and the probability of their deaths. We find all of it fascinating.

Bones are found at different layers

"Quinn" is the large male - 11 foot tusks

What they think Quinn looked like with creative license on coloring and fur layers. 
Found with the mammoths, of the same age, is a camel. Seems like a weird herd-mate, but they speculate that with better eye sight than their big buddies, the camels acted as early warning sentries. Love it!
Replicas of early man femur and mammoth femur found here - if man could bring down just one animal, they would have food, shelter, clothes and tools for dozens.
As the tour comes to an end we hear the rain has arrived. A quick dash back to Piper, and then back home. Where it rains non-stop all night.

Wednesday morning we're out before 8:30 for the drive to see friends in the little town of Goldsthwaite. Actually they don't live in town. 

We find their pretty stone house (which I can't believe I didn't get a photo of) on 60 acres with just their cattle for neighbors. Oak trees and low hills, it is a slice of heaven. Kathy and her family lived in Iron Mountain where I lived, and we both rode the bus 50 miles to Eagle Mountain where she and I and Bill all went to school. She and I were best friends my senior year, and it's great fun remembering all the craziness we shared as teenagers. Until last year's reunion, we hadn't seen each other in 40 years, but it immediately feels like no time has passed at all. Her husband Billy is a great guy, and the four of us have a good time over lunch at the local diner, then perusing the local pecan growers' shop, and vintage general store.

Billy and Kathy
Part of their herd. They were very interested in Tessa and vice versa.

Pecans are a big deal in this little town.

Some of the original buildings have recently been restored, including the old jail on the left.
Back home we make ready for our drive to Austin in the morning. Still more Texas to see!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dallas - More Big

January 13-15, 2017
Grand Prairie, Texas

Cross winds and a little rain make the 60 mile drive on Friday morning seem longer, but we pull into Traders Village RV Park before noon. The first site is not for us - too many trees, flooded pad, very tight. I take a chance and go back to the office to ask for another spot. Bingo! We move over to a more open area, hook up electric and head back out.

We're going to the Cowboys' stadium in nearby Arlington. It's why we're here!

The grand house of Bill's team
We know what to expect. We think we know what to expect. It is like no other stadium - modern, high-tech, classy, very grand. We've heard all about it, but seeing it is soooo big!

Our tour is at 3:00 so we have lunch at the very posh restaurant. Of course it's big too. 

After perusing the good size pro-shop that has a lot of over-the-top fanabilia, we join our guided tour. Unlike other tours, this one uses escalators, which is the one thing Tessa doesn't do. Our guide takes us in the elevator, and we get to see some great photos that aren't on the tour :-)


Ready for Sunday's game
We all squeeze into the owner's suite, complete with private elevator from the parking garage.....rough.
Football shaped cutouts with cross-stitch light figures. One of several member-only clubs around the field.
The construction numbers - heights, pounds, lengths, square footage, capacity, mechanics - all BIG!
Played in the original stadium since 1937, the Cotton Bowl moved here in 2010
Our first cheerleaders' locker room - but it is the Cowboys Cheerleaders :-)

Oh goody, goody, goody.....

Happy fan

The hallways have dozens of classic photos.

Big and fancy, the players' tunnel to the field lacks the "football" feel of other stadiums. This one passes through one of the clubs.

The very best part of the tour is the unlimited access to the field. Fans are taking pics, throwing footballs, just sitting and taking in where they are. 

Screens on both sides are 160 feet long and 72 feet tall, each weigh 1.2 million pounds. The two end screens are 51 feet wide and 29 feet tall, they weigh 23,000 pounds each. They can be raised from 25 feet above the field to the very top.

So fun to be here!!
Those famous boots. 
There's no good weather while we're here, so Saturday we pick a few spots in Dallas to see from the car.

One is Dealey Plaza downtown. The location of President Kennedy's assassination, it is a sad but popular site. Being the weekend, it is crowded, and we don't stop to get photos this time.

There are numerous bridges crossing the Trinity River into Dallas. The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava, and completed in 2012. It parallels a walking bridge with a few art pieces. The center pylon is 400 feet tall - yep, big!

A very cold, wet wind means a quick walk up to get a few photos and back to Piper. 

The lovely bridge leads to Dallas' skyline

A little color on a monochromatic day

Big buildings reach to the clouds
One location that grabbed my interest was the Dallas Cattle Drive Sculpture in downtown's Pioneer Plaza. Not just a couple pieces, this is, you guessed it, a Big sculpture, including a large herd of steers and several mounted cowboys. 

The motion of the pieces is wonderful.

Feel the rumble of the ground under their feet. A bit intimidating!

The piece fills about a half block area among tall buildings.

It's interesting to join the herd, and easy to feel yourself being moved along.
I have no idea why I chose the The Hall of State, other than the art deco design looked so different from anything else we were seeing. It turns out to be the highlight of the day. 

Built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition, it is now home to the Dallas Historical Society. 

Finding it is a challenge, locked gates and deadends nearly make us give up. A city police officer gives us directions that take us past the old Cotton Bowl and through the exhibition halls of the state fairgrounds. It feels like we're "sneaking in" as there is no one else. When I stop in front of the building to take photos, a worker tells me the door is open and that it is "something you have to see". Okay!

All to ourselves.
Showing some age, but stunning.

The pillars are surrounded with "characters" from Texas' first 100 years.

Lapis tiles with bands of hand painted sun tiles.
And then you walk inside.....

The magnificent central hall includes colorful murals on both side.

Artistic beauty at every level.

Vaquaro photos in a room as captivating as the gallery.

G. B. Dealey Library
Texas door - Big!

Back outside we stroll through a small section of the vintage exhibition halls with large statues (of course).

It's like a neoclassic ghost town.

The fate of the original The Tenor created in 1936 is unknown. It was recreated in 2009. The Contralto stands on the other side of the pool.

One of the Six Ladies of the Fair

I couldn't find a name for this guy, but could have fun making up a few :-)

The grand old lady.
It is an eclectic and enjoyable day visiting the city of Dallas.

Sunday's playoff games are one big disappointment and one big relief.  

The relief comes not only from the final score, but from "surviving" our first tornado warning in the middle of a violent thunder storm that dumped an inch and a half of rain in four hours. 

While we're standing with other campers at the cinder block shower house we learn the tornado touched down on the other side of the municipal airport beside the park - about a half mile away. Fortunately the area has good drainage and the flooded roads clear quickly.

We were only in the Dallas area for two nights, but it was a very big experience.