Friday, June 26, 2009

TEXAS!--The outdoor drama at Palo Duro Canyon

Several hours before the drama starts down on the amphitheater stage, a different kind of drama---call it "culinary drama" is unfolding with the food service staff at this satellite branch of the world-famous "Big Texan Steak Ranch" of Amarillo, Texas. (You know the one I'm talking about----famous on the Travel Channel show for filming folks who dare to take the challenge of eating a 72 oz. steak, with the promise of getting the meal "free" if you can do it.) There are no contests at the Palo Duro Canyon site, but before you even make it to the entrance gates of the Pioneer Amphitheater, the enticing aromas of grilled steak make you glad you purchased the optional supper meal that is served before the performance begins. As a Registered Dietitian, I was especially pleased to see the gigantic bowl of salad greens at the start of the buffet line, followed closely by tiers of fresh fruit---green and purple grapes, plus juicy red watermelon slices (lower left photo). There were also several starchy dishes to choose from, fresh rolls, as well as grilled jalapeno peppers, and a big, sizzling, grilled steak of beef to chow down on. Add your choice of several kinds of beverages, and you have a meal fit for a real cowboy (or a hungry automobile driver in my case--lower right photo). Diners have their choice of eating on picnic tables under a shaded pavilion, or out in the open, on tables painted with the familiar state flag of Texas design (top right photo). The hospitality staff, all dressed in western attire, are easily lassoed into bringing you beverage refills or assisting in other ways as needed (top left photo).

Another optional choice for your evening in Pioneer Amphitheater is a back-stage tour. The tour I took was led by Allison Tindall (lower left photo). Like many other employees there, she is a student at West Texas A & M University, where she is majoring in theatre performance. By taking the tour, guests are able to see the back side of the rotating backgrounds that frame the main stage (upper left photo), the costumes (middle right photo) and a view of the amphitheater seats before any guests are seated (middle left photo). Another activity one can do before the show is not only listen to, but dance along, to the sounds of a great-sounding live band that performs up until showtime. Several guests joined in to dance when the band played that Texas party song "Cotton-eyed Joe" (top two photos), as well as the ever-popular "Chicken Dance" tune.
When the band stops playing, guests know it is time to find their seats in the amphitheater, and wait for the start of the show. The show starts with a very dramatic appearance---600 feet above the stage---of a real cowboy on a real horse carrying a really big Texas state flag. The sun is just starting to go down, and provides a dramatic back light to silhouette the scene along the canyon rim. (Middle left photo).The horseback rider then gallops across the top of the canyon until he disappears beyond eyesight . At that point, the action down on the stage begins with singing, dancing, more horses galloping right behind the stage, and then right up onto the stage (lower left photo). The drama that then unfolds is described this way by Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose photo and letter greet you on the first page of the official program: "A production as grand and spectacular as the beautiful canyon in which it is performed, "Texas" celebrates those courageous men and women who settled our rugged frontier. This story reminds us of the hardships our forebears faced and emboldens us to continue to blaze trails for the generations to come." The governor's admonition for us to remember those early residents of the canyon is similar to David's acknowledgement in Psalms 77:11 "I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." Unless we can be mindful of all the struggles that have enabled us to be where we are, we will not have the "attitude of gratitude" for our many blessings in this great country.
As darkness engulfs the outdoor stage, various sections of the canyon walls are lit up, along with a bath of light illuminating the performers on stage (upper left photo). There are special effects that include a lightning strike, igniting a tree behind the stage, a wagon catching on fire, as well as the cowboy with the wagon (I was assured no one is injured for these stunts, and members of the local fire department are always present for any emergencies that might occur.) And, for sure, do not leave early from the amphitheater, in hopes of beating the traffic out. That's because, there is a terrific fireworks show at the end of every performance that you will not want to miss! (three remaining photos). I say "HATS OFF!" (Cowboy hats, of course!) to the cast, crew, cowboys and cowgirls that make up the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation---the main producers of the drama. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again! Tricia
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Palo Duro Canyon State Park/Texas

Although most people in the United States have heard of The Grand Canyon, probably a much smaller number could tell you what is the SECOND largest canyon in the U.S., not to mention, being able to say they had actually visited the place. It was for that reason that I put a trek to Palo Duro Canyon on my "To Do" list of furture expeditions. I first heard of it back in the last century when some friends of mine moved to where it is located, near Amarillo, Texas. Then when I found out the canyon is the home of a summertime, outdoor musical , I narrowed down my time frame for a visit, to coincide with dates during which the outdoor drama is in production. (The drama, called "Texas" will be the subject of a future blog post). Palo Duro Canyon is not only the second largest canyon in the U.S., it is the second largest state park in Texas. It is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. It has a rich history, with the first known human inhabitants to be Native American people, of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne tribes. The settlement of white people in the area brought about the Red River Wars, which ultimately drove off the native Americans to reservations to Oklahoma.
Palo Duro is Spanish for hard wood, in reference to the Rocky Mountain juniper trees found in the canyon. Other abundant species include mesquite, cottonwood, salt cedar, and willow. Exhibits on the cattle ranching aspect of Palo Duro, as well as cross-sectional cuts of the local trees, native American pottery, historic photographs, etc., can be viewed in the park's museum (lower left). There are also strategically-placed "picture windows" for taking in the scenic surroundings, while at the same time listening to videos that give details about this area of the Southern High Plains (lower right). Shopaholics will be relieved to know there is even a gift shop adjacent to the museum where one can find quality pottery, jewelry, books, videos, CD's, clothing, and snacks. The museum/gift shop is located in The Coronado Lodge (upper photos) that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. The museum has an exhibit about the CCC, and examples of furniture they built, as well as photos of the work in progress. History buffs will remember that the CCC was formed during The Great Depression of the 1930's, so you can do the math to figure out that Palo Duro Canyon will be celebrating its 75th anniversary of first opening to the public on July 4, 1934, next week. And if you like a bargain, try visiting on July 4 and July 5, and you will receive free admission, in recognition of the 75 year anniversary!
Recreational opportunities abound throughout the park---hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, water crossings, motorcycling, wildlife viewing,and picnicking. There are several shaded campgrounds scattered throughout, that can accommodate all types of recreational vehicles. The small, white "dots" in upper left photo, are RV's, almost completely hidden from view, due to the thick vegetation left standing throughout the campgrounds. In addition, there is tent camping, backpacking, and equestrian camping. The two lower photos are examples of some of the other structures built by the CCC, and four such structures are available for overnight rental. Reservations for overnight facilities can be made by phoning 512-389-8900.
I was pleased to see an ad in the program of the Texas outdoor drama, inviting folks to Sunday worship services in the canyon, at 9 am, every Sunday, June thru August, at the Old West Stables. It is a ministry of the First Baptist Church of nearby Canyon,Texas. The ad read "Welcome to the largest church in the world---where the sky is our ceiling, the four corners of earth are the walls, and we have the whole outdoors to praise and worship God.!" The worship leader will find no shortage of Bible verses that have the word "rock" in them, as my Bible concordance lists at least 19 separate references. However, the verse that kept coming to my mind as I looked at the beautiful stone walls throughout the canyon was the one that says if people don't lift up their voices to praise the Lord, the rocks themselves will declare His praises! Hopefully, you will get outside this weekend, and look at the beauty that surrounds you! If you want to find out more about visiting the place described in this blogpost, phone 806-488-2227 or go to for 120 "miles of smiles"! Tricia Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shaw Nature Reserve

Shaw Nature Reserve is located just south of Saint Louis, Missouri, in the town of Gray Summit. It is a 2400 acre private nature reserve run by the Missouri Botanical Garden as an extension. It was established in 1925 when coal smoke pollution in Saint Louis threatened the live plant collection (especially the orchids) of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The plan was to move important plant collections out of the area of the heaviest coal pollution. The orchid collection was moved in 1926, but no other plants, because coal use diminished, resulting in a subsequent reduction in air pollution from coal smoke. It is now dedicated to environmental education, restoration of native plants, and public enjoyment of the natural world.
There are numerous distinct areas within the reserve, including a large prairie, wetlands (with a water blind from which herons can be observed), scenic locations for contemplation, and 14 miles of hiking trails---some of which are wheelchair accessible.
There are many species of wildflowers throughout the acreage. I have always called the flowers above "black-eyed susans", and they are one of my favorite summer blooms. In the Visitor Center, one can buy seeds of wildflowers, so you can enjoy the wildflowers by planting them where you live. Seeing a field of flowers, or gorgeous big trees, reminds me of Jesus' words recorded in Luke 12:27-28: "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" These are especially good words to remember when the woes of today's economy have you burdened down with worry. Maybe you just need to get out and take a look at God's beautiful creation in the world outdoors!
Several historic homes are still located on the property. The house above is the Joseph H. Bascom house, and contains nature exhibits inside. Some structures are available to rent for private gatherings. Shaw Nature Reserve is open year round, 7 am to sunset. The Visitor Center hours vary with the season, so check their website, for more details, or phone 314-451-3512. The website will tell you about the classes available, group tours via the "wilderness wagon", special events such as progressive dinner parties, fees, and maps of the various hiking trails. Miles of smiles! Tricia
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Busch Stadium (St. Louis) Tours

Although I am not a baseball aficionado, I have followed the news about the construction, opening, and operation of Busch Stadium in Saint Louis, mainly because of its geographic proximity to where I live, and the fact that I attended a few games in the old ballpark (now referred to as Busch Memorial Stadium, 1966-2005). My curiosity and interest increased after A-B was bought out by the overseas beverage company. I wanted to visit Busch Stadium while it was stilled called Busch Stadium, before any possible name changes to the name of the new company that purchased A-B. I recently had that opportunity by taking one of the regularly-scheduled "Stadium Tours" that are offered whenever a game is not in progress. (phone 314-345-9565 or for available dates, times, and cost) A nice feature of the tour is getting to learn more details about the architecture, etc., of the structure. Of course, you can find out the same stuff by reading the Wikipedia article on Busch Stadium, but it's more fun to hear them from your tour guide, while actually standing inside the stadium. Trivia like the fact that the old stadium I had visited is defined by the culinary term "cookie-cutter", because it was fully enclosed. The new stadium is a "retro-classic " park , that allows an unobstructed, panoramic view of downtown St. Louis, and the distinctive Gateway Arch (note lower, left photo). In fact, St. Louis landmarks are reflected in the architecture. Gate 3 is made to resemble historic Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River (upper left photo---taken from below street level at the light-rail station location). The arched openings at another section of the exterior, reflect the Gateway Arch form (upper right photo). The Arch is also the logo being used for the symbol of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, scheduled for Busch Stadium this year. (middle photo) The retro look supplied by the red brick and black steel exterior, is further enhanced by the special-made clay tile logos placed in the brick, that illustrate the various ways the appearance of the "redbird" has changed over the years. (lower right photo).

The best part about taking one of the stadium tours, is that you get to visit areas of the ballpark that would not be permissible to a mere mortal with just a general admission game ticket. This would include the area where the announcers do the pre-game show (upper-left), the room containing the World Series Trophy (upper right), the room with the custom-made wall paper , based on old baseball cards (middle left and right), the Press Box (lower left), and even the dug-out! You also find out that there are designated shelter areas for attendees in the event of a weather disaster. A weather event in the form of a severe thunderstorm that blew around some loose items, injured about 30 spectators in 2006, which necessitated the refinement of the park's Disaster Preparedness Plan. In that debut season of 2006, every seat was sold out, and the Cardinals went on to win the World Series that year. Consequently, 2007 and 2008 also were record years for attendance. However, our tour guide said that this year, regular game tickets are easier to get, by purchasing directly from the ticket office, or the official STL Cardinal website. She indicated that it is now legal to "resell" a previously-purchased ticket, but advised us to only purchase such tickets at the official site for these sales, With the bar-code and scanning system that is used on tickets these days, irregularities can occur from unscrupulous sellers.
Another nice feature of taking one of the Stadium Tours, is that your admission entitles you to a 10% discount on all your purchases in the Saint Louis Cardinal store that is open daily outside the entrances. That discount might not mean much if all you are buying is a postcard (top photo), but if you are buying the custom-made piece of "batting helmet art" shown in lower, left photo, the savings could be big! You could deduct $490 from its $4,900 price tag, lowering the cost to only $4,410! Another advantage of taking a Stadium Tour on a day when there isn't a game, is that you won't have to fight for a seat on the Metrolink (which is conveniently located just steps from the stadium entrance). Seeing the glass-enclosed, pedestal-elevated, security-enhanced location of the prize trophy the Cardinals received for winning the 2006 World Series, reminded me of one of the memory verses for First Place 4 Health (, from 1 Corinthians 9:14. It says "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." I hope you are running your life race in such a way as to get the prize, AND with "miles of smiles"! Tricia
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blanchard Springs Caverns

Blanchard Springs Caverns in north central Arkansas is one of the most spectacular and carefully developed caves found anywhere. It is still active, and its hundreds of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones are still changing. There are two main tours to choose from, both of which will take you through large, beautifully lighted rooms that you can walk through on paved trails, plus have handrails for added comfort. For the more adventurous, there is a "wild cave tour" that takes visitors to the undeveloped sections of the caverns. (Find out more at or 1-888-757-2246.)
Adjacent to the beautifully landscaped Visitor's Center is an exhibit hall and theater. In the photos above, there is a section of a "popcorn" cave formation in the exhibit hall, that tourists cans touch, ( or if you're like me and the grandsons pictured in one of the collages, you can eat REAL popcorn, in addition to just "touching" an imitation popcorn.) The exhibit hall also explains about the "Animals of the Dark"---which in this photo would be Dave, Kris, Thomas, and Ryan. Between the various buildings of the Caverns property, there are paved, wheel-chair accessible ramps that also make a great place for a family photo.
Just a short distance from the caverns, you can take a lovely hike through the forest on a paved, shaded trail that leads back to the mountainside from which the Blanchard Springs gush out hundreds of gallons of water, producing the typical roaring sound (and cooling effect!) of a large waterfall. This water forms a creek and other water features that can be used for fishing, wading, or hiking beside.
About ten miles from Blanchard Springs Caverns, is the town of Mountain View, as well as the Ozark Folk Center. Both of these places are known for their mountain music, so not surprisingly, a popular stop there is The Dulcimer Shop. In the photo collage above, Ryan and Thomas (both accomplished guitar players) try their hand at one of the dulcimers crafted right there in the back of the dulcimer shop (A large glass viewing window allows visitors to see the actual "manufacturing floor" of the dulcimer shop in operation). Also adjacent to the shop is an old-time log cabin, which is the perfect location for a "Kodak Moment" to record your trip to the Ozarks. For more information about the numerous attractions, activities, and lodging available in this area, log on to or phone 1-888-679-2859. The Ozark Mountains are a jewel in the crown of middle America that are just waiting for YOU to come visit! Miles of smiles! Tricia p.s. If any of you have "issues" (aka "fears") of going deep underground, or being afraid of the dark, you can find comfort in this Message paraphrase of Psalm 139, which I have nicknamed "The Psalm of the Expeditioner": "Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there! If I go UNDERGROUND, you're there! If I flew on morning's wings to the far western horizon, You'd find me in a minute---you're already there waiting! Then I said to myself, 'Oh, he even sees me in the DARK!' At night, I'm immersed in the light! It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you,; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you." (verses 7-12)Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Keeling Curve (an Arkansas version)

If you have done much reading on global warming, or have seen Al Gore's movie on the subject, you have probably heard of the "Keeling Curve" , which Wikipedia explains this way: " A graph showing the variation in concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1958. It is based on continuous measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii under the supervision of Charles David Keeling. Keeling's measurements showed the first significant evidence of rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Many scientists credit Keeling's graph with first bring the world's attention to the effects that human activity were having on the Earth's atmosphere and climate." The Keeling Curve first caught my attention because Keeling is my family name. As a teenager, I had wanted to be a marine biologist, and applied to the Scripps Institute in California for a high school summer science institute they sponsored. Although I was not accepted for their program, forty years later, I visited Scripps Institute for a tour of what I had missed out on. It was there during the tour that the guide pointed out a certain researcher's office, and said it was the office of the famous Dr. Keeling who published the Keeling Curve data. I questioned the tour guide, saying "Did you say Keeling?" and if so, how does the professor spell his last name? The tour guide confirmed it was the same spelling as my last name. Voila! It all made sense now----I had been rejected into their program back in the sixties because they already had a person named Keeling on their staff, and couldn't take on another one, without risking charges of nepotism. (Of course, all this is speculation on my part to justify my rejection from their school! LOL!)

But the reason for this post about the "Arkansas Version" of the Keeling Curve is to recognize the passing of the last member of a generation of Keelings that were the children of W.A. and Berta Keeling who lived in the Locust community of northwest Arkansas. Their youngest child, and last surviving sibling, Warren G. Keeling died June 5, 2009, at the age of 87. The photo above shows the adult Keeling children (Joe, Helen, Paul, Lester and Warren G.) with their parents. They were raised on land homesteaded by Franklin R. Keeling beginning in 1862. I feel as though I received a "generational blessing" by being born into the Keeling family, and want those who come after me to also feel as though they have received a generational blessing. So , in closing, I will quote Psalm 71:18Posted by Picasa: "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come." Miles of smiles, and GENERATIONAL BLESSINGS! Tricia

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


If you are considering organizing a family reunion expedition, there are lots of resources on the Internet to help you , and this post will review some of the most basic considerations for such a project. First of all, one must consider the location of the reunion. If family members are scattered all across the country, as is most often the case these days, then you will want to pick a location that has multiple transportation options. The photos in the collage illustrate what might be called "PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES". A city that has an airport with commercial flights scheduled is a big plus; furthermore, the availability of public transportation at the airport is very helpful for getting people delivered to the reunion location; if the chosen city can also have Amtrak train service, that is another plus. If the city is easily accessible through major interstate highways, that, too, is a plus. And for people who will only attend if they can "float their boat", being on a major waterway adds yet another source of transportation. All these features were found in the city chosen for the Keeling Family Reunion---Sacramento, California. (It is also noteworthy that Sacramento even has extensive bicycle trails and hiking trails for people who want to use that mode of transportation!) Once the location of a family reunion is chosen, another consideration is the date on the calendar for the event. All those transportation options are somewhat useless, if winter weather makes travel hazardous. Another consideration for the date of the reunion is if most of the participants have school-age children (which would necessitate choosing a date after the school session has ended), or perhaps the date could be chosen around a 3-day holiday weekend, or a special event going on in the city of choice. That was another reason Sacramento was a good choice because the Jazz Festival coincided with the weekend of the reunion.

One purpose of a family reunion is for family fellowship, and this is seldom ever achieved without "breaking bread" together. The photos in the collage show some of the ways this can be accomplished: (left to right) A hotel's public breakfast space, where attendees can sip coffee and visit at their leisure as they adjust to varying time zones; a cook-out in the home of one of the "local" relatives who has space to accommodate everyone; enjoying beverages together along the waterfront; outdoor dining at a restaurant; indoor dining at a restaurant; and finally, a picnic on the ground, where the kids can spread out and not have to worry about "table manners".
Family Reunion guidebooks list dozens of activities that can be attempted during your event, but you will need to evaluate such suggestions for the age, stamina, weather, and interests of those attending. In the "activities collage" I put together, there are examples (left to right) of a shared religious service, card games, strolling the board walk, getting to know the newest family members, hiking along the river walk, making a piece of "artwork" at a crafts table, looking at old family photo albums, going through family heirloom pieces, and trying to get the perfect group photo. The group photo aspect is especially of interest to me, but it proved to be illusive for the Keeling family reunion as there was never an opportunity when every single attendee was present together at one time---hence the collages! However, if you do have an opportunity for a group photo, an interesting way to do it is to have everyone bring a piece of clothing in the same color (i.e. white shirt and jeans, or black or all denim or other common garment color) to given a sense of unity to a photo. Likewise, I have seen family reunion photos where ---for example---all the descendants of Uncle Joe wore red, Uncle Paul's descendants wore blue, and Uncle Lester's descendants wore white. Another aspect often seen for family reunion gatherings is EVERYONE is in the same-color T-shirt and it has been imprinted with the name of the family, and the date of the reunion. That is a very nice option, and I say "hats off" to anybody that can accomplish such a feat!
The most important thing about a family reunion, however, is not the group photo, or what people were wearing, or eating, or doing. It is a time to give thanks for our shared family heritage, and the bonds that bind us together . The top photo of this collage reminds me of the verse in scripture that says "how sweet it is when brothers (and cousins!) live together in unity". In closing this post on keeping alive one's family legacy, we need to remember that it is best done by DOING what Ephesians 4:3 says: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Miles of smiles! TriciaPosted by Picasa p.s. Sadly, one of the family faces missing in the photos above is that of Miles Affleck. He fought a courageous battle against cancer for the last several years, and unfortunately, had to be admitted to Hospice care during the time of the family reunion. He died June 1, and will be missed by all those who knew and loved him. His memory will be kept alive by his descendants, including grandson Carter Miles Forde, shown above in the white swaddling clothes during Carter's baptismal ceremony.