Friday, July 31, 2009

State Park Expeditions on the Water

For folks who love to be out on the water, but do not own a boat, Bull Shoals/White River State Park offers several options: One can rent their own boat and motor to take them anywhere the river goes; one can rent canoes and kayaks to paddle yourself to your heart's desire, or one can go on a guided boat ride where all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery. That's exactly what I did one afternoon this week, with BS/WR State Park's very own "Papa Bill" as the operator of what he referred to as "The Cadillac of River Boats" that the park uses not only for rescue purposes, but also for tours of the river. Besides me and Papa Bill, there was a couple in the front of the flat bottom boat, who were serving in the park as volunteers. So our group of four "river rats" set out on an eight-mile trip down the White River. ( Even though it was a hot July afternoon, the cool shoals in some parts of the river, combined with the speed of the boat, made it actually chilly, so a light jacket might come in handy) A river trip gives you the opportunity to see "the other side of the coin", so to speak, of things that you normally see from the land side, such as Gaston's Resort (upper left photo), as well as glimpses of resorts you had no idea were there, because they are not visible from the main road (middle photo). There is an opportunity to see wildlife, like the crane in the upper right photo, as well as deer, foxes, blue herons, and of course--fish! You also get to see more of those gray limestone bluffs the Ozarks is famous for (lower left), as well as the river side views of BS/WR State Park campground (lower right). The trip lasted about two hours, and the friendliness and knowledge of our guide made it quite enjoyable.
On the lake side of BS/WR State Park, guided cruises are also offered in a lovely new pontoon boat, purchased by the park for just such a reason. You meet up with those cruises at Bull Shoals Boat Dock. The boat dock is famous for its school. That would be "school of carp", that surround the entry ramp, always eager to be fed. It is a very enjoyable thing to do, while waiting for your cruise to start---or , worth a trip all by itself, especially for the little kids! (See photos below) One can buy small bags of fish food at the boat dock.
The pontoon holds about ten people, and is skippered by Park Volunteer of the Year "Captain Chuck" (lower left). Besides the family of five that sat together in the back, there were five of us in the front of the boat, two of which are pictured in the lower right photo. The cruise started at 7 pm, and after cruising down to the dam, by the scenic bluffs (upper left), Ozark Isle, and other points of interest, Captain Chuck had us in perfect position to enjoy a magnificent sunset over Bull Shoals Lake. For the schedule of cruises, and fee information, contact the park at 870-445-3629 or email I had such gratitude in my heart for my many blessings on this day, plus seeing that gorgeous sunset, reminded me of the Bible verse that says "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down. . . My name shall be great among the nations, " says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 1:11 I pray that you will have miles of smiles from the rising of the sun, even to its going down! Tricia
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The Rent-A-Camp Expedition

One of many benefits of attending a "Becoming An Outdoor Woman" workshop (see previous blogs on B.O.W.) is that there are really nice door prizes to register for. I was the lucky recipient of the drawing for a gift certificate for free camping at an Arkansas State Park. After looking over the numerous travel options this afforded me, time constraints on the expiration date of the gift certificate made me realize if I didn't use it this week, I would probably not be able to do so before this "freebie" offer ended. So that led me back to a place nearby, where I first camped in 1960, with a group of about twenty Girl Scout friends----Bull Shoals/White River State Park. A nice feature about BS/WR State Park is that they have the "Rent-A-Camp" option where your package includes the basic items needed for a camp out (tent, camp cook stove/ fuel bottle, light, broom, dustpan, ice chests, sleeping platforms, and ice chest). But the wonderful thing about the BS/WR package is that the tent is already set up for you----WHAT A DEAL! What I wasn't aware of until I checked in, however, was that the light was an electric light on a long extension cord, that could be hung either outside on the pole for that purpose, or inside the tent. I had envisioned a Coleman lantern-type light, from reading the description, since it only said "light", instead of "electric light." So I was delighted to find out upon arrival that I had an electrical outlet, which came in very handy, not only for the light, but recharging the camera batteries after a full day of photography. It is probably a good thing that I didn't know in advance that I would have electricity. I might have been tempted to bring the electric fan, the electric vacuum, the electric can opener, the electric radio, the electric can opener, the electric pencil sharpener, electric toothbrush---anyway---you get the picture! The camp site also had a water faucet for running water, a picnic table on a concrete pad, a charcoal grill, and a fire pit. All this sets on a gravel-covered area that cuts down on mud, dust, and tick/chigger visitors. And talk about a BEAUTIFUL location. The two Rent-A-Camp sites are perched right beside the river, at the far end of the camp grounds, so they are a bit more spacious than the pricier RV sites.

If you take advantage of the various types of rental boats available at the park's dock on the river, you can get a "fish eye" view of what your campsite looks like from the river.
The fact that the tent is already set up for you gives you more time to enjoy the countless activities available in the park, just a few of which are pictured here (clockwise: boat fishing, kayaking, canoeing, shore fishing, classes led by park interpreters/naturalists, WIFI on the covered deck behind the dock, and bicycling). In addition there are numerous nature trails for hiking, the Gaston Visitor's Center (see past blogs) a new mountain bike trail, scenic overlooks, plus the park staff offer guided riverboat cruises/ lake cruises (these will be described in a future blog), and a return to tours inside the dam, after many years of no tours due to security concerns following the events of 9/11.
Making your visit to BS/WR park an overnight stay gives you the opportunity to see the glow of your campsite in the dark (lower left photo), as well as getting to wake up to that famous white fog that covers the river many mornings to making it truly "The White River" (top photo). I need to mention yet another nice feature of the Rent-A-Camp site---the tent sits on a wooden plank floor, with a wood frame attached to it. The attached frame means you don't have to be tripping over lines hooked onto tent stakes sticking up out of the ground---a great advantage if you ask me! And one of the best things about my night in the tent is that I didn't have to test the survivability of the "rain fly" that protects the tent beneath---the rain held off until AFTER I checked out----thank you, LORD! Although this experience hardly qualifies me as a Bedouin, I have a greater appreciation for all those details God laid out in the Old Testament book of Exodus, for making his tabernacle (The English word "tabernacle" is derived from Latin word -tabernaculum- meaning "tent") . The tent I was in was made by Anchor Industries in southern Indiana (it was called a "standard army tent", with split corners for wall roll-up) and cost hundreds of dollars to purchase, not to mention, build the frame, and maintain! Therefore, I think enjoying time in Arkansas' treasured state parks is an expedition all can enjoy, while seeing your tax dollars put to very good use! Miles of smiles! Tricia
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Friday, July 10, 2009


The $4.5 million Visitor Center in the Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, which only opened on May 27 of this year, is a facility that all persons interested in conservation and education can be thankful for. It is a way you can see your tax dollars being used (specifically Amendment 75, called the Arkansas Conservation Amendment) in a way that will benefit many generations to come. Its importance within the the state's largest state park (over 12,000 acres) is magnified even more because it is located in the fastest growing area of the state (think Wal-Mart Headquarters). At its dedication a few weeks ago, park officials pointed out that it is within a one hour drive of 58,000 students. So even though it was uncrowded the day my granddaughter and I visited, the resumption of school will likely make the place abuzz with "the pitter-patter" of little feet, where they will be learning about the history of the Ozarks, as well as what each one of them can do to conserve the beauty of the area, that we tend to take for granted. Every aspect of the design was considered for its environmental impact. For example, the sign (upper left photo) at the facility's only entry road, is a reminder that multiple road accesses were limited in order to reduce environmental impact caused by roads. Underneath the parking lot (in an effort to make dual use of the space), there are 40 geothermal wells. The contemporary design is reminiscent of an Ozark barn (lower left photo), and also has a porch at each end. Rainwater is collected from the roof for re-use in the landscaping, including the man-made stream (upper right) that encircles the building, terminating in a pond in the rear area (lower right). Local materials were used in building the center to reduce transportation costs, as well as boost the local economy. All these factors make the Visitor Center a candidate for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment) Certification.

The interior of the building is spacious, with many windows, to take advantage of light, as well as the beautiful surroundings (lower right and left photos). The visible ceiling rafters are a reminder of an Ozark hay loft (upper left). When we entered the building, the park employee greeted us, and encouraged us to view the short video that plays frequently throughout the day, to orient us for our trek through the area. Beside the information desk, there is a retail area, selling appropriate items for nature lovers or souvenir hunters.
Education is one of the main missions of the new visitor center, and one of the best ways youngsters can learn is by actually getting to touch and pick up various "remains" of wild inhabitants of the area. In the upper left photo, Kaitlyn is holding a tortoise shell to each ear, and in the lower photo, she is hiding behind the antlers of a small deer. The exhibits are interactive, and allow the viewer to see how they fit into the nature scene. For example, in the lower right hand photo, Kaitlyn is able to touch the computer screen for the year she was born, to see where that year was located in the hundred-plus rings shown in a cross-section of a fallen tree from the park. The interactive butterfly exhibit is housed in a corner of the building, made to resemble an animal stall of an Ozark barn (middle left photo). There is a cave diorama also, where viewers can press buttons to see various parts of the cave scene light up, teaching them the names and origin of formations found inside Ozark limestone caves. Just outside the cave diorama is a giant-sized reproduction of the head of an Arkansas bat. (p.s. If you think a school bus full of children going through the visitor center at the same time you are, might drive you "batty", I would recommend high-tailing it over to this little-known, gem of a place, before September! When those 58,000 students start scheduling field trips to this facility, the $800,000 spent furnishing the exhibits gallery will be put to the test! )
Although there are numerous hiking trails throughout the park, I wanted to visit the Historic Van Winkle Trail because I read that it would take us to where the lumber for the first building of my alma mater, "Old Main" at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, was milled. For this and many other reasons, the site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (lower left photo). The trail is only one-half mile long, and is wheelchair accessible (lower right-hand photo). Since the parking lot is located on the opposite side of Highway 12 from the trail, a paved tunnel has been constructed under Highway 12 in order to gain safe entrance to the trail head (middle right photo). Interpretive plaques along the trail (middle left photo) provide historical data on the artifacts you are viewing. Little Clifty Creek (middle left photo) was a factor in determining the location of the former industrial center. Since 11,644 acres of the approximately 12,000 acres of the park are from the estate of Roscoe C. Hobbs, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to him for his conservation efforts. Thanks to his foresight, plus the work of numerous public officials and volunteers, the next generation can learn about being environmental stewards of the land. Revelation 11:18, when prophesying about end times, uses the phrase "destroying those who destroy the earth". This should add to that ever-growing list of why we want to take good care of this beautiful planet God has given us, called EARTH. Miles of (environmentally friendly) smiles! Tricia (Note: Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is located 10 miles east of Rogers, Arkansas. Call 479-789-5000 for more information or log on to

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Union Station--Saint Louis

One hundred and fifteen years ago, St. Louis Union Station opened as the largest, most beautiful terminal in the united States. And based on my recent visit there, I think it still rates as one of the outstanding attractions of Saint Louis, Missouri. It was an enormous project for its day, that was conceived in 1889, when the Terminal Railroad Association was formed for the purpose of consolidating the numerous railway entries and exits of the St. Louis area. Union Station was designed by St. Louis architect, Theodore C. Link, and his design included three main areas: the Headhouse, the Midway and the Train Shed. The Headhouse contained the Terminal Hotel, ticket offices, waiting rooms, restaurant, and railroad offices. The Midway was the covered transfer area for passengers. The Train Shed was a large, roofed area covering the loading platforms and tracks. The Carl Milles' Fountain in the park in front of the station (upper left photo) made some waves in Victorian-era St. Louis, with its controversial sculpture. On the very hot day that I visited, I was amused by a man who got into the fountain in his swimming trunks, and appeared to be not only cooling himself off, but also retrieving the coins thrown in the fountain by sentimental visitors to the site. The last time I visited Union Station, its sky-piercing clock tower had been enclosed in scaffolding, so I was glad to get to have the opportunity to photograph it in its renovated status, without the unsightly ( but always necessary) renovation scaffolding. From the time it opened in 1894, to the end of the 19th century, St. Louis had become the "Gateway to the West" and its new Union Station was the rail crossroads of America. In fact, in 1900, SIXTY-TWO percent of St. Louisans had foreign born parents. This fact makes sense to me when I remember that a relative of mine from St. Louis, had one parent who was born in Italy, and one parent that was born in Germany. In its heyday in the mid 1940's, the Midway area of Union Station was the spot where over 100,000 passengers a day traversed on their way to or from a train. However, after World War ii, the general public began choosing other forms of transportation, and on October 31, 1978, the last train pulled out of St. Louis Union Station. (Just one more reason to heed the words of the Psalmist who wrote "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Psalm 20:7 )

Fortunately for all of us today, however, visionaries took on the project of redeeming Union Station from the wrecking ball. In August of 1985, St. Louis Union Station reopened after a $150 million restoration, making it the largest adaptive re-use project in the United States. And I, for one, am very thankful for their efforts. Otherwise, we would not be able to see the magnificent Grand Hall with its gold leaf, Romanesque arches, 65 foot barrel vaulted ceiling, and stained glass windows (upper photos). The most well known of these stained glass windows is the "Allegorical Window" (lower right), which is framed by what is called the "Whispering Arch". My room at the Marriott Hotel in Union Station had a wall hanging as part of the room decor, that was a reproduction of the Allegorical Window. I learned that the female on the left represented the East Coast of the U.S., the female on the right represented the West Coast of the U.S., and the female in the center represented St. Louis, which---thanks to Union Station---linked the two coasts together. As you would expect with such a rich history, Union Station was designed a National Historic Landmark, in 1970.
In the "old days", the track/platform area was covered by an enormous single-span Train Shed of trusses that was one of the largest train sheds ever built. This area has been re-designed to house a lake, complete with paddle boats (upper left), remote-controlled miniature ships (lower left), floral displays (middle right), scenic photo areas (middle left), fish-feeding spots (upper right), as well as, waterside dining and lodging (lower right).
As soon as you go inside from the plaza level, you can hear the lively clapping and cheering and singing of the crew from "The Fudgery" (lower left). They get you into a festive spirit as soon as you enter the shopping level, and will even give you a free sample of fresh fudge, at the end of their "performance/culinary demonstration". Although Union Station is not classified as a Museum, it houses a very nice room with exhibits of transportation relics of the past, a video that plays continuously from its location in the window of a caboose, telling about the history of train travel in the U.S., and how it all relates to Union Station in Saint Louis. There are also displays about Fred Harvey's famous western hospitality on the railroads, through the use of his exquisitely dressed "Harvey Girls", who provided passengers restaurant service by offering great food and gracious rapid service (upper and lower right). Many displays also show the impact of those who used the station during their time in military service. In the middle of all the retail businesses, commercial trampolines have been set up that (for a small fee) will harness you up to bungee cords, enabling you to turn flips on the trampoline without the need for gymnastics lessons. It was great fun to watch brave "future Olympians" on the trampolines,from both the lower and upper levels of the shopping sections (upper left). And lest you fear not being able to spend that money you received in your "Stimulus Bonus" from the government, there are plenty of shops where you can buy souvenirs, clothing, gifts, food, and, of course, Cardinal Baseball Team items. Just a few steps from the plaza area of Union Station, you can board the public light rail transportation in St. Louis, known as Metrolink. It will take you to all the sights downtown, across the Mississippi into Illinois, and back West to the airport, where you can fly anywhere in the world. So in a way, this extraordinary structure from the 1800's, is still your "Union Station" to a big world just waiting for you to explore! Miles of smiles! Tricia
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