Category Archives: United States

Drifting in Wisconsin

Though it’s called “driftless” the terrain of southwestern Wisconsin makes an ideal road trip for people who love to drift and explore.  

Kayaking, swimming, fishing and more in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region

Ten thousand years ago, the Ice Age took a detour around southwestern Wisconsin.  That’s why it’s called the Driftless Area. Without the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand and silt called drift that flattened the rest of the upper Midwest, this region’s winding backroads reveal picturesque limestone bluffs, spring-fed waterfalls, blue-ribbon trout streams and a rolling pastoral landscape—all nurturing iconic small towns, interesting people and acres of happy cows.

Located halfway between Chicago and Minneapolis, and encompassing roughly a quarter of the state, Wisconsin’s Driftless Area packs in an eclectic blend of natural beauty, outdoor action and culture.  The region’s most famous citizen, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, built his home and studio here, called Taliesin. Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.”  Little did he know the area would become a favorite for anyone who enjoys fishing, birding, biking, hiking and more.

But it’s easy to overlook the Driftless.  We’ve blasted by it countless times on the way to Chicago, Madison or Milwaukee from our home in Minneapolis, always thinking “gotta go there.”  So this time, forgoing the cities, we made the Driftless our destination, dipping south from I-90 to explore the region at our own meandering pace.

Finally, for those who like to imagine their destination before they go, several books give an accurate idea of the Driftless. David Rhodes’ prizewinning novels Driftless and Jewelweed beautifully capture the people and the land of this region and Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank offers an account of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life in Chicago and Wisconsin. 

Parks & Rec

Our route followed State Road 23 to Governor Dodge State Park, located between Spring Green and Dodgeville, which we made our basecamp for the trip. Named after General Henry Dodge, the first territorial governor of Wisconsin, the park contains over 5,000 acres of idyllic natural beauty.

Wildflowers abound on this nature trail

At Governor Dodge we hiked up cliffs, under waterfalls, over fields of grass and wildflowers and along spring-fed creeks where you can step into the cool air of the old spring houses that early settlers built as natural refrigerators.  When we weren’t feeling so ambitious, we cooled off in the park’s two lakes which have large picnic areas, fishing, and boating (electric motors only). The Dodgeville Kiwanis club operates a concession stand at Cox Hollow Lake offering boat and canoe rentals as well as treats such as pizza and king-sized ice cream cones at a bargain price.  That lake also features a dog beach just right for our golden retriever, Duffy, and other wet, ball-chasing friends.

Yet, due to its unique geology and abundant rivers and streams—the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kickapoo and Baraboo, to name a few—the Driftless region abounds with recreational opportunities beyond the boundaries of its state parks.  Over forty percent of North America’s migrating birds pass through the area annually along the Mississippi River Flyway because of its abundant water and vegetation. Depending on the time of year, sandhill cranes and bald eagles nest on the riverbanks while tundra swans and white pelicans stop in for a visit. Smaller species from orioles to ruby-throated hummingbirds make their home here, too. 

Along the Driftless Area’s northern edge is the Elroy Sparta State Trail, a family-friendly three-tunnel bicycle trail that has been inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. To the south, cyclists may ride the Military Ridge State Trail from Dodgeville all the way to Madison. Prefer paddling to pedaling?  The many rivers flowing here make it paddlers’ heaven and there are canoe/kayak liveries in Ontario, Rockton, La Farge, Readstown, and Prairie du Chien, among others. 

Fishing is a popular activity in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.

Finally, the Driftless area is known for thousands of miles of designated trout streams that Outdoor Life called “the best kept secret in the trout world.” And, for fisherfolk who prefer boats to waders, area lakes and and rivers offer walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike as well as panfish, including bluegill, crappie, and rock bass in abundance.

The Wright Stuff

a view of the Wisconsin countryside at Taliesin
A view of the valley from Frank LLoyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin
For background, take a look at Neil Levine’s book Frank Lloyd Wright.

One reason the Driftless area is so appealing is that visitors can weave a love of the outdoors with opportunities to enjoy the area’s fascinating culture and history.  Those things come together just outside Spring Green at Frank Lloyd Wright’s 800-acre estate, Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”).  As a child Wright spent summers in this valley on his uncle’s farm where he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature. He incorporated his observations of nature’s design into his philosophy of “organic architecture” maintaining that a building should be suited to its environment, purpose and time.  Wright’s Prairie Style, so prominently displayed at Taliesin, is considered the first uniquely American architectural style and he expanded and refined those ideas in his studio and school for architecture here, concepts that continue to influence architecture around the world.  That’s why the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named it a World Heritage site. See my post on Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

Taliesin is only available via guided tours that start from the visitors center and go by bus across the road to the estate.  Strolling outside Wright’s home, with dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand his thinking.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people and set the house on fire.  Read about it in Nancy Horan’s somewhat fictionalized bestseller Loving Frank

Nancy Horan’s book “Loving Frank” tells a juicy tale of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.

Over-the-Top on the Rock

The amazing House on the Rock near Dodgeville Wisconsin. Photo courtesy The House on the Rock.

Not far from Taliesin, but light years away from Wright’s austere aesthetic, Alex Jordan built his House on the Rock atop a chimney-like rock formation.  Leading his own “unconventional life,” Jordan started building his dream house in 1945 and kept adding until it resembled, as one Boston Globe writer said,”the lair of a 1970s James Bond villain,” a testament to over the top excess.

Inside Jordan’s home, opened to the public in 1960, you’ll see his lifetime of collections including the world’s largest indoor carousel with 269 carousel animals and 182 chandeliers.  Also on display:  200 model ships, a 200-foot tall sea creature, hundreds of musical instruments, model airplanes, dolls and suits of armor.  And, don’t miss the glassed-in Infinity Room that extends 218 feet over the valley floor. Kitsch, or art, depending on your taste, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

From Taliesin or the House on the Rock, you’ll want to swing into Spring Green, a great place to get supplies, artsy gifts and to visit its excellent book store, Arcadia Books.

A Taste of Switzerland

Obviously, New Glarus, Wisconsin is a major international destination.

From Spring Green it’s about 45 miles southwest to New Glarus, a bit of Switzerland transplanted to Wisconsin.  Swiss immigrants came to the area in 1845 from the Canton of Glarus and settled here because they found the region similar to home, just without the Alps.  You’ll feel like yodeling when you see the town’s Swiss-inspired brown and white architecture adorned with happy cow statues and window boxes filled with red geraniums. The town displays its heritage to the fullest during its many festivals including the Wilhelm Tell Festival, Polkafest, the Heidi Folk Festival and, naturally, Octoberfest.  New Glarus celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2020.

The town of New Glarus, Wisconsin proudly displays its Swiss heritage

Even if Ieiderhosen and polka dancing aren’t your thing you’ll enjoy New Glarus’ history on display at the Swiss Historical Village, a collection of 14 buildings where tours and exhibits trace the Swiss colony’s growth into a prominent dairy farming community.  And if the way to your heart is through your tummy, you’ll fall in love with New Glarus’ authentic Swiss bakeries, butcher shops and restaurants . For our campsite dinner we stocked up on cheese at the Eidelweiss Cheese Shop, Swiss sausages at Ruef’s Meat Market and an assortment of gorgeous leckerli, bratzeli, and pfeffernüsse cookies from the historic New Glarus Bakery. 

Wisconsin wouldn’t be Wisconsin without breweries and one of the state’s best is the New Glarus brewery on the south edge of town. We walked from the parking lot up to the brewery’s hilltop site with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from its rustic outdoor terraces. We sampled flights of Spotted Cow ale, Two Women lager, and fruity beers that are their specialties. 

Artisans and Artists

The Cornish settlers in Mineral Point Wisconsin built structures to last. Many are now artists’ workshops and galleries

Without the layers of glacial rocks and sand, the Driftless Area’s lodes of lead, zinc and other minerals rested tantalizingly close the the surface attracting miners from Cornwall, England in the early 1800s to what is now the town of Mineral Point.  The story goes that the first of these prospectors made shelters in makeshift holes in the ground called Badger holes, thus giving the state its nickname.

Artists in Mineral Point Wisconsin are happy to chat with visitors while they work.

They didn’t remain in Badger holes long, however, because these miners brought with them expertise in stone building construction. Their sturdy and fireproof stone legacy remains the trademark of Mineral Point. The city was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the town one of America’s “Distinctive Destinations.”  Another Cornish legacy:  the pasties (meat pies) and figgyhobbin, a cinnamon and raisin pastry concoction you can savor at Mineral Point’s Red Rooster cafe. 

Mining faded, leaving the historic buildings empty until 1935 when two foresighted gentlemen, Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, began restoring a group of stone houses, now called Pendarvis, on Shake Rag Street.  You can visit the buildings and hike the 43 acre Merry Christmas Mine Hill Trails & Prairie to see remnants of mining equipment along with one of the largest restored prairies in southwest Wisconsin. Over the years, artists have continued Neal and Hellum’s work, taking up residence in derelict buildings and turning them into art studios.  Now, the 70-plus artists who reside in Mineral Point are delighted to show you their work and share their stories. In addition, anyone who wants to foster their creative side is welcome at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts where they offer classes that range from blacksmithing to fiber art, pottery, photography and much more.  Even non-students are welcome to stroll Shake Rag Alley’s collection of historic buildings and its oasis of trees and gorgeous gardens. 

You’ll find more of the Driftless Area’s natural beauty and local culture along its scenic rural roads.  Dozens of small family farms, seemingly plucked straight from a Norman Rockwell gallery, dot the landscape and many supply award-winning farm-to-table restaurants in Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.  Amish buggies and Mennonite roadside stands with crafts and baked goods evoke a simple, local lifestyle.  In the warmer months, music lovers can enjoy a variety of outdoor festivals, especially Larryfest, a terrific annual festival of bluegrass, folk and old-time music in LaFarge.

So what’s the best way to enjoy the Driftless?  Ironically, by just drifting through it.  Meander. Stop and sample. Meet the locals.  Transport yourself back to a simpler, yet surprisingly rich, time and place.  And be thankful for those wonderfully fickle glaciers. 

If You Go:

Wisconsin’s Driftless area makes a great getaway for every kind of traveler, even the family dog. Wisconsin state parks welcome well behaved dogs on leashes and Governor Dodge state park has a special dog beach.  Most bars and eateries welcome leashed pets on their outdoor patios.  All of the sites mentioned in this article have easy parking for large vehicles and trailers. As with most of the Midwest, the Driftless area can be humid and buggy in summer, so come prepared with insect repellent and a fan. 

Wisconsin State Parks are very busy in summer and during the fall leaf-peeping season, so book in advance with the Wisconsin State Park System Reservations site https://wisconsin.goingtocamp.com

Wisconsin State parks with camping in the Driftless area include: 

Governor Dodge https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/govdodge/

Wildcat Mountain https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/wildcat/

Wyalusing https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/wyalusing/

A Literary Road Trip Across South Dakota

Visiting South Dakota State and National Parks on a Road Trip from Minnesota to Wyoming

Geese float peacefully among the cliffs of Palisades State Park.

South Dakota seems synonymous with family road trips, summer vacations and heading “out west.” Every time we drive that direction from Minneapolis, there’s a feeling of anticipation as the landscape gradually changes from hills, to flat prairie, to a more rugged and rocky type of Great Plains geology.  

Recently, my husband and I set out like Lewis and Clark to explore South Dakota—only with much more pleasant accommodations in our little Winnebago Rialta RV.  Our itinerary ran from east to west along I-90 where we hoped to see stunning rock formations, historic locales, uncrowded spaces and the wildlife for which this region is known.  Our journey included stops at three parks: Palisades State Park, Badlands National Park and Custer State Park.

Hitting the plains fires up my imagination with images of rugged pioneers, native Americans and western life–images that came from books I’ve been reading since childhood, starting with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series. In fact, De Smet, where Laura lived as an adult is about an hour and a half north of our first stop in Palisades Park.  So if you’re a fan you might want to veer north for a visit.  Be sure to read the less happy but more accurate story of Laura’ real life, Prairie Fires (a great for book groups). 

Palisades State Park

Climbing is popular in Palisades State Park in South Dakota. Courtesy of SD Tourism

Split Rock Creek, the centerpiece of Palisades State Park in eastern South Dakota, isn’t a huge body of water but it’s had an outsized impact on this rocky gem of a spot about 20 miles from Sioux Falls.   

Here, the creek cut deep gorges through the billion-year-old Sioux quartzite rock that lines its banks.  That resulted in 50-foot vertical cliffs and intricate rock formations that are popular with kayakers, rock climbers and photographers.

Back in the mid-1800s, the rushing creek also powered a flour mill on the bluff that overlooks the park.  Starting in 1862, the tiny town of Palisades grew up around the the mill.  However, with the promise of free lots, the railroad soon lured businesses away to the nearby town of Garretson where its rail yard was located and the town of Palisades faded away.

Palisades State Park opened in 1972 and has remained one of the South Dakota’s smallest parks—until now.  For comparison, at 71,000 acres, Custer State Park at the opposite end of I-90, dwarfs its little cousin, Palisades.  But in spring of 2020, about 270 acres were added to the park for a total of nearly 435 acres. Park officials expect to add 75 new camp sites for a total of 109 sites along with more cabins, hiking trails, day use areas, improved habitat for wildlife viewing, and park programs.  

Badlands National Park

Fascinating geology in the Badlands

Midway across South Dakota, the Badlands gouge through the flat plains with eons-old rock formations that resemble a moonscape.  On previous trips to points further west we simply drove through the park for a quick look. We thought it didn’t offer much more than barren (though pretty impressive) rock.  This time we stayed for two days.  Our hikes and scenic drives revealed not only fascinating geological formations but also plenty of life including wildflowers, agitated prairie dogs and mountain goats galore. 

But it surely doesn’t seem like great farmland.  That didn’t stop the hopeful homesteaders who arrived in this area after the Homestead Act of 1862 provided the opportunity for folks to head west to acquire land.  It was theirs for, say $18 for 160 acres if they lived on it for five years. You can view the some of the land they settled at the Badlands National Park’s Homestead Overlook.  Most of the land claims turned into “Starvation Claims” and were abandoned or sold.  

Here’s a story I’ll bet you haven’t heard about:  African Americans were prominent among the region’s homesteaders.  Many were introduced to the area when they were Buffalo Soldiers.  You can read about these pioneers in a gripping novel, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber.  The book starts out with a family lowering their little girl down a well to scoop out the last of the water on their drought-stricken farm. It grabbed me from the very start.  Also, The Conquest by Oscar Micheaux is a semi-autobiographical novel of a black homesteader in Gregory County during the early 1900’s

The faces at Mount Rushmore don’t wear masks. Neither do the tourists who visit.
Crazy Horse Memorial offers a nice little museum and Native American cultural programming.

We visited on the way to Custer State park we visited South Dakota’s trademark, Mount Rushmore. The four faces appear on promotional material, license plates and have been featured during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Cool if you’ve never seen it before, but crowded. We headed to a similarly giant sculpture nearby, the Crazy Horse Memorial, which I liked better because it has a nice little museum and Native American programming.

Custer State Park

At the opposite end of I-90, we explored Custer State Park, South Dakota’s largest state park. At 71,000 acres the huge park seems more like a national park. It offers hiking, boating, fishing and plenty of wildlife including bison traffic jams. 

Buffalo calves in Custer State Park, South Dakota

A view from atop Black Elk Peak.

One of my favorite hikes was the one up Black Elk Peak, a 7,242-foot granite mountain with an historic stone firetower at the top.  It’s considered the highest peak east of the rockies, depending on if you think the 8,749-foot Guadaloupe Peak in Texas is east of the Rockies or part of them .  The beginning of the 7.6-mile loop trail is bedazzled with shiny mica rock which makes it look like it’s paved with rhinestones, quite magical.  

The porch at State Game Lodge in Custer State Park. The lodge was the summer white house for presidents Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower.

For non-campers, Custer offers historic lodges and cabins, including State Game Lodge built of native stone and wood in 1920 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and was visited by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.  Book ahead and stay in their historic rooms.  Even if you’re not staying there, the Lodge welcomes diners  in the restaurant and you can carry out food to eat outdoors.  We enjoyed cocktails on the Lodge’s front porch before returning to our camp site.

Read Up

Anyone interested in enriching their South Dakota travel experience will find an abundance of great books about both the state’s history and modern life, too.  Here’s my list:

Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Life of Two American Warriors–Stephen Ambrose

Dakota : A Spiritual Geography–Kathleen Norris

The Last Stand–Nathaniel Philbrook

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee–Dee Brown

The Golden Bowl –Frederick Feikema Manfred

Buffalo for the Broken Heart–Dan O’Brien

Open Spaces—The Best antidote for Corona Virus Isolation

Book and travel ideas to inspire “outdoor therapy” and to plan for #travelsomeday.

Springfield, MO: The Edwards Cabin at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield sits in a lush field just outside Springfield, Missouri. www.nps.gov/wicr/incex.htm : Instagram: lovespringfield

Shut in because of the Corona Virus pandemic, opportunities for quiet contemplation, soul searching, and spiritual retreat abound. Too bad I don’t find those pursuits more appealing. Hugs, shared meals, raucous laughter, talking with strangers I meet when I travel, reading a person’s facial expressions without the cover of a mask. Those are just a few of the things I miss during this time of isolation during the Corona Virus pandemic.  

In the Quad Cities, the Mississippi River takes a bend to run directly east to west for roughly ten miles giving way for beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the water. Legend has it the Father of Waters was so tantalized by the land’s beauty, he turned his head to admire the view. (The Quad Cities are Davenport and Bettendorf in southeastern Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, in northwestern Illinois.) Credit – Visit Quad Cities Website – http://www.visitquadcities.com Instagram – @visitquadcities

I’ve tried all sorts of remedies for my shelter-in-place malaise—cooking, puzzles, cleaning, Zoom chats and Netflix galore.  Yet, the only place I really find solace is outdoors.  Nature and open spaces,  along with the physical exertion of walking mile after mile, sooth my mind and spirit.  

Nature Reading

Psychologists have been studying this phenomenon for some time.  Hence the term nature therapy. The Japanese call it, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing .  Nature deficit has also been diagnosed, a “dose of fresh air” prescribed. And writers have written about the beauty and adventure of connecting with nature for years. Now is a great time to tap into their observations of the universe, our environment and our fellow human beings. 

Bismark/Mandan, N.D.: Step back in time at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park to the 1500s when the Mandan Indians lived at the On-A-Slant Indian Village, or to 1875 when Gen. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry resided in Dakota Territory. Located along the majestic Missouri River, not only does it whisper the history and stories of hundreds of years, but it’s also a breathtaking experience for nature lovers to hike, bike, walk and explore. Photo Credit: Bismarck-Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau Website: NoBoundariesND.com Instagram: @bismancvb

For literature to inspire your outdoor journeys I recommend Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces about her time in Wyoming and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire about his stint at a park ranger in Arches National Park in Utah. Or, for a more recent read, I enjoyed Richard Powers’ Pulitizer Prize winning book, The Overstory, about a wide-ranging cast of characters whose experiences all relate to trees.

Finally, for approachable nature poetry, you can’t beat anything by Mary Oliver.  In her poem, “Wild Geese,” she says that despite our problems, the world goes on.

…”Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

–Mary Oliver

Dreaming of Places to Go

Minneapolis: Theodore Wirth Regional Park is in the shadow of downtown Minneapolis, with plenty of green, open spaces to socially distance and explore the outdoors in the City by Nature. (Note the little deer in the foreground.) http://www.minneapolis.org Instagram: meetminneapolis
Credit: Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board, Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

I have friends who haven’t left their New York City apartment for weeks. And who can blame them?  I feel fortunate that here in the Twin Cities we have a massive number of parks and recreation areas at our finger tips where we can spread out from one another.  I asked some of my friends at convention and visitors bureaus about the outdoor  spaces they love to show off to visitors. I started with the Midwest. You may be surprised at the beautiful open spaces they offer, not far from large cities. They make for beautiful viewing and inspiration for places to go in the future.

Kansas’ newest State Park, Little Jerusalem: Long ago, this area in Kansas was a great sea. In addition to the present-day wildlife, the remains of swimming and flying reptiles dating back 85 million years have been found here. www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/little-jerusalem-badlands-state-park/ https://www.instagram.com/kansastourism/

Wichita, Kansas: The Keeper of the Plains has become the emblem of Wichita. It includes a plaza where the Keeper sits and a riverwalk that extends around the area. Credit: Mickey Shannon. www.visitwichita Instagram: visitwichita
Petoskey, Michigan: Guests love to walk the Petoskey breakwall – especially during one of the area’s Million Dollar Sunsets. www.PetoskeyArea.com Instagram: Petoskeyarea
Cleveland, Ohio: Edgewater Park offers lakefront trails, open green space and panoramic views of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline. Credit: Cody York for ThisIsCleveland.com https://www.thisiscleveland.com/locations/edgewater-park Instagram: This is CLE
Kansas City Missouri: Jerry Smith Park sits on 360 acres and was previously a working farm. Presently the park supports equestrian and walking trails and provides access to a rich variety of flora and fauna.Website – https://kcparks.org/places/jerry-smith-park/ Instagram: Visit KC
 
Iowa: The Loess Hills, along the western border of Iowa, provide some of the most beautiful scenery, wildlife and overlooks in the country. Photo credit: Iowa Tourism Office. traveliowa.com Instagram: traveliowa
Lake of the Ozarks, MO: Ha Ha Tonka State Park at Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks was named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Conde Nast Traveler. Ha Ha Tonka’s fourteen walking trails, covering more than 15 scenic miles throughout the park, make it easy for visitors to enjoy solitude while experiencing the honeycomb of tunnels, rock bridges, caverns, springs, sinkholes and other natural areas. Credit: www.FunLake.com. Instagram: funlakemo
Fort Wayne: Promenade Park is the Midwest’s newest attraction located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This one-of-a-kind park joins Fort Wayne’s natural rivers to its vibrant urban center, and features a treetop canopy trail, water features for kids to play in, and many modern amenities.
Photo Credit: Visit Fort Wayne
VisitFortWayne.com/PromenadePark Instagram: visitfortwayne
The Badlands of South Dakota is 244,000 acres of awe-inspiring landscape. Great for hiking, a scenic drive, or wildlife watching the Badlands are a perfect escape from people, sights, and sounds of everyday life. https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm Credit: Travel South Dakota
Lincoln State Park in southern Indiana offers plenty of outdoor space to enjoy. Take advantage of trails, fishing, picnic areas, and more.  https://indianasabelincoln.org/listings/lincoln-state-park/  Instagram: @IndianasAbe and @IndianaDNR Credit: Spencer County Visitors Bureau

A visit to The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League in 2020. 

The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball Leagues started it all.

Most people know that Kansas City is a great sports town—go Chiefs! But not everyone knows that KC is where the country’s first successful organized black baseball league got its start.  So, it’s appropriate that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in Kansas City. It’s a great destination for baseball fans and fans of Black History and Civil Rights history, too.

Empowerment and Entrepreneurial Spirit

Exhibit at the Negro Leagues baseball museum tells of the challenges of travel in Jim Crow America

African-Americans began to play baseball in the late 1800s on military , college , and company teams and on professional teams with white players, too. Sadly, by 1900, racism and Jim Crow laws forced them out. So, black players formed their own units, “barnstorming” around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.

In 1920, a few Midwestern team owners met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City and joined to form the Negro National League.   Soon, rival leagues formed in eastern and southern states, bringing the skillful and innovative play of black baseball to major urban centers and rural areas in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The Leagues were known not only for their high level of professional skill but they also became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.

The Green-Book for Negro motorists.

Telling the Negro Leagues’ Story

Exhibits at the museum introduce teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, the Birmingham Black Barons, and the Chicago American Giants with mementos that include pristine uniforms of the era.  Exhibits show what it was like for teams to travel in the days of segregated hotels and restaurants and “The Green Book” that was a directory of places that welcomed people of color.  

A college baseball team sits on the bench during a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

There’s a life-size baseball diamond inside the museum with bronze statues of the Leagues’ most famous players and I particularly enjoyed watching members of a college baseball team that was in Kansas City for a tournament as they experienced the museum and and the stories they heard.

Pork Chops

One of the best stories I encountered at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was that of “clown teams.” Not clowns with red noses but the kind that “clowned around” doing funny tricks such as “shadow ball,” in which the ball was thrown around the field during infield practice at a faster and faster speed. They then threw out the ball and kept doing the same thing without the ball, an idea the Harlem Globetrotters later put into practice.  

The most famous of them played for the Indianapolis Clowns. They nicknamed him “Pork Chops” because he ate only pork chops and french fries on road.  “Pork Chops” went on to become one of the game’s most celebrated players of any color. He went on to play in Major League baseball, smashed Babe Ruth’s home run record (714), and became the all-time home run leader in the Major Leagues.

“Pork Chops” was Henry “Hank” Aaron.

Jackie Robinson

In addition to Hank Aaron, some of baseball’s greatest played in the Negro Leagues before baseball was integrated.  The great Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1945, Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Robinson from the Monarchs and he became the first African-American in the modern era to play on a Major League team. 

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was an historic event in both baseball and civil rights history.  But, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues. Other Major League teams recruited African American players and their fans followed. The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum “Where History Touches Home.”

If You Go:  The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located in Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine Neighborhood, which is also the city’s famous jazz district.  It’s right next to the American Jazz Museum, which is also a great place to visit.  Hungry? Pay a visit toto Arthur Bryant’s for its legendary Kansas City barbecue.

Read Up: You’ll find excellent books on the Negro Leagues and their place in American Civil Rights history as well as biographies of some of the most famous players. Here are a few:

Where to Stay

These hotels are fairly close to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. The Crossroads Hotel, the Westin Crown Center Hotel and the Hilton President.

Four Favorite Frank Lloyd Wright Destinations

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, Taliesin, Taliesin West and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are just a few of the places to see Wright’s all-American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been having a big year. Sixty years after his death in 1959, both his life and his architecture continue to fascinate, influence and inspire.  So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named a group of his great works World Heritage Sites.* Spanning 50 years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, these buildings represent the first modern architecture designation in the U.S. on the prestigious list.  

Here, I cover one of my favorite Wright sites, the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas, and three of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the UNESCO list —Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   The prolific architect built more than 400 buildings so you can find examples of his work all across the country.  There’s even a fantastic Wright-designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend a little reading to”find Mr. Wright” before you visit his buildings.

Reading the Wright Stuff

Even if you’re not an architecture buff or a design maven, you should add a Frank Lloyd Wright site to your itinerary when you’e traveling—for two reasons.  First, Wright’s Prairie Style is considered the first uniquely American style of architecture.  Before Wright, prominent American architects followed the more ornate style of European designers, like the Beaux-Arts style that dominated the “White City” buildings and monuments at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Wright hated that. Instead of piling on the classical embellishments, he sought to make buildings blend with the landscape. 

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita, Kansas

If your house has an open floor plan, wide expanses of windows or an attached garage, you can thank Frank.  These are his among many ideas that were considered radical at the time but are common now.  Wright embraced new technologies, designs and materials ,to push the boundaries of architecture, sometimes resulting in failure or really expensive repairs for those trying to maintain his buildings. If you talk to people who live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you’ll seldom hear stories of cozy comfort.  They’re drafty.  And take a look some of the angular furniture and you’ll see why form doesn’t always follow function.  Nonetheless, he had a huge impact that continues today. and most of the currently trendy mid-century modern style bears a remarkable resemblance to Wright’s designs. To better understand his design philosophy see, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine.

The second reason to visit Wright buildings isn’t quite so intellectual.  He was simply a fascinating character.  Not exactly a paragon of virtue, he left his first wife and six children for Mamah Borthwick, the spouse of a client.  That tragic story is the subject of Nancy Horan’s fictionalized work, Loving Frank.  Even his fans admit he was an arrogant self-promoter and a flawed genius.  I suggest Meryle Secrest’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest for the whole story.   for the whole story.  

Now for some exploration:

Allen House, Wichita, Kansas

exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita Kansas

At the Allen House, located in Wichita’s historic College Hill neighborhood, you’ll find all the traits of Wright’s Prairie Style residential architecture in one lovely home . Named after its first owners, newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife, Elsie, it was the last of Wright’s famous Prairie Houses.  Outside you’ll see Wright’s distinctive long, low horizontal lines with low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows.  Explore a bit of the area around Wichita and you that see how that horizontal theme and earth tones of the house match the landscape.

Said Wright, “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,”…“The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” The Allen house is one of the best examples I’ve seen in which spaces open to the outdoors.  And it retains.more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass and several new-for-their-time innovations, such as wall-hung toilets and an attached garage.

Taliesin—Spring Green Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin

As a child Wright spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the rolling farmland of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.  There he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature that came to influence his work.  He returned to this valley to build his home and studio called Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”) on an 800-acre estate outside Spring Green.  Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” 

A view of the valley from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Strolling outside Wright’s home, with its dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand how his architectural philosophy developed.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin as described in Loving Frank.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people including Borthwick and her children, and set the house on fire. 

Taliesin West—Scottsdale, Arizona

Angles on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

The rugged desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a stark to the lush rolling hills of Wisconsin.   Yet, after several bouts of illness, Wright built Taliesin West for greater winter comfort.  He called it his desert laboratory with buildings that were largely experimental and always changing and expanding.  Taliesin West grew to include a drafting studio, dining facilities, two theaters, a workshop, Wright’s office and private living quarters, and residences for apprentices and staff.   Each building is connected through a series of walkways, terraces, pools and gardens that meld with the surroundings. 

Still experimenting with geometric shapes and volumes, Wright designed much of the interior furniture and decorations.  He convinced young architecture students to not only pay for a Taliesin apprenticeship but also to build some of the furniture and appear in plays in the Taliesin West theater.  Taliesin West is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin where you can see students at their drafting tables..

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—New York City

exterior of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s last building celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.  It opened in 1959, the year he died.  It’s a complete departure from his Prairie Style days  of the Allen House and shows the evolution his thinking over a long career.  With the Guggenheim, the low-slung buildings with sharp angles and earth tones are gone, replaced by soaring circular white spaces. At the time, critical opinions varied from “the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” to “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After a three-year restoration of its interior, the Guggenheim reopened to great acclaim. Now  the entire Wright building is open to the public for the first time with spaces that had been used for storage and offices converted into galleries. As a capper to his long career, it seems just fine that the Guggenheim is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright and his “unconventional life.”

The circular interior of the Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work at the Allen House. (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

* The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritiage Sites are Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL), Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, IL), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, CA), Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, WI), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY).

Six ways to to Explore Las Cruces, New Mexico

Add Las Cruces, New Mexico, to your list of U. S. travel destinations.  You’ll find farms and food, history, “doggone” friendly folks, fossils and the great outdoors.

Looking for more on New Mexico? See my previous posts:

Roswell New Mexico and Space Aliens, Kimo Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico Chiles, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

giant roadrunner statue in New Mexico
This 20-foot tall roadrunner perches at the rest stop on I-10 near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The roadrunner is New Mexico’s state bird.
closeup of roadrunner statue made of trash in New Mexico
Look up close and you’ll see this roadrunner is made from discarded junk such as old tennis shoe soles.

Located about 45 miles northwest of El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces has long been a destination for more modern travelers and traders. In the late 1500s, explorer Don Juan de Oñate trekked into what is now New Mexico in search of gold on behalf of the king of Spain. On a route that was later known as the Camino Real, his group worked their way through the great Pass of the North (modern-day El Paso) and then north to what would become Santa Fe. Las Cruces makes a great destination for modern travelers following that route to Albuquerque and Santa Fe or on the route my husband and I followed on an RV trip westward to San Diego. Here are some tips to explore the area.

Farms and Farmers Markets 

sheep at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Sheep–shorn and unshorn–at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

For such dry country, the Las Cruces area offers remarkable agricultural bounty.  As you drive around you’ll see fields of chile plants, nut trees, vegetables and livestock. For an up-close look, visit the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.   It’s an outstanding, interactive museum with indoor exhibits, and outdoor demonstrations about all aspects of New Mexico Farm life and  plenty of live farm animals to see.  

blacksmith at New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum Las Cruces, New Mexico www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Find out about iron working and blacksmithing from Billy Provence.
white horse at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Horses and many other farm animals are at home at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

The bounty of those farms and ranches is on display at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces, typically on Saturdays & Wednesdays, 8:30 am to1 pm. You’ll find nearly 300 local merchants, goods and growers lined up along seven city blocks on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces.

baked goods vendor at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Pick up a loaf of bread to take home.
New Mexico State Students teaching nutrition www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Friendly students from New Mexico State University were on hand to teach about good nutrition.
painted gourds at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
You’ll find fantastic crafts and homemade products.
selling honey at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Luchador Food Truck at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
The Luchador food truck is one of several at the market. Be sure to try their fabulous breakfast torta.
Rio Grand Theater Las Cruces
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While you stroll Main Street you can drop in at several of the city’s museums and check out the tile work at the Rio Grande Theater

Wine & Dine

Las Cruces is proud of its wine production, too.  We sampled wine and ate dinner at the Lescombes Winery & Bistro (formerly called St. Clair Winery) where you can also purchase a variety of New Mexico wines.

counter with wine and food menu at NM Vintage www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Friendly greeting at NM Vintage in Mesilla, near Las Cruces.

Another day we visited the tiny town of Mesilla, just outside Las Cruces. We hunkered down at a little bistro called NM Vintage to share a wine flight and a few snacks.

menu and snack food at NM Vintage
offthebeatenpagetravel.com
man sipping wine at NM Vintage
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Relaxing on the patio at NM Vintage.

Mesilla is also one of my favorite stops in the area for dining. Not surprisingly, the area abounds with great Mexican food.  At ¡Ándele! Dog House! adjacent to the fancier IAndele! restaurant, we drank craft beer and ate tacos and enormous burrito plates on the covered patio where we could take our dog.

A Bit of History–and Shopping!

statue of Virgin Mary and exterior of Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com'
The Basilica of San Albino graces the main plaza in Mesilla, new Las Cruces.

Mesilla reminds me of how Santa Fe must have looked before it was discovered by all the tourists. Many cultural and historical activities take place on the plaza. At the north end, rises the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley, originally established in 1852 to give religious support to refugees from Mexico. Another Mesilla building was the site where Western Legend Billy the Kid once stood trial for murder.

In Mesilla, you’ll also find gift shops, galleries and Native American jewelry shops. Nambe, the design company that creates contemporary serveware, barware, home décor and gift items, has a terrific outlet on the plaza.

Dog-Friendly Destination

family patting golden retriever at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
At the Las Cruces farmers market.

We often travel with our dog, Duffy, so I was particularly happy to find that the Las Cruces area prides itself on being dog-friendly. Canines are great at breaking the ice with strangers and that was doubly true in Las Cruces. You can hardly get through the farmers market without chatting with everyone who wants to see your dog, hear about where you’re from and offer advice on places to visit in the area.

golden retriever at COAS books in Las Cruces www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Dogs are welcome at COAS books in Las Cruces….
Chihuahua looking out of doorway in Mesillia, NM www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
and may welcome you at Mesilla Book Center.
inside Mesilla Book Center www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Buffalo and books at the Mesilla Book Center.

On a long RV road trip, it’s great to stay in a hotel once in a while. In Las Cruces we checked into TownPlace Suites, a dog-friendly Marriott brand where the staff offered a friendly greeting to the dog owners, too.

two women greeting golden retriever at TownPlace Suites Las Cruces offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Our greeting at TownPlace Suites.

Get Outdoors in Las Cruces

view of Organ Mountains Las Cruces New Mexico www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Watch out for fossils while hiking in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Finally, New Mexico is an outdoor-lover’s paradise and Las Cruces is no exception. Sadly, howling dust storms kept us away from White Sands National Monument about an hour from Las Cruces.  It was amazing to see how the wind whipped up a giant white cloud of gypsum dust from the monument, which made it impossible for hiking, let alone the photography I had hoped for. Next time.

However, other outdoorsy possibilities abound. We headed for the Dripping Springs Natural Area located about 10 miles east of Las Cruces, on the west side of the Organ Mountains. It features easy trails that show off desert scrub and low elevation pinon-juniper and oak woodlands and sometimes wildlife viewing, including rattlesnakes.

warming sign on trail in Organ Mountains www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com

Be careful. It seems like hikers regularly stumble over fossils around Las Cruces. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures have wandered around New Mexico, for millennia and this dry and rocky Chihuahuan desert ecosystem provides the perfect conditions to preserve ancient fossils. That’s why they’re still around for trip over. I love these stories!

For example,  in 2017, a nine-year-old boy named Jude Sparks stumbled over the remains of a rare stegomastodon while hiking with his family in the nearby Organ Mountains.  The boy told the ABC-TV affiliate in El Paso, that his older brother told him it was “just a big fat rotten cow”  but it was actually a fantastic a find for the world of paleontology.  In 2014, a bachelor party also stumbled over a stegomastadon.  So, watch your step. Or, head to the hallways of New Mexico State University where the Zuhl Museum contains a large number of fossils of invertebrate and vertebrate animals from all over the world, including trilobites, corals, ammonites, insects, and fishes.

Roswell, New Mexico and Space Aliens

This cheerful little green man greeted us at Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell, New Mexico.

You have to hand it to space aliens.  Like our most unruly relatives, when they visit they can cause a stir that we just can’t get over. On a recent road trip through southern New Mexico, we couldn’t resist a side trip to Roswell, the center of a classic UFO story that includes an extraterrestrial visit and a government coverup.  

The Roswell Incident

A display at Roswell’s UFO Museum depicting what may have happened during the “Roswell Incident” in 1947

Roswell, a ranching town, launched into international fame in 1947 when a sheep rancher northwest of town found strange metallic objects on his property and reported the incident to officials at the local military base.  According to the Roswell city government website,  “on July 8, 1947, public information officer Lt. Walter Haut issued a press release under orders from base commander Col. William Blanchard, which said basically that we have in our possession a flying saucer. The next day another press release was issued, this time from Gen. Roger Ramey, stating it was a weather balloon. That was the start of the best known and well-documented UFO coverups.”   For more, see a history.com explanation.

Little Green Men

McDonald’s has spacy architecture in Roswell, New Mexico.

Did that rancher find parts of a flying saucer or just a weather balloon?  Was it the “cover up” of an alien landing or merely the government explaining away hush-hush scientific research that couldn’t be revealed to the public?  Who knows?  Still, you can’t beat a good alien story whether it’s fact or fiction and the city of Roswell has made the most of it.  The city features two notable art museums, the Roswell Museum and Art Center and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and other attractions, but space aliens are it’s claim to fame.  Consequently, the city receives thousands of visitors each year who are either true believers or lovers of kitsch.  Count me in the latter group.  I couldn’t resist.  

Greetings donut eaters!

In Roswell, the globes of downtown streetlights have alien eyes painted on them.  The city hosts an annual UFO Festival. The local McDonald’s skipped the golden arches in favor of spaceship architecture. At the Dunkin’ Donuts a green space alien holds the sign inviting you in, much the way high-schoolers advertise their team’s car-wash fundraisers. Even at the nearby Bottomless Lakes State Park, a campground host sign welcomed us with a little green man.

UFO Museum

Welcome to the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.

For all things UFO, head to Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center.  Whether you’re serious about aliens or not, you gotta go.  The price is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children and they let my dog in for free.  It offers a compilation of clippings, letters, and faded photos regarding the Roswell Incident.  You’ll find other information about sightings of UFOs, alien abductions and a section about Roswell in the movies.  Best, of all, even skeptics enjoy the steam-filled landing of aliens in a display in the museum’s center, pictured above.

Sci-Fi Classics

If you can’t make it to Roswell, you can indulge your sci-fi side with classic books of the genre.  They include H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, that classic of aliens invading earth, anything by Isaac Asimov (I, Robot, Foundation), Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheepadapted for film as Bladerunner), and Octavia Butler (Lilith’s Brood.)

See more about New Mexico’s gorgeous and “alien” landscapes in my next post.

“The Widow of the South,” and Franklin, Tennessee

Robert Hicks’ bestseller, The Widow of the South, an excellent historical fiction novel to read before a trip to Franklin, Tennessee.

The Battle of Franklin near Nashville, Tennessee, may not be the most famous battle of the American Civil War. Yet, for lovers of historical fiction, the story told in Robert Hicks’ novel The Widow of the South is gripping enough to inspire travel to Franklin, Tennessee, to see Carnton Plantation and other sites where the story takes place. If you go, you’ll discover why the Battle of Franklin is considered the last great battle of the Civil War.

And, you’ll find plenty of modern-day activities that make Franklin a great destination above and beyond the battlefield. It’s so cute, it even inspired a Hallmark movie, based on Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge.

The True Story and the Fiction

The Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate Army, with nearly 7,000 casualties.  (For a detailed explanation, see the Battle of Franklin Trust website.) During the battle, which raged not just in fields but also in people’s back yards, Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of injured and dying Confederate soldiers. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house and the adjacent cemetery. (See my previous post on the Carter House where the battle also raged.)

 Robert Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note, “Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.”

Hicks constructed his book using letters and diaries but added a number of fictional characters to the factual mix, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Serious Civil War buffs no doubt roll their eyes about the book’s fictional additions.

Hicks says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.”

sign describes Carrie McGavock as "The Good Samaritan of Williamson County."
Cemetery at Carnton Plantation where this sign describes Carrie McGavock as “The Good Samaritan of Williamson County.”

As you tour, you’ll discover that the Battle of Franklin was anything but imaginary.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

Outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481 young soldiers, a staggering reminder of the epic battle.

Hundreds of headstones mark the graves at Carnton Plantation in Franklin Tennesse
A Civil War soldier’s grave marker in the cemetary at Carnton Plantation.

Updated and More Inclusive

The Carnton tour used to somewhat glorify the business acumen of Carnton’s white owners. That neglected the horror of slavery and the fact that all of us could succeed in business if our laborers worked for free. I’m happy to report that the plantation has added a Slavery and the Enslaved: Tours at Carter House and Carnton.

So, I maintain that quality historical fiction serves an important role to spark interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate. I, for one, had never have heard of the Battle of Franklin before reading the book. More importantly, historical sites must present their stories from multiple perspectives and with an eye in include the facts, not just those with a nostalgia for the old South.

…And While You’re in Franklin

Yet, everything in Franklin isn’t about war and death. The charming town makes a great girls’ getaway or weekend trip, not just for history buffs. There’s unique shopping an abundance of live music and some charming inns, too. Don’t miss Landmark Booksellers, inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s novel, The Bridge.

Independent Landmark Booksellers of Franklin, Tennessee was the inspiration of the New York Times bestselling novel ‘The Bridge.’ Photo courtesy Visit Franklin.
Music at Gray’s on Main in Franklin. Photo courtesy of Visit Franklin.

Where to Stay

The new Harpeth Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton luxury hotel, is the only hotel in downtown.  There are also a wide array of charming B&Bs.

Tour of Seattle : What to Read and do

glass flowers at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle
Giant glass flowers in the conservatory at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

As U.S. cities go, Seattle surely tops the list of “places with the most diverse activities in the smallest geographic area.” My book,  Off The Beaten Page Travel: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways features a chapter on Seattle with an essay, reading list and an itinerary. It’s a great tool to start planning your Seattle adventure. And see my previous posts about the Seattle area “All is Not Grey” and “Bainbridge Island/Snow Falling on Cedars”  before planning your trip.

I hadn’t returned to the Emerald City since researching the book, but I just spent a week in the Seattle area and sampled a batch of Seattle activities and adventures. Here are some of my favorite ideas for Seattle travel, or to enjoy as a reader.

Author Maria Semple’s Seattle
First, I heartily recommend author Maria Semple as your Seattle traveling companion. I can’t imagine a more fun person to travel with –via her books set in Seattle, most famously Where’d You Go Bernadette which was recently made into a movie with Kate Blanchette.

On my way home from Seattle, I read her most recent book Today Will Be Different. If you liked Bernadette, you’ll enjoy Today Will Be Different. Both feature women struggling with motherhood, middle age, and “finding themselves.” They’re both hilarious, rather improbable and take readers on a fun tour of Seattle landmarks and neighborhoods.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

One of many colorful exhibits inside at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.
Colorful Chihuly art outside where the gardens are as gorgeous as the glass.

Seattle salutes famed Pacific Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a stunning gallery and garden (and restaurant!), Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, right under the iconic Space Needle. If you love art, gardens, or simply eye-popping color, this is the place for you.

Olympic Sculpture Park

You can see the famous Space Needle through Alexander Calder’s sculpture “The Eagle” in Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington
View of the Seattle waterfront from the Olympic Sculpture Park

Just a short walk down the hill from Seattle Center, you’ll find the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space. Sit amidst giant works such as Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” (see above) with a view of Seattle Center and the Space Needle in back of you and the waterfront and Olympic mountains in front. It doesn’t get much better.

Capitol Hill

Local author section at Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle’s most hip and edgy neighborhood? For most people, the answer is Capitol Hill. Here, you’ll find one of my favorite bookstores, Elliott Bay Book Company, where I happily spent an hour admiring the store and gathering books from their list of staff picks and book club ideas.

For ice cream, don’t miss Seattle classic, Molly Moon Ice Cream –Honey Lavender! Salted Carmel! Melted Chocolate! Along with a cone, I bought their cookbook to make my own Molly Moon at home.

Also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, you’ll find the uber-cool Starbucks Roastery and tasting room. There’s hardly a place in the entire world that doesn’t have a Starbucks outpost. But, in Seattle coffee lovers can make a pilgrimage to the first Starbucks, at Pike Place Market. Caffeine fiends will also enjoy a visit to the Roastery, a Disneyland for coffee lovers. Grab some java (and pizza, pastry, and much more) and watch them roast the beans. It’s one of just a few such Starbucks in the world; others are in New York City, Milan and Shanghai.

Reserve ahead for dinner at a neighborhood favorite, the award-winning Sitka and Spruce at the Melrose Market. Peer in the old auto shop’s windows and and see, as Seattle magazine said, “a brick wood-burning oven anchors the open kitchen—nothing sits between diners perched at the long, wooden communal table and the band of bearded chefs busily working nearby.” Super-creative food from the Northwest.

Farther up the hill, we found another side of Capitol Hill–a leafy neighborhood of huge historic homes, quite different the the commercial end of the Hill. We visited Volunteer Park with its lovely conservatory and great views from top of the old brick water tower.

Lake Union for Kayaking

Take advantage of a beautiful day in Seattle by kayaking on Lake Union.

Seattlites are an outdoorsy bunch and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to join them for outside action, especially on the water. We rented kayaks at Agua Verde Paddle Club, not far from the University of Washington. It’s a great way to see Seattle’s famous houseboats (ala the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”), fishing and pleasure boats, parks and the Seattle skyline from the water.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Sure, it’s touristy, but for flowers, food and flying fish, Pike Place Market is fun, no matter how many times you’ve been there. In summer, go early before it gets too crowded to walk through.

Stunning flowers abound at Pike Place Market.
So ugly but so much fun! This fish also spouts water on unsuspecting customers at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

We dined near the market at the Pink Door, in the historic Post Alley. Sitting outside offers a great view of the waterfront, inside an elcletic batch of entertainment (trapeze artists to hot club jazz) and you’ll find great Italian-influenced food anywhere you sit.

Where We Stayed

Downtown: The Hyatt Olive 8. The Olive 8 is eco friendly and just plain friendly. We received one of the most cordial greetings there I’ve ever had at a hotel. It makes a great location to explore downtown, with a short walk to Pike Place Market, great shopping neighborhoods, and it’s close to the Monorail that goes to Seattle Center—anything to avoid driving and parking in Seattle! It’s easy and inexpensive to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown’s Westlake stop and walk a couple of block to the hotel.

Capitol Hill: Gaslight Inn. Housed in and old mansion, this B&B offers a great contrast to big downtown hotels. Super friendly owner Stephen Bennett makes a yummy breakfast and is happy to offer directions to Capitol Hill hot spots. Too hot? There’s a cool pool in back.

Find the Texas of Your Imagination in Amarillo

If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.  The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.

But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.   

Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S.
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Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.  In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.  Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).  Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche.  In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.  The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.  At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.  The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934. 

History Behind the Texas Tales

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A statue of Molly Goodnight and buffalo at the Goodnight Historical Center
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You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.

To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.  It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.  Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time.  Like guns?  They have an immense collection.

Saddle Up

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Phyllis Nickum of Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West

Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.  There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.  Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.

From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.  “This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche.  History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”  She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west. 

Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.  You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.  

Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66. 

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Serving up a 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan

Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains the Route 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.  It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.  Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.  Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.  Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.  

There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.  A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.  Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.