Sunday, November 27, 2016

Spotlight: Fort Worth - The Stockyards

Spotlight: The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District preserves the history of Texas's legendary livestock industry. Between 1866 and 1890, drovers channeled more than 4 million head of cattle through Fort Worth, inspiring the city's nickname of Cowtown. After the railroad arrived in 1876, the city built the Union Stockyards in 1887. When funds ran low, new investors decided to develop Fort Worth's meat-packing industry rather than just ship the stock off to other markets. Construction soon began on new pens, barns, a Livestock Exchange Building, two new meat-packing plants, expanded telegraph and railroad offices, and other support businesses creating an industry often referred to as "The Wall Street of the West." In 1907 the Cowtown Coliseum was built as an indoor show arena. The industry continued to grow until it reached its peak in 1944. Following WWII, the railroad industry began to decline with the rise of the automobile; and the decline of the cattle industry soon followed. By 1971, both major meat-packing plants were forced to close. In 1976, Charlie and Sue McCafferty founded the North Fort Worth Historical Society to preserve Cowtown's livestock heritage. Through the Society's efforts, the Fort Worth National Historic District was founded. It has continued to grow as new businesses have replaced the old ones, with the new focus shifting to tourism and entertainment.

Location: The Stockyards are located at 130 E. Exchange Ave. in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cost: Free to get in, but individual activities cost extra.

Time: Schedules vary from place to place within the Stockyards. Locations start opening around 9 am and close at around 5 pm. Plan on spending about 1-4 hours, depending on what activities you do.

Description: The Stockyards has dozens of different activities you can do, ranging from shopping to dining to riding a mechanical bull. There are dozens of shops that cater mostly to tourists by selling Old West souvenirs and clothing. There was also plenty of room for expansion when we went it 2014.

     Some of the activities available at the Stockyards include: perusing the Visitor Center, finding your way through the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze, taking a tour (walk, bike, Segway), searching for your favorite Old West character's "star" on the Texas Trail of Fame, seeing a rodeo, visiting an Old West saloon, watching the Cattle Drive, getting your picture taken in old western garb, visiting historic buildings such as the Livestock Exchange Building, riding a mechanical bull, sitting on a live longhorn, perusing one of the museums, visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame or the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, trying out your skills at the virtual gun range, petting the animals at the Petting Zoo, admiring the various livestock in the barn, or participating in various special events. For more information on individual activities, visit the Stockyard website.

Cattlepen Maze

     One of the best reasons to visit the Stockyards is the availability of a wide variety of dining options. We ate at Riscky's Bar-B-Q. A large sign warns visitors: "Our Ribs May Be Habit Forming!" Naturally we tried the ribs. The sign wasn't exaggerating. Other restaurants include: Billy Bob's Texas Honky Tonk Kitchen, Cattlemen's Fort Worth Steakhouse, Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Q, Habanero's Grill and Cantina, Horseshoe Hill Cafe, Hunter Brothers H3 Ranch, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Love Shack, Trailboss Burgers, and more.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - If you go to the Website, there are advertisements for the Stockyards Adventure Pass. It is pretty pricey, especially since you can do several of the things listed for free without buying the pass. It appears that the main benefit of the pass is that you get a knowledgeable guide to accompany you as you explore the Stockyards.
- The Cattle Drive is held daily at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm. We stayed to watch it and were a bit disappointed. All they did was walk slowly down the main street and back to their pens. Rather than organize your day around the "drive", just visit the longhorns in their pens.
Cattle Drive
Nearby: Diamond Hill Park, Forth Worth Nature Center & Refuge, Fort Worth Botanical Garden, Fort Worth Water Gardens

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Spotlight: Dallas - The 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Spotlight: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding through Dealey Plaza in a motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is probably the second most infamous murder in the history of the United States (after that of Abraham Lincoln). Numerous conspiracy theorists have tried to link the two assassinations. Hundreds of volumes have been written about the similarities and differences between these two iconic American figures, their murderers, and the assassination plots that brought about their earthly demise. In fact, so many works of literature have been dedicated to these two men that many Americans seem to have forgotten that two other U.S. presidents were also assassinated in office (James Garfield and William McKinley).
     One reason why the assassination of John F. Kennedy has had such an impact on U.S. culture is the fact that his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated only 4 1/2 years later while campaigning for the 1968 presidential election. Another, is that it remains the most recent successful assassination of a U.S. president. A third reason is that practically every president since Pres. Kennedy has also had a documented assassination attempt on his life (most notably Pres. Reagan who was actually shot, but survived).
     The 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a trove of memorabilia (photos, artifacts, video) highlighting the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy, the political climate (Civil Rights, Cold War, Space & Technology), the assassination, and the investigations that followed.

Location: The Museum is located at 411 Elm St. in Dallas.

Cost: $16/adult, $13/youth (6-18), $14/senior (65+), children 5 and under are free

Time: The museum is open from 10:00 am - 6:00 pm daily (except Mondays 12-6). Allow 1-3 hours to take the audio tour and peruse the museum and grounds.

Description: The 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza was created to honor the life and legacy of President John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America. The audio tour takes you through various exhibits that highlight various aspects of his presidency:
     The Early 1960's outlines the social movements and political climate that characterized his presidency, while giving guests insights into his family life.
     The Trip to Texas escorts guests through the two-day five-city trip through Texas immediately preceding his assassination. It also explores the political climate in Texas at the time.
     The Corner Window (the southeast corner window on the 6th Floor of the Texas School Book Depository) has been recreated to appear as it did on Nov. 22, 1963 when it served as the sniper's perch for the assassination. Interactive touch-screens overlooking Dealey Plaza give visitors a glimpse into the past.
The X on the road marks the spot where the assassination occurred
     The Crisis Hours highlights the search for the assassin, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and his subsequent murder at the hands of local nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
     The Investigations analyzes the Warren Commission's 889-page report on the assassination which determined that there was no evidence of a conspiracy. The exhibit includes criticisms of the report including video that explores various aspects of the investigation, including acoustical evidence, photographs, forensic and ballistic tests, and other materials.
     The Legacy section includes a video tribute of John F. Kennedy, highlighting the global impact of his legacy in civil rights, space & technology, arts & culture, and volunteerism.
     The Corner Staircase has also been recreated to appear as it did in 1963. On display is an Italian made Mannlicher-Carcano rifle identical to the one found by investigators in the northwest corner of the 6th floor.
     In addition to the permanent exhibits, there are usually various special exhibits on display on other floors. Currently on display is a Photomosaics exhibit by artist Alex Guofeng Cao that from a distance appears to be giant black and white portraits of JFK and his wife Jacqueline. Upon closer inspection, the viewer notices that the portraits are a collage of thousands of smaller images.

     It is worth the time to walk around Dealey Plaza and contemplate the events that took place there. The plaza has some fountains and an obelisk, and provides views of the building itself.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - Since the museum works on a timed entry model, it is recommended that you purchase tickets online ahead of time.
- If I remember right, you aren't allowed to take pictures in the 6th Floor museum itself.
- A self-tour audio/ASL guide is available for all guests with purchase of admission. The guides are available in the following languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.
- As you leave, you are invited to write your impressions in the museum's Memory Books.

Nearby: Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture, Dallas World Aquarium, Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Reunion Tower

Monday, November 14, 2016

Spotlight: Fort Worth, Texas - Water Gardens

Spotlight: The Water Gardens were built in 1974 by noted New York architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The urban park, known as a "cooling oasis in the concrete jungle," covers 4.3 acres, and features three pools of water and a terraced knoll. Each pool is unique, featuring a different aspect of water: the Quiet Water Pool, the Aerated Water Pool, and the Active Water Pool.

Location: The Water Gardens are located in downtown Fort Worth at 1502 Commerce Street.

Cost: Free

Time: The park is open daily from 7:30 am - 10:00 pm.

Description: The Quiet Water Pool is surrounded by cypress trees and towering walls. The walls are covered with a thin sheet of water cascading down, creating the soothing sound of rain.

     The Aerated Water Pool features an array of about two dozen spray fountains shaded by oak trees.

     The feature attraction is the Active Water Pool. The pool features hundreds of thousands of gallons of water cascading 38 feet (11 meters) down a series of terraces into a central pool. In order to experience the effect fully, visitors can descend the stone steps that lead down to the central pool, where you are immersed in the sound of water crashing down around you without getting wet.

     In addition to the pools, there is a terraced concrete knoll known as the Mountain.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - The active pool was closed for a couple of years after four people drowned in 2004. The tragedy happened because the water was unusually deep as a result of a pump malfunction and heavy rains. To make the pool safer, the depth of the central pool was reduced from 9 feet to 2 feet.
- The Water Gardens were featured in the film Logan's Run. They were also seen in the TV adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven.
- Occasionally one of the pools may be closed for cleaning. We missed the Aerated Pool on our first visit but made a quick stop when we passed by it again for a picture.

Nearby: Fort Worth Convention Center, Cowtown Segway Adventures, Trinity Park, Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Spotlight: Amarillo, Texas - Cadillac Ranch

Spotlight: The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas is just the sort of thing I was thinking about when I created this blog - a unique spot that really isn't on anyone's bucket list or itinerary, but is a "must see" for anyone in the area. In life, sometimes we focus so much on the destination, that we forget to enjoy the journey. Stopping to visit the Cadillac Ranch is the epitome of the phrase "take time to smell the roses" - in this case, the Yellow Rose of Texas.

Location: The Cadillac Ranch is located by the just off of I-40 (Route 66) on the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas. It can be accessed via the frontage road.

Cost: Free

Time: Plan on spending about 30 minutes - the perfect amount of time to get out and stretch your legs for a bit before climbing back into the car and driving another couple of hours to your destination.

Description: Calling this place a "Ranch" is a misnomer. It is actually an urban sculpture, created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels. The sculpture is a line of ten Cadillacs with their front ends buried in the ground so that their rear wheels and tail fins are sticking up at approximately the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars represent several evolutions of the car line from 1949-1963, highlighting its most distinctive feature - the tail fin.

     The site of the Ranch is owned by millionaire Stanley Marsh 3, the patron of the project. Although the land is privately owned, visiting it is tacitly encouraged. In addition, visitors are even allowed to leave their own mark by spray painting the vehicles - each of which have long since lost their original color, and are now a pallet of bright colors.
     Of course, the cars provided the inspiration for the tail fin peaks, as seen in Pixar's Cars and Disney's Cars Land. They have also been featured in numerous music videos and album covers.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - The cars are occasionally repainted to commemorate special occasions.
- In 1997, the Ranch was moved from its original location to its present location to keep it on the outskirts of Amarillo.
- Since it is located in an old cow pasture, the ground around the cars is often muddy, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear.
- When we went, there were lots of spray cans just left on the ground around the cars. Littering is always tacky.

Nearby: Tyler's Barbeque, Amarillo Botanical Gardens, Jack Sisemore Traveland, Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Travel Tip #48 - Keep an eye out for fun Holiday outings

     I've mentioned before that you don't need to travel far or spend a lot of money to have an enjoyable family outing. There are many fun things to do right in your own backyard. This is especially true during holidays. We've been able to do several fun, cheap activities during various holiday seasons just by checking out what is going on around town. Some of the fun things we've done are: taking a "Halloween cruise" down a small section of the river that is decked out for the holiday; getting apple cider and apple sauce donuts after shooting apple blasters and other fun activities at an apple farm during the harvest; visiting a scarecrow festival; participating in a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving; visiting a Festival of Trees decorated for Christmas; driving through neighborhoods or public centers decked out with fun Christmas lights; exploring ice castles in winter; participating in Easter egg hunts; watching free pageants about Easter; visiting hot air balloon launches, fireworks shows, parades, and reenactments of colonial days for Independence Day. Those are just some of the things we've done.
Walking down the path to our boat for the Halloween Cruise

Visiting the local Ice Castles
     There is a holiday practically every month of the year, which means that there is often something going on locally that you can participate in without putting out much effort or money. We used to get a local newspaper before I realized that their internet site was easily accessible, free, easier to navigate, and didn't stain your fingers black. Ever since I started accessing it daily, I became a lot more up to date on different events going on in the area. Another easy way to find out about things is word of mouth. With all the social media sites, you often see friends' pictures about fun things they're doing. It's easy just to respond and ask details so that you can enjoy that activity too.
     With so many wonderful opportunities out there, take time to smell the roses all around you and enjoy the holiday season!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Spotlight: Utah County - Alpine Loop

Spotlight: One of the best things about autumn is the fall colors. Everyone knows that New England has beautiful fall colors; but they don't have a monopoly on gorgeous autumn leaves. The aspen groves that dominate the Wasatch Front create some of the most colorful autumn foliage in the nation, with the golden aspens and crimson maple leaves contrasting sharply with the green pine trees. Although there are plenty of gorgeous scenic drives throughout the state, the Alpine Loop is habitually ranked among the top scenic drives in the state - particularly when summer rolls into fall.

Location: Take UT HWY 92 east from the Alpine / Timpanogos Cave National Monument exit #284 off I-15 and follow it all the way to US HWY 189; then head west back to I-15. Or exit #272 off I-15 at 800 North in Orem and take UT 52 east to US 189 to UT 92; follow this all the way back to I-15 in Lehi.

Cost: $6 (3-day recreation pass), $12 (7-day pass), or $45 (annual pass) good for Alpine Loop and Mirror Lake Highway

Time: Plan on about 2 hours if you just drive and stop periodically. Add on any extra time for hiking. The loop is closed during the winter, but opens up near the beginning of May, and stays open until late October.

Description: The Alpine Loop is a 20-mile drive that winds through the canyons of the Wasatch Front from American Fork to Orem/Provo. The drive takes you around Mount Timpanogos - the most popular mountain in the valley - and offers access to many of its natural beauties.

     In addition to beautiful fall foliage, the loop passes by the following popular attractions: Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Timpooneke Trail (to the summit of Mount Timpanogos), Julie Andrews Meadow, Cascade Springs, Silver Lake, Stewart Falls, Aspen Grove, and Sundance Mountain Resort.
Mount Timpanogos hike
Stewart Falls
Rating: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - The entire Alpine Loop is paved, and most vehicles can travel its entire length without any difficulty. Vehicles over 30 feet, or older cars that have trouble going up inclines, are not recommended.
- The road is windy, so if you are prone to carsickness, take appropriate precautions.

Nearby: Thanksgiving Point, Bridal Veil Falls, Deer Creek, Heber Valley Railroad

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spotlight: Utah County - Fifth Water Hot Springs and Waterfalls

Spotlight: Fifth Water Creek is a tributary of the Diamond Fork River. Along this creek are some popular hot springs that have created several luxurious natural soaking pools. The popular hike, often referred to as the "hot pots," is located in Diamond Fork Canyon near Spanish Fork, Utah. The trail also passes several picturesque waterfalls. Although the trail can be accessed year-round with the right kind of vehicle, it is often covered with snow from late fall to early spring. It is extremely popular on weekends during warm weather.

Location: Fifth Water Hot Springs are located along Fifth Water Creek. To get there, travel up Highway 6 through Spanish Fork Canyon until you reach the Diamond Fork Turnoff (about 11 miles east of Spanish Fork). Travel north up Diamond Fork Canyon for about 9 1/2 miles to the Three Forks Trailhead. Go through the gate, and do not cross the first bridge! Instead hike along the trail on the north side of the river until you reach a second bridge (about a mile up the trail). Cross this one and follow the trail another mile or so until you reach the hot springs. There is a fork in the trail before the springs, but they merge again further up, so it doesn't matter which one you take.
Cost: Free

Time: The hike will take about 2 hours round trip. Add on the amount of time you want to spend exploring the waterfalls or bathing in the hot springs.

Description: The Hot Springs at Fifth water are a series of pools that have been diverted and walled in to create several naturally fueled hot tubs that are perfect size for sitting. Although the smell of sulfur can be strong, the water itself is very clear. The temperature will vary from pool to pool, and even from one area of the pool to another, so always check the temperature before bathing.

     In addition to the hot tubs, there are four waterfalls along the trail. The lower falls are just up from the first set of pools. It is a unique waterfall in the sense that there is a small cave at the base, and another higher up. During the spring, you can feel cold water falling down from the spring runoff, while squatting in the heated water below. The upper cave has a window that you can peer out through at the water cascading down. If you go later in the year, you will get a much different look.
sitting in lower cave (early June)
Looking out window of upper cave (June)
Upper window (late August)
Lower cave (August)
      Above the first waterfall, there are two more hot spring pools, followed by the second waterfall. This one is also very photogenic. The third and fourth waterfalls are a ways higher up the trail. They are nice cascades, but not as cool as the first two, and are less accessible.
2nd waterfall

3rd waterfall
4th waterfall
Rating: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - The road up Diamond Fork Canyon is windy and narrow in parts. You will also occasionally encounter cows in the road; so drive carefully.
- Parking at the trailhead can get pretty crowded on weekends, so get there early.
- The first time we went looking for the hot springs, we crossed the bridge. It was a pretty hike, but we didn't find any hot springs. Instead, hike along the river until you reach the second bridge.
- The hot springs often attract skinny-dippers (particularly in the evenings), so you might want to be cautious - especially with children in tow.
- Hikers occasionally see rattlesnakes along the trail during the warmer months, so have an experienced hiker take the lead.
- The trail is also popular for bicycles.
- I would strongly recommend bringing rubber-soled water socks or shoes that you don't mind getting wet while walking in the stream or pools. My niece cut up her feet trying to walk barefoot. Also, the rocks are extremely slippery from the white and green moss that collects on them from the water; so use extreme caution.
-  Although the water is mostly clear, you will see small black ash particles floating in some of the pools, so be careful about getting water in your mouth or eyes.
- The waterfalls are best in the spring when there is a lot of spring runoff.
- There are plenty of camping spots in the canyon if you want to spend a couple of days enjoying the beauty of nature.

Nearby: Red Ledges Picnic area, Spanish Fork Peak, Scofield State Park, The Grotto