Our “Mecca” in Salinas

Salinas, California, has been on our “Must Visit” list for nearly as long as we have been dreaming about and planning for our Out There road trip.  Many of you know why, but I’ll let the rest of you know… it’s because we had to visit the inspiration for the name we gave to our motor home.

Charley in the window and Rocinante
John Steinbeck’s camper truck, Rocinante… his “Charley” is his French poodle who’s in the passenger window

Charley, our RV, was so named after John Steinbeck’s travelogue depicting his 1960 road trip around the United States.  Travels with Charley: In Search of America inspired us and we knew we would make our own Travels with Charley memories on our journey by traveling in our Charley.  [Of course we know that Charley was Steinbeck’s French poodle and not the name of his pick-up camper; his was named Rosinante after Don Quixote’s bony horse.]

So today we finally arrived at our “Mecca” — the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, John Steinbeck’s hometown.  In addition to his camper truck, the Steinbeck Center hosts a wonderful collection of artifacts, books, and film clips, and the exhibition hall walks visitors through the life and writing history of this Nobel Prize-winning author.  From his first acclaimed novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), the famed Of Mice and Men (1937), and his #1 bestseller The Grapes of Wrath (1939) for which Steinbeck won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize… and all the way through his travelogue Travels with Charley (1962), the Steinbeck Center shares this experimenter, philosopher, traveler and writer’s life.


Photos of the inside of Steinbeck’s Rocinante and our Charley (with the slides out) — and I think Charley is small…!


John Steinbeck's boyhood home in Salinas, California
Steinbeck’s boyhood home in Salinas

We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxed day in Salinas, known also as the “salad bowl” of the U.S. for all of the lettuce and other vegetables, nuts and fruits that are grown in this agricultural valley between two mountain ranges in Central California. Following our time in the Steinbeck Center, we walked two blocks over to the Steinbeck House which is now a charming luncheon restaurant staffed by volunteers of the Valley Guild who now owns the home.

Happy we were that we made the time to come up to the National Steinbeck Center today.  Seeing Rocinante made us grateful we’re traveling a little — ok, a lot! — more comfortably than John & Charley in our own Charley.  We are thankful, too, that we are taking a lot more time to explore our great country — we are truly blessed to be able to do so.

Fred & Laura at Mecca
Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip took him some 10,000 miles around 30-some states.  Ours will take us to all 50 states + American Samoa and the Virgin Islands to visit all 59 of America’s national parks. With nine months of our journey left to go, we’ve already traveled 58,000 miles!

Snow days!

Enjoying Vermont
Ready for some snow fun!

It’s official — we are in love with Vermont!!!  We love visiting Pam & Stan, our friends with the beautiful home on top of a mountain where the views are serenely spectacular!  We love their friends whom we’ve gotten to know through various functions including dinner parties, kayaking afternoons on the town lake, a turkey supper at the Pomfert Town Hall, a pancake breakfast at the Barnard Town Hall, stunning home tours and friendly cocktail parties.  We love Vermont’s scenic byways, back roads, barns, bridges, general stores, old churches and town halls.  We love the healthy lifestyle the people who live there embrace.  We love the liberal politics.  We love the locally-sourced, farm-to-table approach to food.  We love the ‘buy local’ approach to buying other products.  We love maple everything.  We simply love it all…!

Old Barnard barn
Beautiful old barn in Barnard
Skating pond in Barnard
Skating on the lake in Barnard
The serenity of Vermont
Wintertime atop the mountain

This was our first wintertime visit to Butler Mountain and while we were disappointed we didn’t get dumped on like most of the east coast did with Winter Storm Jonas, there was enough snow for us to get out and play in this magical white wonderland.  And in addition to the we’ve-come-to-expect-it great meals cooked in and eaten out (it must be all that organic food!) and Stan’s famous Stantinis (think: cosmopolitans on steroids), we also enjoyed a spaghetti supper at the Barnard Town Hall to benefit the Barnard Volunteer Fire Department and First Responders, cocktails and conversation at Dana & Linda’s (can’t remember the last time we were at a party until 1 o’clock in the morning!), hikes in the snow, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and a fabulous afternoon making and eating pizzas in Doug & Geraldine’s new outdoor pizza kitchen [that Doug made with wood from the trees on their property] followed up with Eric’s fruit tarts also baked in the wood-burning pizza oven.  Some of us skied, most of us imbibed on a little something, the dogs ran around, everyone enjoyed themselves… it was a quintessential wonderfully-awesome winter day in the great state of Vermont!

Here are some little photo sets of our adventures in Vermont.  If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in an album.  To close the album, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

Barnard General Store


Pam & Laura’s snow hike to a Sugar House on a friend’s property — it is in places like this that maple syrup gets made


Spaghetti Supper at the Barnard Town Hall sponsored by the Barnard Volunteer Fire Department and First Responders with proceeds going towards a new department station


Stan & Fred checking out the snowmobile trails


Doug & Geraldine’s pizza party 


Afternoon cross-country skiing


Snow hike to Luce’s Lookout on the Appalachian Trail

If it weren’t for the accidental friendship we developed with two nice strangers along the tow path of the Delaware River a year-and-a-half ago, Vermont would be just another checked-off state on our list.  But gratefully it’s so much more than that to us now!  Thanks to the loving kindness of Pam and Stan and their oh-so-very generous hospitality, the spirit of Vermont has now permeated our hearts and souls.  Their friends have become our friends and we are forever grateful to all of them for making our winter trip to their state such a special, special one!  From the bottoms of our hearts, we thank all of you!  Until next time….

Welcome to Vermont!

January 21st — After a very early morning that began with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, and a long day of flying from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Burlington, we finally arrived at our destination in northern Vermont.  As we approached the airport in our little regional jet, we were treated with views of the quiet serenity of Lake Champlain and the snowy beauty of the Green Mountains on a clear, crisp Thursday evening.  Our dear friends Pam and Stan met us at the airport with big smiles and even bigger hugs and so now we begin several days of wintertime fun with them.

Sweet Pammy pulled out all the stops, and the champagne cork, too, and while the boys drove in the front seat, we girls began our catch-up over a bottle of champagne.  The last time we saw them was back in November in Santa Fe [see So Long, Santa Fe post] when they flew out to New Mexico and joined us for a week of exploring the Southwest.  We’re now all in the Northeast together awaiting the snowstorms that are heading this way!

As if the champagne welcome wasn’t enough, we took the scenic route down one of Vermont’s Scenic Byways, Hwy 100, though fabulous little towns as night fell upon us — it was enchanting.  In the most idyllic hamlet of Waitsfield, Vermont, houses and barns and trees and other structures were decorated with white lighted stars — it was simply magical in the moonlight.  They chose a restaurant for us on a classic old farm property, The Lareau Farm, that operates an inn and a fabulous pizza restaurant, American Flatbread.  It features all natural pizzas baked in a primitive earthen oven.  Over a couple of glasses of wine we enjoyed the casual elegance of dining on our rustic pizzas straight out of the wood-burning oven that warms the entire restaurant.
Lareau Farm in Waitsfield Hearth

Friendships renewed, hearts warmed, and bellies full, we drove the rest of the way home to their quiet mountaintop home outside of Barnard.  Let the snowstorm begin….

R.I.P. Glenn Frey

Standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona
Fred by the Standin’ on the Corner statue
Charley and the flatbed Ford in Winslow, Arizona
Charley and the flatbed Ford mentioned in “Take It Easy”

Standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona
All four corners have it goin’ on in Winslow
Standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona
Another corner tribute to the iconic Eagles song

It’s a sad irony that on the day we decided to detour off I-40 a couple of miles so we could go through downtown Winslow, Arizona, we lost one of the greatest singer songwriters of all times — the one who co-wrote [with Jackson Browne] the famous song lyrics about standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.  “Take It Easy” was the Eagles first #1 hit back in 1972 with Glenn Frey taking lead vocals on it.

We didn’t know about Glenn Frey’s death when we hopped out of Charley to take a couple of photos at the famous corner early this afternoon.  It was only later that we learned of his death.

I don’t need to wax on about him, for writers far better than me are doing so as the world is coming to grips with the loss of such a music icon, particularly so soon after the loss of another global music great, David Bowie.  But I’m profoundly sad…  The Eagles were one of my favorite bands growing up in the ’70s and I know most of the lyrics to most of their songs.  [Those of you who know me won’t be surprised by that statement; Fred calls me a ‘lyrics savant.’]  The music world will truly miss Glenn Frey, but after some health complications lately, I guess he can now truly take it easy….


Three National Park Units in Oklahoma

As we look to wind up our two-turned-into-two-and-a-half-year road trip in October of this year, we are now paying more attention to routes, remaining national parks (16 at the time of this post), missing states (five) and figuring out how to efficiently get to all of our remaining sites before turning Charley back to the Midwest and calling our trip “complete.”  It was with this in mind that we pointed north to Oklahoma.  Being in Texas, we were close, and we weren’t sure how we’d loop back to this area in these next several months if we didn’t do it now.  So with that we drew up our plans to visit Oklahoma, our 46th state.  [Our remaining states now include only Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota.]

We took in all three of the national park units in Oklahoma during our time there, each being very different in place and purpose.

Chickasaw NRAPublic art to honor the Chickasaw in Sulpher, OKChickasaw National Recreation Area — Located in the town of Sulpher in Southern Oklahoma, this NRA preserves natural mineral springs and nearly 10,000 acres of forest land and recreational lakes.  Initially preserved as Platt National Park, it is today Chickasaw NRA in honor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation and in recognition that the lake as a recreation area serving northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.

As with many old national park units, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a hand in building many of the picnic shelters, campgrounds, dams, and bridges here.  It is, indeed, a beautiful area — from the town’s public art that honors the rich Native American history to the Travertine Nature Center built over Travertine Creek to the hiking trails, springs and lakes.  We are, once again, grateful that many saw fit to protect this special place.



Oklahoma City National MemorialOklahoma City National Memorial — This solemn place remembers April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a bomb in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.  One-hundred sixty-eight people were killed in the attack and now 168 chairs sit empty next to the reflecting pool representing those who died.  The memorial also remembers the survivors, the rescue workers, and all those who have been forever changed by this event.  A survivor wall, memorial fence, children’s area, and old elm tree that survived the blast also sit on what is now sacred soil and make up this memorial.

Written on one of the twin Gates of Time, “We have come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.”  Amen.

Oklahoma City National Memorial



Washita NHS
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site — The word ‘battlefield’ should be removed from the official title of this national park unit; this was a massacre, not a battle, of an Indian village full of defenseless women and children by the U.S. Army who was directed to make war on the Cheyenne people.

In the mid-1800s, decades of conflict had been playing out across the southern plains that are now Oklahoma.  In the name of Manifest Destiny, early settlers moved westward though these lands, assisted by the newly-laid railroad lines that brought more and more people through the area.  Feeling threatened by the Native Americans who were protecting the land that rightfully belonged to them, tensions increased as fundamentally different cultures clashed over who should live on these lands and how they should be used.  As the U.S. government attempted to force Native American tribes to reservations, inter-tribal battles took place as did rebellions by revenge-seeking young Native warriors avenging the attacks against their ways of life.

Washita NHSWhile the exact events of the morning have been debated, it is a fact that peace-inclined Chief Black Kettle, his wife, and scores of Cheyenne woman and children were killed in a surprise attack at dawn’s early light on November 27, 1868 at the hands of Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his men.  In a particularly brutal move, Custer also ordered the slaughter of some 800 Indian horses and mules, a move which crippled the remaining Cheyenne communities.  Washita NHS protects this sacred site, and while it is not a busy park unit, it is a very important place for reflecting on the price of progress and the cost of peace….


For a more in-depth accounting of this tragedy, read here.

A new girlfriend in Galveston

K,A,L&FThis past weekend we traveled down to Galveston to visit our nephew Kyle who’s serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.  After spending about a year and a half at a duty station in south Florida, he’s been stationed in Galveston for nearly four years and he recently put in for another year there.  The reason:  Alyssa.

You may think us biased because he is our nephew, but Kyle is a really wonderful young man, and now he’s got a cute, sweet girlfriend.  Alyssa finished culinary school recently, worked in a bakery as her first job after school, and is now part of a team opening a new restaurant in a hotel a bit north of Houston next month.  According to Kyle, she’s a great pastry chef!  We shared five meals with Kyle & Alyssa during our 2-1/2 day stay there, and lots of delicious Gulf [of Mexico] seafood was enjoyed by all!  Yummy deserts, too!!

We are pleased to report back to the family that Alyssa is a really terrific young lady.  It’s clear she and Kyle are very happy together and we’re all very happy for both of them.

K & A — We hope you can join us on the road in the near future – there’s always room in Charley for you!  xoxo –AL&F

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National ParkWe were supposed to visit Hot Springs National Park back in February 2015, but a cold snap and ice storm kept us away [see Cold and a Virus in the Mid-South post] and we routed ourselves away from Arkansas at that time.  But we didn’t miss it this time!

One word sums up this park: water.  Not in a lake.  Not in a river.  Under the ground.  The therapeutic properties believed to be in the waters found here in these hot springs have been attracting visitors for centuries.  I love the history of this park — let me share it with you:

Early French trappers, hunters, and traders first became familiar with this area in the 17th and 18th centuries.  What we now know as Arkansas was part of the Louisiana Purchase that the U.S. acquired from France in 1803, and as more people explored the area, interest in the springs continued to grow.  As more and more people came to soak in the healing waters, the idea of “reserving” the springs for the entire nation took hold, and in 1832 the federal government took an unprecedented step and set aside four sections of land here.  [Note this was 40 years before Yellowstone was declared the first National Park in 1872.]  But as boundaries were not marked, many laid claim to the springs and surrounding areas.

During this time, crude lumber and canvas structures were built around and over the springs, but fire and wood rot often destroyed these shabby structures.  Hot Springs Creek ran right through the middle of these early “bathhouses” and was generally an eye-sore, not to mention dangerous when the water was high and stagnant when the water was low.  In 1884 the federal government made a channel for the creek to flow through, built a roof over it, and laid a road on top of it.  Noteworthy, the main street, Central Avenue, still flows over the creek to this day which protects the waters from contamination among other things.

Hot Springs NP

After all of the claims and counterclaims got settled towards the end of the 19th century, the government took control of the springs for the first time and approved blueprints for private bathhouses.  From simple to luxurious, people flocked to these bathhouses on the advice of their doctors to cure their ails.  Minorities didn’t have equal access to the bathhouses along Bathhouse Row, so they opened their own in 1905.  There was even a free bathhouse and public facility for those unable to pay for the baths recommended by their physicians.  All of these bathhouses were promoted with slogans “Uncle Sam Bathes the World” and ‘The Nation’s Health Sanitarium.’ 

Into the 20th century Hot Springs Reservation had become very popular with vacationers and those seeking health remedies.  In 1921 Steven Mather, the National Park Service’s first director, lobbied Congress to declare Hot Springs our country’s 18th national park and these bathhouses thrived for decades.  But by the 1950s changes in medicine lead to a rapid decline in the use of water therapies.  People also began taking driving vacations rather than traveling by train to a single destination.  As business declined, one by one the bathhouses fell into disrepair and closed.

In the 1980s the National Park Service began exploring ways these glorious bathhouses could be returned back to splendor, if not as bathhouses, for other uses.  This lead to the Quapaw Baths re-opening as a modern day spa and the Ozark opening as The Museum of Contemporary Art.  The Buckstaff is the only bathhouse that has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1912, and is the only one that provides the traditional therapeutic bathing experience still today.

The photos below are of the Fordyce Bathhouse which today houses the park’s Visitor Center.  It has been restored to its Gilded Age glory with artful marble, tile, fountains, statues, and stained glass.  On display inside is the latest equipment — designed 100 years ago, that is! — to pamper the bather.  State rooms, beauty shops, and even a gymnasium were all here to help cure-seekers who came from far and wide to feel better.  This old equipment was magnificent to see!

The Arlington Resort Hotel & SpaWe stayed in the old Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa at the end of Bathhouse Row.  Fred took a ranger-led tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse while I decided that I couldn’t come to a place like this without undertaking some treatments myself.  Talk about pampering!… I had a bath in the old original baths including a scrubbing “just like a baby” from Ms. Izzette, followed by a cool down in the ladies cooling room, a “needle shower” contraption (very cool!), and then a mud treatment.  I don’t mind telling you, my skin was smooooth after my spa morning and I was definitely relaxed!

Fred getting water from the springsPeople filling their water containers from the hot springsWe were very pleasantly surprised with this small but historically rich national park.  It is nothing like the big ‘land grab’ parks that offer hundreds of thousands (or more!) of acres to explore.  Hot Springs NP includes just 5,549 acres of land, but it protects 47 hot springs and eight historic bathhouses.  There are a few short trails in the nearby park and a 20-miler that allows hikers an escape into the nearby Ouachita Mountains.  If anyone is looking for a long-weekend getaway, we highly recommend Hot Springs!  I’m already planning a return visit for a girls’ getaway weekend when we come off the road.  Don’t forget your water jugs!

“I still believe in a place called Hope.”

Clinton House NHSClinton's First Home

In his 1992 Democratic National Convention speech, William Jefferson Clinton ended where it all began for him — in a place called Hope.  Arkansas, that is.

He was born William Jefferson Blythe, III, in 1946.  His father died before he was born, forcing his mother to go back to school to support them.  While she was in nursing school in Louisiana, Little William lived with her parents in Hope.  It was in this, his grandparents’ modest home, that he spent the first four years of his life.  Virginia and little William moved to Little Rock after she finished school and that city claims him, too, but it was here in this place that he learned many of the early lessons that defined his life and his presidency.  After his mother remarried, Bill changed his last name to Clinton to honor the man who raised him as well as have the same name as his half-brother, Roger, with whom he was very close.

You know the rest of the story… Bill Clinton married Hillary Rodham, became the Governor of Arkansas, and went on to become the 42nd president of the United States; he was elected to two terms — 1992-1996 and 1996-2000.

Inside the Clinton House Visitor CenterHis grandparents’ house where he got his start is now the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site — indeed, it’s a mouthful!  We visited it as we passed through Hope — it’s a small town that’s just a mile off the interstate in the southwest corner of Arkansas.  The home is normally open for public tours, although a recent fire closed it off, so we visited the Visitor Center in the house next door.  Also on the property is a memorial garden dedicated to Clinton’s faithful and hard-working mother, Virginia.

Three More National Park Units to Start 2016

After nearly two months of holidays, family visits, Fred’s Toura Obscura and Laura’s trip to Europe, we are now back in the saddle of visiting national park units once again.  We have tallied up three more park units in the new year, all of them in Arkansas, and really enjoyed all that we saw, did, and learned in these places.  Here’s the story of our first one:

Little Rock Central HS NHS

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Separate was not equal in schools nor most places back in the 1950s, even though it was supposed to be according to the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy V. Ferguson back in 1896, where, after slavery was abolished, the Court established “separate but equal” doctrine.

In 1954, the Supreme Court overturned “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education stating that black and white educational facilities were “inherently unequal.”  The first significant test of this ruling came at Little Rock Central High School where nine brave black students enrolled in a white school and thus forced desegregation.  These six young women and three young men had to each find his or her own way to keep going despite unrelenting verbal abuse and physical harassment by racist locals as well as some of their white classmates.

Little Rock Central High SchoolAt the start of the 1957 school year, The Little Rock Nine, as they became known, were the only black students who volunteered to be the first to go to an all-white high school in what was to be a planned gradual integration in Little Rock.  But Orval Faubus, the populist governor of Arkansas, was more concerned with reelection (sound familiar?) than upholding the new desegregation law.  Crying “states rights” and claiming violence would erupt if blacks went to the white school, Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard who blocked the black students from attending.  Barred from school, the Little Rock Nine studied on their own for a couple of weeks but harassment continued and the issue didn’t go away.  Two weeks into the school year, a court order by Federal District Judge Ronald Davies ruled against Faubus’ use of the Guard and had the troops withdrawn, leaving only local police to protect the students and handle the angry crowds.  

Central HS gains national attentionAs timing would have it, the Little Rock crisis occurred in the infancy of TV and it was among the first news stories to be filmed.  Now getting unwanted daily publicity on the national news, images of mobs screaming at one of the black female students and others of the beating of a black newsman prompted President Eisenhower to act.  The nation was becoming embarrassed by these scenes that cast American society in a negative light.  Eisenhower backed constitutionally-granted judicial and executive authority by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and sending in 1,200 troops from the 101st Airborne Division three weeks after the school year began to restore peace and allow the students to return to school.  The next day the Little Rock Nine entered the school with the escort of these federal soldiers.

While life continued to be difficult for these students, they showed tremendous commitment and courage as they rode out the school year together.  Eight of the nine completed the entire school year and the one who was a senior graduated with his class at the end of the year.

Little Rock Central HS NHSBecause LRCHS is still a fully functioning high school with more than 2,000 students attending, the Visitor Center is across the street and the school is closed to site visitors except for pre-arranged group tours.  Also part of the property is the Magnolia Mobil service station which became the impromptu press base from which reporters covered the story.

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  This is certainly the case at Central High School in Little Rock.

Inside the Visitor Center at Central HighAfter visiting the Visitor Center and stepping back in time to take a much deeper dive into this story, I couldn’t help but reflect on the status of equality, or lack thereof, in some of our schools today.  As a Chicago resident for 14 years and a prior board member of an organization working in the inner city Lutheran schools, I’ve had the opportunity to be in several Chicago schools.  I have also shared stories with friends about their children’s experiences.  From my own personal observation, segregation still exists, as does a very wide gap between the wealthy mostly-white suburban schools and the mostly-minority city schools.  So while progress has been made, the struggle for civil rights still continues to this day….

For additional information and much more detail about the pivotal role this school and the town of Little Rock played in the struggle for civil rights in our American history, click here.