(C)  2002-2014 J. Watson       All rights reserved  
Travel Letters
 RV Travel notes from
     the traveling gran'ma and gran'pa
Vol 13  Nos 1 &2                                                                                                                                                                             June, 2003
If you know Mississippi, you’ve heard of Tunica’s
casinos.  Well, not really.  Certainly Biloxi is more
noted – but for the folks in northern Mississippi and
nearby Arkansas and Tennessee the Tunica
palaces are easier to reach.  You know we’re not
gamblers, so why are we here?  

Just a small part of the Grand Casino
It’s a 4 square mile property with campground and hotels
Dear Gals… Your guys …
Our grandchildren… our sisters

OCALA, FL; 3/30/03

A belated happy St. Patty’s to you lads and
lassies.  We enjoyed three months lazing while
overlooking the bay from our site at Fiesta Key.  It
was busy with reading, swims, walks, bird watching,
crafts, meals and, of course, the family tree was
worked on.  We’re now in Ocala, on our way home.

Pelicans wait for a handout from a fisherman who is
cleaning fish at the Fiesta Key marina, seventy miles north
of Key West

This winter we saw the occasional porpoises plus a
bonus of seeing a manatee (sometimes called a
sea cow, probably because it is fat and lazy) in the
marina.   It was the first manatee we’d seen in the
wild.  It’s big; maybe five feet long and almost that
around.  It’s slow moving; it’s certainly not designed
for speed.  It seemed content to just spend a
couple of minutes under the surface of the water
looking for greens to eat before surfacing to get
another breath of fresh air.  Manatees are docile
and are on the endangered list.  Every year some
die after being injured by boat propellers

Azaleas are in full bloom, we look forward to those at home

This year we’re in Ocala a bit earlier than usual,
early enough to enjoy the azaleas that are in full
bloom.  These vibrant flowers, to us, mean spring
has arrived.  The azaleas that line the long roads
leading into the horse farms are especially colorful.

Ocala is famous for breeding thoroughbreds

Stately horse farms line the roads for mile after
mile – each carefully fenced in and now there are
many foals grazing.  The lush pastures, at this time
of year, are a rich dark green.  Some farms
specialize, e.g. training, breaking, etc.  Many have
full-fledged tracks for training – wouldn’t it be a
neat job to ride the horses every day and get paid
for it?  Farms in the area produce about 4,000
foals a year, many destined for the winner’s circle
at big time races.  Local horses are often the
subject of the sports pages and also the business
pages.  It is big business.  Unfortunately, urban
sprawl is taking its toll on the farms as some
farmers have learned that there is more money
and less work in real estate than in farming.  Some
farms are more than a square mile in size so they
are attractive to major developers who have made
Ocala a prime retirement area.  There are still
some large farms right at the edge of the
commercial district so the ambiance of the area is

Horse farms have extensive fencing to control the horses
TUNICA, MS; 5/17/03

Last week we left Wilmington headed for the coast
– first scheduled major stop is Chula Vista,
California in June and then Huntington Beach to
see family.  We hustled from North Carolina to
Corinth, MS where we spent a couple of nights.  
The attractions there are the Civil War battlefields.  
You may recall that we toured the battery at
Corinth on our last trip west – this time we went to
the Shiloh battlefield, just north of Corinth, over the
border into southern Tennessee.  

Imagine oncoming Confederate troops facing this with only
The battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6th and
7th, 1862 and was one of the costliest battles
fought in the US—over 23,000 casualties including
killed, wounded and missing of Union and
Confederate forces.  All that in just two days.  We
toured the sites in the sequence of the battles
tracing the first day retreat of the Union forces and
then their victory on the second day.  Those were
the days when forces lined up in close formation
facing each other and taking pot shots.  Drummers
kept up a loud and constant beat to encourage the
troops.  It was butchery.    It was calm before the
battle with peach trees in full blossom, and then all
hell broke loose.  Now the area is tranquil and it is
difficult to imagine the bloodshed.

During the battle of Shiloh blossoms from the peach trees
in this field flew like snow
Well, it’s quite a story.  There we were ambling
along and Ida said, “Look at the windshield, it’s
moving”.  Yes, it was.  She had seen light over the
top of it and I saw the highway beneath it – it was
truly flapping in the breeze.  So, now we are the
proud owners of a new windshield.  That’s taken
about a week to handle as the glass had to be
ordered and a weekend got in the way.  The new
windshield was water tested last night by one of
the fiercest rainstorms we’ve experienced with
winds that probably were over 60 mph.  

Ida thought this was a great place to celebrate
Mother's Day -- casino food passed the test.  The
tow truck driver said the campground at the casino
was about the best around.  So that explains our
stop and now we’re on our way again.  

Next stop, Hot Springs National Park.  The Indians,
from before recorded history, considered the
waters in these thermal springs to be therapeutic.  
Later, when railroads came to the area, the
affluent came here seeking relief from their pains
and ailments by massage treatments and soaking
in the hot baths.  Rooms were filled with equipment
that looked like torture chambers.  There are
steam cabinets, showers, massage tables, etc.  
Only one bathhouse remains in use.

Luxurious bathhouses line the street at Hot Springs,

This part of the trip has been developed to take an
“old west” view of the area.  Just before the
Oklahoma border is Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Fort
Smith was charged with keeping law and order in
the area to protect against the outlaws that preyed
on the wagon trains and the streams of travelers
to the west.  This was for fifty plus years spanning
the mid 1800s.  Justice, or was it justice, was
harsh.  The gallows were often used.  Prisoners
lived under atrocious overcrowded conditions.

Judge Parker, the hanging judge, presided in this Fort
Smith courtroom
Did you ever hear of the Trail of Tears?  This was
the forced move of Indian tribes from the southeast
to Oklahoma and nearby areas in the 1830s.  The
federal government attempted to make more room
for the white citizens to farm in the east.  So the
Indians, some with their slaves, were made to go to
the distant areas.  Many walked – some for over a
year.  There was a heavy mortality caused by the
cold of winter and heat of summer.  We are in the
area that was settled by members of five civilized
tribes.  Museums feature this period.

The Cherokee nation covers a large area of
Oklahoma.  The nation owns no land but the
people own the land and vote for their leaders.  
This is somewhat different from other areas where
the Indians were placed in reservations.  Campaign
signs lined the streets for an upcoming election.  A
new chief was elected last Sunday.  In the area are
several interpretive museums that are quite
informative.  In one, our guide discussed the
similarity of the Indian faith and Christianity.  In
another we were treated to the artwork of a native
artist, Jerome Tiger, whose works reminded me of
Norman Rockwell’s attention to detail.  While

A museum in Claremore, OK honors
Will Rogers’ contribution to Americana
Rockwell showed the humor of everyday life, Tiger
showed the sorrows of the Indians in the past and
the day-to-day life of the people of his time, the
early 1930s.  

The Will Rogers Museum in Claremore is a
highlight and is  much like a presidential library.  
Will Rogers, who was part Cherokee, was famous
for his down-to-earth approach – he was an author,
philosopher, humorist, actor, and philanthropist.  
The museum is full of memorabilia relating to his
accomplishments and awards.  He was famous for
his great horsemanship, which he incorporated in
his acting.  He died in an airplane accident in
1935.  And, yes, we recall seeing one of his
movies.  Nearby, in an especially attractive
location, is his birthplace.  Peacocks strut the

Another “local” was, Frank Phillips, founder of
Phillips 66, a major oil company.  He felt that his
wealth should be used to help people and one of
his contributions was a splendid museum which
houses examples of archeological finds in the area,
mostly relating to early Indian civilization; fine art;
and the story of his interest in early commercial
aviation.  Approaching it there is a half-mile drive
through rangeland that has a variety of animals,
from white elk to prairie dogs.  

The Woolaroc Museum that Phillips opened in the 1930s
You may recall that two years ago we wrote of the
land rushes that took place in Kansas.  There were
also land rushes in the Oklahoma Territory, back
before statehood.  Now exhibits chronicle the race
for land—thousands of people, on signal, crossed
the starting line to claim their homestead.  It was a
tough life and was especially difficult for the
pioneer women.  Some widows farmed with the
help of their young children.

One of the many tributes to the tough pioneer women

This is oil country and it is quite common to see
wells spotted in the fields of wheat or in pastures
with cattle roaming about.  The land is fertile, and
there are many lakes.  It appears that the two
major recreational activities of the local people are
fishing and hunting at the numerous state parks
and forest areas.
We spent part of the morning visiting a fish
hatchery.  We learned that Oklahoma has four
hatcheries and some produce up to forty million
“fry” a year.  (Obviously our understanding of “fish
fry” differs from this.)

Where there’s oil and successful farms there is
money.  We’ve passed through small villages with
only shells of defunct businesses but there was a
bank doing business.  Mammoth farms have fields
that run along the side of the road as much as five
miles—and they must be at least that deep.

Fields extend for miles in Oklahoma
As we headed south into New Mexico we stayed at
the Valley of Fires National Recreation Area.  Here
we overlooked a valley that has vast lava beds.  
The lava had flowed, centuries ago, from an
opening in the ground, not a volcano.  The black
lava is still breaking down and trees and scrub
growth are taking root.  Quite a sight.

Black lava beds in the valley, below our site, stretch for

Further south are the great sand dunes of White
Sands National Monument.  The sands are
constantly shifting; about forty feet a year and
roads are cleared between the dunes.  Some
dunes appear like new snow, while other dunes
have sparse growth.  Kids with sand pails have a
ball.  Older ones tumble down the dunes or use
plastic discs to ride down.  Great fun.

People play on the sand dunes, which are sparkling white
– like snow

We arrived here, just south of San Diego, Friday

To describe our trip in statistical terms – we
traveled about 3,800 miles from North Carolina;
and for about 2,800 miles from the Atlanta area to
New Mexico we were on the Interstate for only 110
miles.  (Think of how little of your town people see
if they just zip along the main highways.)  With heat
topping 100ºF we cut our itinerary and headed
directly here.

The Great Salt Lake State Park, where the earlier
notes were written, is an interesting place in the
Oklahoma panhandle.  The area is quite arid with
scrub growth and yet some nearby farms are
irrigated and appear very productive.  The lake is
salty and there are salt flats.  This is the only place
in the US that has selenite (gypsum) crystals within
which there is an hourglass formation.  You simply
dig down a few inches, water oozes into the hole,
and then slosh about to find the crystals.  When
held up to the light the hourglass is visible.  

The dark piles show the places people have dug for

Oklahoma is strong in cattle and as we traveled we
often saw cattle in the feedlots.  Some feedlots
have only a dozen head while some are enormous
with thousands.  In this area there are extensive
wheat farms and large fields of hay.  

Many feedlots are near the road
Some can be smelled before they can be seen

The oldest brick building in New Mexico is in Las Mesilles
It faces the square that has weekend markets

Near the Mexican border we stayed at Las Cruses,
NM for a couple of days.  Did the laundry and a bit
of touring.  Just a few miles away is colorful Las
Mesilles, one of the many frontier towns with tales
of lawlessness.  Billy the Kid was tried and
convicted here in a courtroom that is now a
souvenir shop.  

Heading west the route retraced earlier trips.  
Along the way we revisited several spots of
interest.  The Saguaro National Park, outside of
Tucson, Arizona is a treasure.  Saguaro cacti
forests are a sight.  Some saguaros reach forty
feet in height.  Some are twisted like a rag doll with
arms flopping about.  Many have holes on the side
that have been made by woodpeckers.  The holes
serve as homes for birds and rodents.  In addition
there is a variety of cacti and scrub growth.  

Saguaros first get their arms when they are about thirty years old

This is arid country with just a few inches of rain a
year, less than 10” a year.  Because most of the
rain falls in the span of a few days it comes in
torrents and floods the area.  Often the roads
cross bridges that are over wide dry riverbeds.  
We can only imagine what it is like after a rain.  
People are advised to stay clear of the low areas
as they can flood without notice from a heavy rain
upstream.  As we travel we are often on roads that
resemble roller coasters.  Some roads have many
dips that are designed to permit the water to wash
over the road.  This saves the cost of bridges.  
Continuing an hour or so from the Saguaro
National Park is the Casa Grande Ruins National
Monument.  These ruins date to about 1350 AD.
Little is known of the civilization that built the
buildings; so most theories are conjecture based
on stories that have been passed along
throughout the centuries plus the few artifacts.  
They had no written material, no metal; little that
gives a hint of their culture.  Yet, the building
reflects skills of building and an interesting design
that suggests they had knowledge of astronomy
that was expressed by a part of the building being
aligned to celestial events that only occur every 18
years.  There are a number of other buildings in
the area that suggest this was a “central” location
and it was possibly used for community purposes.

Casa Grande is sheltered by a roof that was constructed in
the 1930s  No one has determined the purpose of the four
story building

The desert continues and approaching the
California border the area is spotted with lush
irrigated farms.  Canals take water to the farm and
the irrigation is done with overhead sprinklers that
move over the crops or the field is flooded by an
intricate system of low dikes.  Date farms are

Imperial Valley farms are important to the US food supply

Y’all have a good summer, enjoy!
Note: The next letter will be
published in the near future.