Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wichita was on our minds… Kansas!

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We left earlier than usual to take a fairly long drive to an RV park just north of Wichita Kansas. All of the drive was on Interstate highway and all due north of where we had been at the fairgrounds in Norman Oklahoma. Shortly after we crossed into Kansas (a new state for our RV travels) we encountered a toll booth. By the time we exited the toll road (I35) we were charged $4.50. Not a large sum but it still bothers me to pay a toll for a road that was built using federal tax dollars.

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Anyhow, we pulled into a small mom and pop RV park called North Star RV in the town of Valley Center, Kansas which turned out to be a perfect spot to explore nearby Wichita. First on our agenda was visiting the downtown area of Wichita.

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We discovered some self guided walking tours on-line and chose the one that would describe some of the history and architecture of the downtown area. There are some really neat buildings to be seen in Wichita. My favorites were the Victorian Renaissance building known as the Old Sedgwick County Courthouse which was established in 1888 and the Orpheum Theatre which opened its doors in 1922. Another cool building (on the religious buildings walking tour) is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which is among the oldest churches in Wichita.

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Next up on our tour of Wichita was a stroll around the campus of Wichita State University  which began in 1886 as Fairmount College, a "Young Ladies College." A nice campus but somewhat lacking in architectural diversity. Nevertheless, it made for a nice 2 mile hike and there were interesting sculptures scattered around the campus. The most interesting sculptures were actually ones that were composed of huge round bales of hay and steel. We both loved these pieces of art!

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Last on our list of things to do in Wichita was to hike along the river and see a five ton sculpture at the confluence of the Little and Big Arkansas Rivers. The sculpture was placed on on a sacred site of the indigenous Native American people. The sculpture, named The Keeper of the Plains is a 44 foot tall sculpture honoring the Plains Indians and has become a symbol of Wichita, Kansas. At night the city lights fires in huge pots known as the Ring of Fire at the base of the sculpture. Although the river is very high and much of the trail was under water we really enjoyed seeing this tribute to the Plains Indians.

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Before leaving Wichita we also checked out a funky little brewery in town called the Hopping Gnome Brewing Company. They were celebrating their birthday so the place was lively and fun. We enjoyed our craft beers and engaged in some conversation with some of the locals as well.

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We certainly enjoyed our brief visit in Wichita but it became time to move on. Next on our agenda is a COE park just north of Manhattan Kansas… 

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NOTE: I have been getting some great suggestions on places to see so I am going to start putting in a leading comment of where we are now and where we are going next. Seems we are past some of the suggested places since I am a few days behind blogging about where we actually are. We are in Manhattan, KS now but leave tomorrow for Perry, KS.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Last Day in OKC and on to Wichita KS…

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We did end up adding another day (Friday of Memorial Day Weekend) to our stay at the  Cleveland County Fairgrounds. We had thought about moving a bit north to the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds but we ended up making the right choice as severe thunderstorms went through there and dropped quite a bit of hail.

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We used our extra day to drive into the town of Oklahoma City. Our first stop was at the Oklahoma State Capitol building. This is another domed capitol building but interestingly even though they had planned to build a dome on it originally it didn’t have one. The dome was added later.

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We stopped in at the visitor's center and picked up a self guided tour brochure as I prefer the self guided tours to guided ones because we can proceed at our own pace and if we aren’t interested in something we have the ability to move on. We found a lot of art to enjoy in the Capitol and visited an art gallery on the main floor. We certainly enjoyed touring this capitol.

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I had a bought a Groupon some time ago for lunch in Oklahoma City so we stopped in at the 809 Sports Grill. Lunch was really good but I wouldn’t have thought so at their normal prices but with the Groupon it was great. After lunch we drove into town and parked at a meter across from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

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The Memorial is a tribute to the memory of those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever after the 1995 bombing. A lunatic had parked a Ryder rental truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and when the truck exploded there were 168 people dead and the building was destroyed

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Walking into the memorial and seeing The Field of Empty Chairs beside the Reflecting Pool makes for a solemn occasion. Especially heart wrenching was walking the 9 rows of chairs (one for each floor) while reading the names of those killed etched on the front of each chair. The front row has smaller chairs for the children killed on that fateful day. 

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The site is located on about 3 acres and is capped by the Gates of Time (Monumental twin bronze gates). Each gate bears the inscription “We 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.” Quite moving…

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After the memorial we took a stroll toward the tall glass Devon Energy Center building which dominates the city skyline. We simply had to stroll into it and when we went through it we discovered the Myriad Botanical Gardens. This accidental find was fantastic as the architecture of the green house made for a striking contrast to the modern skyscrapers of the city. What a beautiful oasis in the center of town not far from the National Memorial. It would have been nice to enjoy music in the beautiful concert space but we thoroughly enjoyed walking all around the park.

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We returned to the car with just minutes left on our meter and drove over to Anthem Brewery. Oklahoma has some archaic alcohol laws prohibiting the purchase of full strength beer at a brewery allowing only for the purchase of less than 4% beer. The really odd thing is that you can sample the full strength product but just can’t buy it at the brewery (you can at a liquor store).

I emailed Anthem Brewery and these laws were explained in the response while also informing me that the law allows Anthem to give customers three 4 ounce samples of full strength product at no charge. After our tastes we decided they have a pretty good ESB and Scotch Ale (the stout and IPA were not that great). We purchased a pilsner after our samples but really even a pilsner watered down to be a 3.2 beer wasn’t very good. While there we struck up a conversation with two orthopedic student doctors who graduated from Texas A&M and were in town for a professional conference.  It was the final touch on our really fun day.

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We arrived back home and made plans for our next stop in Kansas, another new state in our RV travels…

Friday, May 27, 2016

Strolling around the University of Oklahoma…


We sure enjoyed our brief stay at the Winstar Casino RV Park but did not want to stay too long in this area known as Tornado Alley. Wednesday we stopped in for our free breakfast buffet for seniors at the casino and then took off for our next destination.

We traveled along boring Interstate 35 and headed north again until our arrival in Norman, Oklahoma. We pulled into the Cleveland County Fairgrounds and selected a site. We chose a site with 30 amp since it had a better view (of a community garden) through our dining side window.  However, if our A/C can’t keep up with the heat we will likely move to another 50 amp site. All sites have full hookups along the perimeter of the park but otherwise they are only electric and water. Twenty bucks a night is a good deal for being so close to Norman.  It is really just a large asphalt and gravel lot but this stay was selected in the hope it will keep us away from the severe weather forecasted all around us.

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Since we are near the University of Oklahoma and love to tour campuses we drove over to the campus to the visitor center and obtained a visitor parking permit (free). We strolled around the quite scenic campus which has a lot of interesting architecture. It reminded us a bit of the Citadel with its castle-like architectural style on many of the buildings.

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One thing that surprised us was the football stadium. With the stature of Oklahoma athletics we expected a more impressive stadium than they had. It is still nice but surely not as nice as we thought it would be. We did notice construction for what we assume was to close in the south side of the stadium.  Perhaps it will be more grand after the expansion.  Next to the field is a very nice walk through a park with statues of the university’s Heisman winners. 

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Our last stop on campus was the Fred Jones Jr Art Museum. Wow! What a great find this turned out to be. The quality of art in this museum is unheard of for a campus museum and the admission is free! There is art from some of the great artists of all time such as Ansel Adams, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent van Gogh as well as a lot of Native American art. There was a few odd but interesting pieces but we feel this is a must see for visitors to Norman Oklahoma.

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We also checked out a couple of local hangouts often frequented by OU students and faculty. First up was The Library which is a cool little hangout that brews some of its own beer. Alcohol laws in Oklahoma are on the strange side much like those in Utah. Next up was a really popular spot called The Garage which had we been hungry looked like it would have been a great spot for a tasty and inexpensive meal. Lots of people were there waiting for food and having a good time.

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With more bad weather heading our way and with Memorial Day weekend looming we added another day here and will add more if we need to.