Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Stone State Park & Sioux City, Iowa

May 22 - 23, 2017:

We are on the road by 9:30 traveling around Omaha on routes 370 - 75 - 80, then over the Missouri River into Iowa and straight north on route 29 all the way to Sioux City, Iowa.  It was mostly freshly planted wheat fields, very wet fields with large ponds in many places due to the heavy rains recently.  It was about 120 miles of easy highway driving to the park.  The Stone State Park campground is small and the camp sites were are a little tight.  You wouldn’t want to bring an RV larger than ours, about 30 feet in here.  The campground is set in the side of a hill, but the sites are semi level.  We are the only RV in the campground, but practically all the sites are reserved for the weekend.  The park is large with many picnic areas and hiking trails.

All alone in the campground

Stone State Park is in the Loess Hills scenic area, all hills and valleys covered with a heavy layer of forest and vegetation. Due to all the recent rain everything is dripping wet and muddy, kind of like a rain forest.  There are many trails, but no decent trail map and they are not well marked so beware, you can easily get lost.  State Parks seem to spend most of their time on cutting grass and do little to no maintenance on hiking trails.  My opinion, eliminate the mowing and let the native grasses, weeds and wild flowers take over.   We do the Carolyn Benne Nature trail which was very nice, there were lots of small snails on the ground and on downed trees, also very tiny bright red mushrooms and lots of birds.

Trail through the lush green forest

These pretty little snails were all over, it was hard
not to step on them

This wildflower was blooming everywhere as well

View from an overlook of the Big Sioux River Valley

We go to downtown Sioux City where Twinkles drops me off on a street corner and she takes off to shop.  I wander around and find a couple of wonderful old buildings, especially the Woodbury County Court House, which is one of the best in all our travels and that is saying something.  In fact when researching it up on the internet, I find that it was built in 1918 and is considered one of the finest “Prairie School” style buildings in the US.  They have a couple of other gems as well such as the Badgers Building, built in 1933, considered one of the best Art Deco buildings in Nebraska.  For the gambling crowd there is a huge Hard Rock Cafe and Casino, but I was more interested in the “Work & Church Booze Parlor” and the “Crash, Boom and Bang Whiskey Hole” across the street.  My favorite section of town is the 4th street area that is a former industrial area now housing several bars, restaurants and stores.  It started to rain while I was walking around, really dampening my adventure, but I found shelter in a nice coffee and donut shop, the coffee and donuts were a fine consolation.

These columns were saved from the First National Bank

Very nice Public Memorial Statue

The Woodbury County Courthouse is incredible

Close up of the figure over the entrance

The other side of the Courthouse

The Badgerow Building

Close up of the Indian head detail

Detail on the Badgerow Building

Mural on 4th Street

Another brew pub on 4th street

Back at the campground it’s alternating periods of clouds, rain and brief sun, this is getting tiring.  In the evening, it cleared partially and I had to return to the downtown.  I first stopped at the “Work & Church Booze Parlor” where the barmaid was having a wonderful time entertaining a couple of guys at the other end of the bar.  She seemed pretty normal while waiting on me but with them she was spouting out every foul cuss word imaginable like a drunk'n sailor, as they say.  The other bar patron who was playing the juke box came over asking me for a napkin as I was sitting in front of a dispenser, but his speech was so slurred it took a while for me to comprehend what he was saying.  The Food Channel was on the TV in front of me, an episode about ethnic foods in New York City, everything looked fantastic and I was thinking I need to get back there more often.

Work & Church Booze Parlor

I then went across town to the “Buffalo Alice Bar” which had really great looking Pizza and many people dining.  If they had slices or a “bar pie” size I would have had one, but you had to order a full pie.  I got to thinking of those incredible bar pies at “Jo-Jo’s Tavern” in Trenton, NJ, which I became reacquainted with back in February.  The young bar tender liked my Rocky Mountain National Park hat, said he was going there in a couple of weeks, his favorite place.  This place was a couple of rooms, the main bar and dining section wall is attractive but covered with mostly goofy signs, but the room off to the side had a large crazy mural.

Buffalo Alice sign

Dining area

The side room

Lastly, I went to the “Firehouse Bar” which is actually a former firehouse.  Unfortunately, you’d never know it inside as they gutted everything, covering all the walls with typical bar decoration, TV sets and beer signs. I wasn’t that impressed, although they did have free popcorn and cheese nachos.

The Firehouse Bar

These guys pulled up as I was entering the Firehouse Bar

I could easily spend more time in Sioux City Nebraska but with Memorial day fast approaching we need to find a home for the holiday weekend.

The next stop is a few miles upriver at Ponca State Park, Nebraska:

Twinkles and Slick

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska

May 17 - 21, 2017:

After the raging wind, rain, thunder and lightning of last night we weren’t sure what kind of conditions to expect for the drive in the morning.  Surprisingly, the skies were threatening in the morning, but it didn’t rain until we were very close to our destination and then only for a few minutes.  We were also surprised to find only a couple of open campsites but they were good ones and we quickly set up.  The Papillion Creek Lake Campground is a city park in Papillion, Nebraska which is a separate city from Omaha but is more like a suburb.

My usual campground gripe, why all this landscaping and
cement pad but the site is still not level ?

Omaha was started by Council Bluffs, Iowa land speculators across the Missouri River staking illegal land claims.  A treaty with the Omaha tribe eventually created the Nebraska territory opening the area up to settlement and Omaha was founded on July 4th 1854.  Due to its location on the Missouri River and the coming of the railroad huge stockyards and meat packing plants were soon the main business.,_Nebraska

My son asks what’s in Omaha, Kansas ?, isn’t that sort of in the middle of nowhere ?  That’s the common perception of people about the midwestern area of the country.  I remember someone telling us, what are you going through Kansas for, it’s just endless wheat fields.  People with limited leisure time usually want to maximize it at destination resorts or parks which is understandable and even many RV’ers with plenty of time feel the same.  Then there are the “Strange Ones”, that’s what Twinkles calls me, who want to go and see every city, small town and ghost town along the way.   

We took a ride to downtown Omaha to the tourist information Center and then checked out the adjacent Old Market area.  This old warehouse section of the city with its brick paved streets and unique old brick buildings that have been transformed into restaurants, bars, art studios, boutiques and various interesting stores.

Colorful Old Market area  advertisements

Street view

It's all old massive stone and brick buildings

Huge old factory buildings

The City of Omaha has so much to see and do, I’m a little overwhelmed.  Everyone told us not to miss the Omaha Zoo, it is one of the best in the country, but we skipped it due to the poor weather and the fact that we really aren’t big zoo fans.  Instead we start off by going to the Durham Museum in the restored Union Train Station.  The building itself is a work of art, designed by renown architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood.  It opened in 1931 and in it’s glory days, seven different rail lines connected to this station.  The last passenger train was in 1971 and shortly after the railroad gave the building to the city of Omaha.  It was then restored and converted into the Durham Museum which is primarily a Nebraska History museum with enough “stuff” to boggle the mind.

Omaha Union Station

Union Station entrance

Train departure board

Interior of station

Great murals in former restaurant area

Old Trolley car on display

Steam Locomotive on display

Cornhuskers Car that was used as a press car for Harry Truman's
whistle stop US tour while campaigning for election

After having a wonderful ice cream shake at the original soda fountain at Union Station, we drive a short distance away to the Heartland of America Park and Fountain. We then walked on the Riverwalk to the Bob Kerry pedestrian bridge, known as “Bob the Bridge” and go about half way across the bridge. As the boundary between Nebraska and Iowa is the center of the Missouri river, there is a spot on the bridge where you can stand in both states at once. This is strictly a pedestrian bridge, 3,000 feet long and is actually floating on the river anchored by cables. Rain was threatening as we were there, so it was a quick look and retreat back to the parking lot.

This fountain has a 300 foot water jet that routinely goes off, but I wasn't
there at the right time, the story of my life ?

A nice Lake in the park area with another fountain, boat rides
geese, picnic areas and playgrounds

Labor Monument on Riverwalk was very cool

"Bob the Bridge" from the river walk

Walking across the bridge

We are super hungry by this time and put directions to the nearest Chick-fil-A into the GPS, which to our surprise turns out to be inside a huge Mutual of Omaha Insurance building in the downtown business district. 

The weather so far is not cooperating, the forecast is cloudy, cold and rainy for most of this week. In our travels it seems we have been alternating between hot and sweaty one week and freezing the next week.

An internet search turns up the “Blues Society of Omaha” which seems to be a vibrant organization, more so than most.  I see a touring band called “The Nighthawks” scheduled nearby at the “Chrome Lounge”.  I know it must be a senior crowd when it’s scheduled from 6 to 9 PM and it sure was.  I arrived at about 6:15 to find virtually evert seat filled and the band playing.  The Nighthawks are a hard core, veteran blues band, kind of dirty and gritty, (like the blues should be) and they just play non-stop for the next hour before taking a break.  They are very good and have the crowd up and dancing, (not really a very pretty sight), but it's a happy attentive music crowd.

The Chrome Lounge is a good music venue and part time
biker bar

Another day and it’s still cloudy and likely to rain as I cross over the Missouri River to the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  It is the location of another great Railroad Museum, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.  The exhibits have much on the making of the Transcontinental Railroad and the effect the railroad had on the settling of the United States.  It also promotes the current Union Pacific Railroad, highlighting the efficiency of the railroad in moving vast quantities of goods across the country.

The former Carnegie Library now the Union Pacific Railroad Museum

You could travel anywhere from Omaha

Painting of the famous joining of the rails at Promontory Point, Utah

These train advertisements were great

You've gotta love the Streamliner Train designs

It's another rainy day, a good day to do laundry and visit the Joslyn Art Museum.  The museum was built in 1931 by Sarah Joslyn in the memory of her late husband and the original part of the building is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the country.  No expense was spared in the construction of this building as he was one of the wealthiest men in Nebraska.  It has been expanded over the years to now include a Concert Hall, additional gallery space, a sculpture garden and landscaping.  The quality of the art is equally impressive.

Front entrance to the Joslyn Art Museum

Sculpture of Hidatsa chief Addih-hiddisch

Twinkles found a book that she remembered
from her childhood that she could recite
from memory

Interior of the museum is special

The art covered all periods and styles although not
much is covered here

Also great sculpture

Painting by American artist Thomas Hart Benton

American Indian culture

Looking down from balcony at fountain and beautifully
tiled floor of the Stortz Fountain Court

In the night, I found the “Down Under Lounge” which has a artsy pub atmosphere, and an intimate setting for listening to music.  They have an opening act of two young guys, Ben Balmer and ? ( who I liked even better), who are solo acoustic musicians who have joined together for a tour.  They alternated on vocals and both were really good, I was loving these guys.  Eventually the main act who seemed to be a hot local band came on and sounded good, but their look was annoying me, the place was getting too crowded, I didn’t want another beer and it was just time to go.  At my age, this happens more frequently when you are surrounded by people decades younger and you start to feel kind of out of place.

These guys were great

A section of south 24th street between M and O streets in Omaha was named to the National Register of Historic Places in1988.  The Union Stockyard Company built several meat processing plants here in the 1880’s and in 1886 the town of South Omaha was incorporated.  The early settlers were German, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants, followed later by Poles, Czechs and other eastern Europeans, mostly working in the meat packing plants.  Omaha annexed South Omaha in 1915 and the South 24th street area today is predominantly Hispanic. I had seen a walking tour guide for the area and went to explore, finding it to be kind of like a South Tucson Barrio moved to Nebraska.  It’s suffering from a lack of maintenance as most Barrios do which sort of adds to the charm.  I had a great time taking photos there and you can get authentic Mexican food (Nebraska style), not something I expected to find in Nebraska.

A very busy and intricate mural that wraps around the side of the building

The Roseland Theater is a beauty

Nicely done mural

Typical sidewalk view

The "Tree of Life" sculpture

Great tile and sidewalk pavers

Twinkles picked up a free book for me from the library recently, “Out Houses” by Roger Welsch.  I had previously read a couple of his insightful and popular Tractor books.  He is a former professor and quirky character who lives somewhere in Nebraska.  His Tractor books were part serious Tractor stuff with equal amounts of humor and human philosophy mixed in.  This book follows that same vein, is sometimes silly but equally enlightening.  I was hooked on the book when I read this; “ And it is further my clear impression that men, given a choice, would rather pee on the ground (or variously against a tree) than bother with any porcelain of wood targets at all.  Peeing outdoors is a primal male declaration of manhood, of oneness with nature, of the unfettered, feral primate”.

Back in Omaha again on a sunny day, I visited the “Pioneer Courage Park” with it’s Wagon Train sculptures, quite impressive and the nearby enormous mural entitled “Fertile Ground”.  The mural other than being enormous and a huge logistic accomplishment, leaves me cold, I don’t see the wonder of it.  Finally, I returned to the Old Market area for another look and stopped at the Upstream Brewing Company for an Omaha beef burger.

Wagon Train sculpture is very well done 

Buffalo jumping through a wall near the park

The Fertile Ground Mural from a distance, nearly impossible to get
into one frame without being in the baseball stadium across the street

The Upstream Brewery is in an old brick factory building

Shucks Tavern with a thought provoking sign

The Orpheum Theater

Nice geometric designs in building

Geese taking flight sculpture

Next stop is Sioux City, Iowa;
Twinkles and Slick