April 18, 2024

Photo Essay: Mascots, Memories, and Americana at the Roadside America Museum

I hadn't been to Texas ever on vacation—and the few times I'd gone on business trips (to Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin), I hadn't had a lot of time to go touring anywhere. 

So I wanted to take advantage of my eclipse trip to see a few of the sights of North Texas, for I may not pass that way again. 

We were staying in Whitney, about an hour and a half southwest of Dallas—which turned out to be kind of a difficult spot to call a taxi or shuttle to the airport. But fortunately, the nearby town of Hillsboro had a rideshare driver willing to make the trek—which meant I had just enough time to squeeze in the town's Roadside America Museum before heading back home.

It's located in a 100-year-old former Ford dealership building, where its owner Carroll Estes (no relation to the Estes Dairy Farm) will open the doors for you and give you a tour if you ring him up on the cell phone number posted out front.

April 12, 2024

There Goes the Sun (Behind the Moon)

Upon the last total eclipse of the sun that was visible over the United States, in 2017, I convinced myself that I didn't need to see it. That I didn't even want to see it. 

So, I stayed in LA and enjoyed the partial eclipse

But, truth be told, once it was over, I felt like I'd missed out. 

"I'll go see the one in 2024," I said to myself and all my friends. "Maybe I'll go to Mexico."

So as this year's total solar eclipse approached, I felt like I had to stay true to my word. Especially when I realized there wouldn't be another one appearing above the U.S. for another 20 years (and who knows what kind of condition I'll be in at that age??). 

The same concerns I had seven years ago still rang true. Was it really worth the time and expense to travel for a few minutes of darkness? What if it was cloudy and I wouldn't be able to see anything anyway?

At some point, I just had to bite the bullet and commit to the trip—not to Mexico on my own, but to North Texas for a family reunion not of my own kin, but a chosen family that invited me to join them in the path of totality. 

April 08, 2024

Photo Essay: A Texas Superbloom of Bluebonnets in April

Had I known how spectacular the Bluebonnet Trail was in Ennis, Texas, it would've been on my bucket list

Even after I'd landed at DFW—and been looking out of the backseat window of my rideshare cars driving around to my various destinations—I hadn't yet realized what a big thing bluebonnets are in Texas, where all six species of them have served as the state flower since 1971.

April 07, 2024

Photo Essay: Getting Unreal at Meow Wolf's Dallas Area Installation (Grapevine, Texas)

After having enjoyed Meow Wolf's OmegaMart in Las Vegas, I was curious to check out its fourth installation, The Real Unreal, after flying into Dallas this weekend. 

It opened in July 2023 in a former Bed, Bath and Beyond at the Grapevine Mall—but you soon forget that as you step through the doors of a brick home set piece in a nighttime setting, all aglow with the warmth of family life and home and hearth. (This ties into Meow Wolf's first installation, in Santa Fe—and many other parts of this Dallas edition connect to elements from Santa Fe, Vegas, and Denver.)

April 01, 2024

It's Been a Rough Year (And It's Only April)

I fell in public today, messily, spilling popcorn all over an already-wet or -greasy polished floor at the movie theater, wailing in pain and sobbing.

An older gentleman (well, older than me) named Rick asked my name and tried to comfort me as the woman he was with tracked down some ice.

"It's been a rough year," I told him.

"And it's only April," he said.

I started off 2024 with a big hole in my head, empty spaces left behind from the molars that had been extracted last November. 

March 31, 2024

Photo Essay: Little House on the Prairie 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion and Festival Weekend (Simi Valley, CA)

I first caught wind of the 50th anniversary of Little House in the Prairie, which debuted on television in March 1974, via an announcement from one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder accounts I follow—about an event in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. 

Great, I thought. I've got to head back. (I'd already visited once in 2007, and I still had other LHOTP sites to check off my list.)

But then the best-case scenario came about: A cast reunion was being planned where the series began, in Simi Valley, California. And although traffic could make that an hour-and-a-half trip from my home, the TV version of Walnut Grove is a lot closer than the real Walnut Grove.

So, that is how I spent last weekend—taking every cheesy photo that opportunities would provide, wearing my bonnet the whole time. 

March 30, 2024

The Little House on the Prairie TV Series Converted This California Cattle Ranch Into Walnut Grove

Last weekend, I returned to Simi Valley, California—and the Big Sky movie ranch—to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie television series. 

Since my sister and I were allowed to watch pretty much all the TV wanted—but weren't allowed to do much else, especially out in the "real world"—my memories of the show, and the books, have informed some of my adult travels and adventures. 

I still haven't made it to South Dakota, Kansas, or Missouri. And even though I've already crossed Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa off my list (as well as Malone, New York, home of the Almanzo Wilder Farm), it feels like I'm always trying to get back to the prairie. 

That happened—at least, in a Hollywood magic kind of way—this past weekend during the Little House festival, which included meet and greets and photo ops with most of the living stars of the show, as well as a bus tour of the old filming location from the 1970s and '80s.

But it almost didn't.

At first, I'd only bought a single-day ticket for Saturday of the three-day festival—and then as more and more stars got confirmed (including Melissa Gilbert, who never does these things), and panels got scheduled, I started to worry I wouldn't have enough time. So I upgraded to a weekend pass, knowing I probably wouldn't be able to break away from work for the Friday but having the peace of mind that I'd get all day Saturday and Sunday. 

I arrived under threatening skies—and, soon, rain—on Saturday morning around 10 a.m., not having to wait in a long entry line because I had a multi-day pass. I enjoyed the festival atmosphere for a bit (stay tuned for my blog post on that) before ambling over to the bus tour check-in. 

The morning rain had canceled all the buses that morning until at least 2 p.m.—and when I returned at 2 to try to ride standby later that day, the bad news was that the roads were still too muddy and unsafe, though the rain had ceased. 

That meant returning the next morning, Sunday, by 7:30 a.m. to try to squeeze an empty seat out of one of the buses that day, which would start running at 8 a.m. But that meant counting on the fact that a Sunday bus ticketholder might not show up, or turn up late, since all the spots for the tour had sold out in advance months before. 

After waiting in line for over three hours, I asked one of the event organizers what to do so as not to miss my professional photos with Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) and Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder), which I'd also paid for in advance and whose time slots were narrow and immoveable. "You won't make it," the organizer said. "Go over there now and enjoy yourself."

Here's the only thing that made it work out in the end: The people behind me in line agreed to save my place and let me come back three hours later, without having to start over again at the back of the line.

Upon my return, we only had to wait about another 20 or 30 minutes before we found ourselves on a bus, everyone cheering, "We made it!" 

Sure, I'd been to Big Sky Ranch once before—but that was eight years ago, and this year, the festival had erected smaller-scale, painted fa├žades to replicate the original sets, in the exact places where they once stood.

March 20, 2024

Photo Essay: California Architectural Creations In Clay, at Heath Ceramics

Back in January of this year, I was planning a return trip to San Francisco—a city I hadn't spent the weekend in since 2006 (although I spent a few hours there a couple of years ago).

I had a lot of catching up to do. 

Since I don't visit the Bay Area very often, I don't have a huge list of places to visit—so I fell back on my tried-and-true methods of seeking out fun activities. 

And that meant looking for one of my go-to's, factory tours.    

In addition to the fortune cookie factory tour in Chinatown, my friend and I decided to tour the Heath Ceramics factory in San Francisco's Mission District. 

March 16, 2024

Photo Essay: The Many Jesuses of Desert Christ Park, Restored and Resurrected

Sculptor Frank Antone Martin was a plaster pattern maker for the aircraft industry, based in Inglewood, California. He'd dreamed of placing a giant, steel-reinforced concrete statue of Jesus perched over the rim of the Grand Canyon—and even went so far as to make it. 

From a poem Martin wrote about the project (yes, he was a poet, too):

He fashioned an object of concrete and steel
To staunchly present his conviction and zeal;
The model he chose was the great Prince of Peace
Just standing there bidding all hatreds to cease.

Unfortunately, officials in charge of the Grand Canyon told him they didn't accept works from out-of-state artists.

Martin offered the statue to other venues, like Forest Lawn, which also turned him down. He started calling his monolithic Jesus figure "The Unwanted Christ."

March 08, 2024

Photo Essay: Desert Resort Living In a Mid-Century Modern Lodge

It's one of those places I'd drive past so many times—and never really understood what it was. 

I thought the Ocotillo Lodge on East Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs was a motel, and that it was being converted into condos. 

The real story is that it was a hotel (kind of)—and then it was converted into condos in the 1990s. But right now, it's going through an upgrade/restoration.