When your travels are football weekends, it limits the amount of sightseeing you can do. But during our trip to Kansas City to enjoy the OU-KU game in Lawrence, we saw just enough to know that we’d like to return to KC to see the sights and absorb more of the area.
We stayed at the Marriott Country Club Plaza, which offers a free shuttle to any place in the Plaza, so it was nice to park the car and not have to worry about driving and finding parking, etc. Country Club Plaza was originally built in 1922, but much of it was destroyed by a flood in 1977. It has been rebuilt, and is recognized around the country. It is a 15-block area of shops and restaurants, some uniquely local ones and some national stores.
Kansas City is known as the city of fountains and many of them grace the Country Club Plaza area. It was perfect fall weather, warm but not hot, with the leaves beginning to change colors and the fall flowers in full bloom.
One couple shouted out “OU!” as we crossed an intersection of the Plaza, and what a surprise to realize it was a couple we had known ten years ago in Oklahoma! Turns out they now live in Kansas City, and we had a nice visit. It’s definitely a small world!
Each year at the OU/TX football game weekend, we find ourselves indulging — usually in wonderful dining establishments. This year we enjoyed two excellent evenings of delicious dinners and a lot of fun in between.
Nick & Sam’s in Dallas was packed and rowdy and wonderful. There were frequent outbreaks of “Boomer Sooner” and “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” from the clientele, and the pianist played both songs occasionally to keep everyone in the spirit of the pre-game evening.
The cuisine is primarily steaks, and the side dishes range from healthy grilled asparagus to rich and hearty lobster macaroni and cheese. Fine wines and incredible desserts make this a dinner destination that deserves the diners’ time to savor the evening.
Saturday’s football game at the Cotton Bowl provided the Sooner fans with an ample serving of victory. The rivalry of this game always makes it a special one, and even with OU favored to win this year, the final score of 55-17 gave the Sooners a chance to truly gloat! The Texas Longhorn fans were far less vocal this year than in years past, and many left long before the game was over.
Of course, the State Fair of Texas is held in conjunction with the Red River Rivalry (or is it the other way around?), so fair food and rides and games are part of the day for Sooners and Longhorns alike. If there’s a way to fry it, you can find it at the fair! Fried butter, fried salsa, fried pineapple upside down cake, chicken fried bacon, fried bubblegum… UGH! Don’t check your cholesterol for awhile following this weekend!
There are many rides at the fair, but the iconic Texas Star Ferris Wheel is a must. Besides being fun, it gives the best view of the whole fairgrounds.
OU/TX weekend is many things to many people – food, fun, football, the fair. Be sure to put it on your bucket list if you haven’t already had a chance to be a part of it!
For years we have made the annual “run” to Dallas for the OU/TX football game, commonly known as the Red River Rivalry. Over the years, we have tried a number of different routes and various modes of transportation. Here are a few to consider:
* Drive your car to Dallas and to the State Fair Park, where you and thousands of others are scrambling to find a close parking lot where they don’t charge an arm and a leg for a spot. We have done this very thing and found parking places in lots, in businesses’ parking areas, in people’s front yards (where the car got caught on a sidewalk step!). The cost for these depends on the distance from the Cotton Bowl, of course, but can run $20 or more.
* Take a chartered bus trip. Whether this originates in Oklahoma or at a Dallas hotel, it is great to “leave the driving to us” and not have to worry about the traffic to get to State Fair Park nor where to park when you arrive. Of course, the charge for these charters is considerably higher than just a parking spot; but it can be nice to enjoy your drink of choice while on the way and during the return!
* Dallas now offers several choices involving the DART system. Dallas Area Rapid Transit has buses and a rail system, either of which leaves you being the passenger and not having to worry about the driving. You still have to drive to a transfer station, though.Several years ago we took the DART rail by driving to the American Airlines Center to park. We arrived plenty early and had no problems getting on the train; and we ended up leaving the game a bit early, so we made the return train trip with no problems. We later heard many complaints, though, that there weren’t enough trains to handle the return riders, and some people had to wait hours for their return trip! * Last year we drove to the American Airlines Center, planning to catch the train again, only to find that DART was prepared for fair visitors en masse with many buses lined up and ready to load. We had taken the DART bus trip in previous years from a downtown station that required we park in a Target parking lot, much to the dismay of Target shoppers who then had limited parking; so we hopped on one of the waiting buses and were chauffeured to the Fair Park. Buses entered the parking area on the fairgrounds, unloaded, and were waiting in exactly the same place after the game. That was a smooth, relatively painless (and inexpensive) way to get to the game.
* So, which mode of transportation did we choose this year? The BEST! We jumped in the back seat of our son’s car, he drove to the fairgrounds, and we valet parked! The cost? $30. Worth every penny as we walked 30 yards to the gate to enter the fair and back to retrieve the car after the game.
There’s no doubt that being “chauffeured” to the OU/TX game makes it much more enjoyable. And look at all the choices you have!
Well, the purpose of this trip was to watch the Oklahoma University vs. Florida State University football game, and watch we did!The FSU campus is very pretty, as are most college campuses, and we were treated with respect and hospitality. The FSU “tomahawk” antics were in force throughout the evening, of course – you have to wonder if all FSU fans have a right bicep that is notably more muscular than the left!!
This was a REALLY BIG SHOW for Florida State. With #5 playing #1, it was bound to be the talk of sportscasters and fans alike leading up to the game and after the outcome was known. Many felt this was the only game OU would lose during the season, and FSU fans were very vocal about the plan to do just that.
Oklahoma brought a contingent of fans – it was reported that there were as many as 10,000 Sooner fans in attendance. That’s quite possible, because “BOOMER SOONER” was definitely heard over the roar of the “tomahawk chop” of the Seminoles. It was the largest crowd ever to attend a football game at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, which holds 83,000.I’m not a sports reporter and couldn’t begin to give athletic details about a football game. I just know that I am a Sooner fan, love to watch OU sports, and didn’t want to miss a minute of the game! I did, however, finally give up and head to the ladies’ room when OU was ahead. Of course, one can imagine my dismay as I heard the roar when FSU tied it up 13-13!! I didn’t know whether to go back to my seat or hide in the bathroom!!
Being a true fan, I trekked back to my row 67 seat and truly enjoyed the outstanding 23-13 win by the Sooners. To quote Billy Sims (who was with our tour group, by the way), “Never bring a hatchet to a gunfight!”
While in Panama City Beach, we enjoyed dinner one evening at The Breakers restaurant, where we observed an event so notable I had to mention it.
The Breakers is a lovely fine-dining establishment complete with two-story windows overlooking the Gulf. The food was delicious and the service was excellent. While we were enjoying our dinner seated at a table on a level overlooking the dance floor, a large group entered and took tables that had been arranged to one side of the dance floor. As we observed them, we realized that some of them were being wheeled in, while others were obviously handicapped in other ways.
The instrumentalist who had been entertaining us on his keyboard turned the microphone over to one of the group and we began to understand the significance of these diners.
This was a group of Wounded Warriors and their spouses or caregivers who were being treated to a few days at the beach by the Warrior Beach Retreat, Inc. (http://www.warriorbeachretreat.com) This non-profit was founded by Linda Cope after her son Joshua was severely wounded by an IED blast in 2006.
Twice a year a group of twenty-five Wounded Warriors and their families spends four to five days at Panama City Beach for a cost-free retreat. They enjoy an extended R&R during that time, along with a chance to hear speakers and receive recognition for their service.
We were thankful to have been witness to this example of a community that comes together to honor combat-wounded soldiers through the donations of lodging, meals, gifts, fishing trips, movies, tours, and much more.
May Panama City Beach be a role model for communities across this great Nation.
It seems that most any city we visit has at least one mall. The only problem is that there are rarely major differences in the malls – some have standard department stores, like Dillards, Macy’s, JC Penney and smaller chain stores, while a few have upscale shopping, including such names as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
Panama City Beach has combined a large standard mall area (Town Center) with The Grand Theatre and the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is situated across Front Beach Road from a pier; and the entire area of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment is named Pier Park.
The Boardwalk has many boutique shops, offering accessories, T-shirts, artwork, and the like. Plus it offers restaurants and specialty food shops. We enjoyed a huge order of nachos (one order easily served four) at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, where margaritas of all imaginable varieties reign.
Our final stop along the Boardwalk was Kilwin’s Chocolates & Ice Cream, where the many varieties of fudge permeated the air with their sweet aromas. It was just not possible to pass it by without a sample.
Most people go to the mall to shop. At Pier Park, shopping is not mandatory, but enjoying food and drink must be, and it is a great area for entertainment, even something as mundane as people-watching!
We really enjoy taking a “road trip” and seeing the scenery as we go, and that is what we planned when we decided to go to the OU vs. Florida State football game this September. Using Google maps, we easily plotted our route to Tallahassee, and I began researching lodging.
Well, that was a different story! Tallahassee was ready and waiting for the Sooner fans, with the cost for a motel room tripled on September 16-17. My Rabid Red looked for recommendations on some of the Sooner chat rooms and was directed to look at Thomasville, Georgia (yes, as in Thomasville Furniture). Sure enough, we found a reasonable room at the Holiday Inn Express there.As we talked about it with the other couple that was going to make the trip with us, however, the two-day drive with four people (and accompanying luggage) began to sound a bit cramped. So we began to look at other possibilities. Flying would still necessitate renting a car and driving from Tallahassee to Thomasville, then back to Tallahassee for Saturday’s game, and a return trip to Thomasville. But then we found the perfect solution: University VIP Sports Tours !! And what a perfect vacation/Sooner trip was planned for us! We flew out of Oklahoma City on Thursday to Panama City, Florida, and stayed in condos at the Grand Panama on the Gulf; were bused to Tallahassee for a Tailgate Extravaganza and the OU-FSU game; were bused back to Panama City Beach; and flew home to Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, we’ll be happy to “leave the driving to others” and save a road trip for another day!
A few miles north of Valentine, Nebraska, just outside Rapid City, South Dakota, is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the United States, Mount Rushmore. Since we were “in the area,” we planned a day trip to see if it is really as impressive as we’ve heard. We were definitely NOT disappointed.
As we drove north, we were able to see lots of wildlife, particularly elk. The terrain transitioned from the rolling sandhills to a rougher, rockier landscape with considerable pine and other trees. As we got closer, we saw the monument being created for Crazy Horse . Known as the largest mountain carving located in the Black Hills, it currently displays the head of Crazy Horse and will eventually depict him riding his horse.
Our primary destination for the day, though, was Mount Rushmore. As we approached, we could see it but didn’t really get the full impact until we parked and walked to the veranda. This is a lovely plaza area with gift shop, concessions, and a walkway marked with flags of the states. All of this sits on one side, with a valley area separating it from the actual Mount Rushmore. There is an open-air theatre in the valley, and I could imagine how impressive a concert would be in that setting!
And then, there it is: Mount Rushmore! Each of the four heads is 60 feet high, carved into the edge of the mountain. Each of the four presidents represents such major aspects of our country: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It was awesome to just stand there and look and “absorb” the moment.
It was also very interesting to people-watch. Thousands of bikers (motorcyclists) and international visitors strolled along the veranda, snapped photos, listened to the historical information being read over the loud speaker. Listening to the variety of accents and foreign languages pointed out the draw that this United States monument has to all, regardless of nationality!
When we left the national memorial, we drove on to Rapid City, where we made a short stop to see the truly amazing paper sculptures of Allan and Patty Eckman . The cast paper sculptures depict nature and Native American figures in intricate detail. I had read of them in an Email and welcomed the opportunity to see them in person. They are really quite beautiful, and I tried to fit one into my budget but…
We have traveled quite a bit, within the United States and outside its boundaries. We’ve been fortunate enough to see parts of Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and Italy; and we’ve visited states from California to Maine, Washington to Florida. Until this summer, however, we had never gone north on I-35 beyond Salina, Kansas!
In an effort to remedy that, we struck out a few weeks ago in our trusty Ford Fusion to Nebraska. With the goal of visiting my brother in Valentine, NE, we mapped several routes but decided on the easiest – north to York, west to North Platte, and north to Valentine. As we left the overwhelming heat of Oklahoma, we prayed for cooler temperatures as we went, and our prayers were answered!
The further north we went, the less the fields suffered from “sunburn” and drought. By the time we turned west at York, the cornfields had become lush and green. While we may sing about “corn as high as an elephant’s eye” in our state song, the corn in Nebraska truly was more deserving of that phrase.As we turned at North Platte, we began to encounter the sandhills that my brother had often talked about. While somewhat like the rolling pasture lands I grew up with in Osage County, the sandhills are a bit different – not quite as rounded, a little sharper. Knowing that the soil was totally sand in that area, it was interesting to see the green grasses, waving in the breeze.
Now Valentine, Nebraska would probably not be a typical destination for vacationers, but it truly was an interesting little town and does draw tourists for the hunting and fishing in the area. We stayed at a local motel, the Trade Winds , which was sold out, primarily due to the motorcyclists on their way to the 71st Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. During our week in northern Nebraska and a day trip into South Dakota, we saw literally tens of thousands of motorcycles!
With a population of just over 2800, a hospital, churches, and a charming downtown area, Valentine is inviting for those who enjoy hunting and fishing. It is obvious that is its major draw, when the motels offer “fish and fowl cleaning areas” as an amenity! To cater to the locals and visitors, there are several exceptional restaurants, including Cedar Canyon Steakhouse, Jordan’s Fine Dining, and our favorite, The Peppermill .We took a short drive to Merritt Reservoir, where the walleye lurk, just waiting for the fishermen to lure them with leeches. I like to fish, but I declined this time. Somehow or other, I just couldn’t imagine baiting my own hook with a leech. Fishing for walleye requires the right technique, and I felt that finding it on my plate, already caught, cleaned and grilled, was a much better plan!
While visiting the Grand Lake area over the Memorial Day weekend, soon after the devastating Joplin tornado, we took a boat ride on the lake with friends. It was a warm day and the air was so pleasant as we sped over the water.
As we sailed around, I suddenly noticed a swath of land on which the trees appeared to be stripped. On each side of the swath there was plenty of vegetation, but we were obviously looking at the path of a tornado. We had heard that it hit in the lake area and had seen lots of uprooted trees near where we were staying, but what we were looking at now was on the other side of the lake and much more than uprooted trees.
As we drew closer to the shore, we could see boat docks overturned and ramps that looked like they had been wrung like washcloths. They were completely twisted from end to end.
There were hundreds of homes that were covered in blue tarps because the roofs were damaged or even non-existent. There were homes that were nothing but piles of rubble. There were concrete slabs where homes once stood.
We heard later about people who had to pay thousands of dollars to have huge old trees lifted from their homes, just to begin the process of clearing and cleaning to rebuild. There are many areas around Grand Lake that have huge homes valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (and more). Those that stood in the pathway of the tornado had been damaged, some beyond repair, some only slightly. Whether a half-million dollar mansion or a small cabin made no difference; the fickle nature of tornadoes was evident.
We were astounded at the amount of damage we saw. Probably we hadn’t heard of the strength of the storm at Grand Lake, because the level of damage and the injuries and fatalities in Joplin, Missouri, was more newsworthy. Residents at Grand Lake knew, however, that they “dodged the bullet” and some even went to Joplin to help with recovery efforts.
We enjoyed the lake and the holiday weekend, but our first-hand view of the power of the earlier tornado reminded us not to take our days for granted.