Can we be hopeful in the wake of the storm?

May 3, 2020

“I must confess that I found myself almost hopeless in the wake of the storm.”

So wrote Dr. J.C. Taylor, the health officer of Rogers County, Oklahoma, of his feelings after the 1918 flu pandemic. What lessons can we learn from that H1N1 viral outbreak, which was commonly called the “Spanish Flu”?

Few elders have useful memories dating back over 100 years, but written history has helped prompt a more vigorous and coordinated response to the 2020 pandemic. The so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 got its name from when it spread from France, where news of it was suppressed by wartime censorship, into neutral Spain. The press coverage in Spain helped spread word of its devastating impact. No one is sure where that particular strain of the H1N1 influenza virus originated, with hypotheses including Haskell County, Kansas and a hospital camp in France.

But the importance of social distancing and closures was made perfectly clear in comparisons of how a parade in Philadelphia helped overwhelm its health care system to how closures in St. Louis “flattened the curve” and helped suppress its death rate to a fraction of that observed in the City of Brotherly Love.


Those examples and a far better understanding of viral transmission have led to a massive response over a century later, which has, as of early May 2020, avoided overwhelming Oklahoma’s hospitals.

Due in part to outbreaks in multiple local nursing homes, I am unlucky enough to live in the zip code with the highest rate of infections in the state as of May 3, 2020.




As of this writing, Bartlesville has a reported infection rate of 224/36,423, which is over six times higher than Tulsa’s (405/400,669) or Oklahoma City’s (627/649,021), and our death rate is 11 and 13 times higher, respectively.


So, as closures ease after this first wave, I wondered how both Oklahoma in general and Bartlesville in particular fared in the 1918 pandemic. I used a variety of internet sources, but the most comprehensive was in print: the Spring 2001 edition of The Chronicles of Oklahoma with an article by Dr. Nigel Anthony Sellars: Almost Hopeless in the Wake of the Storm: The 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Oklahoma. I have included highlights from it below, but you must order your own print copy to see his complete overview.

Dr. Sellars documented how 7,350 Oklahomans died of the influenza and related secondary infections in the second and third waves of the epidemic between October 1, 1918 and April 1, 1919. Health officials were overwhelmed by the second wave, and few back in 1918 suspected that the culprit was a virus. Many incorrectly blamed Pfeiffer’s bacillus, a bacterium.


Emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas in 1918

The first reported human case was in early March 1918 at Camp Funston near Fort Riley, Kansas. The first wave of outbreaks was carried to Europe, where the virus spread in the trenches of World War I. Thankfully, it retreated in the summer.

But it mutated in Europe into a more deadly form, leading to a devastating second wave in the fall, which peaked in October. Entire units fighting in Europe were disabled in the late summer, and returning naval and merchant vessels brought the mutated influenza back to America.


Typhoid inoculation lineup at Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, circa 1917-1918

Camp Doniphan near Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma had only 8 deaths from flu among 25,000 men in the winter and spring of 1918. But as Dr. Sellars noted, “…from September to December, with just 3,964 troops, the camp suffered 2,856 flu cases, eighty-three flu deaths, and eight pneumonia deaths.” The Spanish Flu attacked adults in their twenties and thirties rather than children or the elderly, with those between twenty and forty accounting for half of the epidemic’s deaths.

Article-1-Sept-27-pg2Prevention strategies were haphazard. Articles recommended that folks quit smoking, drinking, and overeating. They were told to steer clear of people who sneezed or coughed, to avoid using public drinking cups, and to gargle with various concoctions.

The deadly second wave in Oklahoma

In October, the flu exploded in Oklahoma City (OKC), with the first reported case on September 28. By October 1 there were 1,000 cases, and that would double within two days.  Much of the nursing staff at St. Anthony Hospital fell ill. Dr. Sellars notes, “The flu practically collapsed all city and commercial operations, a pattern duplicated in nearly every state town.”

okc editorial

Daily Oklahoman editorial on October 4, 1918

Dr. LeRoy Long, the dean of the University of Oklahoma’s Medical School, recommended correctly that people avoid crowds to check the disease’s spread. At first, OKC failed to organize a coordinated response. The Daily Oklahoman newspaper editorialized that the city should close all schools, churches, theaters, and other public spaces. But the county physician considered those actions premature, with many city doctors believing the crisis would pass after the weekend. A lack of new cases for two days provided false hope, followed by fourteen deaths over the next three days. That finally prompted the City Commission to issue a sweeping closure order on October 9. By October 12, 70 citizens had died from the flu, including attorney Norman R. Haskell, the son of Oklahoma’s first governor. Hospitals were overcrowded, and pneumonia spread.

Tulsa was more organized, with its leaders meeting on October 2 on a response plan and working with the Red Cross to open an emergency hospital at “The Ark”, a former women’s detention clinic to combat venereal disease. It was fumigated for 18 hours, and trustees from the county jail carried out old beds (which were burned), whitewashed the walls, and installed new cots. But while the virus did not discriminate, Tulsa did, with racially segregated wards at The Ark. The Tulsa Race Massacre would occur less than three years later.

Its efforts did not prevent Tulsa from being overcome with 3,000 cases by October 5. The Tulsa Red Cross ordered its members to make 5,000 gauze masks, obtain clothes and bedding for victims, and drive nurses to see patients. Local school children and the Red Cross folded newspapers to make sputum cups to collect and dispose of nasal and oral discharges. Nurses went out into Tulsa schools to give nasal douches, a questionable preventative.

Tulsa finally shut down all schools, churches, and public meetings on October 8. Later soda fountains, cold drink bars, bowling alleys, and pool halls were also closed. The mayor ordered morticians to provide their ambulances to the city and notified car dealerships, taxi companies, and private citizens that their vehicles should be made available to transport nurses free of charge. Restaurants were closed between midnight and 5 a.m. for nightly fumigations.

On October 10 the state health commissioner prohibited all public gatherings of more than twelve people, including funerals, and forbade even small prayer meetings at churches. Police in Tulsa and OKC jailed persons found spitting or coughing without a handkerchief. In Oilton, after a local Baptist minister prayed over one young prostitute whose fever then broke, the local prostitutes turned their brothel into a treatment center and worked as nursing volunteers.

footballBy October 11, every member of the Stroud High School football team was “ill in bed with Spanish influenza” and the school’s game with Drumright was canceled. OU’s game against Phillips University in Enid was called off due to both schools being in quarantine, and the OU-Texas game was postponed. 

Formaldehyde became the disinfectant of choice, with Tulsa city workers flushing the streets twice daily with water before sprinkling the chemical. It was used to fumigate hotel rooms, victim’s homes, and even local libraries in both major cities. Oklahoma County officials used so much of it on the jail floors that newly released inmates reeked of it as they walked the city streets.


Clean-up campaigns and fumigation did not prevent the state from reaching over 70,000 reported cases by October 21. Tulsa added 400 cases in one day. Muskogee had 14 deaths in a single day and converted schools into hospitals. Obituaries filled the front pages of local rural newspapers.

Dr. Sellars noted, “The worst struck was Bartlesville, where the flu wreaked havoc, especially among smelter workers. The city had suffered fifty-six deaths by October 22, which gave it the second highest ratio of flu deaths to population in the nation, trailing only Philadelphia. Federal officials sent a doctor and two nurses to aid city officials. The city set up an emergency hospital at the local Elks Lodge, but as the number of victims grew, officials had to create a second one at the city’s First Baptist Church.” Late in the epidemic, Bartlesville closed all stores, except drugstores, at 5 p.m. each day.

bartlesville flu

Medical and prevention measures

Doctors and nurses were in short supply statewide since about 1/3 of the doctors had joined the military alongside about 1/2 of the nurses. What doctors and nurses there were relied on aspirin to treat fever and reduce pain and epinephrine to battle pneumonia victims’ congestion. There were experiments with cinnamon in milk, quinine, and intravenous delivery of digitalis.

General prevention recommendations included avoiding crowds, getting plenty of sleep and fresh air, and washing hands with antiseptic soap. Some advised gargling with chlorinated soda or a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and boric acid.

The public was urged to wear six-by-four-inch gauze surgical masks, but only Muskogee and Clinton mandated their widespread use. Those without surgical masks could use an 18-by-18-inch piece of gauze folded diagonally three times or a cotton handkerchief worn like a bandit’s bandana. But gauze was scarce, so health officials recommended changing masks every two hours and boiling contaminated masks for 30 minutes before reuse.

gauze mask

Red Cross nurse with gauze mask from October 1918

A doctor at the Mayo Clinic claimed bacteria caused the flu and promoted a serum for it, but some Oklahoma doctors correctly believed that was incorrect and that any existing vaccines lacked value. Labs in both Tulsa and OKC produced the useless serum in bulk and thousands received injections, including public officials. Sellars recounts, “Oklahoma City mayor Ed Overholser had himself inoculated with an earlier ‘vaccine’ on October 7. He came down with the flu the same day, eventually growing so ill he resigned his office under doctor’s orders.”


Patent medicines were ineffective treatments, while pharamacists could prescribe whiskey as a “remedy” during Prohibition

The public turned to dubious over-the-counter patent medicines such as Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root, Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets, and Eatonic. Vicks VapoRub did relieve congestion, and customers cleaned out the drugstores of it, with the manufacturer placing ads in major newspapers promising to supply more.


Folk remedies were utilized, with one farmer attributing his own resistance to “quinine and lots of coffee” while whiskey was the most popular remedy, which was issued by pharmacists for medical purposes under Oklahoma’s prohibition laws.

Tulsa had a burial casket shortage by October 15, with the county making them for sale at seven dollars each. Gravediggers were in short supply, with Bartlesville asking for volunteers but eventually pressing county jail inmates into service.

Another echo of our current times was documented by Dr. Sellars. “But as the epidemic wore on, many Oklahomans started to chafe under the local and statewide restrictions. Although the bans initially helped create a sense of community action and solidarity, they soon became an inconvenience to some groups, especially merchants who feared the bans posed a threat to business and who claimed the state order was an improper intrusion on local authority.”

The state health commissioner, himself ill at the time, finally suspended the quarantine on November 9. For the first time in almost a month, schools, churches, theaters, and other public places opened. By then the disease had killed over 5,000 Oklahomans.

The third wave

Rumors of an armistice in the world war and then the actual end of the war on November 11 led to crowded city streets in both major cities, despite a cold drizzle, with many people drunk.


Armistice Day Parade in Lawton in November 1918

The epidemic returned by November 25 with outbreaks in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Drumright, Sapulpa, Bristow, Chickasha, and many rural communities.

That wave was slightly less virulent than the October outbreak but lasted into late spring. By December 15 there were 10,245 cases in 45 counties, but that dropped the following week to 4,640 cases in 38 counties. Some doctors yielded to local pressure and suppressed information to avoid affecting Christmas business. Tulsa police arrested several doctors who failed to report cases for up to two weeks.

In the later wave, some cities abandoned public closures as ineffective. Tulsa relied on home quarantines. Lawton tried closing schools again, but children congregated on city streets and the city instead relied on limiting attendance at public places, restaurants, hotel lobbies, pool halls, cigar stores, and soda fountains. OKC required all public places to have at least 200 cubic feet of air space per person, so movie houses left every second or third row vacant.

But some members of the public and local businesses often disregarded or opposed preventative measures in the third wave. OKC restaurants resisted orders to boil dishes. People were reported to have openly sneezed in others’ faces, and streetcar riders frequently ignored a regulation that every third window be open for ventilation.


The flu eventually burned out in the cities but lingered in rural areas. Once again the front pages of small town newspapers carried almost nothing but obituaries. The flu finally ended in the late spring, with smaller outbreaks in the fall and winter for three more years.

In late January 1919, the state health department figures showed 125,000 to 150,000 flu cases with at least 7,500 deaths. The actual toll was higher due to under-reporting, particularly in African-American and rural communities. Native Americans suffered the most, with 861 deaths out of 15,227 cases, for a death rate of 5.7%, which was twice the national average. 1918 was the first year Tulsa ever had more deaths than births.

The effects were long-lasting, but thankfully so was charity. In February 1919, a destitute 35-year-old father arrived in Enid with two boys, 8 and 6, and a 4-year-old girl, all thinly clad and barefoot. Their mother had died from the flu and the father had lost his job while battling the sickness. He traveled by train from Oklahoma City to Enid, looking for work. En route, passengers collected $15 for the family while local residents purchased clothes for the children and helped get the man a job.

Dr. Taylor of Rogers County, who had weathered the storm, continued to advocate reasonable measures in the fall of 1919. He suggested avoiding contact with those who were sick, not sharing eating or drinking utensils, and washing “the hands and face several times a day.” He also shared, “plenty of soap and water and fresh air are the best means of prevention.”


Dr. Richard Shope was instrumental in identifying influenza as being caused by viruses

Health departments were eventually beefed up even as public attention to pandemics waned. Research continued, with American virologist Richard Shope noting in 1928 that a swine flu virus resembled the Spanish flu. Shope’s techniques led to the first human flu virus being isolated by British scientists in the early 1930s, finally ending the misconception that influenza was caused by bacteria.




1945 flu vaccine

The first effective flu vaccine did not come for another decade, in 1943. But the constant mutations of the virus means influenza vaccines must be reformulated annually and thus influenza, unlike smallpox and polio, has not been effectively wiped out. In recent years, misinformation has led many to refuse vaccinations, leading to unnecessary outbreaks of measles in 2019.


The current pandemic promises to linger through the summer of 2021 as we hopefully await an effective vaccine that might help us eventually achieve herd immunity. But even that is being quite optimistic, given that we’ve never had an effective vaccine widely deployed in less than five years.


So we must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, with public gatherings carrying significant health risks. If the easing of restrictions across the nation in May 2020 leads to an unacceptable rise in infections and death rates, we can expect fresh closures that attempt to avoid overwhelming hospitals in second and later waves of infection.

So far we have handled the 2020 pandemic far better than our predecessors handled the one of 1918. For us to remain hopeful in the wake of this first wave, we must continue to heed the lessons of history and apply scientific advancements to weather this latest storm.

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Loaves and Fishes

In travels over the years with my father, on my own, and now with Wendy, I have repeatedly encountered remnants of the Fred Harvey company. It was a chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality businesses alongside the Santa Fe railroad in the western U.S., renowned for the quality of its food and service and for how its Harvey Girls helped to “civilize the American Southwest.”

There are still traces of Fred Harvey at Union Station in Kansas City, and one can still stay at a handful of former Fred Harvey hotels: La Fonda at Santa Fe, New Mexico, La Posada at Winslow, Arizona, and El Tovar and Bright Angel at the Grand Canyon.

I’ve been reading a splendid history of Fred Harvey and his namesake company: Appetite for America by Stephen Fried. A story from late in the company’s history, amidst the Great Depression, sticks out which I want to share with you. By then, the actual Fred Harvey had been dead for decades, but the company remained in the family, who just called it “Fred Harvey” and company policy was to speak as if Fred were still around, running the place:

As the Depression deepened, the Harvey Houses took on a new role in economically ravaged America — they became known as the softest touches in the West, the places where impoverished locals and drifters went in search of a free meal. It was company policy never to let anyone who couldn’t afford to pay leave hungry. Many begged for food at the back door and were pleasantly surprised to get sandwiches, fruit, bread, and coffee. Others came in through the front door.

Bob O’Sullivan, who later became a well-known travel writer, never forgot the hot, dusty fall afternoon in Albuquerque when he was a second grader and his family had to rely on the kindness of strangers in Harvey Girl uniforms. His mother was driving him and his eleven-year-old sister — with all of their belonging stacked high against the backseat windows — to California, where they hoped to meet their father and make a new start. The O’Sullivans had arrived in Albuquerque expecting that $25 — several weeks’ pay — had been wired to them at the Railway Express office. But when his mother walked out of the office in tears, Bob knew the money hadn’t arrived. As she pulled on her driving gloves, the children asked if they could still get something to eat.

She hesitated.

“Of course we can,” she said finally. “We have to, don’t we?”

The lunchroom at the Alvarado

She drove along the railroad tracks to the Alvarado and led her children into the dining room. There were few customers there, but lots of delicious aromas, and every surface was gleaming.

When a smiling Harvey Girl approached them, her puffed sleeves and starched apron rustling, Bob’s mother pulled her aside and whispered something. The waitress walked into the kitchen and returned with a man wearing a suit, to whom his mother also whispered. Then they were led to a table, where Mrs. O’Sullivan began to order sandwiches for the kids and just a cup of coffee for herself — until the man in the suit interrupted her.

“Why don’t you let me order for you?” he said, and proceeded to tell the Harvey Girl to bring hot soup, then the beef stew, mashed potatoes, bread and butter, and coffee for the lady. He asked the children if they wanted milk or hot chocolate.

“Yes, sir,” they both said.

Milk and hot chocolate for the children,” he continued, “and some of the cobbler all around. Does that sound all right?”

“Will that be all?” the waitress asked.

“Oh,” the man said, “and these people are the guests of Mr. Fred Harvey.”

Bob saw his mother mouth the words “Thank you.”

The taste of that stew would stay with him his entire life. As would the memory of what happened when they finished eating. His mother pushed what few coins she had left toward the waitress, who pushed them back with a smile.

Oh, no, ma’am. You’re Mr. Harvey’s guests,” she said, placing two bags in front of them. “And the manager said I was to wrap up what you didn’t eat, so you could take it along.”

But we cleaned out plates,” young Bob blurted out. His sister sighed and looked at him as if he were the dumbest person in the world. Then the Harvey Girl startled giggling, followed by his mother and then the kids.

In the car, Mrs. O’Sullivan opened the bags, and found them filled with more food than they had eaten for dinner.

What’s in them? Bob asked.

Loaves and fishes,” she replied, shaking her head in amazement. “Loaves and fishes.”

When he shared this story in 1989 in a column in the Los Angeles Times, Bob O’Sullivan added:

That evening, [my mother] swapped some of our personal possessions for a tank of gas and a room in an auto court. There was no money at Railway Express the next morning, either, but for some reason things didn’t seem so bleak or so frantic.

As we were passing the Harvey House on the way out of town, my mother pulled to the side of the road for a moment. “Some day,” she said, “when you two grow up I want you to go to a Harvey House and order the most expensive thing on the menu and then I want you to leave a big tip.”

Fred Harvey

In spite of the fact that Fred Harvey’s long gone now and the last Harvey girl is probably married and celebrating her grandchildren or great-grandchildren…I think I’ll check and see if there are any still around.

And if I find one, I’ll stop in, order from the top of the menu and maybe finish with a little cobbler and a cup of coffee. Then I’ll lift my cup: “Here’s to you, Mr. Harvey.”


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Crystal Bridges, Beavers Bend, and a Rainbow

Fall 2019 | Photo Album

Autumn 2019 ends next week, prompting this overview of our trips of the season: a visit to Crystal Bridges over Fall Break, a stay at a cabin in Broken Bow over Thanksgiving, and a quick dash to Fayetteville in early December.

Crystals at Crystal Bridges

During the Fall Break in October, Wendy and I returned to Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. The attraction was a Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today exhibit. Regular readers will know that when we are out on the trails, I’m always climbing to vistas while Wendy has her eyes on the trail to spot crystalline rocks.

The interesting thing about ancient crystal art is its timeless appearance. Unless pieces are mounted in metal with a patina or suffer chips and other damage, the layperson can’t distinguish something manufactured by a Roman artist over a millennium or two ago from something crafted recently. None of the ancient artifacts made much of an impression on me. Some of the modern items, however, more than made up for it.

In 2004 former NASA aerospace engineer Frederick Eversley casted Blue Para, a polyester parabolic lens. I used to teach physics students how spherical lenses and mirrors can focus incoming light towards an area but suffer from smearing through aberration, while parabolic optics can focus light to a pinpoint. As displayed, one could see chromatic aberration around the edges of the light cone striking the stand.

Blue Para

Blue Para

Chromalith II

Chromalith II

In 2019 Alexis Arnold created Untitled (Chromalith II) out of epoxy resin and dichroic film, although the exhibition wall plate misspelled it as dichoric. The thin films create reflections off their front and back surfaces, with wave interference separating white light into interesting colors. That made her piece more interactive, with shifting interference patterns depending on the angle of view, and a stark contrast between the reflections one sees off the piece itself versus the reflection off the stand of the light making it through the layers of film.

Alexis found some boxes of discarded books in her neighborhood and was inspired to turn them into beautifully odd crystal sculptures by treating them with borax. It was fitting that the exhibit featured field guides to rocks and minerals that she has transformed.

Crystalized Field Guides

Rock & Minerals Field Guides

In 2018, Gisela Colon blow-molded acrylic into Morph (Iridescent Platinum) which also changes its appearance depending on one’s viewpoint.

Crystal Football

Crystal football

The exhibit included several works by Daniel Arsham which both Wendy and I found particularly intriguing. He says he creates “fictional archaeology” in his works which draw from pop culture, architecture, and geological forms.

Arsham created familiar sports objects out of blue calcite crystal and hydrostone. There was a column of crystalline blue footballs, with your eye caught both by the familiar exterior texture and the unexpected crystalline structure beneath.

His Blue Calcite Boxing Set was fascinating in how the fabric trunks were rendered in hard crystals, complete with pleated waistband. His deliberately damaged castings seem to me like a blend of the ruins of Pompeii with petrified wood. His choice of monochrome is evidently influenced by his color blindness. I’d love to see more of his work.

Portal Icosahedrons

Portal Icosahedrons

The highlight of the show for me was the Portal Icosahedrons by Anthony James. He created the 20-faced and 30-edged polyhedrons out of steel and glass with LED lights, lining them with half-silvered mirrors. Their scale and being able to view them from all angles was stunning, going beyond a similar two-dimensional work at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City or similar but small pieces we would see a couple of months later at Art Ventures NWA in Fayetteville.

I’m glad there was a smaller polyhedron alongside the massive one, since that allowed me to peer down from the top while also peering easily into panes to partake of complex reflections from varying angles.

Wendy particularly liked Miya Ando’s Tides, a 2011 assembly of aluminum plates which had been anodized by submerging them in an electrochemical bath and plating them with sapphire crystals, then washing them and mixing in colors, finally placing the plates in a tub of boiling liquid to encase the crystals and dye in the aluminum. The assembly invites you to align yourself, pause, and contemplate. They remind me of a calm ocean at different times of day and night.


Anodized aluminum Tides

Your Luna Nebula by Ólafur Elíasson has partially-silvered crystal spheres which provide an inverted reflection of yourself upon close inspection, but resolve into what might be droplets of water or a starry nebula with distance. I had fun capturing another patron taking a shot of that work with her phone from a vantage point behind another crystal artwork.


Her Luna Nebula

It was a beautiful autumn day outside, and we strolled the grounds. We walked over to the Bachman-Wilson house by Frank Lloyd Wright, but hadn’t purchased tickets for a tour. Knowing Wendy is less interested in Wright houses than I am, I opted to save that for a future visit.

Bachman-Wilson House

Bachman-Wilson House

Little Hikes and Walks

After Fall Break, Wendy and I took advantage of the fall weather to take a couple of short weekend hikes on the Cabin Loop at Osage Hills and the north end of Table Mound at Elk City Reservoir. Another weekend found me trekking around the Lake Loop at Osage Hills. I also enjoyed weekend walks on the Pathfinder Parkway, including a photogenic walk at the Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary.

Friends of the Parks provides this context:

The Robinwood Park Bird Sanctuary was originated by Paul Hefty in 1977, with approval from the City. From 5 acres of the existing Robinwood Park, Paul transformed forest land into a bird paradise by planting many appropriate food bearing bushes and trees, including deciduous holly, special flowering crabs and berry bushes, plus hickorys, pecans, oaks and walnuts. Over the years he incorporated many types of protective brush for the birds. A wide variety of birds reside here both winter and summer. Paul died in 2008.

Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary

Paul Hefty Bird Sanctuary

Beavers Bend

Hochatown Cabin

Our cabin at Hochatown

Over Thanksgiving, I rented a cabin at Hochatown in far southeastern Oklahoma. I’d hiked the David Boren Trail at Broken Bow a decade earlier on a hot September day. Thanksgiving would be much colder, but I figured I might lure Wendy out for a hike to a vista I dimly recalled over Mountain Fork River.

Back porch

Our cabin’s comfortable back porch

Our cabin was quite new, having only hosted a few previous visitors. Its best features for us included a gas-fired fireplace and grill on a big back porch, a spacious his-and-hers bathroom combination with tub and shower, and modern stove and oven. The cabin was roomy and airy, but we wished that it had more floor or table lamps and dimmable lights, and the bed wasn’t the most comfortable for sleeping.

After a rainy and overcast five hours of travel south to our cabin, the next day was partly cloudy. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at Steven’s Gap Restaurant, but Wendy had come down with a bad cold, so I limited our outing to the shortest loop to the vista, with us hiking a total of one mile from the Dogwood Campground up to the overlook and back down. I’d researched the route and knew to travel clockwise so we could make our way up the hill via switchbacks and then return down a long steeper descent.

Panorama above Mountain Fork

Panorama above Mountain Fork

It was late for autumn leaves, and the weather pattern this year muted the colors, but the panorama was there as remembered, along with a view down the river.

Thanksgiving Day was overcast with rain, but we had gone shopping in Broken Bow after our hike the previous day. So we enjoyed a hot breakfast with biscuits, bacon, and eggs. I was able to grill us steaks on the back porch, and Wendy prepared baked potatoes in the oven for our main holiday meal.

The next day we indulged in some more pie from Steven’s Gap Restaurant before making our way home. I made a quick dash to visit my folks for a belated Thanksgiving meal in Oklahoma City, with Wendy staying home to be certain her cold wasn’t shared with others. I made sure to bring back to Wendy a salmon patty so that she could participate in our family’s odd Thanksgiving tradition that evolved from my mother’s dislike for turkey and my love of salmon patties!

A Rainbow in Fayetteville

Randy Rainbow Live

Randy Rainbow live in Fayetteville

In early December we made a dash over to Fayetteville, Arkansas to see Randy Rainbow’s live show. He is a YouTube star who does funny musical parodies targeting a particular pompous politician. The show was fun and brought some much-needed humor to this season of impeachment hearings and poisonous politics.


Instagram of my purchases, complete with mistitled print

Before returning to Bartlesville, we stopped in at Art Ventures NWA to see a series of galleries filled with a diverse body of artworks for sale. None of the artists were at work during our visit, but we enjoyed the wide variety of work. I became a snapshot on their Instagram account when I purchased a card by Carol Hart and a print of The Kind Mowers by Eloa Jane.

Eloa had moved to America and been struck by the amount of junk mail filling her mailbox. She decided to use its varied textures, patterns, text, and colors as a means of self expression, rolling pages of magazines, phonebooks, and other items individually into small tubes. Then hundreds or sometimes thousands of the paper tubes are assembled to create decorative vases, sculptures and wall art.

The Kind Mowers

The Kind Mowers

So we’ve had a good autumn. Now, with the air turning nippy, we plan to venture to Santa Fe, New Mexico over Winter Break. Wendy loves the town and its food, and neither of us has ever been there other than in summer. We’ll be bundling up to prepare for some very cold nights on the high desert or, to be more precise, on what the Köppen Climate Classification System designates as a “semi-arid steppe with cold winters” — brrrrr!

Fall 2019 Photo Album

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Western Loop, Days 11-12: Kansas Folk Art

Trip Dates: June 16-18, 2019 | Photo Album

Our return home would be through Kansas. Four years earlier, we had enjoyed seeing Monument Rocks, chalk formations in the middle of nowhere (aka west central Kansas) before driving south and east to return via Dodge City and Wichita. This time we would visit some oddball attractions a few miles off I-70: the Fick Fossil Museum in Oakley and some fun and bizarre folk art venues in Lucas.

One day was just a haul east and south from Denver, CO to Colby, KS. We returned to Oscar’s Bar and Grille for lunch in Limon, surrounded by portraits of movie stars from yesteryear. The kitsch was a welcome relief for me from the monotonous flat landscape of eastern Colorado and Kansas. But Wendy loves the lack of stimulation when traveling through the great plains. She was inspired by our sojourn to paint her own reminder of the landscape.

Wendy’s Kansas landscape

We spent the night at a Sleep Inn in Colby, rising the next morning to drive a few miles to Oakley.

Buffalo Bill outside Oakley, KS

Oakley has erected an outsized statue of Buffalo Bill shooting a buffalo to commemorate the following:

In 1868 William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill”, made his living as a contract buffalo hunter feeding the crews laying track across Kansas for the Kansas Pacific Railroad.  At the same time William Comstock, who was also sometimes called “Buffalo Bill” hunted buffalo to provide meat to feed the soldiers at Fort Wallace.  To determine who would be the real “Buffalo Bill” a wager was made and a contest was staged west of Oakley in Logan County, Kansas.  The contest was to see which hunter could harvest the most buffalo in one day.  William F. Cody won the contest 69 to 46.  By the turn of the 20th Century, with his Wild West Show, “Buffalo Bill” Cody had become one of the most recognized and famous persons in the entire world.  Cody helped shape the world’s image of the American West.

A monument to slaughter…I suppose you can derive your own meanings from it.

Fick Fossil Folk Art

But we weren’t interested in Buffalo Bill; we were there to see fossil folk art at the Fick Fossil Museum at the town’s library. It had been on our radar since our visit to Monument Rocks, having noted that the museum had fossils from that area.

Back in 1964, Vi Fick looked down at the ground on her ranch near Monument Rocks and noticed 72 shark teeth, deposited millions of years earlier in what was an inland seaway in the Cretaceous period. She and her husband, Earnest, borrowed a beginner’s fossil book from their nephew, and thus began a quest. Vi and Earnest collected 11,000 fossilized sharks’ teeth on their land, along with many vertebrae, fish jaws, shells, and crinoids.

Eagle formed of shark teeth

I’ll admit I am even less interested in shark teeth than in Buffalo Bill. It is what Vi did with the teeth and other fossils that lured us to Oakley. She started combining them with melted wax, papier-mâché, oil paint, and glue to create bizarre folk art. She made eagles, American flags, the Presidential Seal, the State Seal of Kansas, and more. One of the museum curators once commented, “They didn’t have cable back then.” Ha! How delightful that this quirky art was preserved for us to enjoy.

The docent during our visit was a Mennonite lady who pointed out that the museum had a number of beautiful minerals, a sod house, a fire truck, and some large fossils. And yes, their 15-foot Xiphactinus audax is the world’s oldest known mosasaur fossil.

Xiphactinus audax

But as I gazed at the beautiful minerals in their display cases or pondered a turtle skull, my eyes inevitably wandered to linger on paintings of trees where tiny shells formed autumn leaves and to contemplate eagles adorned with feathers of shark dentin.

The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas

Our next stop a few hours deeper into central Kansas proved even more entertaining. We diverted from I-70 north on highway 232 past Wilson Lake to Lucas, a town of less than 400 which happens to be home of S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden.

Sam Dinsmoor was a Civil War veteran who went on to teach school for five years in Illinois. I can only imagine what his teaching was like given his eccentric creations later in life. He married Frances Barlow Journey, a widow of considerable means, and took up farming, moving to Kansas in 1888. In 1905 he retired and moved into Lucas, buying a quarter block. He constructed a log home, but his logs were made of postrock limestone he had quarried nearby in long narrow lengths up to twenty feet long. The stone was then laid up with dovetailed corners in the manner of a log cabin.

Dinsmoor’s Stone Log Cabin

Once he completed his “cabin home“, Sam set about, at age 66, creating intertwining concrete sculptures. He erected scaffolding and worked alone, save for an assistant who mixed cement. Over a couple of decades, supported in part by a clerical error that resulted in him receiving an extra monthly government pension check, he covered steel reinforcements with chicken wire and 113 tons of cement to form over 150 statues supported by 29 cement trees, standing up to 40 feet high.

Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden

On the west side Dinsmoor depicted his personal understanding of the Bible. I purchased a copy of the small guide book Dinsmoor published entitled Pictorial History of the Cabin Home in Garden of Eden. It is a hoot. Of his Garden of Eden sign over the grape arbor, he wrote, “I could hear so many, as they go by, sing out, ‘What is this?’ so I put this thing up. Now they can read it, stop or go on, just as they please.” I labeled a photo with some of his explanations about Adam & Eve, the angel of the tree of life and all-seeing eye, Cain & Abel, slain Abel, and fleeing Cain.

Garden of Eden explained by its builder

The north side of the property tells the story of modern civilization, featuring his hatred of trusts and their chartered rights. I enjoyed his sequential tableau of a girl after a soldier, who is after an Indian, who is after a dog, which is after a fox after a bird after a worm eating a leaf. Dinsmoor said, “This shows how one animal is after another down to the leaf.”

North side of Dinsmoor’s creation

I fashioned a photo identifying his north side sculptures and their intended meanings from his guidebook, and we got close-ups of a trust monster, how Liberty and the ballot could destroy the trusts, and how labor is crucified by grafters led by lawyers, doctors, preachers, and bankers, who “eat cake by the sweat of the other fellow’s face. The Lawyer interprets the law. The Doctor has his knife and saw ready to carve up the bones. The Preacher is saying to this poor fellow crucified, ‘Never mind your suffering here, secure home in heaven for A-l-l E-t-e-r-n-i-t-y and you’ll be all right.’ This is the stuff he is giving Labor for his cake. He knows nothing about Eternity and that he does know if he knows anything. What fools we be to sweat to give the other fellow cake. The Banker has the money, takes the interest and breaks up more people than any other class.”

Crucified labor

In the spring of 1917 the first Mrs. Dinsmoor died. Left alone while immersed in the construction of the Garden, Dinsmoor hired a young Czechoslovakian woman named Emilie Brozek as a housekeeper. When Emilie was twenty years old she married the 81-year-old Dinsmoor, and the marriage produced two children. In his guidebook, he proudly included a photo of their daughter, Emily Jane, who grew up to become a music teacher and passed in 2013, with a portion of her ashes now inside the Dinsmoor Family Mausoleum at the Garden of Eden.

Sam was interred in that large stone log cabin mausoleum in a coffin with a plate glass lid. His will directed that none but his widow, descendants, and their husbands and wives should go in to see him for less than $1.00. He promised everyone that came in to see him that if he saw them drop a dollar in the hand of the “flunky” (who oversaw the mausoleum), he would give them a smile. It looked more like a grimace to me on his decayed corpse. Before his death, he posed inside and outside his coffin in a double-exposed photograph he sold on postcards.

Dinsmoor Mausoleum

According to Jo Farb Hernández, after Sam died in 1932, Emilie allowed tours of the house and grounds until 1941, when she moved out of state to seek employment. The property was eventually sold for back taxes, and the house was subdivided into apartments. For many years the site remained unkempt and vines covered the sculptures. In 1967, the owners of a Lucas hardware company, Wayne and Louella Naegle, and a local banker, Rex Dewey, purchased the Garden of Eden and restored it. The Naegles later purchased Dewey’s share; through their efforts the site was listed in 1977 on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, the Naegles sold the Garden of Eden to a small group of preservationists devoted to the site. In 2012, the Kohler Foundation sponsored an extensive preservation of the Garden of Eden.

The experience of touring the house, walking about the yard, and glimpsing Sam Dinsmoor’s corpse in his coffin was suitably weird. I was thinking we would head on to our hotel in Salina when Wendy spotted a sign about an art center in the tiny downtown a few blocks west. Boy howdy, we had no idea what was still to come.

Grassroots Art Center

The Grassroots Art Center​ “curates permanent and temporary exhibits of art work from over 22 self-taught, outsider, visionary yard environments from across the Midwest. Usually these artists are over 65 years of age when they begin to create and continue for 15-25 years until they die. They use all types of recycled materials such as metal, cardboard, aluminum pull tabs, wood, computer motherboards, electrical wire, and even chewing gum.”

Pull-tab art by Herman Divers

We came in the middle of a tour and were welcome. Favorites of mine included the pull-tab art of Herman Divers of Topeka, who constructed his models in the evenings after his day job. He’d work on his pull-tabs each evening until one broke to tell him it was time to quit for the day. He first made a bedspread and then a full-size automobile in his living room (with removable wheels to take it outside). A complete suit of clothing followed and a motorcycle constructed of 179,200 pull-tabs.

When pull-tabs became obsolete, Herman turned to covering objects with buttons and creating sculptural models of copper scrap and wire. We also saw many carvings of Kansas limestone by Inez Marshall, who was an auto mechanic, truck driver, and traveling evangelist. She carved in stone for five decades. There was also a fun game by John Woods where you touched a contact pen to nails beside various items to light up visual puns.

Post rock art

Outside they exhibit some steampunk pieces along with various limestone carvings and architectural forms from 1870-1920 carved from post rock limestone. One of my Kansas cousins crafted from the same material the “Meador stones” planted near the front doors of Meador Manor in Bartlesville as well as my parents’ home in Oklahoma City. This summer Wendy tackled the peeling paint on our stone, grinding away the old paint and renewing it.

The post rock stone at Meador Manor

Florence Deeble Rock Garden and House

Our delightful tour guide, who worked for the postal service to make ends meet, walked us over to Florence Deeble’s house. Florence grew up watching S.P. Dinsmoor constructing his Garden of Eden. In 1935, the schoolteacher began using postcards and drawings to help her craft miniature scenes of places she had visited or read about.  She created stone-inlaid bridges, columns, towers, altars, and cactus plants, using rocks brought back from her travels and her memories and imagination to craft her impressions of Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park and Lucas Lake, the view from her cabin at Estes Park, Colorado plus a Kansas Mount Rushmore, and more. She also crafted somewhat bizarre tributes to local historical figures. Florence labored on her garden for almost 50 years until she passed at age 99 in 1999.

Florence Deeble’s recreation of the view from her cabin in Estes Park

Mri-Pilar’s Garden of Isis

The front yard featured artistic conglomerations, and inlays adorned the porch. But when our guide led us inside the house, we were taken aback. Since 2002, artist Mri-Pilar has sheathed the walls and ceilings with silver insulation and covered the walls in bizarre and hilarious collages which often use doll parts. It looked like Barbie had mated with aliens. The living room featured a mannequin dominatrix and/or goddess who had enchained various Marvel character dolls on the floor. It is quite a knockout.


Wendy and I were entranced, slowly pacing along in wonderment at the hilarious and disturbing creations. She enjoyed seeing circuit boards, something she is quite familiar with from Chromebook repairs, repurposed into folk art. The bathtub and sink were filled with dolls. We loved it! What a wonderful find in an unexpected location.

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Dazed, we were led to nearby home where a skeletal figure was sitting on the porch and a window on the side of the house afforded a glimpse of other artistic creations. But the resident kitty bounded up to the window glass to look back at us peering in, favoring us with his attention. The reflection in my shot looks like a double exposure which will help us recall our friendly guide and the wonderful grassroots art of Lucas, Kansas.

Diving into art in Lucas, KS

It was late, but when we made our way back to the museum, the docent insisted on showing us some pieces we had missed when we arrived mid-tour even though it was past closing time. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will be back someday so we can hopefully take in the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things and other attractions. In keeping with the artwork around a telephone pole in front of the Grassroots Art Center, Lucas really made a splash!

That stop was the perfect ending to our adventure, showing how the monotonous prairie landscape can be enlivened with quirky folk art. We spent the night in Salina and then drove home to Bartlesville, all the richer because we veered off the interstate to actually see something.

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< Western Loop, Days 9-10: Denver

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Western Loop, Days 9-10: Denver

Trip Dates: June 15-16, 2019 | Photo Album
I set aside wrapping up my posts about our June vacation for a few months because I was immersed in multiple technology deployments for the district. There is still much to do, but I finally found time to do another post!

While making reservations for the trip back in February, a friend of mine from high school and college, Sam Falkner, invited us to visit him and his wife, Ardith. They live in Louisville, a suburb of Denver near Boulder. I had connected with them a number of times in various states across the country in the 1990s, but had last seen them and their children in Louisville way back in 2001. So it was fun to adjust our trip to allow us to reconnect and introduce them to Wendy.

Trip Map, Days 9-10

Denver’s Kirkland Museum

So Wendy and I made the drive up Interstate 25 from Manitou Springs to Denver. Wendy had never been there, and I was only familiar with the Tattered Cover bookstore and the sole remaining Casa Bonita restaurant in Lakewood. Since Wendy and I both enjoy art museums, TripAdvisor led us to the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art in Denver’s Golden Triangle district.

Denver was a crowded and busy place after our long country drives, and the Denver PrideFest in nearby Civic Center Park meant there were some literally colorful characters out and about. The museum dates back to 2003 but moved into a new home in 2018.

Back in January 1929, Vance Kirkland became the Founding Director of the current School of Art at the University of Denver. He resigned in 1932 when the university refused to grant credit for art courses toward graduation. He ran the Kirkland School of Art until 1946, with classes accredited by the University of Colorado, when he returned as Director of the Art School at the University of Denver, retiring in 1969. Kirkland had leased and later purchased a brick Arts & Crafts building which became his studio. It was part of the original Kirkland Museum and was moved in 2016 so it could be incorporated into the new facility as well.

The museum is quite nice, with an international decorative arts collection of pieces from 1875 to 1990, ranging from Arts & Crafts up to postmodern. There is also a Colorado/regional collection, and a rotating Kirkland retrospective.

Decorative Arts

Wendy noted an Emerald Deldare Ware Vase from 1911 and Despondency Vase by Artus van Briggle from 1915, and I thought she might like a 1902 cake platter by Christian Neureuther which featured enameled roses. Some 1912 glassware by Wiener Werkstätte and a 1902 tea set by Kolomon Moser and Jutta Sika seemed far more modern to my untrained eye, while a huge and impressive Sparton Nocturne Radio from 1935 screamed Art Deco.

Ruba Rhombic glassware

I loved the Ruba Rombic Glassware by Reuben Haley from 1927-1932, finding both their shapes and colors fascinating. I wondered what the Ruba Rombic light bulb designed by Reuben’s son Kenneth looked like when illuminated, and was happy to find out via the internet.

A lightning stem martini glass by Libbey Glass made me smile, and a 6-panel screen from 1925 or so by Jean Dunand had clear Art Deco imagery along the top. Wendy noticed some Bizarre Ware from the 1930s by Clarice Cliff, which lived up to its billing. A jazz cocktail tray was more in keeping with the era, with the museum’s green specimen a rarity since most of them were red. It was fun to see houseware eras illustrated by the museum’s specimens.

Colorado Artists

Pines by Vaclav Vytlacil

In addition to a woodcut self-portrait by Werner Drewes, there were many nice paintings and other works by Colorado artists. Wendy was attracted to Union Station by Don Allen and Sunlit Summit by Eve Drewelowe. Night Dreams by Margaret Mullin was clearly influenced by Dali.

We both liked the bold colors and slashing style of Vaclav Vytlacil’s Pines, while Werner Drewes’  Colorado Sunset was also bold, but too sketchy for my taste. I didn’t share Wendy’s interest in the abstract Untitled (Painting Class) by Charles Bunnell. Untitled (Western Sunset) by Frances Frakes Hansen was a bit plain for me, as was the more recent Number Forty by Cassandra Lillard. A more recent work I liked better was The Passage of Time by Sushe Felix.

Circles by Susan Cooper

The large Circular Composition #118 (Change in Scale #102) by Dave Yust was part of a triptych in a bank in Greeley and certainly in keeping with much public art of that era, which have not aged well for me. Circles by Susan Cooper was a whimsical and colorful trompe l’oeil with painted boards evoking a floor lamp with a seemingly three-dimensional lampshade, a table with a bowl and ball, etc.

Wendy likes mobiles, so she enjoyed Anemotive Tower by Bob Mangold, along with his static but interesting sculpture TetrahedralhypersphereThe latter evoked memories of weird mathematical manifolds and similar forms I used to see in Scientific American in my college days. Tangentially, I’ve had a weakness for blue-and-white lithographs since I read an old edition of Relativity for the Million by Martin Gardner which was illustrated by Anthony Ravielli. So I liked Herbert Bayer’s Seven Convolutions series, in particular Wasserfallwhich I see is also in the Smithsonian.

Piano Man by Ed Dwight

Wendy noted the ceramic Cactus by Martha Daniels, which needed more than one shot to illustrate, and Jeff Wenzel’s Vessel with Fish. She also liked Bottled Birds by Donna Marecak. I liked the evocative Piano Man by Ed Dwight, with its disembodied hands.

I thought the Aspen Series Ceramics vase by Jim Doty and Olga Wolosyn was fine, but didn’t care for the mug, which appeared to have something noxious spilling over its brim.

There was an exhibit of works by University of Denver instructor Barbara Locketz, including her Moonrise collage, a fun Life with Barbara Bowl, the abstract work Brother Jake, and a beautiful dress inspired by the colorful dresses she saw in Mexico, although she consciously avoided using Mexican forms or content in her work.

Dress by Barbara Lockertz

Vance Kirkland’s Retrospective

The museum has many examples of Kirkland’s five painting periods: Designed Realism, Surrealism, Hard Edge Abstraction/Abstractions from Nature, Abstract Expressionism, and Dot Paintings.

Central City, Colorado by Vance Kirkland

From his Designed Realism period, we liked his 1921 Central City, Colorado and 1930 Ronda, Spain painting of a monastery as well as his 1931 Mountain Ruins. All of those were made with his own secret mixture of watercolor paint with denatured alcohol. His 1935 Colorado Moonlight and 1946 Self-Portrait were similarly styled, but painted with oils, and the latter was made with a mirror since the background is a reverse image of his own Foggy Landscape of 1943.

We didn’t capture any works from his middle periods. Surrealist works often bore me, as they often seem to draw upon similar ideas of melting forms and objects out of scale amidst plain planes. But I liked several of his dot paintings. He created those by painting a background in oil and then, suspended in a sling over his larger works, applied large dots of paint with a wooden dowel, leaving high bumps of contrasting color.

The sling Vance Kirkland suspended himself in to create some of his dot paintings

He liked to relate some of his late works to astronomy, such as 1980’s Explosions of Energy on a Sun 25 Billion Light Years from Earth and The Energy of Explosions Twenty-Four Billion Years BC in 1978, and Forces of Energy in the Open Star Cluster K 1, which he painted in his last year on Earth. A lovely ribbon dress by Nadezhda Bogdanova was inspired by one of his dot paintings.

Forces of Energy from a Sun in the Open Star Cluster K 1 by Vance Kirkland

But the real stunner from his dot paintings was 1975’s The Illusion of Floating Mysteries in Red Space. My still photograph did not capture the effect he achieved, where the darker objects appear to float in front of the red background. It was somewhat disturbing to perceive the illusion a distance from this large painting and then approach to see it dissolve into obvious blobs of oil paint.

The Illusion of Floating Mysteries in Red Space by Vance Kirkland

Casa Bonita

Casa Bonita

Having grown up in Oklahoma City with Casa Bonita as a fun treat, I had been looking forward to returning to the sole remaining Casa Bonita restaurant. It features cliff divers, and I had not been there in decades. But the return was ignominious. We had a ludicrously long wait in line to order, worsened by inconsiderate families who waited until reaching the cashier at the very end of the long wait to debate at length what to order. From there we proceeded into a crowded and noisy venue, sat near the cliff diving show with deafening narration from a sound system turned up way too high. The food, except for the sopapillas, was as mediocre as ever, and Wendy was absolutely miserable. We quickly bailed.


Thankfully our next stop was with the Falkners in Louisville, which a friendly host at the Kirkland Museum had politely indicated was pronounced like Lewisville, not Lueyville or Lou-a-ville. It was great to see Sam and Ardith again and find them doing so well. Our gracious and friendly hosts led us to The Huckleberry downtown where we enjoyed dinner with them and their son, Grant, who attends the prestigious Colorado School of Mines. Their daughter Julia had already flown the nest for New York.  In 2014 she was named a National Student Poet and was part of a White House poetry reading with First Lady Michelle Obama. She graduated from Smith and now works for Penguin Books. Both Sam and Ardith are smart cookies who have raised some very bright kids!

That evening, after Wendy and Ardith had gone to bed, Sam and I stayed up to watch Room 237, a documentary about crackpot theories on symbolism in Kubrick’s The Shining film. Sam had introduced me to Kubrick films back in our college days, and we had fun guffawing at the crazier ideas. Purely by coincidence, I had recently seen several of Rob Ager’s videos analyzing different Kubrick films, including The Shining. I agree with some of Ager’s points, while others struck me as tenditious and highly improbable. I was not surprised to later learn he was approached about being part of Room 237 and had wisely refused. I was happy to later find out that Rob actually enjoyed the documentary.

The next morning the Falkners cooked breakfast for us before we had to head back home. Wendy was impressed with how fast Ardith’s convection oven cooked some muffins, prompting her to later try out for the first time the convection feature on our ancient JennAir oven at home. And Wendy also loved the crushed ice dispensed from the door of the Falkners’ refrigerator, which would prompt us to update our kitchen to a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer with in-the-door ice and water. We had to special order a narrow unit to fit the slot in our galley kitchen, which delayed its delivery by over a month. During the wait, I noticed on Amazon’s Prime Day there was a sale on an Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker. Wendy loves the little ice pellets it produces.

The traffic in Denver was pretty hectic as we began our journey home. We tried to stop at the botanical gardens on our way through, but the lousy traffic and packed parking sent us on down the interstate for our two-day trip home via Kansas. We had some bizarre stops picked out for our journey through the sunflower state, which will be covered in the next and final post about our trip.

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Western Loop, Days 11-12: Kansas Folk Art >

Western Loop, Day 8: Victor

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Western Loop, Day 8: Victor

Trip Dates: June 14, 2019 | Photo Album

A highlight of our vacation would be meeting up with folks on the Front Range of the Rockies. We first rendezvoused with Betty and John Henderson in Manitou Springs. They had been fishing with some of their family members for several days on Taylor Park Reservoir, a three-hour drive to the west. The focus of our time together would be a day trip to Victor for a rock and mineral show.

Manitou Springs

We stayed at the Magnuson Grand Pikes Peak, with a view of the mountain in the distance. I picked out the Crystal Park Cantina for our rendezvous dinner in Manitou Springs. John and Betty were far more familiar with the town than we, but had not ventured south into Crystal Park, which is a 2,000-acre gated community. The restaurant was the Mission Bell Inn under the Masias family from 1962 until it was purchased by Justin Armour and partners in 2011. He was a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos in 1999 when the team won Superbowl XXXIII and later became the Manitou High football coach. His mother, Anne, signed on to assist with the cooking after having run other eateries in the area.

Then we drove to downtown Manitou Springs and found a parking spot. It was across the street from the Cliff House Inn, where I had originally made reservations for us when planning the trip but later canceled in favor of the less pricey Magnuson Grand on down the highway from the historic district.

John sporting the sheriff badge we gave him so he could keep us all in line

We enjoyed a stroll through the district, where I bought John a sheriff’s badge so he could keep us all in line. At a sign shop, I was picking out a suitable sign to give Betty for her classroom when I heard a commotion. Sharp-eyed John had spotted Susan and John Staats from Bartlesville across the street and called them over. We all got together for a group shot and realized the Hendersons had likely seen the Staats in the distance getting ready to go rafting earlier in the week, neither party able to recognize the other in the distance at the time. It’s a small world.

Unexpected rendezvous in Manitou Springs with the Staats

Victor & Cripple Creek

The next morning we had a meager breakfast at the hotel and then piled into the minivan for an hour-long drive on highways 24 and 67 around the north end of Pikes Peak up to the old mining town of Victor, which sits at the foot of Battle Mountain. John and Betty had been up on the mountain before, visiting Cripple Creek and Victor, the twin towns which straddle the enormous former Cresson Mine.

Cripple Creek and Victor straddle the open pit gold mine

In 1995 the historic gold mine was reworked as an open pit. Now a low-cost, low-yield operation, it produces less than one gram of gold per ton of ore. Yet it remains the largest producer of gold in Colorado with 211,000 troy ounces, or over 14,000 pounds, produced in 2014. My calculations say that would have required processing over 6.5 million tons of ore.

Bob Womack found gold on his cattle ranch on the small Cripple Creek stream in 1890, setting off a gold rush. Within a decade, the area population skyrocketed from less than two dozen people to over 50,000. Cripple Creek became the county seat and evolved into the home of the bankers and financiers for over 500 mines that operated in the area. Less than two miles away, Victor was platted in 1894 at the base of Battle Mountain, where the majority of the most productive mines were located, and served many of the miners.

The Victor and Cripple Creek mining district became the second largest gold mining area in the country, eventually producing about $10 billion of gold in 2010 dollars. Over 500 mines operated in the area. Headframes, which are erected above underground mine shafts for their hoists, still dot the hillsides around Victor and hint at hidden underground shafts. The Cresson Mine famously produced 60,000 ounces of gold in a few weeks in 1914 from a room-sized crystalline “vug” discovered 1,200 feet below the surface.

But gold production peaked in the early 20th century, and both towns waned. Cripple Creek’s population fell from over 10,000 in 1900 to about 400 by 1970. Its empty storefronts and picturesque homes led to it becoming a so-called “ghost town” destination in the 1970s and 1980s. Colorado legalized gambling in the town in 1991, reviving Cripple Creek as a gaming and tourist town which now has about 1,100 residents.

Victor had peaked at almost 5,000 residents in 1900 and fell to 258 by 1970. It has not embraced gambling and boomed like Cripple Creek, but does now sport about 400 residents, and it is easy to do a walking tour of its historic district.

Historic block in Victor

What had drawn us to town was Wendy’s discovery there would be a rock and mineral show; both Wendy and Betty are rock hounds. We pulled into town before the booths along the street opened, so we stepped into the Fortune Club Hotel where John and Wendy enjoyed biscuits and gravy. The building was a saloon, gambling house, and brothel in the gold rush era. A sign on the street depicts some of the ladies of the evening with a sentence about each one.

The bawdy side of town

The building’s construction was funded in 1899, by Adolph Coors of brewing fame, after one of the town’s major fires. After prohibition in 1916, it became a drug store, and the marble soda fountain still in the building was acquired from a store in Denver in 1937. When we later had lunch in the restaurant, the presence of the fountain led me to order a shake.

The show booths eventually opened, allowing Wendy and Betty to peruse the merchandise. John and I are used to entertaining ourselves while those two are obsessing about geology, and I strolled around downtown to explore the history on offer.

The town’s visitor center is in Alta Vista station, a tiny depot from an old narrow gauge railroad that once ran from Victor south to Florence, the prison town we had passed through a day earlier. That depot was moved from the old route, which is now Phantom Canyon Road. Outside the depot was one of the old streetcars that ran on lines which connected Victor and Cripple Creek to the mines and each other during the rush.

Victor streetcar

A block away from the Fortune Hotel is the Victor Hotel, which occupies the old First National Bank of Victor building, which housed a succession of banks and businesses and then went vacant. It is said that during the rush they stored bodies on its top floor between October and June, waiting for the ground to unfreeze to allow for burials.

History mural

City Hall

I walked to City Hall, encountering a great history mural. The old building underwent a restoration in 2004. Jack Dempsey once trained as a boxer in the city hall building, and his signature is on a wall in it. Before winning the heavyweight boxing title in 1919, Dempsey had worked as a miner in Gold Camp and boxed in Victor as “Kid Blackie”.

I enjoyed walking to the old Masonic Temple, which housed many fraternal organizations over the years. It is now vacant and neglected, although I would soon encounter a couple of artifacts from the Masonic Temple in a nearby museum.

Victor Masonic Temple

Adjoining the temple is the Victor Record newspaper building, which was where Lowell Thomas, the town’s most famous son, got his start as a newspaper boy and later editor. Thomas would become a writer, actor, broadcaster, and traveler, best remembered for publicizing T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). His career was before my time, but he was a world traveler who invented the movie travelogue and was a pioneer of electronic journalism.

Colorful rock slabs from Mozambique and petrified wood

I made my way back to the rock show area, where John and I waited for the girls to finish their tours of the booths. Wendy purchased some opals, a few colorful stone slabs from Mozambique, petrified wood slabs, and a beautiful “champagne crystal”. Wendy enjoys adding glow-in-the-dark pigments to some of her paintings and other works, and she bought an egg-shaped stone that was treated so that it glows a bright green in the dark.

Rose rocks

Wendy loves rose rocks and has purchased specimens from the Timberlake Rose Rock Museum in Noble, which is the area where most barite roses are found. She was amused to buy two more of them in Victor and tried to educate another customer who speculated they might be coprolites. Like me, she just can’t help being a teacher.

Pillars from the Masonic Temple

As we made our way over to the Fortune Club for lunch, it began to snow a bit, reminding us that we were at an elevation of 9,700 feet. Afterward, John and Betty led us across the street to the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum. The museum had memorabilia about the old broadcaster, but of greater interest to me were the Masonic pillars preserved from the town’s old temple.

One was topped with a moon globe, the other one of the Earth. There is some typically complicated mumbo-jumbo about the symbolism, but suffice it to say they are weird echoes of two pillars that decorated Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Back in junior high a friend convinced me to be initiated into the DeMolay youth organization associated with the Masons. I survived an elaborate initiation at the huge Temple in Guthrie, but had no patience for all of the pseudo-religious and quasi-historical nonsense that surrounded their practices. So I only attended a couple of meetings before bailing out.

Behind the pillars was what was termed a “diamond dust” mirror, so-called because of the sparkles in its soft reflection. Online sources differ on what the terminology means, whether it is an effect of mercury evaporation or simply the breakdown of an old mirror’s silver nitrate coating, but I am skeptical any actual diamond dust was used in its manufacture.

One room had a collection of old dolls, one of which was winking at me in a rather creepy fashion. Wendy took shots of various apple head dolls on display. I speculated that the glass case might be to protect us from them rather than vice versa.

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Our panning treasures

The museum had a trough set up outside so we could pan for gold and gems. Since the brief snow was already just a memory, we indulged. The Hendersons are quite experienced at panning, but I just swished and swirled my pan to extract as much pyrite as possible, since I found the tiny specks of real gold were too much to bother with. I gave Wendy my little treasures to join with hers.

Before we left town, Betty made a deal on a petrified wood specimen she would add to the items she and Wendy purchased a couple of summers back in Holbrook, Arizona. Then we went over to Cripple Creek to drive along its more prosperous streets before heading back to Manitou Springs. We had dinner at the Mason Jar and bid the Hendersons adieu, since they would be up early the next morning to head back home while we drove up to Denver and Louisville where we would visit with friends I hadn’t seen since 2001.

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Western Loop, Days 9-10: Denver >

Western Loop, Days 6-7: Walsenburg & Bishop’s Castle

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Western Loop, Days 6-7: Walsenburg & Bishop’s Castle

Trip Dates: June 12-13, 2019 | Photo Album

A week into our trip, we had memorable stops at the Museum of Friends in Walsenburg and Bishop’s Castle in the Wet Mountains.

We had left Pagosa Springs, driving up and over the continental divide at Wolf Creek pass, bound for Walsenburg, an old mining town on the plain northeast of the Spanish Peaks. We had previously taken this route in 2013, enjoying lunch at the La Plaza Inn and shopping in some junk stores in Walsenburg to break up a long drive to Dodge City, Kansas. But this time we would be staying overnight in Walsenburg before heading north to Manitou Springs.

We chewed gum as our drive took us upward almost 3/4 mile from the 7,126 feet elevation of Pagosa Springs to Wolf Creek Pass at 10,857 feet. Then we descended to the Rio Grande River at South Fork and headed east to Del Norte. Our minivan was halted just east of Del Norte for several minutes as cattle from the Off Family Ranch were herded west along highway 160, surrounding us. Wendy, thinking of a funny scene from the movie Twister, exclaimed, “We got cows!” We giggled as the cows struggled to find their way among the halted traffic, loudly mooing and bellowing.

We crossed the heavily irrigated San Luis Valley and drove south around Blanca Peak to take the North La Veta Pass into Huerfano County. Huerfano is Spanish for orphan, and later in this post I’ll explain how the county earned that moniker.

We passed 11 miles north of the Spanish Peaks, which the Utes called Huajatolla, meaning “two breasts” or “breasts of the Earth”. The two igneous intrusions are separate from the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, predating them by over a million years, and rise 7,000 feet above the plain. They were important landmarks for the Old Santa Fe Trail.

Spanish Peaks from the minivan


Walsenburg began as La Plaza de los Leones in the mid-1800s, incorporated in the 1870s, and became a center for coal mining in the early 20th century, with over 100 mining camps in the county. Multiple miner strikes were put down violently. The town peaked around 1940, and the mines closed in the 1960s. In recent years the town had a private prison and a modular-building factory, but they have closed. In 2015 the town sold 330 acres to be used for cannibis production, hoping to grow weed to be sold up north in Denver, but it remains one of the poorest communities in Colorado.

We enjoyed our lunch at the Library Café at La Plaza Inn and then visited the Museum of Friends. Artists Brendt Berger and Maria Cocchiarelli-Berger so named their museum because it began with over 600 pieces given to them or the museum by fellow artists. The two have lived in places across the country, from Maine to Hawaii, building up a diverse collection over 50-odd years. Many of the artists were active in the numerous “hippie” communes that popped up in southern Colorado 40 to 50 years back. Their collection has now grown to over 1,700 pieces.

Museum of Friends in Walsenburg

We met Maria, who happily told us how they were finally going to be getting an elevator so the older folks in town could go upstairs to see the permanent collection. Wendy was wearing a t-shirt depicting horses and Santa Fe, and Maria, liking the colors, asked if she could photograph it. Wendy, who has made various artworks with color schemes reflecting our travels, readily agreed.

We toured Earth, a Plein Air Artists Colorado Group Exhibition downstairs. Wendy liked Stacy Erickson’s French’s Field.  Then Maria had Candice Knowles take us upstairs, where the walls were covered with their friends’ art.

Candice was a hoot, saying she didn’t have a great memory and then proceeding to share details about each piece of artwork hanging on the walls. When another couple came upstairs, she merrily focused on them while we strolled about the rooms. Wendy liked Arnold Wechsler’s Ancient Books 1968 acrylic, and when she circled back to us, Candice shared how noticeable slashes across the painting had been made by one of Brendt’s girlfriends years ago. He now says the painting saved his life, “The person I was living with at the time took a knife to this painting and just started slashing it. That could have been me, very easily.”

Ancient Books by Arnold Wechsler

Brendt was working in his office, which Candice led us through to his Hawaiian room, with walls covered in tapa cloth paintings and displays of island art ranging from fine to kitsch. Who would ever think there would be this sort of fun oasis up above what was once a Colorado coal mining town’s JC Penney store?

We wrapped up our visit in the small museum store, where I spotted a dark moonlit seascape by Earl Daniels. I like to decorate Meador Manor with paintings and photographs purchased at vacation stops, alongside Wendy’s many beautiful pieces. I had to grin when Candice asked me, “Are you sure you want that one? It’s expensive!” I was happy to have it, both to decorate our home and in a small way help support the Museum of Friends. I have even bought one of Earl’s old art instruction books on eBay to see more of his works.

Moonlit seascape by Earl Daniels

Candice bundled up my purchase, and we packed it in the minivan. Wendy thought the colorful cats decorating the planters in front of the museum were hilarious, while across the street I noticed the interesting timbers of the Miner’s Park.

We checked into the Best Western Rambler on the north end of town and did our laundry. The dryer’s coin slot was jammed, so the clerk let us finish our loads in the hotel’s industrial dryer. Dinner would be back downtown at a pizza joint.

That turned out to be part of Rosa’s Cantina on main street. Our waiter told us he would also be the cook and that we should help ourselves to drinks in a nearby refrigerator. He pointed out that his mother’s famous lemonade was in there, as she’s been making it with freshly squeezed lemons for 40 years, along with cucumber water. I’d never heard of the latter, but the next day would find Cucumber Sour Beer for sale in a convenience store in the prison town of Florence, Colorado. So I guess the flavor of cucumbers appeals to folks in those parts. Wendy speculated it arose when the locals discovered melons and other Cucurbitacea grew well in that high desert climate.

The pizza was fine, and we enjoyed meeting the two brothers running the restaurant. Wendy, who hears far better than I do, got a kick listening to the patrons in the adjoining bar. One “lady” told a fellow he was a number of profanities, to which he calmly responded, “I am a man of many titles.”

The Orphan

Busy bee restroom door

We had a good breakfast the next morning at the Busy Bee Cafe & Malt Shop back in town, which had Elvis photos and old 45 rpm records on the wall with cute decorations on the restroom doors. Then we drove north out of town. Wendy noticed El Huerfano, the volcanic plug butte I had first driven by in 2012. I’d forgotten about it, but The Orphan is how Huerfano county got its name. When the Spanish Peaks formed, it was one of the outlying igneous intrusions that never broke through the surface of the inland sea. Erosion has since stripped away the sediment that once covered the top of this plug, leaving a 300-foot isolated butte amidst the high desert plain, orphaned from the other peaks.

The Orphan

Through the Wet Mountains

We turned west at Colorado City to head up past Greenhorn mountain along highway 165. You would be mistaken to think the mountain’s name refers to inexperienced frontiersmen; it comes from Cuerno Verde, or “Green Horn”, which was what the Spanish called the Comanche leader Tavibo Naritgant because of the green-tinted horn he wore on his head-dress in battle. He was killed in the area back in 1779 by Spanish troops with Ute, Apache, and Pueblo indian auxiliaries. The “green horn” headress was taken from the battlefield and presented to the Spanish Viceroy, and then reportedly passed along to the King of Spain and then the Pope. So perhaps it is still buried somewhere in the Vatican archives.

We drove up and up, rising from 5,800′ at Colorado City to over 9,000′ in the Wet Mountain range, so named because of its heavy snowfalls and subsequent runoffs. We passed the tiny Lake Isabel as we made our way upward to Bishop’s Castle.

Bishop’s Castle

Jim Bishop is an obsessive and cranky old man who has labored for decades to construct a castle of sorts up in the Wet Mountains. What began as a cottage has morphed into an enormous and rather perilous structure that attracts tourists like us.

When we pulled up on the highway, we could see a tall spire poking up above a road cut as well as a large metal dragon head, probably sporting an inactive flamethrower of some sort. A short walk brought more of the castle into view, with tourists clambering about on metal grates and stairways from one spire to another. It didn’t look particularly safe from afar, and a sign out front saying we were guests and Bishop was in no way not responsible for our safety was not reassuring. We visited the portable toilets out front and then climbed up to the castle grounds, passing through a separate two-story gatehouse onto the dusty hillside.

The lay of the land makes it hard to get enough distance from the tall structure to capture it with a camera. We had to resort to shooting video and assembling panoramas from multiple shots.

Bishop’s Castle

I immediately climbed a long concrete exterior stairway leading straight up a buttress to the third floor, which was encircled by a grilled walkway. I noticed how the cast iron railing’s balusters were spaced far enough apart to allow a young child to slip through, which was surprising. As I circumnavigated around the building, I came across a part of the railing that had broken away, with only a simple rope tied across the gap. Another part of the railing had separated from the deck and hung loosely, vibrating along with the grilled floor with my steps. Yikes!

Third floor of Bishop’s Castle

How I entered the third floor

Wendy made it only partway up the exterior stairs before deciding to turn back around and instead explore the perimeter and a nearby gift shop. I ventured into the third floor through a large Gothic window/door, into a huge open room. The opposite end had a triangular glass window with many panes linked to open as a group for ventilation. The peak of the roof was glass skylight panels, with the remainder consisting of wood planks resting on what appeared to be a cast iron filigreed truss. There were high and narrow stone fireplaces, but the wooden floor had some damaged boards.

I found an enclosed stone spiral stair that led down to ground level, exiting out the back side of the building. I went and found Wendy and showed her the enclosed stairway, and we toured the second and third floors. The second level had separate end windows: one set had nice stained glass flowers, while the other had a kitsch Betty Boop angel and some colored panes with various remembrances.

Second floor windows

We were both struck by how some interior stairs would abruptly end in drop-offs. We had no interest in ascending into the towers to partake of their perilous exterior walkways, which looked like something out of a video game fantasy or a teenager’s sketchbook. If we were parents, we agreed we would never allow young children to roam the structure because of its multiple safety hazards.

The ground floor had an uneven dirt floor and featured large painted signs where Bishop ranted about governmental interference and his successful escapes from lawsuits and included a stereotypical “they took our guns!” section.

Challenging stair

The ground floor also had a rusty abandoned range and other signs of how it might have once been on the trajectory of becoming a functional cabin yet evolved into a fairly barren interior for tourists to roam through. We exited, and I noticed a man had halted on the exterior stair about where Wendy had also decided that was quite enough. It is indicative of my personality that I wished I could have groups of people try to climb that stair and record and chart which steps they first halted on. He eventually clambered on up.

The dragon portion of the structure has an interesting history. From

Enter The Dragon
In the mid 1980s, a friend of Jim’s was driving a truck full of discarded stainless steel warming plates from the Pueblo County Hospital to the landfill. He decided that Jim could probably put this mother lode of expensive stainless steel to better use than the dump could, so he dropped it off at the Bishop Ornamental Iron Shop instead. Jim spent the winter building a chimney out of the steel, riveting thousands of hammered “scales” that he had cut out of the plates together around a steel frame. The dragon was completed in the spring and Jim hauled it up the mountain to tackle the daunting task of raising and installing this incredible sculpture to where it rests today perched off of the front of the Grand Ballroom eighty feet in the air! Later on came the addition of a burner from a hot air balloon (that was donated!) which Jim put in the back of the dragons throat, making it a true Fire Breathing Dragon! The dragon usually gets fired up weekends through the summer.

I left a donation in the begging box, glad that Bishop shared his passion project with us, even if he is certifiable. When he passes on, I fear the castle will be at high risk of having vandals burn it up (it appears they had already lost their interior gift shop to a fire) and turn it into an abandoned ruin. So I’m glad we got to see it near what might be its peak.

Rear of Bishop’s Castle

I walked up the hillside to shoot the back side of the castle, and then we returned to the minivan to make our way north to Manitou Springs.

To Manitou Springs

Highway 165 continued as a lovely scenic drive through the Wet Mountains for another 20 miles until it descended to the plains. I had hoped to find restrooms at Wetmore, but had no luck at that tiny place built on Hardscrabble Creek. We took highway 67 north to Florence, passing a large federal prison. Florence was larger and had services, but looked pretty tough. Seeing Cucumber Sour Beer at a convenience store reminded me of the cucumber water we’d been offered in Walsenburg.

We took highways 115 and 24 to Manitou Springs, just east of the far larger Colorado Springs. We had stayed at the nearby Garden of the Gods Resort in 2015 but had only made one drive through crazy little Manitou, which reminded both of us of Eureka Springs in Arkansas with its mountainous setting and shopping district.

This time we would be staying a couple of nights in Manitou Springs itself, meeting up with fellow teacher Betty Henderson and her husband, John, as they returned west from fishing at Taylor Park in Colorado. The next post will cover our travels together in Manitou Springs and to a rock and mineral show up in the historic old mining town of Victor on the southwest side of Pike’s Peak.

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Western Loop, Day 8: Victor >

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