Monthly Archives: April 2015

Lyndon Johnson at Home


The White House hasn’t always been in Washington, D.C.  Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Presidential Library is in Austin (see November 6, 2013 blog), but his Texas home was further west in the Hill Country.  It truly became a 2nd White House because he spent about 20% of his time as President there.   Now a National Historical Park, the ranch has been opened for tours since 2008.

My favorite story about Johnson at his ranch while President involved a 1962 Amphicar.  He loved to give guests, including many world leaders, ranch tours.  As he approached the Pedernales River flowing through his property, he’d pretend the brakes had failed and would splash into the river.  What his shocked guest didn’t know was that Amphi was half car, half boat.  The car is seen in a 25 minute film that NBC made in 1966 with Johnson giving a tour of his Texas White House.

In 1951 Johnson bought 240 acres from his Aunt Frank Martin.  The Martin ranch quickly became a place where he could work away from Washington, D.C.  A grass landing strip was added 2 years later, and 6,300 feet of asphalt went down about the time he became President.  A Lockheed JetStar VC-140, a mini Air Force One, made it possible to travel to his ranch 74 times during the 5 years he was President.  Today, visitors have to drive completely around the landing strip to get to the hangar where tickets to tour the Texas White House can be purchased.  Also on the property are the one-room school he attended and the Johnson Family Cemetery, 4 generations under the oaks.  Because it remains a working ranch, Hereford cattle, descendants of the President’s registered herd, still roam the property.  At one point, our guide called it goats and peaches country.

Touring a President’s residence instead of a Library humanizes him.  The oldest of five, Lyndon was born before the doctor arrived, and he proposed to his wife Claudia, more commonly known as Ladybird, on their first date. Because he was a restless workaholic, he and Ladybird added rooms in 1967 when he was President so she could have her own space.  The house has not been altered since, smells musty, and looks like a 1960s time capsule abode. If he was alive today, Johnson would probably be wearing an Apple watch. The best example of his love of technology is a TV screen in a ranch house wall operated with a primitive 4 button remote.  There were TVs in every room the President used, and he loved telephones just as much. Johnson had 72 of them scattered about.  He could even schmooze from the swimming pool.  The 1st truly mobile President, LBJ could and did run the country from outside The Beltway.  His ranch remained home where his prized possession was a comfortable blue chair.

I knew about Ladybird’s love of wildflowers, but something I didn’t know about Lyndon, or had forgotten, was his environmental contributions. When he was President, he signed into existence about 50 new units of the National Park System including Canyonlands National Park.


Magic Reimagined


If you’ll be in St Louis this summer…

In its Spring, 2015 Bulletin, the Missouri Botanical Garden reported that China has 31,000 plant species and 10% of the world’s plant diversity.   By contrast, the U.S. and Canada together have about 20,000 native plants. Moreover, China is the only country in the world with tropical, subtropical, temperate and boreal plant and forest regions.  That’s why the Missouri Botanical Garden on Shaw Blvd. in St. Louis has made Chinese flora a top priority for almost 50 years and why it’s about to sponsor another Lantern Festival.

Missouri Botanical Garden’s 1st Lantern Festival in summer, 2012 was a spectacular success, and I reported in an October 10, 2014 blog that “Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined” was on its way.  Tickets are already being sold because this more than 150-year-old garden that was the playground of my youth routinely attracts 1,000,000+ visitors each year and learned from #1 that night displays were the bigger lure.  They attracted unpleasantly large crowds.  As a result, MBG has been selling date-specific tickets for several months.

The 2015 show will feature “installations with environmental, historic, and plant-based themes,” according to its main brochure.  Like far more colorful Midwest lightning bugs, the 2015 displays will illuminate evenings from May 23 to August 23.   According to the same brochure, China is becoming more environmentally aware and now has 160 botanical gardens, most of which are not yet 20-years-0ld.  That’s really good news.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is truly international.  It has a presence in close to 40 countries, researchers in 35 of them, 6.5 million plant specimens in its current collection, and a mission to conserve at least some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species.

On a recent visit, MBG was a festival of spring blooms as Ruth, Tom, and I watched crews begin to assemble the 22 displays.  They will be made of silk, porcelain, recycled water bottles, etc. and have themes tied to Chinese plants and legends.  Expect a dragon horse, an impressive pagoda, a giant dandelion, and satisfying dazzlement.

Lantern Festival 2 is clearly both a celebration of past success and a tribute to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s ongoing work with China.


Port Townsend’s Art Deco Light Museum


There aren’t many museums in retail stores.  That’s what makes the Kelly Art Deco Light Museum and Vintage Hardware & Lighting so different.

Since Ruth & I have lived in the Northwest, we have traveled widely and, of course, acquired favorite destinations.  Port Townsend, Washington, is one of them.  This town on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula has a unique history.  Growing dramatically at the end of the 19th century, Port Townsend expected to but failed to become the Northwest’s main railroad terminus and port so it went to sleep.  It’s Victorian mansions, big city public buildings, and town-center shops woke up during the hippie era, and the residents took to that cultural phenomenon.  I used to enjoy counting psychedelic-symbol encrusted Volkswagen Type 2 Vans when I visited.

The last time we were there was near the end of the turn on, tune in, drop out days, and I thought that Port Townsend might doze off again.  But it didn’t.  Instead, it got way better.   Losing a bit of its sleepy aura, Port Townsend began luring young families and well-connected millennials.  I watched some of the latter re-doing the literally dusty Jefferson County Museum that was like a tinder-dry paper mausoleum not all that long ago. They and their mobile devices were transforming it into a state-of-the-art historical gem.

On our way into town, Ruth and I couldn’t believe the changes, saw a new-looking visitor center, and stopped.  The ladies in charge were soon telling us about all the new stuff to see, and the one that sounded the most interesting was the Kelly Art Deco Light Museum on the second floor of Vintage Hardware and Lighting.  As it turned out, we had already passed and discussed it because it’s in a building that looks like a time-traveling Victorian bank.

The Kelly Art Deco Museum is not a disguised attempt to sell antique light fixtures.  It’s an actual museum in a retail store that sells new light fixtures and decor that looks as if it has been removed from period homes being torn down.  Ken Kelly, an antiques dealer, took a sabbatical in the 1960s to research period lighting.  While at libraries like The Smithsonian, Ken noticed that there was very little about lighting from the American Art Deco period.  Buying a few pieces evolved into an ongoing passion that resulted in a 2,000+ collection of authentic 1928 to 1938 art deco light fixtures needing display space.  Vintage provided that.

Vintage Hardware and Lighting looks like the kind of trend-setting store that you’d see in Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center instead of on West Sims Way in Port Townsend, Washington.  After visiting the 2nd floor museum, Ruth had her charge card out before she made it down the steps. While she shopped, I learned.  Although Vintage looked like a new enterprise, it has actually been around since 1978.  Over time it has developed a reputation as the leading supplier of historic light fixtures to movie art directors.  You can spot Vintage fixtures in an impressive number of TV shows and films like The Shining.  There’s a list of its show-biz credits on   Even The White House has installed Vintage lights!


New Orleans: Jazz and Much More


Nathan had lived in New Orleans for 5 years and had worked for the National Park Service for 3 ½.  A degreed historian, Nathan was leading a tour of the French Quarter at 10 am.  Ruth and I had been wandering aimlessly around the French Quarter for 2 hours and saw tourists going in and out of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park at 916 North Peters Street.  We entered, looked around, and learned that rangers gave 2 kinds of walking tours.  One was jazz oriented.  The other focused on New Orleans’ history.  Luckily, Nathan’s history tour was leaving in 10 minutes. We signed on.

During 10 minutes I learned that this facility hosted performances most days either here or at the Old U.S. Mint.  It was Saturday, February 21.  A ranger gave me the week’s performance schedule.  Jazz yoga was starting at the same time as our tour.  At noon Peter Nu was playing the piano for an hour. At 1:30 a celebration of Cajun culture at The Mint would include singing, readings, dancers in period costumes, etc.  The Mint was in the most southeasterly block of The French Quarter.  The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park also provided a self-guided walking tour map that included Louis Armstrong Park, Preservation Hall, and the J&M Recording Studio. Its official and fascinating brochure contained a jazz chronology.  In the brochure I learned that in 1900 New Orleans was The South’s largest city.

Nathan began his walking tour by focusing on New Orleans as a population center that shouldn’t be where it is.  This is true of many.  Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco come to mind.  But New Orleans, a flood-prone city built on sand and sinking 3+ inches every 100 years, is a special case. Obviously loving New Orleans, Nathan mentioned the constant effort required “to live in a place like this” where controlling the Mississippi River solves one problem but creates another.  There was a catastrophic flood in 1927 and, of course, Katrina.  I was having a hard time picturing Nathan in Mardi Gras attire.

We headed for the Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street, and Nathan switched to history.  He wanted us to see the convent because it’s the only French building in the French Quarter.  When Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718, it was part of Virginia.  After a hurricane in the 1720s, streets were laid out and involuntary petty criminals arrived from France as did voluntary Germans.  Floods happened.  Fires occurred.  Yellow fever raged.  Cajuns arrived from Canada.  Pirates like Jean Lafitte visited.  The Irish arrived.  A well-earned reputation for sin and diversity did too.   In 1763 a lot of local Brits moved to La Pensacola and the Spanish took control of New Orleans for 40 years.   Soon only the Ursuline convent building remained from the French years.  So today the architecture of the French Quarter is actually Spanish.  The increasingly colorful city thrived under the Spanish.  Cotton and sugar brought prosperity.  A unique type of slavery evolved, and 1 of 3 residents had African roots.  In 1801, just before the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans was the largest slave market in the United States.

Nathan ended his excellent presentation in crowded Jackson Square where we had a fine view of St Louis Cathedral.  After the crowd dispersed, he told Ruth and me that, given his choice, he would stay in New Orleans indefinitely, but that realistically he had to move on to have a career.  He was now 30-years-old.  Good luck, Nathan.




Capilano vs Lynn Creek


Look at any list of the big tourist attractions in Vancouver, BC and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park will be on it.  A cliff walk and something called Treetops Adventure have been added since Ruth and I first went there. TripAdvisor comments are mostly favorable, but a few more than usual reveal problems.  For example, expect crowds.  One reviewer called it a tourist trap and complained about the long lineup to cross the bridge. Another said, “Pretty but too many people.”  Someone groused, “Loved the Park.  Hated the parking.”  A few also complained about the expense.  A family of 4 will spend almost $100 for these experiences.

I have recently been talking travelers out of going there, and I’m happy to report that I have found a worthy substitute.  Ruth & I discovered Lynn Canyon Park on our last visit to Vancouver.  Its visitors tend to be local families who probably would rather I not tell you about their municipal park that has grown to more than 600 acres.  Today the largest park in North Vancouver, Lynn Creek is just slightly east of Capilano and easy to get to via Lynn Valley Road.  Best of all, it has an exciting-to-cross suspension bridge that we shared with just one other couple on a cloudy but rain free March morning before Ruth and I hiked a couple of trails through rainforest virtually alone.  Shockingly, all was free!

If you’ve never been in a Northwest rainforest, Lynne Creek is a great place to have that experience.  While in Lynn Canyon it’s hard to realize that you are a very short distance from city.  The temperatures in Northwest forests remain moderate most of the year, but there’s lots of rain.  Lynn Creek gets about 80 inches annually, mostly in slow drip form.

Lynn Creek is great even if you’re a rainforest veteran.  This Park has been around since 1912 so the trees and terrain have had time to mellow.  This is 2nd growth forest that looks primeval.  In the 19th century Lynn Valley’s Douglas-firs and red cedars became lumber and many mossy stumps remain. Be warned. A lot of the trails are rather rugged as they go down to waterfalls and up steep stairways, but only 1 of the 7 exceeds 3 miles and some are fairly short like Twin Falls Bridge Loop, a .6 mile pleaser.

Lynn Creek also has a Nature Center that can be swarming with field trip students, a cafe, which we didn’t try, and only one set of toilets.  But the star attraction is the fairly narrow metal span crossing Lynn Canyon with Lynn Creek 164 feet below.  It’s not for those afraid of heights or slightly swaying suspension bridges.