Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Best State Museums


While I was in the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne recently, I began wondering, “How many states have actual museums about themselves?”   This turned out to be a hard subject to research, but I do have some results. There are between 30 and 35.  Some are modest like New Hampshire’s.  It’s in an old Woolworth dime store.  Some states like Missouri and Pennsylvania have displays in their capitols but no stand-alone museums, yet.  I say “yet” because I see a trend.   In the last couple of years, Ruth and I have become aware of and been in several state museums, perhaps 20, and many of them were fairly new. The best ones are in Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.  All are 5 Compass.

Wyoming is celebrating its 125th birthday this year.  Pioneer settlement followed the building of U. S. army forts all over what would become the state of Wyoming in 1890.  The fort development years began in 1849, and they were primarily designed to protect telegraph and railroad lines.   There weren’t many settlers settling in to stay.  Still aren’t.  In fact, Wyoming is the state with the smallest population.  There are 150,000 more people in Alaska than there are in Wyoming.  However, humans have been in the area for at least 11,000 years.  This state’s Colby Site has yielded the remains of wooly mammoths, camels, and other animals that were clearly killed by human hunters that long ago.

What I especially liked about this state museum was its honesty and tendency to focus on what is truly unique about Wyoming.  There were displays about its awful weather, the murder of Matthew Shepard, its lack of mineable gold, etc.  One of the displays about its uniqueness covered “the most important mineral you never heard of”–trona, which is found in great quantities in Wyoming.  Trona is used to produce glass, paper, baking soda, etc. and there’s enough of it here to supply the entire world’s need for the next 3,000 years. Wyoming also has lots of jade, so much that it’s called Green Gold.

Wyoming does have its firsts.  The Devils Tower was the United State’s first national monument.  Wyoming was home to the first female governor.  It’s #1 in pronghorn antelope.  More than half of these large animals, about 400,000 of them, live in this state. There’s a cool diorama showing them nesting, which was good because they can run 60 mph!

You can learn a lot about this underpopulated state in its museum.  Having crossed Wyoming many times thirstily, I was surprised to learn that there are over 4,000 lakes, 25,000 miles of streams, and 78 fish species here. Sports-minded humans who don’t manage to catch a pronghorn antelope can go trout fishing instead. Wyoming is a premier destination for this.


ps.  The item from the Wyoming State Museum pictured above is a horse mask.  They’re designed to protect these valuable animals during battles.


The 5 Compass Pecos National Historical Park


At the end of most journeys, Ruth and I play “Best of Trip”.  This is when we announce our favorite experience.   On our 3 week summer, 2015 domestic drive covering a dozen states, that choice was especially easy for me.  And it came with a bonus since it was a totally unexpected attraction on a special day.

The Pecos National Historical Park is 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe.  I had no idea how important this place was but began learning as soon as we entered the visitor center.  Ruth & I were greeted by Jamie, ranger/geography teacher from Mount Shasta, California, who issued an invitation.  “This is Peace Day,” she told us.  “Want to take a walk with me up to the mission and pueblo and see some of the events?”  Every year for only one day, the Jemez people return to their pueblo from a nearby village with a treasured painting.  They place it on the altar of the Pecos Pueblo Mission Church with great ceremony, dance, bake bread, etc., and we just happened to be there for La Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.

On our walk up to the mission Jamie took us down into a kiva, showed us bone shards, talked about juniper trees and native plants, and called this “the place to go through, the marketplace, and the most sacred cemetery of The West”.  All 3 are indisputably accurate.  Historically, there has been a significant community at Pecos since humans began settling here at the most important crossroads on the North American continent.  Spear points from the last Ice Age have been found.  At one time there were 14 pueblos on this one mesa above Glorieta Creek with 100 rooms in each and an estimated population of 2,000 Native Americans.   There were 27 kivas; 2 have been restored.   Apaches came here to trade flint and slaves with the Jemez.   Commanches raided.  Coronado came through looking for gold.  Franciscan priests brought Christianity to the Jemez, and 2 Spanish Colonial missions were built.  The one being used at the time of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt that temporarily halted Spanish rule was destroyed.  The walls of the 2nd remain.   Civil War soldiers camped in this mission church.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis wanted western minerals and a California port. After the 1862 Battle of Marieta Pass, his dream collapsed.  The Santa Fe Trail brought Mormons, messengers, traders, settlers, etc.  Ranchers, like the founders of Forked Lightning, worked the area.  Route 66 wandered through.  Academy Award winning actresses Green Garson & Jane Fonda have both lived in the area.  Garson paid to have the Pecos National Historical Park’s Visitor Center built and supervised its constriction. Visitors can tour her home nearby.

The Visitor Center is exceptional.  A lot of reconstructed pottery is on display because noted archeologist A.V. Kidder spent 12 seasons at Pecos excavating an eons old hillside trash heap beginning in 1915.  His efforts lead to a new science, Southwest archaeology.  Research is ongoing via the Pecos Conference.

It’s hard for me to think of another place in North America where so much happened.   I truly don’t think it exists.





Dining in Sofia


Browsing a Wine Enthusiast magazine last night, I became nostalgic.  In the August, 2015 issue there was an article called “Balkan Plates”.  The article concluded, “Sofia…has finally reclaimed its rightful role as one of Europe’s greatest wine and food cities.”  Hmmmmmm.

I grabbed my 2015 Insider’s Guide to Sofia and found the Eating Out section. It began with a non-Bulgarian’s guide to dining that told me what I had already experienced.  Their meals always start with a salad, the most popular being Shopska–chopped tomatoes, cucumber, fresh or baked peppers, onion, and salty sheep or cow cheese.  Check.  This is accompanied by a glass of rakia, the national drink made from grapes or plums.  Ruth tried it, I didn’t.  Next comes a hot starter, the most popular being chushki byurek, a pepper stuffed with cheese and fried in breadcrumbs.  Check. Main courses are meat centered.  “Bulgarians are generally serious meat eaters,” the article explains.  After listing the usual meats served, chicken and pork, the writer observes, “Beef dishes are usually referred to as teleshko (veal) and can be a bit of a gamble.”  Check out.  The article goes on to talk about local surprises like lamb heads, hearts, brains, pig trotters, and what it calls “various other unmentionables.”

I cross-referenced Insider‘s restaurant recommendations with “Balkan Plates” and found only 2 matches, a neighborhood wine bar called Local and Restaurant Vodenitsata, which is in an old mill and sounds charming.  Ruth & I didn’t find either.  Insider’s reviewer also noted that, despite a 2012 ban on smoking in restaurants, there’s an unwritten rule that anyone can light up anywhere after 10 pm.

After weeks of Balkan cooking, Ruth and I were ready for something familiar.  Often, our waitperson, usually an unsmiling male who spoke no English, could not tell us what we were about to eat.  The most shocking was the one who saw a bug crawling on my seatmate’s plate, crushed it with his thumb, and brushed it onto the floor.  Anyway, on our last night we had few Levs (the Bulgarian currency) left and no idea where to dine.  Two block from our hotel was a major intersection with a McDonald’s on one corner and a Burger King across the street from it.  So I didn’t have the ubiquitous grilled pork sausage known as kebabche (Bulgarians love barbecue), but I did learn how to say “the meal was delicious” (beshe mnogo vkusno), and I had an American hamburger on my last might in Sofia.








As I said in a June 9, 2015, blog, The National Museum of the Pacific War (NMPW) in Fredericksburg, Texas, is an all day, 5 Compass experience.   NMPW began as the Nimitz Museum 3 years after Chester W. Nimitz died at the age of 80 in 1966.

The Nimitz Museum is in Fredericksburg because Chester was born there in 1885.  His grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz, a former Texas Ranger and merchant seaman, ran a hotel in this town and Chester was highly influenced by him.  One of the reasons why his grandfather was so important to Chester Nimitz was because his own father, who had feeble lungs and a bad heart, died a few months before Chester was born.

Chester’s life was a fascinating success story, so the museum devoted to him, which has been totally incorporated into NMPW, was my favorite part of the visit and a chance to learn about a man who died generations ago.

Chester worked as a delivery boy and as a clerk in hotels.  This taught him the values that only tough jobs in one’s youth can impart.   He later said, “Leadership consists of picking good men and helping them do their best.”  He learned this lesson by doing his best in some humble Texas hotels.

When Chester was 5, his mother Anna married his father’s brother William and the 3 of them moved to Kerrville, Texas, where they managed a small hotel.   As he matured, Chester learned that the hotel business was not for him.  He wanted to become a soldier.  Being both not rich and practical, he learned that the service academies offered free education.  Chester wanted to take the entrance exams to West Point but all appointments were filled so, even though he had not heard of it, he tried for the Naval Academy in Annapolis and, of course, got in making it necessary for him to skip his senior year of high school and get tutored in subjects he had never heard of.

By the age of 27 he was in command of a submarine, the USS Skipjack, when he saved a panicking crewman from drowning in Cheaspeake Bay.  Chester Nimitz received a Silver Lifesaving Medal that he treasured for the rest of his life.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, DC and at home listening to music on the radio. This bureau, by the way, was dissolved in 1946.  President Roosevelt quickly named Nimitz  the commander of the shattered Pacific Fleet.  On the final day of that infamous year, 1941, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was on the USS Grayling, a submarine, assuming his duties.  Told in Texas where Chester Nimitz spent his youth, his story becomes especially personal in the Admiral Nimitz Museum.

A museum within a museum, ANM pays tribute to a fine man who became an American hero pretty much through his own efforts.


Crawleys and Thatchers


DSC01520Pueblo is basically a blue-collar town on plains that roll into foothills leading to the Rocky Mountains.  Some call Pueblo “Your Melting Pot” but actually it’s 95% Caucasian and Hispanic.  Spanish-speaking immigrants began coming to Pueblo in the 19th century to work in its mines and mills and have always been part of its culture.  Today, Pueblo claims to offer low-stress lifestyles and a cost of living 13% lower than the national average.  John Thatcher, however, was seeking adventure and opportunity when he moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado in the late 19th century.

He certainly found opportunity.  John married Margaret and started a dry goods store.  By 1893 he was successful enough that they could afford to build a 37 room pink granite stone $100,000 mansion.  Margaret loved roses and called her new home Rosemount.  At one point the Thatchers owned 30 banks.  John and Margaret eventually had 5 children but, like Downton Abbey’s Crawleys, family crises and unhappy relationships followed financial and cultural success.  Rosemount is a 5 Compass attraction.

In a town where most homes were made of adobe, the Thatchers clearly wanted to impress.  They hired an architect who had built a home for Thomas Edison and, seeking the latest innovations, spared no expense. Rosemount had a room just for dishes and an intercom system that reminded me of Downton Abbey.  In fact, a lot about this house, like Chicago’s Driehaus and the Bay Area’s Filoli, reminded me of Downton Abbey.  If an American version follows the British one when it’s 5 season run ends, which has been announced, I’d nominate Rosemount or one of the other two for filming.   Margaret Thatcher, by the way, would be an amusing name for the family matriarch in an American version of a British series.

Ruth loved the uncharacteristic Tiffany chandeliers hanging throughout the mansion, and I loved the go-for-the-size-record front porch.  Speaking of size, A 9 by 13 feet Victorian stained glass window named “Kingdoms of Nature” was and still is certain to impress anyone climbing the stairs to the 2nd floor.  Other unique construction touches included an army range stove in the kitchen that now looks just like an expensive outdoor grill.  Wired for electricity, the light fixtures converted to natural gas after dark.

Of the 5 Thatcher children, Albert died when he was 3 and Lenore got meningitis at the age of 23 while preparing for her wedding.  She didn’t survive.  The Thatchers’ 2nd daughter Lilian married but divorced quickly and moved back to Rosemount.   She took back the Thatcher name and eventually redecorated the house.  Her brother John Henry became a rancher with 3 children.  His great-grandson now runs the family spread. Raymond never married and stayed in Rosemont until he died in 1968.  The house retains 85% of its original furnishings thanks to Raymond’s longevity and family involvement that continues via a foundation.