Monthly Archives: June 2016

Ruth at the National Cowgirl Museum



Ruth loves the National Cowgirl Museum.  As a result, we’ve been there 3 times.  Almost 4.  On the first visit she climbed onto the mechanical bronc and rode it like a real cowgirl.    I have pictures to prove it. On the 2nd visit she spent a lot of time in the gift shop.  Between our 2nd and 3rd visit, an ice storm in Fort Worth closed it for the day.  During our 3rd visit, in 2016, I realized that I liked it every bit as much as she did and spent so much time reading about real cowgirls like Shirley Lucas Jauregui that Ruth wandered off.

Shirley Lucas Jauregui is just one of hundreds of women profiled in the National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth’s Cultural District.  As accomplished trick rider, Jauregui became a movie stunt woman and western wear fashion designer.  She performed stunts for stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.  She appeared in more than 100 movies and TV shows.

The National Cowgirl Museum (NCM) is the only museum in the world honoring the women of the American West.  They had to have lots of grit and stamina and be unusually self-reliant.  NCM began in 1975 in the basement of a library in Hereford, Texas. In 2002 it moved into a new venue on Gendy Street in Fort Worth’s Cultural District.  In 2015 a 2-phase renovation began that will not be completed until 2017.   I was told that the 1st floor is done and that a lot of the 2nd floor will soon be closed for changes even though the museum will remain opened.  One of the innovative functions on NCM’s website is a window that repeats the latest tweets about it.   This will surely be a good place to find out when the renovations will be completed if you want to delay a visit until they’re done.

A new exhibit on the 1st floor explores Wild West Shows from the 1880s until the early 20th century.  Annie Oakley is prominently featured.  In fact, I found a detailed map that I poured over for an hour.  Annie Oakley did a lot to open doors for women with guns, actually female performers in general.

The National Cowgirl Museum, however, isn’t just about females in spotlights.   Among the women profiled here are Sacagawea, Sandra Day O’Connor, Temple Grandin, and Georgia O’Keeffe.  In fact, one of its primary functions has been creating a Hall of Fame that now has more than 200 members.    Every year honorees are inducted and prominently featured in museum displays.  The 2016 honorees include another accomplished trick rider, a cattle raising rancher, a wildlife habitat protector, and an animal rehabilitator.

If you contacted Ruth and asked her to show you around the National Cowgirl Museum, she’d be there at the agreed upon time wearing boots, spurs, and a cowgirl hat.





Vancouver’s VanDusen


I thought we knew this city!  Ruth & I have been to Vancouver many times, and we assumed that we had seen its major attractions.  Ha! Any great city has undiscovered gems.   Ruth’s friend Barbara told us about being there and going to a garden in early summer that literally overwhelmed her, but she couldn’t remember its name. We asked about it at the Vancouver Visitor Centre.  “Sounds like VanDusen,” we were told.  Van what?

Approaching its entrance the next morning, I read, “VanDusen Botanical Garden is home to 7,500…unique species and varieties arranged in 50 distinct collections.”  Below this info were 5 examples of what was currently blooming, including a splendid Delphinium so large that it was rather impossible to photograph.

Put simply, Van Dusen is a 5 Compass garden because of its stunning plant diversity.  I knew this as soon as I entered the Fragrance Garden and was overwhelmed, like Barbara, at a collision of scents from both rare and familiar plants.

This 55 acre wonderment at the corner of Oak Street and 37th Avenue south of downtown was a golf course until the 1970s. That’s why its center is still called the Great Lawn. With the province, the city, and W.J. VanDusen sharing the cost of the land, it officially opened in 1975.  On either side of the Great Lawn were varied gardens full of surprises.  We especially liked the Southern Hemisphere plants, the Australia and New Zealand Garden, the full-bloom dogwoods (especially Eddie’s White Wonder Dogwood), and the riot of purplish/pink and blue Delphiniums.  But the Elizabethan hedge maze provided the most fun.


VanDusen is opened 12 months a year, and the tree of the month of June was the Monarch birch, the largest of this species and a Japanese native rarely seen outside Japan.  It was in the Sino-Himalayan Garden.  I hope the Strawberry tree, a west European native, is tree-of-the-month when you are there.   It’s apricot-tasting fruit, which causes mild intoxication when overripe, is used in pharmaceuticals.

VanDusen’s Visitor Centre dates from 2011. Its design inspired by the orchid leaf fits right into the landscape.  Two restaurants are on the premises.   Ruth raved about the Moroccan chicken soup.



Five Compass Millennium Park

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Since it opened in 2004, Millennium Park has become Chicago’s 2nd most visited tourist attraction.  That’s probably because it rather continuously offers many free events and exhibits.  Ruth & I always admired but didn’t investigate it thoroughly until we had to walk through it to get to Aqua recently.  It’s truly a $490 million city asset.

I remember parking close to Lake Michigan in Grant Park many years ago and walking across the pedestrian bridge over some ugly railroad tracks to Michigan Avenue.   Grant Park has been around since 1835, and 24 acre Millennium Park now occupies its northwest section.  The big tourist draw in Grant has historically been the Buckingham Fountain.  Millennium Park, which is opened to the public from 6 am until 11 pm, was built to replace these tracks, and underneath it now is a parking garage. Mayor Richard Daley was the man behind the dream to build a park to honor the 2nd millennium.  It was created with private funds, using no tax dollars.

Millennium Park’s most watched attraction is the giant oblong rectangle that projects oversized, anonymous faces as part of the Crown Fountain.  In the evening, anyone walking along Michigan Avenue, and we are legion, can see it from both sides of the street.  It’s one of those brightly animated objects that humans are compelled to stare at, like car accidents, while asking themselves why. But the most enjoyed attraction in Millennium Park has to be Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a huge reflective polished, stainless steel sculpture that locals lovingly call The Bean.  It must be the location for more selfies than any other place in the world.

Most Park attractions are inside rectangles with trees on all 4 sides. They include Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, an ice skating rink, the Goose Island Beer Garden, the Lurie Garden that honors Chicago’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (city in a garden), etc. One of the bigger draws is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.   This large outdoor theater offers a summer film series, music events, performances by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, etc.  It can accommodate 11,000.

The best way to experience Millennium Park is to join the free guided tour that leaves from the Chicago Cultural Center Lobby at 77 East Randolph Street, at least for now.  Check before assuming it will be available and that fewer than 10 people have shown up for it.  This year tours began on May 17 and will continue until October 9.   Taking about an hour, they are limited to 10 walkers on a first-come-first-served basis.


Franz Mayer’s Keys and Spurs


“In a city of terrific museums, the Franz Mayer is an overlooked gem,” proclaims The New York Times.  I found this to be the case too.  Almost everyone who goes to Mexico City visits its monumental anthropology museum, but few find the Mayer.

Franz Mayer of Manheim, Germany, came to Mexico in 1905 and stayed.  He made enough money as a financier to start collecting.  His passion became decorative furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century.  Soon enough he had more than 10,000 objects including a spur collection, had developed into a noted photographer and orchid cultivator, and was married but without children.  With no heirs, he decided to leave his stuff to the people of Mexico.

That collection is now in a historic building that predates the Spanish Era and is down the street from the Palacio de Bellas Artes.  It’s known that it was a flour weighing facility until 1582. Then it became a hospital for several centuries.  First serving the destitute, it ceased its medical function in the 20th century when it was a women’s hospital.  Now it’s the Museo Franz Mayer.

The Mayer collection reflects the taste of the people of New Spain over 3 centuries.   Like other cultures, locals with pesos imported furniture from Holland, the works of European artists, Chinese porcelain, etc.  They also developed a passion for Mexican ceramics and silver pieces, doted on painted gilded wooden devotional objects, used keys, etc.   The rich drank chocolate is coconut shell and silver goblets.  It takes 2 floors to display just some of this, and a large area of the first floor is devoted to excellent temporary shows like Talavera Poblana, which featured pottery from the city of Puebla and explored centuries of influence from Chinese dynasties and Islamic Empires on Mexican artisans.   TP is fascinating and closes July 10, but I’m sure something worthwhile will replace it.


My 2 favorite areas of Franz Mayer were its beautiful garden with a fountain that made me relax and totally forget that a city of 23 million was just beyond its walls.  The Rogerio Casas-Alatriste Library on the 2nd floor was full of serious students and an eye-pleasing space with 22,000 rare books.   It’s truly one of the most elegant libraries I’ve ever been in.

By all means visit the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia when you’re in Mexico City, 2016’s travel star, but save time for the Franz Mayer too.  You won’t be disappointed and will exit with a smile on your face and lower blood pressure.


The Heroes of Tahoma


If you search TripAdvisor for things to do in Kent, Washington, as I did, the first choice is Tahoma National Cemetery.  Ruth & I were surprised and reluctant to check this out.  We didn’t consider a military cemetery a tourist attraction, but then we thought about our visits to pay our respects at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu and Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.   So we went to Tahoma and were told that many people like us show up regularly, especially of holidays like Memorial Day.  Tahoma’s brochure clearly states, “We welcome all visitors to this shrine for our nation’s heroes.”

Being at Tahoma was a profoundly moving experience where I learned that there are 134 national cemeteries with 15 more being planned in places like Omaha and Cape Canaveral. Tahoma, which officially opened in 1997, is the only national cemetery in Washington State.  Its mission is to serve Washington’s more than 650,000 veterans.  More than 3,000 committal services are conducted each year.  We were there on a Friday, normally Tahoma’s busiest day. A volunteer told Ruth & me that it was a slow Friday because only 16 burial ceremonies were planned.

Tahoma takes up 158 acres and offers a sensational view of Mount Rainier on a clear day. It’s unique in that it’s one of the first national cemeteries to have a volunteer-staffed public information center.  It’s at Tahoma’s entrance.  Inside it and in the separate administrative office, we heard some moving stories.  For example, the next day the remains of Sgt. Harold Sparks would be buried at Tahoma.  Sparks went missing 65 years ago in North Korea and apparently died in a POW camp.  His remains were recently identified via DNA testing, and he was to be laid to rest at Tahoma on June 18.  According to Tina Patel of Q13 Fox, 7,800+ Americans from the Korean War are still unaccounted for.

There are 46,000 veterans buried in Tahoma National Cemetery; 15,905 of them served in the Army and 9,408 in the Navy.  Dependents account for another 12,186 interments.  Two Medal of Honor recipients, Dexter Kerstetter and Jessie Barrick, are buried in Tahoma as is Sergeant First Class Nathan Ross Chapman, the first American serviceman to die in Afghanistan in 2002.  If the veteran or service member’s family donates the American flag presented at the committal ceremony back to Tahoma, it is placed on the Avenue of Flags.