Tarpon Springs Florida home to historic Sponge Docks

During our travels in Florida over the years we have been fortunate to enjoy Tarpon Springs, Florida, a quaint and pretty town north of Clearwater and Tampa on the Gulf. When we were actively engaged in Flea Market business in Central Florida, Tarpon Springs became one of our favorite spots for R&R.

Statue honoring the Greek sponge divers. Note the sponge diving boat tied to the dock.

Tarpon Springs is famous for the Sponge Docks where diving boats still sail to the sponge beds and hard hat divers collect the sponges. This industry began here in Florida in 1905 when John M. Cocoris from Leonidion Greece started the now flourishing sponge business.

Sponge diver in a beautiful tile mosaic

Memorial to the founder of Florida’s Sponge Industry

 

 

 

 

 

Dodecanese Blvd. is the main street that houses multiple shops and businesses. The shops offer everything from fresh tea and spices, hand made cigars, souvenirs, freshly caught fish shops and of course several shops selling sponges collected by the Greek divers.

Locally collected sponges of all sizes for sale

Also of note in Tarpon Springs are the marvelous Greek Restaurants! Talk about authentic Greek cuisine, you’d have to go to Greece to get any cuisine that is more Greek. We have enjoyed several restaurants and bakeries in this wonderful spot on Central Florida’s Gulf Coast.

We have not yet seen any reports of Tarpon Springs suffering damage from Hurricane Ian. We hope that the Sponge Docks and the town were spared.

The Berlin Wall in Rapid City, South Dakota

Original wall sections, note the tank trap in foreground

Having just seen some of the statues of US Presidents in downtown Rapid City we continued just driving around checking out the town. Sher spotted a sign in a park next to the convention center that said “The Berlin Wall”. There we found a memorial to the history of the divided city and the ultimate fall of Communism and the tearing down of the wall in November of 1989. Remember Reagan’s speech to the Soviet leader? “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

There are two sections of the original Berlin Wall displayed along with information filled plaques, signs and even old tank traps that were once used at Check Point Charlie, the only gate between East and West Berlin during the times of the divided city.

Original sign from “Check Point Charlie”

If you travel through the Rapid City area on your way to Mt. Rushmore, take a few minutes and go see this memorial. It is worth the time.

Wyoming’s Ten Sleep Canyon

The scenery in Wyoming is absolutely stunning. On one of our trips West we were driving in Wyoming on Highway 16 through the Big Horn Mountains. We were heading from Buffalo on our way to Yellowstone National Park. On the way we found ourselves climbing up to and descending from the Powder River Pass (elevation 9666) which was frankly at times a white knuckle affair!

Blue skies over the rocks

Massive limestone cliffs

 

 

 

 

 

We soon came to beautiful and awesome Ten Sleep Canyon. The glacially formed cliffs had nearly vertical walls that we later learned were popular for rock climbing. There were wide shoulders to the road which enabled us to stop and take in the view.

Sher enjoying the break from mountain driving. The exit from the canyon is in the “V” in the distance.

Just past Ten Sleep Canyon is the little town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming. With a population of about 250, it is at the junction of Nowood and Ten Sleep creeks. Historically it was a Native American rest stop, called that because it was 10 days travel, or “10 sleeps,” from Fort Laramie (southeast), Yellowstone Park (west-northwest), and the Indian Agency at Stillwater, Montana (northwest).

Texas Hill Country’s Jester King Brewery

This is a post that Sher wrote back in February, 2020 just before we cut short our time as Winter Texans and headed back to Indiana before COVID struck. We just found this and somehow it never got published. So…Here it is.

It was a special treat for us to visit Jester King Brewery while we were in Austin, TX because our last name is Jester.  So, of course we had to buy some beer with our name in it!

Enjoying our beer under one of the heaters

It is located at a beautiful 165 acre ranch in the Texas Hill Country.  It is so welcoming and a fun place for all ages.  Since we are retired we were able to visit when it opened at 4pm, so they weren’t super busy.  We had had a late lunch, so we weren’t hungry but their pizza looked delicious and by the looks of people ordering it I think it was a favorite.  We were there on Maj’s birthday and  we already had reservations in town with our family in Austin, or I would have suggested we have dinner there.

The kitchen/food bar

The spacious and comfortable seating area

 

 

 

 

 

They had many choices of beer, but it was easy for us to choose one we wanted try, the Jester-King one!  We, also, bought a bottle to bring home.  How we could we turn down a beer with our name on it?

Had to have it!

We had fun and it is on our recommended places to visit.  The bartenders were exceptionally nice and so friendly and helpful in answering our questions.  They have an outdoor covered area for seating with heaters, and a bonfire outside when we were there.

This is a favorite place and we’ll definitely  be going back the next time we are in Austin.  And, getting pizza!

Statues of the Presidents in Rapid City, South Dakota

It was in 2000 when a furniture maker and businessman in Rapid City,  South Dakota brainstormed an idea that resulted in yet another attraction in this historic South Dakota city of 70,000. Don Purdue envisioned a City of Presidents with life sized bronze statues of each President of the United States located on street corners along two main streets.

Andrew Jackson

Martin Van Buren

Calvin Coolidge

Ronald Reagan

Dwight Eisenhower

JFK and his son

These statues have very different poses, all of which relate to things common to that president with the goal of humanizing the statue, not dwelling on any political themes. They are all at street level and visitors have great photo ops. Go ahead, sit on Lincoln’s lap or stand next to FDR as he gives the “date which will live in infamy” speech. Trump’s statue has been commissioned, but has not yet been finished nor final location determined.

Historic Starr Piano and Gennett Recording Studio

Original Gennett Records logo

Richmond Indiana is a history filled city on the Ohio-Indiana border in the central part of the state. Both I-70 and Historic US 40 run through Richmond. One of the historic sites in Richmond is the remains of the old Starr Piano manufacturing plants and the Gennett Recording studios.

Starr made high end pianos beginning in the 1870’s. The remaining Starr pianos are highly sought after by collectors and musicians alike. The Gennett recording Studios were in business from 1920 to 1934. The records were made in a primitive concrete and brick building with little acoustical features. Legend says that an Oriental rug from the Gennett mansion was used as a wall hanging to deaden the echo sounds during the recording sessions.

Louis Armstrong’s place on the Walk of Fame

Today the Starr Gennett Foundation continues to keep the music history of the 20’s and 30’s alive with many events at the site of the old factory building. One of the many memorials to music is the Walk of Fame. The Starr-Gennett Foundation website details this feature: “In 2007, as part of its ongoing effort to promote and celebrate the music legacy of Starr Piano Company and its subsidiary, Gennett Records, the Foundation inaugurated the Gennett Records Walk of Fame to honor those who recorded for Gennett Records and whose work contributed significantly to American history. Selected by a national panel of music experts, those honored are musicians who created the distinctly American musical genres of jazz, blues, country, gospel, and popular music. However, the Gennett studio recorded the spoken word as well as the music of American Indian and other ethnic groups.”

Many famous musicians of the times got their first recordings made at Gennett. Hoagy Carmichael’s big band recorded there. Louis Armstrong got his start in the Gennett studio. The Great Depression, however, signaled the end of Gennett Records as it did many other record companies of the times.

The old factory now refurbished for concerts

Unique view of the old factory

 

 

 

 

 

The remaining portion of the brick factory now has a modern steel structure and metal roof system. This building is used for concerts, meetings and other civic events. It is interesting to think of the tremendous musical history represented at this Indiana site. Hand made pianos and the beginnings of several genres of music began here. When in Richmond be sure to seek out the old Starr Piano building. You just might hear echoes of music from the past.

Devils Tower: the first U.S. National Monument

Northeast Wyoming is home to one of the most remarkable landscape features in the United States. The towering mass of volcanic rock known as Devils Tower has long been the destination of curious travelers and is the source of several Native American legends describing the origin of the rock formation. In the fall of 2014 we made a short detour on our way from Indiana to Seattle to see this striking and beautiful gift from Earth.

One of, if not the most striking geologic feature in Wyoming

Detail image of each “column” that is about 8 feet across!

One of the legends of the origin of the tower tells the story of girls who were pursued by a huge bear. The girls prayers were answered when the Great Spirit caused the rock to raise from the ground with the girls safely on top. The bear attempted to climb the smooth sides of the rock, and his claws made the distinctive shapes we see today.

Geologists tell us that the tower was made when volcanic intrusions of lava pushed up into thick layers of sandstone, now eroded away after millions of years. The rock, an igneous basalt type, took on the shapes of columns when it cooled. Called a columnar formation, this shape is not uncommon and can be found in rocks all over the world.

The Devils Tower was the first designated US National Monument, so declared by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. The first Caucasians saw the tower in the 1850’s. It was the site of the famous finish of the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Dignity of Earth and Sky in South Dakota

Here’s another look at this remarkable art work in South Dakota that we saw during our travels in 2018.

Traveling on I-90 through South Dakota provides some remarkable scenery. In addition to the natural wonders of the state, one man-made marvel really stands out. Near Chamberlain at Exit 294 you’ll see the signs for a rest area with a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. As you exit the interstate and drive up a decent slope you see a very large stainless steel sculpture with a geometric pattern. Then you soon realize that it is a star quilt being held by a beautiful Native American woman.

The star pattern

Person on the left to gives you sculpture scale

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the statue titled “Dignity of Earth and Sky”. The creation of South Dakota Artist Laureate Dale Claude Lamphere is a magnificent example of very large scale public art. The  statue represents the courage and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota people who come from the area. The star quilt pattern is traditionally used to honor people or peoples.

We enjoyed our rest stop. Oh, and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center? Well, it was closed for the season, to reopen mid-May. We were there mid-October. At least the restrooms were still open for those without their own facilities in their RV.

 

Embarrassing and humorous situation…

This is a funny/embarrassing thing that happened a while back while we were heading south to warm weather.

It was time to head to Arizona for some warm weather. Sher and I hit the road a few days before New Year’s Day. Fast forward a couple of days and we stopped at a casino in Mississippi south of Memphis.

As the weather was above freezing it was time to “de-winterize” the RV. You know the drill: put some water in the fresh water tank and run the water through until all that pink anti-freeze is flushed out of the lines.

I turned the hot water heater on but we could only get a bit of luke warm water. Rats! That’s all we needed, a problem with the hot water heater. Electric or LP neither provided anything but lukewarm at best water temperature.

By the time we got to Tucson Sher and I were both getting a little tired of luke warm water. A couple of days after we settled in at the Whispering Palms RV Park we went to an RV service center to see about the hot water heater. The service manager opened the access door on the outside. He then came inside and took the access panel off revealing the lines and valves.

He looked up at me and then glanced at Sher with a big grin on his face. He then reached down and opened the valve that allows the hot water to flow. Yep, I had the valve closed. He was polite and did not laugh out loud. Sher, however, did. I deserved it.

At least I could wash the egg off my face with hot water.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert

About 10 miles south of Tucson, Arizona you will find the “White Dove of the Desert” also known as the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This magnificent Spanish mission was completed in 1797. The first Spanish missionary, Father Eusebio Kino, arrived at the site in 1692. Throughout the years the location has been part of New Spain, Mexico, and finally a part of the U.S. after the Gadsen Purchase of 1854.


When you enter the church you cannot help but be amazed by the incredible amount of 18th century statuary and murals. The impact varies for everyone who walks the interior of this powerfully spiritual place. Candles are always lit and displayed. A shrine to St Francis is a prominent feature and one of solemn devotion.

The sanctuary

The edifice is still a functioning Catholic Church that primarily serves the Tohono O’odham tribe, formerly known as the Papago. There is a museum the shows the history of the church however it ws under construction during our visit so we missed much of the displays. There is also a gift shop.

Prayer chapel and garden

Striking statuary

 

 

 

 

 

Being one of the most popular tourist stops in Tucson, we were fortunate to visit when there were very few people there. It was almost as if we had the place to ourselves. This is a site that is filled with history as well as a sacred place for contemplation, meditation and prayer. Do not miss a chance to visit San Xavier. You will be moved.

The San Xavier website is packed with info for your assistance in visit planning .