Thursday, October 26, 2017

Visiting the Pioneer Woman's town - Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, hosts her own half-hour cooking show on the Food Network every week. She grew up as city girl, met and fell in love with a cowboy, married him and moved to the third largest ranch in the US - which just happens to be in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. She started a blog - which I have followed for years but for me it was about her photography (which is displayed all over the Merc) - to keep her family updated on her life and her four kids. Since she lived so far from civilization, she started making everything from scratch. She also started posting recipes and the blog took off and segued into her cooking show. She has written at least 5 cookbooks and 10 children's books about her ranch dog, Charlie. In 2010, she was listed by Forbes as one of it's Top 25 Web Personalities - and only four were women. Her star has been on the rise in the US - you may have seen her being interviewed on morning news shows or on the cover of People magazine recently - and to strike while the iron is hot, and benefit her small town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, she and her family renovated an old building and turned it into The Merc - short for Mercantile- which houses a restaurant, bakery and store.

My sister is quite the fangirl of Ree - she never misses her show - and has wanted to visit The Merc since it opened. She had two weeks available for vacation at the beginning of July - and only those two weeks - so we planned a road trip to Pawhuska for the ultimate fangirl experience. Unfortunately, as it is with travel sometimes, we hit a few stumbling blocks which cut our travel time down to about 5 days but we decided we would still do it as this was the only time she had. So come along to Pawhuska, Oklahoma - home of Ree Drummond and the Drummond Clan.

Our road trip was long - we made a brief stop in Branson, Missouri on the way there - and we arrived to our hotel in Bartlesville, Oklahoma late in the afternoon. We got the lay of the land of Bartlesville - famous for two things: it' s world headquarters of Phillips Petroleum and it's home to the only skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Ever. Price Tower is 19 stories high and was built in 1956. Now a hotel - the Price Tower - you can also tour the building 5 days per week for $15 per person. Unfortunately, I wasn't there at the right time so I was only able to see the exterior. And with that we headed to our hotel to get at it early the next day.

People come from far and wide to visit The Merc so we knew we would encounter long lines. We arrived around 10 in the morning and jumped into line for lunch at the restaurant. There was an awning to provide shade for those in line and employees came out delivering water and popsicles for those waiting. We mingled with several people in line - some from Oklahoma, some from Kansas - who were all happy to be visiting The Merc. One woman was celebrating her 40th birthday there. Some had driven quite a ways like us - one had driven from Canada!  If you don't want to wait, you can get in the "food-to-go" line or grab something from the bakery. In all, our wait was about 2 hours - which is crazy! - and we were finally ushered inside for lunch. The Merc is housed in a building from the turn of the century and it has been tastefully redone while still retaining it's charm. The theme is western country - Ree is known for her collection of cowboy boots - and the wait staff wear gingham shirts and jeans. My mom ordered her famous Pioneer Woman lasagna, my sister went with a club sandwich with homemade chips and I got the homemade mac-n-cheese (saving room for pecan pie for dessert) All were deemed delicious. We then strolled around the store - I didn't buy anything - and headed upstairs to the bakery and sitting area. We were told that Ree would be there in the afternoon to sign some of her cookbooks and mingle. But we were quite disappointed to find out later that she was at home filming that week. I think some member of the Drummond family can be seen at The Merc a good percentage of the time, though, if you'd like to meet some of them.

There isn't a lot to do in Pawhuska other than the Merc. There is an Osage Nation Museum and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve which we weren't able to visit - the former was closed and the latter looked to be a bit too much time in the car for us. We did walk around Pawhuska and window shop a bit. Oh, and there's a small casino run by the Osage Nation - but we didn't partake of that either.

It was a full day - and I enjoyed it very much. Would I stand in line two hours for lunch again? I don't think so. Nor would I drive the million hours to visit again. Once was enough I think. But I've heard that the Drummond family is renovating a building across the street to become a hotel so who knows? Maybe we'll have to visit. Never say Never!

Can you spot the bird building it's nest?!

How about you? Have you ever been on a long road trip - only to stay for a short while?

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This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Colorado's Wine Country

Did you know that Colorado has a Wine Country? I didn't. But it does. Located about four hours west of Denver in the fertile Grand Valley, Colorado's Wine Country is small. Around 20-ish wineries. And you can ride your bike from vineyard to vineyard. Really. Since it's in a valley, the wine country is flat and fairly close together. If that's not appealing then here's another idea - float from winery to winery. Yep, float. From April to October you can go on a guided float trip down the Colorado River to visit vineyards and orchards. How unique is that?!
When we visit my son and his girlfriend every year in Colorado we try to see a different area of the state. Some time with them and some sightseeing. Win-win. And they had friends who had visited Wine Country and pedaled around the area tasting wine. I was sold on that idea for our next visit. We stayed in Grand Junction and floated on the Colorado River, visited a brewery, took in Colorado National Monument and day tripped over to Moab and Arches National Park in Utah. And we visited five wineries in the Palisade/Grand Junction area. They were: St. Kathryn Cellars, Maison La Belle Vie, Carlson Vineyards, Garfield Estates and Hermosa Vineyards. Unfortunately, the temps were in the high 90's so bike riding wasn't in the cards for us this time but I hope I can go again and give it a try. Like most wine countries, the wineries all had their own personality and style which is part of the fun of visiting them. In the shadow of the Grand Mesa - the largest flattop mountain in the world -  the Grand Valley has warm days and cool nights to produce not only wine but also fruit. (This area is specifically known for the Palisade Peach) So even though they produce well-known types of wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay they are particularly known for their fruity, sweet wines - which suits my palate just fine. Colorado's Wine Country is no Burgundy or Napa - it's just a small, scenic area of locally owned and run wineries that's enjoyable to visit. I truly enjoyed my visit - but then I almost always enjoy wineries!

I'd love to go back in September when Grand Junction hosts the Colorado Mountain Winefest which features over 55 different Colorado wineries, a grape stomp, live music,  wine seminars and a winemakers dinner. A wine festival in the high desert of Colorado with to-die-for views of the Grand Mesa? Count me in! 

Things to know before you go:
- Grand Junction is located is 240 miles west of Denver via I-70 on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. There are daily flights from Denver to Grand Junction.
- The Colorado Mountain Winefest will be held from September 13-16, 2018. More info at
- More info on Colorado wineries and a route map is available at

How about you? Have you been to Colorado's Wine Country? Or even heard of it?

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This post is part of a link-up with: The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Visiting Seoul's Gyeongbokgung Palace

On our trip to Seoul this past spring, we had two days on our own as our daughter, who we were visiting, was working. We scheduled a full day tour of Seoul and all it's highlights which included one of the most visited spots in all of Korea - Gyeongbokgung Palace. 

Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is the largest of the five palaces built by the Joseon dynasty and was the home of the King, his household and the Joseon government. Known as the main palace of Seoul, it was located in the heart of the city. While under occupation of Japan, most of the buildings were destroyed. Starting in 1989 the government of Korea started the slow rebuilding process and has restored almost 40% of the buildings. You can now visit and watch the changing of the guard ceremony and see the buildings on the grounds. You may also visit the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum that are located on the grounds - they weren't on our tour schedule so we didn't visit either.

You can see many wearing hanbok - or traditional Korean dress - at the palace. 

Included on the grounds is the king's main residence, the throne hall, a pavilion for dances and events, the queen's residence including her famous garden, the king's mother's residence, a library, the king's office, an ancestral shrine and several other private residences of family members. As you can tell - it's large - and there are many buildings to see.

The Queen's Garden

The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on the parade grounds in front of the main gate every hour from 10:00 to 3:00. Actors recreate this ceremony with narration in Korean and English. And you can get your photo with one of the guards afterwards - but don't expect a smile!

Gyeongbokgung was definitely one of the places that was high on my list in visiting Seoul. I'm so glad I was able to go - but the palace and it's grounds are so massive that I feel I wasn't able to see even a fraction on our tour. Due to some of our tour mates being late to the tour, we practically ran through the grounds to make it to our next stop on time. So if you're going, give yourself plenty of time.But don't miss it. It's truly a highlight of Seoul.

How about you? Have you been to any of the palaces in Seoul?

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!