Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eureka Springs!

Hi, everybody! I'm having an awesome time back in the U.S., reading, writing, teaching, and waiting for my novel Treasure Traitor to be released in November! As if that weren't enough, I just returned from a stupendous vacation in Eureka Springs with my wonderful mother!

We left Owasso and arrived at the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center at around 2:30, where we took a tram ride around the historic downtown district. I can see why Eureka Springs is called "Little Venice." The rolling hills make is so a three story structure has three street addresses, and the Victorian architecture is both quaint and magnificent at the same time. We also got to see a few of the springs which made the town famous as a health resort over one hundred years ago, but no one is allowed to bathe or drink them now, since local scientists say there's too much bacteria in the water. Who knows if they ever had any healing properties?

Next, we visited Quigley's Castle, home of a deceased eccentric Italian woman who collected stones, gems, and butterflies from all over the world and made them into art work. She covered the entire outside of her house with stones from the dried up creek bed she used to walk in to get to school:

Story is her husband was a local farmer, and he promised to build her the dream house she always wanted. When the time came that he had promised to build the house, World War II was in full swing, so they couldn't get the supplies. To force her husband to begin on the house, she tore down the old wooden shed they and their five children were living in and moved them into the chicken coop. Sounds a bit drastic to me, but he did start on the house after that. They weren't able to get the glass windows in until after the war, so they made due by tacking blankets to the open holes.

The inside is even more interesting. Each wall is lined with about two feet of dirt and plants, an arboretum. There is a hibiscus bush that's over fifty years old, probably the largest in the world, over three stories tall!

All her life she continued her rock work and made the most interesting sculptures, bird houses, baths, and feeders out of stones purchased from the local gem and mineral society. Her work lines her huge garden and accents many rooms in the house. This was my favorite room, with an entire wall covered in butterflies, magazine clippings, and beautiful stones. It took her years to do!

They closed about 5:00, and we went to find a cheap hotel. We were so surprised; being off season, we were able to find one that was only $20 per person per night, including tax! The weather was perfect, too, so we spent the evening strolling town looking into all the interesting (but closed) shops. We had dinner at the famous Local Flavors Cafe. I had the vegetable pasta and Mom the pork tenderloin, with chocolate caramel cheesecake for desert. It was expensive, but worth the price!

Wednesday, we spent the morning at the Promised Land Zoo, which I liked even better than Turpentine Wildlife Refugee, because at Promised Land, they had a lot of baby animals. Mom and I even got to feed a baby camel:

Here are some little emus. (I sometimes wonder if emus are evil, but these almost looked cute):

Then we headed to Cosmic Caverns where we took the normal 1 1/2 hour cave tour. That wasn't enough for me! After dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we returned to take the 3 hour Wild Cave Tour! It's a special after-hour tour that takes you into a deeper part of the cave that most tourists never see, with only head lamps for light. I needed to do research for the next novel in the Renagada series, An Honest Assassin, which has lots of scenes taking place in a rebel base hidden in a cave with a deep cave dwelling people. Just Mom and me took the tour, and it was wild all right! Here's a before shot:

And after:

We got so muddy, or maybe I should say "clayey," since it's all clay and not mud. Clay is a lot heavier and a LOT harder to get out of your clothes. Mom and I had to both hose down our pants and shirts 4X and wash them 2X to get them clean!

Mom didn't want to get down in any tight or dangerous spaces, but I went through two. The first was really tight! I only went about halfway, then there were some small columns in my way, so I turned around (which was hard).

The second one wasn't so tight, but I had to brace my back against one wall and my feet against another and slide slowly across a treacherous pit. The guide said only four tourists had done it before, and if I'd fallen, it would have taken over two hours for the paramedics (or mortuary guys) to get me out. I prayed the whole time. It was awesome!

Here's a really rare formation. As far as the owner knows, there isn't any others like it in the world. It looks like a flower growing from the ceiling, with edges thin as petals, but it's really rock!

On the way back, we had to swing across a rope to get to the next ledge. My gloves were so slippery from clay that I slipped off the rope into the muddy clay below! That was pretty hilarious. We were so dirty our guide didn't want us tracking clay outside the cave, so we took our shoes, socks, and gloves off. Here I am coming out:

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that only ten steps into the tour, I pulled out my camera and accidentally dropped it into the bottomless lake. It's called that because they've never found the bottom. That's why all of these are Mom's pictures. Drat. I lose about one camera every year; that's why I only buy cheap ones!

The tour didn't finish until about 9:00, then I asked the owner a lot of my questions for my book. I asked about the ecosystem inside a cave, what must the landscape and topography of the planet be like, how a secret people might survive in such a place for over 2,000 years, stuff like that. At about 10:00 Mom started to nod off, so I'll have to email him most of my questions later.

Thursday morning, we went horse back riding at Steve's Stables. Turns out Steve helped dig some of those tunnels in the Wild Cave Tour! Then we took an old fashioned train ride on the Eureka Springs and Northwest Arkansas railroad. The train was pretty lame. It might have been fun if I could hear the conductor's stories, but the train was so loud and he didn't have a microphone. I did hear one story, though, about how the railroads were built. There was a city called "Hell on Wheels" that picked up and followed the railroad workers every time they moved to set new track. It basically consisted of casinos, prostitutes, and liquor stores. When the railroads reached Utah, however, it was the "end of the line" because of Brigham Young and the Mormons. From then on the railway only hired Mormons and Chinese to lay rail. The term "red light district" comes from the fact that "call boys" used to stand outside a prostitute's tent and shine red lights when she was ready for another customer. Those were about the only interesting (or weird) stories, at least that I was able to hear. Oh, well, Mom said she'd take Dad to the railroad some time. He'd probably appreciate it more than me. Here's Mom and me with the conductor:

After that we headed to the Passion Play, which is sort of an all-day event. We started with the last Living Bible Tour at 1:00. It used to be a lot bigger and better, I guess, when they had a full-scale recreation of an Israelite town. But the ice storm a few years ago destroyed it, so all they had was bits and pieces of old barns and wells, with people standing outside telling stories. I hate to say it, but most of them weren't very good story tellers. They sort of rattled off their lines with a thick Southern drawl that just felt disrespectful. They also went on a bit too long and repeated themselves. Ruth and Mary were OK, I guess. Maybe it was just too hot. The rest of the week the temperature remained pleasant with a cool breeze, but that day was 95 (about 35C). At the same time, I had a lot of questions no one seemed to be able to answer. They really ought to get a researcher on staff, or at least some decent actors. About the only interesting part was the full-scale recreation of the tabernacle in the wilderness. That was great to see, and our guide was reasonably knowledgeable. I had no idea that the instrument in which they placed the head of the sacrificial animals was called "the hands of God." It's no wonder the Jews feared the Lord so much. I'm very thankful we live under a different covenant now.

After that we looked at the old and rare Bible exhibit. That was a lot more interesting (and air conditioned)! We learned how the first English Bibles and various other translations came to be. The guide there knew his subject well, and I've always loved old books.

The Texans group had a lovely dinner theater with some comedy and Gospel music, but the dinner was pretty small. A nice man gave me his roll, and his wife is a librarian at a Kansas Library. She said she would review Treasure Traitor and perhaps order it! That's exciting.

We of course had to see the famous Christ of the Ozarks statue, the second largest statue of Christ in the World (the largest is in Rio De Janeiro):

Then it was time for more outdoor parables. It was interesting to see how David would have swung his sling and to watch a potter. The inside of the pot is called it's "heart," and he showed us how he has to give the pot a "big heart" in order for it to be more useful. Halfway through, though, it started pouring rain, so we just hung out in the gift shop until it was time for the play.

Ug, the Passion Play. It's not nearly all it's hyped up to be. For Pete's Sakes, the entire sound track, including the dialogue was CANNED! Pre-recorded! It was just actors lip-sinking! It sounded so fake and stilted and ridiculous! Not only that, but the voice actors who did the recording were awful. In the part just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary came to him and said, in a very monotone voice almost like a robot, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died," followed by very fake-sounded crying. They also added a lot of dialogue that didn't make much sense. They caught Barabas for stealing, randomly in the street, and said, "He's gonna need a Savior to get him out of this one!" and laughed hysterically. Well, of course for us the audience, that's ironic, because Jesus THE savior did take Barabas's place on the cross, but the soldiers didn't know that. They'd have no reason for saying it, let alone laughing about it. During the Palm Sunday scene, the children said, "Hosanna, I love you Jesus," about ten times. OK, we get it! Why not SHOW the children loving Jesus and Jesus loving them, instead of repeating the same dialogue over and over? Also, rather than adding to the play, the soundtrack often took away from it, making everything melodramatic rather than realistic. What's wrong with silence, especially in the garden of Gethsemane? It would have been so much more awesome if the actor had cried out "My God, take this cup from me!" Silence. No answer. God was already turning his back. Then, Jesus quietly and meekly would whisper, "Yet not my will, but yours be done."

With canned music and pre-recorded dialogue, all the emotion was sucked right out of the lines. Places they should have paused just an instant for effect were plowed right through. It was seriously THE WORST play I've ever seen in my life! How sad is that? The Passion of Christ is the greatest story ever told, so it SHOULD have been the best play ever!

Though I must say, every dramatic rendering of the life of Christ I have EVER seen was either so stilted and used language so archaic that few non-Christians could relate to it, or was so casual (as in the case of Jesus Christ Super Star) that Jesus lost his holiness and it became just another poorly told story. It's such a hard balance that I've never seen it done well. It's no wonder non-Christians often laugh at Christian films, especially Biblical epics. (One of the exceptions being Charleton Heston's The Ten Commandments, but I've got issues with that movie for entirely different reasons, mostly having to do with a white, blue-eyed Heston playing Moses.)

Even the great movie Jesus of Nazareth starts well, but then they must have run out of money or something, because instead of SHOWING the resurrection and ascension, the two coolest and most important scenes in the entire story and in human history, the audience simply hears about it from the disciples, and then is left looking into the rather undramatic BLUE eyes of Jesus. (I could go on a whole other rant about ethnicizing Jesus for a white audience, but that would take hours.) I mean hello! The smart thing, both from a Biblical and dramatic perspective would be to show Christ's death, then show him bursting forth from the tomb, appearing to Mary and his disciples, and then rising up into heaven! That is the ONLY way to end the story! So why hasn't anyone done it? Maybe they have and I just don't know about it. I do have to say, the JESUS film is pretty good, but some of the translations really stink, as I've discovered from showing it to a lot of foreign friends. Again, mostly because the language is so old and stilted. Does Jesus really have to speak with King James-esch dialogue? Can't he be just as holy talking in a way a non-Christian can understand? After all, he was a backwater Galilean from a poor family. He probably had a rather rural way of speaking, as you can see from all his references to sheep and vineyards, fields and harvest. To put it in context, he probably sounded much more like Mark Twain than Shakespeare. Both were great speakers, but you catch the difference immediately.

Anyway, enough rambling. The Passion Play DID do a pretty decent job on those hard scenes, the last supper, the resurrection, and the ascension. Here's the last supper:

I guess I just feel strongly about this because I'm a Christian artist. If you're going to depict the life of our Lord and Savior, for His sake (and yours), do it right and do it well!

Friday was much more pleasing. We slept in, then saw St. Elizabeth's Chapel, the only chapel in the world, according to Ripley's believe it or not, that you enter through the bell tower!

After that came another chapel, Thorn Crown, designed by a student of Frank Loyd Wright:

I bet Tony, my architect brother, would really like visiting there! It was such a peaceful place. Mom and I spent a few minutes praying and reading about its history.

Next we took a cruise around Beaver Lake on a boat called Belle of the Ozarks:

It's a man-made lake, and just below the surface we could see a few old homesteads from before the rivers were dammed and the basin filled with water.

Here I am at Opera of the Ozarks Inspiration Point:

We ended the day at Blue Springs Heritage Center:

Like the lakes in Cosmic Caverns, not even scuba divers have been able to make it to the bottom of Blue Spring. They have no idea what or where the source is. There was also a garden there with many butterflies and hummingbirds, and some cliffs where the Cherokee Indians spent the night on the trail of tears to Oklahoma. Previous tribes who had their land taken away from them also lived there before, and hieroglyphs etched into the rocks recorded their history. Some of them had even met Daniel Boone.

Friday night we ate at Local Flavors Cafe again because it was sooo good! This time, Mom ordered the steak and I got the raspberry salmon. They were the best I ever tasted.

Saturday morning we wandered around town. What interesting shops and art galleries Eureka Spring has! Most things were way out of our price range, but we enjoyed window shopping. We had lunch at the Scrumptious Tea Room, which was "simply scrumptious!" Their strawberry soup is the best, and they have huge windows where you can watch all kinds of colored birds at the feeders.

On the way to Turpentine Wildlife Refuge, we stopped by the Celestial Windz Harmonic Bazaar, the world's largest wind chimes. They were bizarre! I don't think they're really tuned like they claim, though. At least I couldn't tell what pitches they were supposed to be.

Here are some pictures from Turpentine Wildlife Refuge we visited next. A liger, cross between a lion and a tiger. They should be illegal, since ligers have a birth defect that makes them keep growing and growing until their hearts give out. They always die young:

Silly white tiger:

White tigers aren't a separate species, you know. They have a different defect that makes it so they can only survive in captivity. (In the wild they would stick out like a sore thumb, so they wouldn't be able to hunt). The first white tiger was bred in the 1950s; now there are thousands all over the world!

Bam-bam the bear. They're trying to build him a grass habitat, but it's costly:

Turpentine's specialty is big cats, and they have over 100! They get them mostly from people who stupidly decide they want to keep a cute baby lion, tiger, panther, or whatever as a pet, only to realize in a month or two just how dangerous and destructive even a baby wild animal can be! Others come from zoos and safari parks that were shut down in the economic recession or because of safety violations.

Who would be idiotic enough to want a carnivorous wild animal as a pet? Don't they realize that they're endangering their family, their neighbors, and the animal itself? Even if you declaw it (which is cruel for big cats, since it requires removing their knuckles as well), they're still three times your weight and have teeth! I can see trying to tame a deer or turkey or even a fennec fox, but a tiger? Come on! I think every state should pass a law saying it's illegal, especially since most of them are bought illegally.

Anyway, it's a really great place. They give tours and the lions roar a lot at feeding time, so that was fun. We headed home about 5:00, stopped for dinner, and got to our house about 10:00. What a great vacation! I definitely want to go back, and I will! In October I have a writers' conference there, and I'll be hanging out with some other girls from Tulsa. I'm so excited!

Prayer Requests for this month: 1.) Two Asian friends asked me how to get rid of guilt in their lives, and I shared with them how to ask Jesus for forgiveness and to believe that he took their sin and guilt away on the cross. I started a Bible study with one of the girls, but she's stopped coming, and the other is moving away. Please pray that God will continue to reveal himself to them and they will become strong believers! 2.) I've started on my certification for teaching English as a Second Language in Oklahoma and have been offered a part-time position at the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association). Please pray that my certification goes through easily, I get the job, and it will open God's doors! 3.) My first novel Treasure Traitor is coming out in November. Please pray it will be a success and that God's will shall be done through it!

Until next time, keep loving and praying,
L.J. Popp

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