Travels with gay and Mary. On the road....
It is time for our 55th Reunions!
We are really happy to be going back for reunion at Mount Holyoke and Williams. It seems to all fit in with plans at the Closter Nature Center for the deer fencing project. And we think that it might be interesting and fun to drive back instead of the usual plane flights. So, the planning starts in late winter as we think about people and places to visit. Having paper maps spread across the table feels good!
We pack the car before heading to the Homeowner Association meeting and are ready to leave early on Friday May 17 on our way to the Sand Hills in Nebraska. Pretty soon we are off the Interstate and find empty roads. Sadly it is raining so the opportunity for birding is limited but we do pull off and enjoy seeing a Wilson’s phalarope. The BNSF rail yard in Alliance is immense with over 300 tracks, but the little towns are pretty quiet. Solar power arrays are really obvious. The Sand Hills are really great big dunes that were left over from the Inland Ocean that stretched all the way from what is now Texas up into Canada millions of years ago. Quite lovely – but seemingly only good for grazing cattle (over 500,000 head).
We are headed to Gothenburg, NE and just outside of town, Mary’s phone comes alive with a tornado alert – somewhere in “the vicinity” – and as we pull into our motel – the town sirens are blaring a further warning. The bath tub is suggested for shelter as we check in and then we are asked to come to the lobby and sit it out. Not everyone pays attention to this. Great hamburgers for dinner after this is all over. In the morning, the hostess asks if we had been “here” for the tornado. She lived 8 miles away in Cozac and stood on her porch looking as it passed through maybe 1 ½ miles on the other side of town. Pretty nonchalant.
The weather for our trip was really very good. Most mornings it would be in the mid 50’s. It hit 90 on one day. While at Holyoke and Williams we had 2 glorious weekends. Some heavy rain while in NJ and then we had 2 massive rain showers in Kansas were visibility dropped to “nil”. Our morning in West Virginia was chilly – 45 degrees—but then the sun came out. The impact of a very wet spring was noticeable all across the country as farmers were waiting for fields to dry an out so they could plant crops. The “black dirt” in Iowa is clearly meant for farming. And the apple trees were in full blossom as we drive through the NY Finger Lakes region. And then it snowed up in the Rockies just after we got back to Colorado.
Our plan is to try and stay off of Interstates for most of the trip. There is an amazing network of both 2 and 4 lane roads with speed limits of 65 mph. And for the most part – there are no cars and or big 18 wheel trucks. There are the occasional large farm vehicles in Iowa on Route 30 – the Lincoln Highway. This is the route Dwight Eisenhower took an army convoy across the country in a training exercise to defend against a possible Japanese invasion in 1919. It was a tough trip and led to his concept of a national Interstate system. Now it is a pleasure to drive for 20 or 30 miles and not encounter another car going in our direction. West Virginia highways are high quality—perhaps Senator Byrd’s influence. Route 40 was built to make it easier for DC skiers to get to the slopes (in WV????). Lots of trails at Sundown in Dubuque, Iowa with a total vertical of 475 feet, which strikes my funny bone. There are 14 ski areas in Wisconsin.
Sadly, it seems that some of these highways have speeded up the decline of many small towns.
Edens, Virginia had 2 shuttered gas stations, an abandoned movie theater and not much else besides the post office. Out along the “new” road was a convenience gas station that was actually quite busy. The price of gas varied alot even within a state – lowest we saw was $2.20 and the highest we paid was $3.09 in Iowa. Keene, NY was $3.10 but I opted to get gas nearer to Albany. The number of gas stations has declined steadily since 1997- when there were 126,000 and now there are less than 110,000. Empty small towns can be a very depressing sight.
Almost every town has at least two churches. Most are Church of Christ , Evangelical or Baptist. We do find a Congregational Church – in Council Grove, Kansas at the start of the Santa Fe Trail. Cemeteries in WV, VA and KY all were fully decorated with artificial flowers. In Council Grove they had a sign asking that the flowers be removed by June 5. Lots of flags. Mary and I talked at length about the Confederate flag which flew in some front yards and over two old Civil War grave sites.
And in West Virginia it was really noticeable – each bridge was named for a fallen hero. One assumes these are from recent wars – but in Lincoln, Kansas we see a sign for Donald K. Ross – given the first Medal of Honor for his performance at Pearl Harbor on the USN Nebraska. He served throughout WWII including D-Day. The sense of honor and patriotism feels very evident.
After visiting with Fred and Vivian Kiechel in Lincoln, NE—a Williams classmate, we drove to try and find the town where Mary’s dad was born in 1901 – Telbasta. Not on the map. Vivian suggested if we could not find it that we come back and spend the night – but we did with the help of “the GPS map lady”- who took us around 2 roads closed due to Missouri River flooding. “Turn on County Road J” which we did despite a small sign saying road closed. As we get to Telbasta , Google tells us “Population 6” –
We meet a young lady on her bike who comes over
to see if we wanted our picture taken by the cemetery. Ramona updated Google for us and advised that there are now 18 people living here… surrounded by corn fields; the general store is now very much closed. Rob recalled the Wegner family visit here in 1958. Many of the cemetery stones are in German. Mary’s grandfather was the Lutheran minister here before moving to Loveland Colorado. The old church seems to have burned down some time ago.
Food is important. And we find plenty to be happy with along the trip as well as lots of local beer.
The Kiechels had a great lunch spread and sent us off with leftovers which fed us for 3 days.
The Kritzers who showed us around Waukesha, WI had a wonderful dinner for us along with Stan and Janet Fox. In Seneca Falls, NY we had a truly fine dinner and then wandered along the streets to read about Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Suffragist movement. And even in Keene, NY there is now a very nice restaurant associated with the Dartbrook Inn – quite upscale. We do find that most places close early – so a few times we resorted to Pizza Hut, Qdoba or Old Chicago.
After crossing Lake Michigan on the high-speed ferry boat we head through Canada. London, Ontario is the home of many auto assembly plants and also Nutella. But our real target is to visit Niagara Falls where we have not been since driving out to see Laurie at Univ. of Wisconsin in 1967. The Canadian side is lovely and filled with tourists – getting to the “Peace Bridge takes us through the honky tonk that Gay recalls from our visit 50 years ago. The US side is much less busy – because the view of the falls is not as grand. Lovely spot for lunch.
Keene in the Adirondacks is our target. We are going to sell the 40 acres that the family still owns. We spend a day reflagging the boundaries and walking all over the land and enjoy lunch on our old cabin porch. Now owned by the Allegaerts, they too, leave a key by the garage- so we can walk inside and see all the changes they have made. It is still comfortable and the views remain just as special as our memories. It is nicely landscaped. And, they have added an outside shower along with a serious upgrade to hot water heat. The drive in the Adirondack Park is just great with miles of forest. It will feel different if we are successful in selling all the land this year.
Then it is off to the MHC reunion. A fun time for sure with lots of old friends. Gay is again one of the bartenders. The ladies now drink mostly white wine. Sleeping in the dorm is OK, too. Food service provides amazing meals in a dining hall that serves 2000 plus women 3 times a day. While in Williamstown for Gay’s reunion we are again impressed by the new president, Maude Mandel.
And we are so lucky to have Dave and Polly Macpherson and Steve and Polly Birrell living in town to help manage the weekend while John Foehl continues to recover from quadruple bypass surgery. Shared a house with Dennis and Meg Helms and also played Taconic Golf Course.
On to Williams Niagara Falls – Canadian side Holyoke
New Jersey is filled with activities – mostly with the deer fence project which finally gets funded by Closter. Clearing fence line and trails is still a pleasure. We are delighted with the arrival of a new “leader” – Tom Golodik whose granddaughter is a busy participant in CNC programs. The Pond Celebration comes off really well despite a forecast of rain. Good to see friends and continue contacts that are so important. Gay has lunch with Laurie in Asbury Park – home of Bruce Springsteen. We visit the Silvermoon Pinball Museum. Mary visits with Guild friends. It is really useful to have 2 cars when we are in Rivervale.
Driving back to Colorado we spend time with Mary’s sister Gretchen and Harry in Nazareth, PA – also home for Martin Guitar. Really like her apartment. Classic small town diner for brunch. Yummy. We hope to get to Harper’s Ferry before driving deep into West Virginia. Weather and time suggest we need to “re-route”- and we head on into the mountains. Had not realized that some of the Alleghanies are over 4000 feet high. There are wind turbines all over on the ridges. Turns out there are only 400 or so which generate 3% of the electricity for the state. In contrast, there are 8400 turbines in Iowa – 37% of their electricity. Back in Colorado we will drive through the Limon Wind Farm with 368 turbines – this is the 11th largest wind farm in the world. A turbine stands 200 feet tall and each blade is 116 feet long. We pass two being trucked along. Big! WV is coal country. There are active mines along with miles of reclaimed land – mountain tops that were stripped and only after years of “discussion” did the coal companies start to restore the land. The Warrior Run Coal Power Plant is enormous. Road leading in … “Bituminous Road”
Hard rock miners have been busy with highways as well. The rock cuts through limestone are really interesting to see. Terraced and contoured, some as high as 100 feet make the driving much nicer. And it is not just in WV- but all along our route east of the Mississippi. Of course, a few chunks of rock make it back to Boulder for the rock garden. We see very few policemen – except on our drive to Williamstown where the NY State Police were out in force – we decide they were profiling drivers looking for drugs.
Empty theater, Edens, VA Curly hair horses The Cumberland Gap
Oil is important, too. And we are reminded of this while visiting Blackwater Falls, WV – which cuts through a layer called Salt Sands which has trapped both oil and natural gas. At the Hidden cave B&B, Jaro tells us about the small walking beam oil well in the middle of his pasture – which now only pumps about 5 barrels a day. He gets 18% of the revenue which is not much given that a well seems to cost about $50,000. We see them scattered about on our drive. They are very common here in Colorado. Our last night of the drive is in El Dorado, Kansas – where the first oil field located by seismic geology was found in 1915. It seems to have fueled much of the WWI war effort and the refinery is still active. El Dorado was also a WWII German POW camp center. Sadly the town is no longer very vibrant and our motel is a true throwback to the 1960’s. At $44.00 for the night I might not have expected too much. But it was clean and the water hot in the shower.
Here too, is a large state prison – which is common in many of the small “cities” we have driven through. Back in Cumberland, MD – it was a large state prison and even larger Federal prison.
Water, water everywhere – the rains and the melting snow have made a serious impact across the country. Early on we need to deal with the aftermath of the Missouri River floods in April. . We learn that the Blackwater River flows south and then north into the Ohio River and will follow the Cumberland River for two days. There is flooding in Arkansas. The Missouri Department of Transportation website it is flagged with road closures all over the place. The confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers near Cairo, IL is really messy. Much more so than on our 2017 drive. Water seems to fill every pond so that trees are growing up out of the water. This was evident in upstate New York, the Closter Nature Center and in lots of cornfields along the way. We do see lots of fields where wheat has already been harvested. This prompts us to learn the difference between hay and straw – hay being cut as a grass and straw as the stalk of harvested wheat. The bales are very different- hay now being more commonly seen in enormous rolls and then poly wrapped. Some wheat fields had already been cut in Kentucky.
Our trip has taken us through Nebraska and Telbasta. Then Waukesha with its native American history and German immigrants. Michigan was very flat farmland as we approached Port Huron into Canada where the auto plants in London, ON were really noticeable. Niagara Falls where Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse built the first hydro-electric plant was a treat. We have sunshine all day with lovely views of apple orchards and then the Finger Lakes.
Seneca Falls is filled with the history of the women’s suffragist movement and has its own canal.
We see only a small remnant of the Erie Canal along the NY Thruway before heading up towards Keene. Along the way is Fort Drum…home of the 10th Army Division which had its start back in Colorado as soldiers trained for WWII winter warfare. Leaving Williamstown, we stop in a state forest and wonder about street name – Central Shaft Road. This was key to the building of the Hoosick Tunnel in 1879 which remains a key rail connection between Boston and Albany. Heading back we are delighted with the terrain in West Virginia. Blackwater Falls State Park is a real delight – alpine forest, waterfalls and then Seneca Rocks- a rock climber’s mecca. A serious hike as well.
It is a long drive through West Virginia valleys and some steep sections that are 10% grade and there are numerous towns that have seen better days. We drive along the Country Music Highway and spot signs for hiking and driving through Hatfield and McCoy Feud countryside. Anything to build tourist business! There are numerous gaps along our route – but the Cumberland Gap is really the key entry to the “West”- used for centuries by Indians and buffalo, Daniel Boone laid out a trail in 1775. Now called the Wilderness Trail—it is a pretty nice road. Hard to imagine how more than 300,000 people made their way through here by foot, horseback or wagon. The tunnel through the mountain by passing the gap was only built in 1996! The Allegheny Mountains stretch North to South for almost 600 miles and the other “easy” entries going west are along the Mohawk River in NY and the Potomoc into Ohio. We travel along both on this trip.
Near Tullahoma, TN Mary sees a huge spot on the map – the Arnold Development Complex. There are no signs but it is right there on the AAA map. Turns out to be USA center of aerospace rocket engine development and flight simulation – the old Arnold Air Force base which since 1950 houses lots of R&D facilities spread over 80,000 acres. After our 2 night break at Hidden Cave B&B in Kentucky (home of the curly hair hypoallergenic horses), we head to Lynchburg, TN – home of Jack Daniels. This is a great excuse to break up the trip- and wisely I have opted not to take the tasting tour – way too many miles to go after we are done with learning how Tennessee Sour Mash is made. This is not bourbon! I did take a glance at my square inch of property and was reminded that it may not be on the surface…. And seeing the 7 story high pole barn where 2000 barrels are being aged – it was hard to think about how many drinks one might pour – this is over 1 million gallons of booze.
Pinball Museum Jack Daniels
Amber waves of grain
Carthage, KS is the first battle of the Civil War was fought July 5, 1861– some two weeks before Bull Run. The Confederate forces won. Lunch is just the 2 of us at a park table across from a very small house where Harry Truman was born in Lamar. Kansas State parks are closed on Monday and Tuesday. We want to visit Kansas Prairies State Park and when we pull in, the ranger who sees our out of state plates does a U-turn and comes back to open the center for us. A bathroom stop, fresh water and a map makes our 2 mile walk a real pleasure – until we are back to the car and realize that we both have picked up a number of ticks. Birds of the day – indigo buntings and dickcissels. It really feels uphill all the way to Colorado. And coming in the other direction through an immense rain storm is the Race Across America – a long standing bike race- where solo riders will do up to 20 hours a day – crossing this year from California to Annapolis in less than 9 days. There are some teams – one is 4 women over 70, but mostly it is single riders. We have seen 2 tandem bikes out for long travel – one on the ferry boat from Wisconsin to Michigan and the other back in Tennessee. Coyote runs by.
Our last day starts near the Flint Hills near Topeka, KS. We have been to Cottonwood Springs maybe 30 years ago after a MEM sales meeting in Colorado Springs. Back then one of our old line men’s store customers met us and gave us an across the fields tour after a great coffee shop breakfast on Main Street. Such hospitality. Well, the old courthouse is still there – but the town has changed. Men’s store is now antiques and the coffee shop the headquarters for the local symphony. The town was empty of people but they are working hard to attract visitors. We drive to Council Grove and find an old hotel that has a really very fine dining room and excellent breakfast. Much busier here. Our drive through the Flint Hills- this time on a real road is lovely and once again we see almost no traffic. There is a very fine pull out with prairie flowers and signs and it is a perfect way to end the backroad part of our trip.
The last few hours are on I 70 and it goes by pretty quickly. Of course, it is afternoon rush hour so the last leg is slow. But we do know the way! After driving 6660 miles we opt to walk to the club for dinner…. And it is really nice to sleep in our own bed.
Odd facts and figures:
Nebraska is home of the first Arbor Day.
Birds – we note 16 different types
Animals – we make note of antelope, snake, coyote and the usual deer
License plates- 31 different ones going East and 29 going West. Last time we had 48 going West
Drive through 16 different states
The Platte River – is not all that deep. Hard to imagine steam paddle wheelers here in the 1850’s. (Stephen Long took a steam powered craft up the Platte in 1820— )
Grain elevators everywhere
Sign along the road in Iowa – “shooting wildlife from vehicles is prohibited”
Dandelions all through Iowa—fields of them
Menards is a serious competitor to Home Depot in Iowa – takes us 2 days to see a Home Depot
Highest point on I=90 east of South Dakota is in Massachusetts at 1724 feet
Kudzu vine is everywhere in WV, VA and some of KY – what a nasty tangle
Stone fence posts in Kansas – like our driveway sign in Closter.
Coke and Pepsi vending machine Reconditioning Plant – 30 year old business in Tennessee-
An interesting business – folks across the street say it is booming