Travels with gay and Mary. On the road....
Gay and Mary have been on the road once more; this time their travels included The flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, and Space City in Alabama. As usual, their narratives are interesting and informative, accompanied by good photos.
FLIGHT 93 MEMORIAL September 10, 2022
Our good friends Jim and Deb Zug have invited us to spend a day with them at their home in the Poconos. They spent the better part of the first year of Covid here. We have always enjoyed our visits and wanted to be sure we got there in daylight. With this in mind we needed to be somewhere near Pittsburgh on our third night driving East. It was a long 570 mile day – but getting to the Somerset Exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike also meant that we would have time to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. And are we glad we did! It happened that we were there on September 10th – and quite surprised by all the security. Turns out that VP Harris was due to be there on Sunday 9/11. We might have never even gotten close.
We were among the early arrivals and had a chance to walk from the visitor center to the actual Memorial Plaza. It did fill up with 100’s of VFW visitors who were there for a memorial service. The setting is quite lovely – what we heard of as a field was actually an abandoned strip mine which has been rehabilitated into meadow and grass to honor the 41 people who died. The story of their decision to try and take control of the plane is quite heroic. The entire setting speaks volumes. It takes us a few moments to find Gary Lozier’s name among those who died that day. He had grown up in our Closter home. It is a very different experience from the lower Manhattan 9/11 Memorial. Very memorable and beautifully put together.
Here the visitors were of multiple ages. And they were all very respectful. Just hearing again that the plane crashed at 563 miles per hour – upside down -surely grabs your attention. It was in the wreckage that solid evidence of the identity of the hijackers was found – passports, credit cards and more.
The marble walls mark the flight path. The granite stone is the point of impact
A common field one day. A field of honor forever.
As we left, we wanted to visit the Tower of Voices. Standing there Mary heard a voice- “Is that you, Mary?” – it was Theresa who had been the Church secretary in Cresskill six or seven years ago. She was on her way to a women’s RV convention in Iowa and was caravanning with a number of other RVers. This was their second day on the road. Small world.
Just down the road as we left was a sign for The Global War on Terrorism Museum. Another perspective which will appeal to some; just not the two of us. And in another mile was an enormous 50 acre junk yard with cars filling up the view. It felt good to head off past State College – happily there is no home football game and soon we onto familiar Route 80 heading towards to the Poconos.
One fun sign while indulging at Dunk’n Donuts – Quaker Steak and Lube – which turns out to be a small chain of steak houses. It kept me smiling until we saw the next sign for the Johnstown Flood – which is for another trip… this occurred in 1889 and killed 2200 people. Clara Barton worked here for months after that tragedy. There is a David McCullough book about this disaster. McCulloch died this last August. I may go back and track it down.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art—Bentonville – October 3, 2022
We drove here from Eureka Springs, AR with an unexpected stop at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. This was an early 1862 battlefield that resulted in Missouri remaining in the Union. Nicely done and a reminder of the divisions in our country going hack almost 200 years!
Coming into a real city- Bentonville has grown quite a bit since my last visit to Walmart. The museum is nestled into a small valley and not really visible until you get to the entrance elevator. The outdoor exhibits were quite well done – but quickly you become aware of a underlying theme about social and environmental awareness. This shows up in all of the writing about the art in each gallery or in the special exhibits. Not at all subtle.
The main collection is enormous. Too much to absorb in the few hours we had to spend here. A 430 mile drive across Oklahoma would take the rest of the day- and it was all up-hill.
The museum was busy – very busy. School groups everywhere – various ages. The general public would have been on the older side – no surprising this time of year. Cars were mostly from Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. The docents and security folks were very pleasant and there were dozens of them. It seems to me that Alice Walton has done a really fine thing with her intention to feature American Art.
The art was quite good. Many artists I have never heard of – but there were lots of names that we did know. As we drove west during the afternoon I started to think what Alice Walton has accomplished. The architecture is very modern. I did not find it “pretty”- but the display space and the views from the ample windows was wonderful. It is an easy place to walk- both inside and out. There are 5 miles of trails throughout the 150 or so acres. You can walk here from downtown Bentonville. And they are expanding the museum. People in the Mid-West have an extraordinary opportunity to enjoy.
SPACE CITY October 7, 2022
Part of the reason for driving south was to get to Huntsville, AL – known as Space City. It is now the biggest city in Alabama! This is where Wernher von Braun moved in 1950 from Fort Bliss in Texas when the Army Missile Command wanted to revitalize the Redstone Arsenal. Here is where the Saturn rocket that took us to the moon was designed. It was built in California and Louisiana. Big pieces were then transported on barges as well as in an early version of a Boeing 747 (the Flying Guppy).
The US Space and Rocket Museum is a testament to both the military and our “peaceful” space effort. A plaque honors the more than 120 German scientists who were part of the team that made this possible. Operation Paperclip made it possible to bring many of these folks out of Germany after WWII. There is a book (also a movie?) by the same name by Anne Jacobson from 2014. Interesting reading. Very little if any commentary on this effort. The museum focuses on the various types of rockets and the engineering involved. There is of course considerable coverage of things that did not go well with Apollo 1 in 1967, the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986 and then with the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. It has not been a simple path to get to the Moon and now beyond. I thought there was a good balance.
The Pathfinder took the Lunar Module into space
Saturn V and the newer “U2” OXCART A 12
You see the Saturn V Moon Rocket outside standing tall. But inside the museum you get to walk underneath it – all 360 feet. Very impressive. There is an interesting mix between military effort and deep space. The OXCART replaced the U2 and could fly from NY to London in one hour! It was busy here. There are lots of family groups and the parking lot filled up quickly. In the summer they offer “Space Camp” which seems to be very popular.
Redstone played a big role in WWII – it was a source of munitions – the same nitrates that were now even more important products courtesy of the TVA electric grid. Over 20,000 people, mostly women, worked here and after the war they lost their jobs just as happened after WWI. Some Senator figured that reactivating Redstone would put people to work. And in 1964, Eisenhower shifted command from the Army to the newly formed NASA. It is interesting to try and sort through the politics. The current Senator Richard Shelby has served since 1986. He started as a Democrat and shifted sides in1994. He is campaigning for his Chief of Staff to take his seat. Katie Britt was married to New England Patriot lineman Wesley Britt. She is heavily favored and will then serve alongside Tommy Tuberville the former coach for Auburn football. His recent comments were big news for us liberals…Yikes.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
April 27- May 16, 2021
2020 was surely different for us. We stayed home… sort of. Trips included one flight back to NJ in July, then a drive to Chandler to see Ken after his surgery. In October to Santa Fe where Ken and family joined us. We flew to Phoenix in mid-March before driving to Snowbird where Kate, Mike and Lizzie were able to join us. So, cabin fever really was not a good excuse for a drive back East in late April. Cannot even say we were really uncomfortable with airplane travel – even though the March trip found the plane totally full and the airports really busy.
What made the decision to drive easy was that Mary wanted to switch out the green/white Boulder chinaware for the blue Finlandia plates that we have used since we were married. No way that would go into suitcases –it fit easily in the rental Chevy Equinox and we still had room to bring back books and more. And we do love to drive and visit new places along the way.
Spring is a beautiful time of year. It was fascinating to see the differences along the way. The lilacs were almost done in NJ and just coming into full bloom here in Boulder when we got back. The trees were leafing out – and we could almost see it happen. Such a difference in tones of green between here and “there” – We were in a fairly narrow latitude range – so the changes all seem to be related to elevation. We do miss Northeast trees.
The weather also kept us company. The temperature ranged from 50 degrees to the mid 70’s for most of the time. One day in Missouri on the way back it touched 80 – but it was never hot!
Rain was a regular event. Heading into St. Louis was the worst of it – about 2 hours on I-70 where I had the flashers on to make sure other drivers knew where we were. We did not need rain jackets except for a time while I was working in the Closter Nature Center Creek where I was already wet! We loved seeing farm fields and distant view when the sun did come out.
Both of us like to explore back roads. Of the 4750 miles drive – I think we drove less than 800 miles on an Interstate. Many of the “Blue Highways” have 60+ mph speed limits and rarely any traffic. So, it makes for a great way to see small town USA- or perhaps, what is left of it. Driving out of NJ on our way after visiting Mary’s sister Gretchen I noticed enormous changes along old Route 22 and I-78 which was how I used to get to our Lebanon Printing facility. Instead of family farms along the highway – now there are huge warehouse operations. Curious to figure out how they staff these big places. And the old Budweiser plant near Doylestown is now a Sam Adams brewery. I guess they are no longer a micro-brew….
Tolls have gone up since our last drive East in 2019. Gas prices varied from a low of $2.63 to $2.99—not a really wide range. Small towns tended to have cheaper gas. We never lacked a SUBWAY for a chance to get a bite to eat and use a clean restroom. They are truly everywhere. As are Dollar General stores which I believe have replaced most small -own markets or general stores. Cannot be all that healthy.
There are funny town names: Gnawbone, Scrubgrass, Pigeonroost, Dwarf, Possum Trot and Thousand Sticks. Climax and Eureka which got us smiling near the end of a long afternoon.
Lots of French names in Missouri- Weaubleau – population 418. A good reminder of how the Mid-West was first explored by French trappers and fur traders. We kept seeing the name Pulaski- which of course was from Revolutionary times – the settlers must have held him in high regard.
We crossed rivers. The Republican River in Kanas was dry as a bone.
First river was the Smoky River in Kansas. Then the Solomon, the Arkansas and of course the Missouri before we crossed the Mississippi. Coming back, we got to drive along the Cheat, the Youghiogheny, the Monongahela, Kentucky, Ohio. Surely these valleys were how people moved back and forth as the country moved west.
In Kansas we crossed or drove along the Cattle Trail to Dodge City, the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail and the Chisholm Trail. We spent a good deal of time along the Butterfield Overland Trail/Smoky Hills Trail which when it opened 1865 took 2 days off the trip from Abilene, KS to Denver – making it a 12-day trip. Fort Wallace in Russell Springs was established mostly with ex-Confederate soldiers to control the Indians. And with the arrival of the railroad – this quickly led to the demise of the huge buffalo herds that populated the Great Plains. As well as the stagecoach route. And for kicks we did spot some signs for Historic Route 66. The National Highway is U.S. Route 40 and could be a way to drive on our next adventure. In Kentucky they name highways after people – Country Music Highway honored Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, Naomi and Winona Judd among others. We knew who Cordell Hull was – (Secretary of State for FDR), but had to look up Hal Rogers is – he heads up the Kentucky Republican party. GPS uses route numbers which made for of a bit of confusion.
Oil wells abound. Kansas has both wind and oil. Kansas is the 9th biggest producer of oil. (Colorado is 5th). Wind Turbines abound. The Prairie Queen Wind Farm has 60 wind turbines and proudly reports that this created 21 (!) full time jobs. The one in Limon, CO. has 368 turbines. We will see oil pumps all along our route. Not sure how we will deliver lots of new jobs with a focus on renewable energy management. The job increase lies mostly in the manufacture of these huge machines. I think we saw more turbines than horses!
Corn is the big crop. On our return we could see rows of 4-inch-high plants. Many fields are yet to be plowed and planted. It is still spring and a long way until The Fourth of July when the “Corn is as High as an Elephant’s Eye.” Winter wheat crop grew about 12 inches while we were on the road. Winter wheat is planted in November and harvested in late May or early June. Kansas now is promoting cotton- which requires much less water than corn and seems to enhance corn growth when it rotated in along with wheat. That was a surprise for us.
It is definitely downhill from Colorado to St. Louis which is at 520 feet. On the return – the Delaware Water Gap is at 335 feet. And into West Virginia – aka The Mountain State- it got up to over 1500 feet and then we dropped to 350 feet in Cape Girardeau. The rivers know this – but it is subtle while driving at 60 mph.
We do a great deal of sightseeing. This is not just an excuse to get out of the car.
Day 1 – was the Little Jerusalem Badlands and Monument Rocks in Kansas. It sure is a different view of Kansas than the endless cornfields. The Cretaceous-age Niobrara Chalk in western Kansas was deposited in a massive inland sea that ran north to south across west-central North America about 80 million years ago. Lots of dinosaur fossils have come from here. Pretty neat and in 2 plus hours we saw one other visitor. Kansas is the land of limestone fence posts. Spent the night in Wakeeny, KS – Named the Christmas City of the High Plains in 1950, it is a town that is close to dead, except for being an exit on the Interstate.
Little Jerusalem, KS Monument Rock, KS Gateway Arch from our room
Day 2 -we had hoped to visit either the Brown vs. Board of Education Museum in Topeka or perhaps the Eisenhower Library in Abilene. Sadly, they were not yet open due to Covid. We opted for the Cheyenne Bottoms Nature Reserve. Turns out we had been here in 2019 heading West so the approach did not look familiar. Still a fascinating place to drive and look for wildlife. Mary spotted a Scissor-Tail Flycatcher – a first sighting for her. This would seem to be as far north as it gets. On to East St. Louis, IL, where we stayed at the Casino Queen. A very empty hotel but a view of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. just across the Mississippi. It stands 630 feet tall and was completed in 1965 – an Eero Saarinen design. The Casino is not crowded but seems to attract the usual crowd. Draft Kings seems to have acquired it and that it is a new twist on sports betting. The Eads Bridge which was the first steel bridge over the river (1874) is still very much in use.
Day 3- started at the Cahokia Indian Mounds. The museum was really very well done and explained much about the Mississippian Indian civilization from 800 AD to about 1300. Cahokia was estimated to have 20,000 residents in 1200 A.D. and then it melted away. Many theories. The quality of the stonework, jewelry and baskets is incredible. The Mounds are huge – the largest covering over 14 acres and 96 steps to the top. Called Monks Mound after French priests set up a church here, some centuries later. Estimated at 1.5 million baskets of dirt. They say there is no link to the Aztec culture in Mexico and their mound culture.
We then head to Columbus, IN – a city of architecture. We did not have enough time to really learn – but the names and the designs are worth a return visit. Saarinen did a huge church, and in front is a Henry Moore sculpture- The Big Arch- this is also where Cummings Engine was developed. And, it is Mike Pence’s hometown….
Day 4 -we start near Columbus, OH - heading home to NJ. We took Route 80 through Pennsylvania. This was our only full day of Interstate driving – Western PA- before you get to State College is now marketed as The Wilds – and it fits. We continue to see big billboards promoting church and suggesting Dial 1-800 FOR TRUTH. Turns out (courtesy of Google) – there are over 1300 of these signs along the road – all funded by the Mennonite and Amish church. We did see one Amish horse and buggy on a side road leading into Lock Haven. It felt good to get home to in time for a roast chicken from the market….and lettuce still fresh from our cooler.
Our time in NJ is packed with people to see plus 3 in home dinners with friends. Time for short hikes and tea for Mary and friends. Hours spent at the Closter Nature Center clearing trees and brush from the creeks and helping Tom finish off his project for 3 rock fishing “piers” along the pond. They looked great. Also spent time trying to empty out some of the closets, drawers and bookcases. Look forward to July and continuing the process of thinning. “Mothers” Day was at LBI with Laurie – not great weather – but just fun for the 3 of us to be together.
The big (not good) news for us is that Pat and Lana who live in the unit below our condo are moving back into a real house. They have been here about a year longer than we. She has been on the Board and took on the project of landscaping. You can see the difference she made. We are going to miss them.
THE ROAD BACK
Soon enough it is time pack the car with the blue plates, books, some rocks and other bits and pieces that will be more useful in Boulder than NJ. And we are off, driving to see Mary’s sister Gretchen, in Nazareth, PA. She has put together a picnic lunch for us which we enjoy in the sunshine out of doors since visitors at her Senior Living Place are still very restricted. It is a fun few hours as we catch up on family. We are all worried about Johanna Wegner’s surgery and slow recovery. Down through Harrisburg and over the Susquehanna we are headed to Somerset, PA. Dinner is at Ruby Tuesday – where they have a fully stocked salad bar, a first in the Covid re-opening – but you do need a mask and gloves to partake. Times are changing.
Mask rules have changed over the last few days. Nobody is quite sure what it all means – some think it is too soon and others not soon enough. Customers are one slice, wait staff another, and it seems we are all on the honor system about being vaccinated. Way too much politics and not enough common sense. And now there is a story about labor shortages and unemployment- which I think is solved if you start to pay higher wages and also have kids back in school.
Day 2 – the Fairfield Inn serves a hot breakfast…another change. And then we are off to see Falling Water – the Frank Lloyd Wright design for the Kaufmann family out of Pittsburgh. Built in 1936- three times over budget, it replaced a summer camp out in the middle of the woods – far from anywhere. The Laurel Highlands, A beautiful morning walk in an early spring forest with a bubbling creek and cool sunshine. It is well worth the visit.
Gretchen + Mary Falling Water 65 steps down into the cave
As we head towards Kentucky- we pass the town of Ohiopyle and the Youghioghany River. This is one of the great Eastern rivers for rafting. West Virginia is hilly! Route 23 is the Country Music Highway - home to Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, Wynonna and Naomi Judd.; we drove here 2 years ago. West Virginia was carved out of Maryland and Virginia following the Civil War. While in Ohio we passed through the Western Reserve – which was part of Connecticut after the Revolutionary War! Lots of trade-offs as the early extended boundaries were trimmed back.
And there are signs for many different Civil War battle sites – Philippi and Middle Creek which are places we may one day want to visit.
Somerset, KY is tonight’s stay. The Country Suites – which is part of Carlsson/Radisson is old – really nice people at the desk – but it surely needed an update. Dinner is at Texas Roadhouse – and we order “Road Kill” (burger with no bun) and chicken fried steak with brown gravy. Very busy place. We pay an alcohol tax plus an alcohol fee.
Train horns through the night make me feel at home.
Day 3 - We are off to Mammoth Cave. Amazing place- over 400 miles of interior “trails” – which makes it the longest cave system. It is at least 600 feet underground – limestone (karst) from the Pangea era and then capped with sandstone that washed down out of the ancient Alleghenies 50-60 million years ago. The cave was a source of saltpeter which was mined here and then shipped to Dupont Freres in Maryland for gunpowder used in the War of 1812. Hollow wooden pipes for water remain. A really great group of park rangers are positioned along the 2 semi-dark miles that the public can walk. They answered our questions with intelligence and a good cheer. It has been in use for over 4000 years! The cave is as high and wide as 40 feet and feels very spacious. The place was busy. We did enjoy our walk above ground as well.
We know that we want to use a different bridge this time to cross the “Big Muddy” (Mississippi) where it joins the Ohio River. GPS and Gay do not sync – it is the only real occasion of frustration on our entire trip but we do eventually get to Cairo and head north to Cape Girardeau. The river is well below flood stage or even the high water that we have experienced in 2017 and 2019. Cairo is a shell of a town that Atlas Obscura describes as “abandoned” – and it is surely empty. In the 60’s and 70’s the KKK was very active here. An ugly chapter.
The bridge at Cape Girardeau is one of those “new” cable stayed bridge designs which parallel the roadway. Nice afternoon light. It was opened on 12/13/2003 so it is not all that new. A nice walk. And then we are off to Rolla, MO- much of this is cross country and we cross historic Route 66 again. We arrive around the time that all of the local options are already closed for dinner – 8:00PM…. We have micro-wave soup that we have brought along. And a nice drink.
Cape Giradeau young corn rows hot and cold, Pratt KS
Day 4 – we wake up to rain. But I am still curious about Lake of the Ozarks – which turns out to be a real disappointment. It is store after store and where you do see water, it is surrounded by condos and boat wharves. The “lake” is more of a meandering river which is dammed up somewhere south of the highway. And there are signs for cave visits all along the way – Missouri bills itself as “The Cave State.” Our target is Pratt, KS – which will take us on a bit of our drive from 2019. The farmland rolls on and on. We stop for lunch along the Fall River where there are signs about restricted fishing for Paddlefish –turns out to be a really ancient type that was overfished. Now it is a fish to be preserved even though it has very good “caviar”.
We drive past the home of “Hanging Judge” – who seems to have been a great horse – an appaloosa. Driving through Yates Center we learn it is the “Hay Capital of the WORLD”. There are the usual small towns – many with brick streets and a courthouse. Pratt is still kicking – but there are only 2 places to eat. We head to the bar and grill and it is really busy – feels like “opening night” and nobody is wearing a mask. Our motel is $37 for the night and quite nice. The Donut Palace across the street will do quite nicely in the morning.
Day 5 – we are headed home! A nice stop at the Quivara Wildlife Reserve. Hutchinson, KS, is not far from here – this was where we visited the salt mines in 2019, which makes the water saline which explains the presence of birds we might expect at the seashore like gulls and sandpipers. A walk (in light rain) and Mary spots another first – a Red Headed Woodpecker. This is near Cheyenne Bottoms … but, rather than stop again, we figure it is time to make tracks. Route 36 is our plan and we stop for lunch While sitting on a dirt road for the last of our Subway sandwiches, a car goes by and then does a u-turn and comes back to check that we are OK. Common courtesy is not dead yet. 350 miles into our day, we enter Colorado and wonder if and when we will see the mountains. Pike’s Peak was in our view when we left but now it is too cloudy and it will just be the Flatirons looming ahead as we crest the hill on 36 coming back into Boulder.
We clock in at 4781 miles. Two years ago we did over 6000 miles, but that included our time in Keene, NY, two college reunions and an extra week. We retraced our route on perhaps 350 miles of the entire trip. We saw 34 different state license plates this time- which was what we had back then. This time we counted birds – over 40 types with two firsts. And what was really interesting was to feel how the country re-opened as the CDC announced reductions in covid restrictions. People must have been waiting at their doors to get out. Malls were busy. Local industry definitely had full parking lots and lots of signs looking for new employees. Where we went out to dinner – the tables may have been spread out – but they were also full.
We got “fooled” by the time zone change in Kentucky which runs down the middle of the state to the Alabama/Georgia border. When we got to Mammoth Cave, we could not switch to an earlier time slot – they were fully booked. It has been busy since the 1920’s!
We got stuck in traffic for only one accident. We saw maybe 15 police cars on the entire trip.
Traffic patterns and driving habits do feel different the closer one gets to NYC. General impression is that life in the vast spaces of the Mid-West is not just slower - but a different place in time. Along the Interstate there seemed to be more signs for Wineries. Did not stop to taste Missouri wine but maybe the next time? Signs for sex shops remain. And signs about abortion remain a constant. There are virtually no main line churches to be seen or found. The occasional Baptist church was far outnumbered by evangelicals. The message heard is surely different. It is clearly white and for the most part looked to be moderately prosperous. We drove perhaps 800 miles on an Interstate – so it was really a chance to explore back roads, small towns and cities.
Spring is a beautiful time of year to drive. And the countryside never ceases to entertain us – even on a day where we drove 500 plus miles. We are already thinking about the next adventure which may include the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Brown vs Board of Education in Topeka and the Walmart art collection at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. If we get that far south then I would like to explore Huntsville, Alabama – which seems to be a hidden jewel. And want to be sure to visit Shanksville in Pennsylvania.
Kind of fun to still feel positive about a road trip!
April 27- May 16, 2021
The Reunion Trip - 2019
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