It was a pretty boring trip on I-70 across eastern Colorado and Kansas. Hour after hour of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) grazing land, or corn, alfalfa and wheat fields baking in the sun… the occasional painted silo that reminded me of oatmeal boxes from the 50s… the pungent odors of tractor-trailers carrying cattle and pigs (do they ever wash those things out?) The temps outside were 100F+, so we had to PT early in the morning to beat the heat. Then we would get on the road and drive in one hour stints until about 5:00 PM, when we’d find a campground, have dinner and get some sleep for the next day’s drive. We only average about 250-300 miles a day on the Interstate, and much less when we’re taking the scenic routes on state or county roads.
Road signs are often interesting. Unfortunately, when you’re driving by at 60 mph, it’s hard to capture them with the camera. My recent favorite in Kansas was outside Quinter, Kansas, pop. 918: “Free land and water. Move here.” Quinter had some brief national notoriety in 2006 when longtime resident Waldo McBurney, age 104, was proclaimed the oldest worker in the United States. The town was built at the site of an old railroad switching station called Melota. It was renamed in the 1880s after a local Baptist Brethren minister, Rev. James Quinter. I suppose rural farm life continues to be a tough sell to young people; the median age here is 48 years. It has to be tough being a 48 year old farmer and wondering who is going to take over your farm when you retire. Quinter’s soda fountain is pretty cool, though…
The highlight of our trip across Kansas was stopping at Milford Lake State Park, where we had a “Prime” campsite looking out onto Kansas’ largest lake. (Often very expensive, this site was only $22.50 per night, a real bargain!) Not everyone liked it, though… we are out of prairie dog land, and squirrel country is still ahead of us, so the puppies were a bit put out. As we say, “It’s a dog’s life.” (This photo shows the view from our coach in this idyllic spot).
The lake was just an overnight stop, but the next morning we again visited Fort Riley, KS, home of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One. It was a brief side trip just to use the gym, where the average age was 22… (geez, I could be their grandfather!) Some of the guys in the weight room looked like The Incredible Hulk, with biceps bigger than my thighs. One young man was wearing an Altitude Training Mask that reduced the amount of air he was breathing to simulate high altitudes (like Afghanistan). He was breathing like Darth Vader in Star Wars, but it evidently works. Many of these soldiers will be returning to A-stan in the near future, and their time back in Kansas is spent training and preparing for their next deployment, wherever that might be. I suggested to My Lovely Bride that she might want to wear one of these while jogging around The Villages next Spring in anticipation of our return to the Rockies. For some reason, she did not seem to appreciate this idea.
We had dinner Friday night at the Elks Lodge in Grandview, Missouri, with a very friendly group of locals, including one gentleman who just bought a house in The Villages, in the new area south of 466A. When his buddy found out that we were from TV, he asked me, “Are you a Republican?” “Yes, I am,” I replied, a bit surprised, “Why?” He said, “Well, Ed here is a Democrat, and we told him that there weren’t any Democrats in The Villages… He’s going to be pretty lonely down there! Ha, ha, ha!” I assured Ed that while his party might be in the minority in The Villages, I had heard of at least two Democrats, so he would probably have someone to talk politics to when he moved down…”
Oh, and Rudy and Gretchen asked me to include a paragraph on their latest conquest… this morning we were walking in the field where we were parked, and we startled a huge groundhog. He must have weighed 30 lbs., and was bigger than both our puppies put together. He dove back into his hole, but our fierce Dachshunds made enough noise to keep him in that hole for a week. They would have gone in after him had they not been on leads… that would have been ugly! (This critter looks as intimidating as a sumo wrestler!)
It’s nice being just one time zone away from home, even though our return is still a month away. Suzanne can call her mom and not worry about being three hours early (or late) by mistake. Also, we won’t be getting calls from friends who may have forgotten that we were out west at our 0600/their 0900, when they have already finished breakfast and the front nine at the golf course and we’re still enjoying blissful slumber in the dark.
We are now in Perry, Iowa, again at an Elks Lodge, with 50 amp electrical hookup, which they had just wired today, especially for us! (That was a real blessing, because the temps are still in the 90s during the day. Normally we have to settle for 30 amps, and we have to use our appliances and air conditioning sparingly so as not to overload the electrical circuits.) I got to watch the last few minutes of the Central Illinois vs. Iowa Hawkeyes football game this afternoon at the Elks bar when I checked in. Unfortunately, the home team lost by 3 points. It was not a happy place. What was nice was the Pizza Hut just across the street, where we got two medium pan pizzas for $10.70. You can’t beat that in The Villages! Tomorrow morning we’re going on a bike ride on the High Trestle Trail north of Des Moines. The trail follows abandoned railway tracks and a ½ mile long, 13 story high trestle over the Des Moines River valley, one of the largest railroad bridges in the world. Here is the bridge lighted up at night; unfortunately, we arrived too tired to ride that late…
You may not be aware that southern Iowa was the site of several Utopian communities back in the 19th Century. Many of these folks left European countries which had been racked by revolutions, and sought to create a simple, egalitarian, communal life unconnected with the wider American society. Most failed within a decade or two; the most successful was the Amana Colony, a group of 6 villages on 18,000 acres around Iowa City. These villages flourished until the 1930s, when the stresses and freedoms of modern society became too great for many members to resist. English language services in many Amana churches were introduced only in the 1960s, and many are still bilingual (German and English). (Many of these communities are mistaken for Amish, but the Amanians do not generally use buggies, for example).
Tomorrow we also depart Perry, Iowa on our next leg to Coon Rapids (I’m not making this up; people actually live there!), Minnesnowta to visit our good friend Terri of the Frozen North, who has had some recent medical challenges and needs some cheering up. Maybe I’ll recreate my “Keta salmon makes me bark like a dog” routine for her… and maybe not, unless I want to sleep outside under the coach. (My Lovely Bride rarely loses her normally terrific sense of humor, but after a week of my barking, I think she’s finally getting weary of it.)