March 1, 2017
On the Road Again.
Well, we are off on our longest journey yet. This trip is projected to be 61 days, arriving back in St. Paul on April 30. We actually deleted a few days at the end that we were going to spend in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, OK. Upon reflection, we decided that we would probably be in a mood just to zip home by the end of April. Our previous longest trips were 54 days driving around Florida in 2015 and 50 days in 2013 going to western Canada and parts of northwest U.S.
The schedule and dates were driven by several goals: A. to visit Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande in southwestern Texas; B. to visit Kearney NE to try to observe the sandhill cranes in their northern migration; C. to spend a week at our timeshare in Miami Beach; D.to see the bluebonnets and other flowers in bloom in Texas; and E. to see previously unexplored areas of Texas. As usual, getting lodging inside a national park (this time Big Bend) meant having to pick a day months ahead of time before the rooms were all booked up. The Miami Beach timeshare also books up months ahead of time. After Big Bend and Miami Beach were locked in, we had to make the rest of the journey work. Some decisions may not provide for visiting at the optimal time. The sandhill cranes make their own timetable, usually the birds are most numerous in mid-March but we will be there in early March. While early April is normally a good time for bluebonnets, the weather has been warmer earlier than usual so blooms will pick their own dates as when to blossom. Since we will be in Texas, we will visit relatives in Houston and San Antonio, cities we have visited previously.
Today we started out in light snow in St. Paul. Maybe fifty miles into Iowa the snow from today and from last Friday’s storm had disappeared. We had left home a little later than usual in order to have lunch with my niece Shannon and her husband Adam in Iowa. Lunch was really just an excuse to get together and get caught up since we had not visited with them for over a year.
As we made our way through Iowa, we passed one intersection in Ames Iowa that had three large manufacturing facilities on three of the corners. Danfoss is a Danish company that makes pumps, motors, refrigeration equipment, compressors, etc. Amcor is an Australian company that manufactures packaging products. Barilla is an Italian company making pasta and sauces. Such a commentary on our world, three large international companies with a substantial corporate presence in the heartland of the U.S.
As we turned west at Des Moines, the winds picked up. We could have attached a sail to our car and used wind power to get us to Nebraska. Very appropriately as Iowa has jumped to number two in the ranking of states and the amount of wind power generated in that state. Texas is number one. Along both Interstate 35 and Interstate 80, one can observe numerous large wind farms. We recently decided to switch our home energy use to all wind power through Xcel Energy; maybe it will help offset the gasoline we use in our trips around the country.
When one thinks of Iowa, a flat landscape of fertile farm fields comes to mind but it is not all flat and agricultural. We have already mentioned the manufacturing presence in the state. As we drove west on Interstate 80, the flat landscape we had encountered driving south on Interstate 35 transitioned to a series of rolling hills.
Why? Loess. Loess can occur in differing parts of the world but here loess is glacial “flour” or dust (according to Wikipedia) that was laid down as sediment by glacial action and blown into hills and sediments basins as the wet sediment dried. In other parts of the upper Mississippi RIver valley, it forms part of the rich farming soil. Here the wind has shaped it into peaks and saddles of land noticeably different from the flat agricultural land of northern Iowa and parts of Illinois.
We ended the day in Lincoln Nebraska where we will be visiting for the next two days. The land has reverted to the flat lands although we expect to be driving through the Flint Hills of Nebraska and Kansas shortly.
At the top of the blog, we stated this will be a 61 day trip. We have been asked how we decide on our route and what to see along the way. The first step is similar to the description in the paragraph above; to envision an area of the U.S. we have not seen, or relatives to visit, or both. Then we start looking at Google Maps and our National Geographic 12 x 15 bound US map to get an overall sense of a route, focusing more on areas we have not traveled to previously. From there we hit the books, printed books first. Resources like AAA Tour books (particularly their Gems), a map of the 400+ National Park Service units around the country, books by National Geographic like Best Small Towns, Best Scenic Drives, etc., books (these are older but still valuable) by Readers Digest on Off the Beaten Path, the Road Less Traveled, Public Gardens in the U.S, etc. Reading these allows us to highlight locations relatively close to the area we are considering. Most of these books, when writing about a particular destination, also mentioned other interesting places within a reasonable distance. Then we go to the Internet, checking current reviews, hours of operation, how the attraction describes itself, etc. After choosing the most important locations, we sketch out a timetable, using an Excel Spreadsheet to list mileage, attractions to see that day, etc. It allows us to project how many days to spend in any one location and how long to get to the next night’s lodging. Finally, we will go to sources like Roadside America or Atlas Obscura to discover unusual attractions that might be along the way and can fit into our schedule.
The map included in this blog gives a general sense of the route we have plotted out.
Ed and Chris, March 1, 2017 Lincoln Nebraska