Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Through the Bread Basket

Mid June 2013

Leaving New York State behind I did my best not to stop in the "boringness" known as Ohio and Iowa and got some miles behind me in an effort to get to the focus of this trip, the wild west. I did, however, make a short stop in Iowa in the town of Clive. I pulled the bike out and went for a late afternoon ride along their "greenbelt trail" into the next town of Waukee and back again. You really can't help but appreciate the small town life and mentality. These small town folk are either super lonely or just plain super friendly! They constantly wave hello for no good reason, even while passing along in their cars! In person if you catch their eye they unfailingly ask in an unmistakably sincere way, "How are you?" and then actually pause, genuinely caring to hear your answer! What is wrong with these people? Or what's right?
Herbert Hoover's Childhood Home

 Nebraska wasn't actually on itinerary of places to poke around, but things have a way of changing. Right in the middle of what is left of the Great Prairies you can find the Herbert Hoover Historic Site. I pulled off to have a look even though I'm not sure why he has been awarded his own historic site. Maybe it's due to the rumor I heard that he single handily built the Hoover Dam, although I suspect he had the help of at least a couple of mules! Maybe the site is a salute to his family's vacuum cleaner company. I seem to recall something about him being president of something. It must have been the family's business. So I guess that's a big deal! I really should have read the historic informative plates! Anyway, there you can check out their family's original tiny two room home and a few other nearly ancient buildings including the blacksmith's building complete with all the original metal working tools.  

If you are a really big fan of his vacuum cleaners you can also pay your respects to his grave site which sits right next to his wife's, who I suspect was the real motivation behind the vacuum cleaner! (For everyone who skipped History class, I'm kidding about the vacuums) All of this is surrounded by 76 acres of reclaimed Prairie grasslands just off of Interstate- 90. Originally there were 30 million acres of prairies covering 98% of the plains while today that has dwindled down to 3000 acres. The signage invites you to stroll this sample of grasslands to get "the feel" of what they have to offer. I never did get a chance to ask a ranger if I-90 had the same "feel"  back in the 1800's. For instance, I would think those old wooden wagon wheels on asphalt probably made even more of a disturbing din than the hum of today's tires. 

As the original settlers crossed this great land and reached the great plains, possibly via I-90, they stood in shock and awe of the flat landscape with nary a tree to be seen. At first they doubted the suitability of the land for farming, reasoning that the lack of trees didn't bode well. However, as soon as they planted they enjoyed great success and their doubts were quelled. The reality though, was that the soil was dense and tough to till. Farming never really took off until Mr. John Deere made the first steel plow and began manufacturing them. The future "Bread Basket" of America was born and the rest is history. 

Today crops aren't the only thing people are farming in the Heartland. Wind farms are becoming plentiful. This new species of windmill is a far cry from what the Dutch brought to America, growing to upwards of 300 feet!  I can't imagine the size of those seeds! Some people are against these windmill farms, perhaps because the immense draw on water resources required to grow them to such dizzying heights. Others think that they are an eyesore. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and taste is subjective, but I found them to be like a synchronistic ballet of giants putting on a hypnotic circular dance. Not the best entertainment while driving, but "watt (sic) are you going to do?"

Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest
Following the setting sun I continued on to Cody, Nebraska and spent the night at Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest with not a human soul in site. Tic-tic-tic-tic-tic.... No I'm not counting seconds, I'm counting the number of blood sucking ticks I had to remove from crawling up my pants every 10 yards or so!

 Besides whatever eats ticks, there are two other things lacking in this national park:
1) Warning signs to watch your step lest you sink a foot into the plethora of cow patties!
2) Trees: there is a serious dearth of trees for something referred to a "National Forest".  It's actually more of a "National Grazing Area", but it was home for the night.

One positive exception to note, especially for all you extreme thrill seekers, is the reservoir. It has a 20 foot drain which draws water down a couple hundred feet or so into an irrigation canal. Passing by I noticed that someone had pulled the plug out of the drain. So if you are looking for one hell of a slip-n-slide you should head there before they replace the drain plug or all the water drains out!

The next stop: The Badlands of South Dakota, where the real adventure begins......

Someone pulled the drain plug!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Searching for King Kong in the Empire State

June 2013

Well for all of you who passed geography you know that heading west out of Vermont lands you smack dab in New York State. Now if I could only remember back to those geography classes and recall from which empire it derived the nickname "Empire State"

Eastern New York State is home to Saratoga Springs, but for those who prefer to stay dry and have an interest in history or warfare there is the Saratoga National Historic Park. It, of course, commemorates the turning point of the American Revolution. I don't have a burning interest in either war or early American history per se, but I  enjoyed the park and would recommend a visit if you're in the area. You can walk, bike or drive around the battlefields and listen to the historical recordings at the 10 different highlighted points. You can even dial up further narrations on your cell phone while checking out the revolutionary canons and studying the war tactics and battle lines as they were actually formed back in those most critical times of 'these here United States of America'.  

Additionally, there are the various monuments to some civil war soldiers including the "Unknown Boot Memorial" commemorating the bravery of Benedict Arnold who was shot in the leg during the battle of Saratoga. That was prior to his infamous act of treason when he conspired to turn over West Point to the British. Apparently monuments are irrevocable.

National War Memorial
Sticking with the theme of the day, war and its results, I paid a visit to the National Cemetery of Saratoga which is always a somber expedition. To complete the trifecta for the day I also visited the National War Memorial located at a "Non-National" cemetery. As I was taken some photos of an intriguing Vault built into a hill I was approached by the current president of the cemetery and official grounds keeper who happened to be mowing the lawns nearby. He asked if I would like to see the inside of the vault which was used to hold caskets until such a time as they could be buried. Sometimes holding the dead weeks or months until the weather allowed for their burial. Although I knew it was no longer used I was none the less eager to have a rare peek inside such an edifice. One can never know what to expect in such a situation, but I half expected to enter and have my hairs stand up, sense ghosts, or maybe be taken aback by an unusual smell or feel of the place. Surprisingly the experience was more or less blasé, but I still felt privileged to have been granted entrance and according to my host I'm one of very few to capture the interior photographically.  


An Ithaca Fall.
My original plans from there were to head to Niagara Falls. Although the weather there is always dodgy the next few days were shaping up to be particularly unpleasant. Since I didn't feel like subjecting my cameras to anymore downpours I decided to skip the falls to try and gain some momentum heading west. 

My momentum was curbed when I made a pit stop in Ithaca to visit some friends I acquired while on the job. Matt and Marcy own a couple of restaurants in Ithaca and I just happened to have married them on the yacht I was captaining for the last few years. Well, I didn't actually "Marry them", the minister did that. But they did get married on my watch and I did happen to do double duty as their wedding photographer. 

Fighting some insane traffic due to construction in the small downtown area I started to stress about whether or not I would make it to the gas station before the fumes ran out. Luckily I did make it and to my surprise the gas station even had micro beers on tap!! Just in case I needed to calm my nerves I guess. College towns!

I mainly popped in just thinking I'd say hello, get a bite to eat at the "Mahogany Grill" and mosey on, but they wouldn't hear of it. They insisted that I stay at least a few days if not a week or so until my Ex-Boss got back into town. Well, I couldn't say no, so I did spend a few days there having some nice dinners, checking out the various waterfalls of the area, attending a couple of parties and getting introductions to some of Ithaca's most eligible bachelorettes. 

Another of Ithaca's Falls.
Unfortunately rainy weather was marching back upon us again so I made the decision to start out again in search of the sun. Once again I managed to slip away unattached. Pointing Mage west I'm full of determination and set my sites for the Heartland......