Nicoline’s Trip Diary

These are Nicoline’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.

Nicoline Home!
Nicoline (September 26, 2012)

Last modified: September 26, 2012 at 19:22:55

Nicoline Smits wrote on September 26, 2012 at 19:23:57:

We drove a total of 6,986.7 miles in 23 days. Quite impressive, if I do say so myself.


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Nicoline Hannibal, Mo.
Nicoline (September 25, 2012)

Last modified: September 25, 2012 at 21:50:55

We didn’t get a very early start today, but it didn’t matter because we were going to make a little side trip to Hannibal, Mo. first. To be quite honest, it was a little disappointing. The interpretive center, which forms the introduction to the Mark Twain boyhood home and a couple of other sites that feature in “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” tries hard to make things interesting, but mostly succeeds at adding Mark Twain quotes to a very traditional type of display. The town itself badly needs a makeover, or at least an alternate route into the historic district. The way it is now, you pass a decrepit-looking trailer park, some storage facilities, houses that could do with a lick of paint and a warehouse that, despite its broken-down look actually seems to house some welding company or other. It didn’t help that the weather wasn’t any too cooperative, either.

From Hannibal we continued on our homeward journey, which was pretty uneventful. After crossing over the Illinois state line I noticed a sign “Barack Obama Highway” at the exit to East St. Louis. Since that is one of the most desperately poor cities in the nation, I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a compliment or not. We saw it too late to get a picture of it, but I assure you it was right there. Certainly the Paul Simon Freeway (I-55), named for the U.S. senator, not the singer, looked nicer. Just after the Effingham, Ill. cross we finally caught the rainstorm that had been threatening all day. Not much fun to drive in, but at least it washed some of the dust off the car. Indiana, for some reason, doesn’t think it should put up a “Welcome to Indiana” sign in the place where you’d expect it, which is more or less on the state line, so we didn’t get to snap a picture of it. But you know you're in Indiana when they refer to "Mitt & Mourdock" on a political sign, as if that's a natural combination. The “Welcome to Ohio” sign is badly out of focus, but put that down to being tired after a long day’s drive.

We ended up a little west of Columbus for the night. Just one more day of driving tomorrow and then we’ll be home!

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Nicoline Colorado to Missouri
Nicoline (September 24, 2012)

Last modified: September 24, 2012 at 22:25:51

Another long day in the car today. We left the motel in Colorado at about 7.30 this morning and stopped for the night near St. Louis at 7 p.m. That includes a one hour time difference going from Mountain to Central Time, but still. We took a break for lunch at a Sonic in Russell, Kan. and stopped to switch places just about every two hours, but other than that, we just drove while listening to David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter. America and the Korean War.” We’ve progressed to disc 16 of 27 since leaving Cove Fort, Utah, just to give you an idea.

The drive was pretty uneventful. About one-third of the way through Kansas, near Ogallah, we were detoured for several miles because there had been an accident involving a tractor trailer. Definitely not looking good, to judge by the picture I managed to snap as we drove by it on some unpaved state route in a cloud of dust! If we see a sign for a Jiffy Lube or something, we may need to get the air filter replaced again...

We’ve seen lots of advertising on our cross-country trip, from just a sign exhorting people to vote for one candidate or another to so-called pro-life messages (Sister Joan D. Chittister says they should really be called “pro-birth” messages, but let’s not get into that...), signs to advertise one church or another, or billboards calling upon the public to accept Jesus, or commercial signs or whatever, but in eastern Kansas we came across the most offensive political billboard and the prize for the most annoyingly ungrammatical ad goes to an adult store in Missouri. If you can’t even figure out where to place the apostrophes, why should I think you have any idea about what I might find sexually stimulating?

By the way, we’ve decided it won’t do to skip Hannibal, Mo. on a trip down Main Street, as I-70 is nicknamed in Kansas, so we stopped just outside St. Louis in order to take one final side trip to Mark Twain’s birth place. After that, we’ll just scoot back down to I-70 and east to somewhere in Ohio. We expect to be home by September 26. A bit earlier than expected, but after three weeks on the road, home is starting to sound pretty good!

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Nicoline Homeward bound
Nicoline (September 23, 2012)

Last modified: September 23, 2012 at 22:22:55

Last night we agreed that we wanted to get started on the way home no later than 8 a.m. We were in the car by 7.45 a.m. We didn’t even go downstairs for breakfast, but instead just had coffee and cereal in our room, then packed everything up, checked out, and drove off.

The day was pretty uneventful. We switched every two hours or so and took a break for lunch in Colorado wine country, where it turns out they have a kind of gravel that has spikes sticking out in every direction. I’ve never seen such a thing. They went right through the soles of my flip-flops and it hurt like heck to walk on them! To get rid of them, I had to take the flip-flops and rub the bottoms together, that’s how sticky they were.

Between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Idaho Springs, Colo., we got stuck in a traffic jam. There must have been an accident or something. We later saw an ambulance with lights and siren on rushing past on the other side of I-70.

Just past Denver we switched one last time and since the road was now free of switchbacks or even significant curves or rises, I got the car up to just under 80 mph. I was quite prepared to go all the way to Kansas, but Eric suggested we call it a day about 90 miles from the Kansas line. To be honest, I’m glad he did, because I’m more tired than I thought at first. We had dinner at the restaurant next door and as it was a place with a liquor license, I had two beers with it. That about did me in, so I’m going to call it a day. As I can’t log into Eric’s laptop, I’m going to leave the pictures to him.

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Nicoline Cove Fort, Richfield, and Salina
Nicoline (September 22, 2012)

Last modified: September 22, 2012 at 19:21:41

Es ist erreicht! Today we came to the end - actually, the beginning - of I-70! This morning after breakfast among a crowd of rodeo afficionados with 10-gallon Stetsons, spurred boots, plaid shirts and (for the ladies) tight, rhinestone embroidered jeans, we drove the last 55 miles of the highway and took our picture at the “Mile 0” sign. Then we drove to exit 1, where we visited historic Cove Fort. There’s nothing else there, no town, nor even a gas station.

In 1867, Brigham Young, the second leader of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) after Joseph Smith died in 1844, ordered one of his followers, Ira Hinkley to build a fort to serve as a way station for travelers on the Mormon Trail. It also served as a relay point for the pony express and as a rest stop for the stage coach that passed through twice a day. Hinkley was the paternal grandfather of Gordon B. Hinkley (1910-2008), who first assumed a leadership position the Mormon church in 1958 and at the time of his death was president of the LDS. At that time, Native American tribes in the region, the Ute, Paiute, Apache and Navajo, sought to stem the flood of white settlers that threatened to overwhelm them and their traditional way of life. The various altercations have become known as the Black Hawk War (1865-1872). Fearing hostilities from Native American tribes, Brigham Young ordered that the way station be constructed as a fort, but it was never actually used as such.

As Cove Fort was built with basalt and lime stone, it has stood the test of time very well. By the 1890s, as Utah was in the process of becoming a state (1896), the fort was no longer needed and the LDS leased it out at first and later sold it. The Hinckley family bought it back in 1989 and also had Ira Hinckley’s cabin brought over from Coalville, Utah, northeast of Salt Lake City. It’s now a museum that provides free tours given by LDS members. There is a small Mormon settlement right next to the fort, because the LDS apparently makes people go there for a year or up to 18 months and provides them with housing. I suppose they’re all in some way needed to run the fort. They cultivate a large vegetable and flower garden and that supplies much of their food. The produce they don’t eat they donate to a local food bank, according to our tour guide.

Touring Cove Fort took about an hour and when I drove away, I almost headed west on I-70. Force of habit, I suppose. From now on, we’re going to be heading east! The first thing we did on our way east was to stop in Richfield, Utah, to get our car serviced. It has served us so faithfully these last few weeks that we thought an extra oil change would be in order. We also had the air filter replaced, because it was filthy after these dusty back roads we’ve been driving on. In case you're ever in western Utah and you need your car taken care of, check out the Goodyear place in Richfield!

After the car had been taken care of, we got some groceries and lunch at local super market and decided to just have a picnic in the park and to heck with sightseeing, we’ll read a book for a chance. It sounds awful, I know, but we’ve seen so much and visited so many interesting places that we just didn’t need any more of that. Salina is actually the site of the first engagement in the Black Hawk War and there is supposedly a statue of an Indian chief in town, but we didn’t see it after we drove back here from Richfield. Its other claim to fame (or infamy, perhaps) is a July 7, 1945 massacre of nine German prisoners of war who had not yet been repatriated and were encamped near Salina to help with the harvest. The victims of the massacre are buried at a military cemetary in Salt Lake City. I don’t know if there’s any kind of memorial in Salina, but the one history museum we found was closed. The sign outside said that it was a Presbyterian church built in 1884 as a memorial for some lady from New York City. I suppose the Presbyterians were anxious to provide some sort of counterweight to the Mormons, but I don’t quite see why a New York City lady should have a memorial way out west in what was then still Utah Territory.

The town itself doesn’t seem to be a very exciting place and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if none of the locals knew anything about the Presbyterian church, the massacre, or the Black Hawk War. When we had dinner in Monticello, Utah, the other day, we asked the server if she knew what the MD in the restaurant’s name stood for. She said she got that question a lot, but she had never bothered to find out what the answer was. She thought it might just be someone’s cattle brand.

We had planned to celebrate today’s achievement with a restaurant dinner, but there’s nothing here except a Denny’s and a couple of grubby-looking local places. Today at breakfast I overheard a girl saying that her father had been sick all night with what she thought must be food poisoning because he had eaten dinner at one of the local restaurants. Food poisoning is the last thing we need four days on the road, so we’ll dine on Doritos tonight and save the fancy dinner for some other time!

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Nicoline Scenic Utah
Nicoline (September 21, 2012)

Last modified: September 22, 2012 at 0:28:05

We can’t get over how quickly stuff dries out here! We’d rinsed out and hung up our bathing suits after last night’s hot tub session and this morning they were completely dry. Usually, my stuff takes at least 2 days to dry completely, because it has more layers. Farmers out here apparently don’t even bother to let the hay dry before they bale it. I saw bales as green as grass sitting in fields and on tractor trailers. It would seem to me that that could be dangerous. I’ve always heard that too much moisture in hay bales (or grass bales, in this case) can make the temperature inside a stack reach dangerously high levels, leading to spontaneous hay fires. But maybe Utah farmers don’t have to worry about that, with the air being so dry.

Today was a day for driving instead of hiking. After we left Monticello, we headed south for 20 miles or so to Bluff, Utah, on U.S. 191 and then took Utah state route 95 west. Our Utah highway map marked it as scenic and they were not kidding! What also stood out was that, unless there was another car on the road, it was completely quiet out here. You might hear a bee buzzing by or maybe a rustle of wind, but otherwise absolutely no sound at all. I must be more of city person than I realized, because I found the silence downright creepy at times. It must be that I’m used to always hearing at least some sound so I only notice its absence.

Two places where it was especially quiet were Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites that Eric had found in a book about photography in Southwest Utah. He particularly wanted to check those out, so we did. The first one was only about a mile and a half down a dirt road, so that was no big deal, but the second one involved driving down a dirt road for 11 miles to get to the rim of the Dirty Devil River canyon. I told Eric that he’d have to drive back to state route 95 and proper asphalt, because it did get a bit hairy here and there. Sometimes I drove up a slight rise without having any clue as to which way the road would turn, for example, or there wouldn’t be any road at all, just soft sand, and I’d be terrified the car would get stuck in it. Luckily, it didn’t. Yay for the Honda! It faithfully takes us wherever we want to go!

Eric took about six bazillion pictures at the canyon rim, and then hiked a little farther along the rim to take some more. Unfortunately, on the way back he was attacked by aggressive microbes who tripped him up, so he banged his left knee on a piece of Utah rock and skinned it. It really hurt and so I had to drive back down the dirt road, allowing Eric to keep his knee still for a while. I hope you all appreciate the pictures, though!

The canyon adventure put paid to our plan to go primitive camping on a BLM site, because crawling in and out of a tent was clearly out of the question. So we activated plan B, which involved looking for a motel in the nearest town, Hanksville, that looked on the map as though it might boast a motel. In fact, it had two, but neither had any vacancies. So much for plan B. The next plan involved driving another 140 miles to Salina, Utah. That way we’d be back on I-70 and within reasonable distance of Cove Fort. At least that plan worked out, so here we are, 55 miles away from our goal. Tomorrow we’ll visit Cove Fort, take another gazillion pictures, possibly also of the historic fort, and then we’ll turn east and head home!

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Nicoline Arches National Park
Nicoline (September 20, 2012)

Last modified: September 20, 2012 at 22:37:25

Since we didn’t find a place to sleep until pretty late last night and we dined off a bagel (and not a very good one at that) and water, we treated ourselves to a big breakfast this morning before setting out on a hike in Arches National Park. Please don’t ask me why it’s called a Pancake Haus instead of a Pancake House. We wanted to get up to Delicate Arch, which is supposed to be best either at sunrise or sunset, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to get up quite that early. So we didn’t start until 9.30 a.m.

It’s not a long hike, but it rises about 500 feet and there’s no shade on most of the trail. Eric originally wanted to explore other areas first, but I put my foot down and said that I wasn’t planning to hike over a pile of rocks in the middle of the day when the park already warns you to take at least a quart of water per person, use sunblock, and wear protective sun gear. I certainly was glad I had recently bought a sun hat at LL Bean. It was a bit expensive (seeing as we own at least a dozen baseball caps and a straw hat - it’s falling apart, so I only use it when gardening) but it’s supposed to be SPF30 and the brim goes most all the way around my head, so the tops of my ears are covered, too.

The hike was moderately strenuous, but the views over Delicate Arch and the surrounding country were worth it! It is such a very peculiar, starkly beautiful landscape. There’s a cabin at the trailhead, left there by a pioneering family who staked a claim there in the late 1800s. The patriarch, a Civil War veteran from Ohio, and his oldest son came there first, and later on his daughter, her husband and their two children joined them. The sign near the cabin said that the daughter was so appalled by the primitive conditions that she managed to convince her father to build a better cabin. We looked in the cabin: it can’t have been more than 10 by 10 feet on the inside, with six (!) people apparently sharing it. Also, if that is supposed to be the “luxury” cabin, I hate to think under what circumstances the father and son lived there at first! In the end, they couldn’t make a go of it and returned to Ohio by first decade of the 20th century. I’m not surprised they couldn’t. They wanted to start a cattle ranch, and I suppose you could let your cattle graze in the canyons if there’s a river and there’s sufficient rain. But I don’t quite see how you could possibly have a garden there, so you’d have to bring imperishable foods, like beans and rice, or maybe canned stuff. Not a very varied diet. Much as I appreciate solitude, I think I’d go stark raving mad if I had to live there! When I told Eric so, he said you’d probably have to be stark raving mad to want to homestead there in the first place. He had certainly had a point there.

Anyway, after the Delicate Arch hike we drove up to the Devil’s Garden to look at the Landscape Arch. The odd thing is that in its current condition, it’s only a little bit older than Frank. On September 1, 1991 a sizable portion of the arch broke off, to make the opening far wider and thinner on top than it was before. Some lucky hiker managed to get a picture of it, which is displayed on the information sign. You used to be able to hike underneath it, but because of the danger of the arch caving in completely or bits falling off again, the park has closed that part of the trail. As it is, the hike to Landscape Arch is billed as one of the shorter, easy ones at only 0.8 miles (one way), but what they don’t tell you is that about a quarter of that is through dry, soft sand and another quarter is over smooth rock with the thinnest layer of sand, which makes it about as slippery as ice. No fair! But we made it back, and as it was about 2 p.m. we were about finished with hiking for the day.

I drove back to the visitors’ center, only stopping along the way so Eric could take a picture of Balanced Rock, a piece of rock balanced on top of pillar so precariously that you’d think one good wind storm will topple it. But it’s apparently been like that for years, so it must be more stable than it looks. Then we went back to the visitors’ center to refill our water containers. Remembering the dry, hot climate from our 2007 trip, we brought a collapsible 5-gallon water container and we also have several water bottles, among them a souvenir one that I bought at Pikes Peak. When it’s full, it can stand by itself like any bottle, but when it’s empty, you can roll it up almost flat, because it’s a plastic bag with a drinking spout. I thought it’d come in handy on Appalachian Trail hikes or otherwise. I guess the otherwise came first in this case. While Eric took care of the water supply, I bought the last postcards I’m going to send from this trip. I had stamps, so I could write and mail them right then and there.

At Landscape Arch I happened to talk to a lady from Utah, who told us that if we wanted to find a place to stay, we’d do best to drive to Monticello, Utah, about an hour south of Moab. Since she was a local, we took her word for it, and lo and behold: we found a motel room at the first try. The place even had a pool and a hot tub, which was a nice treat for our poor, mistreated leg muscles. As soon as Eric finishes today’s pictures and I manage to log into his computer (some networks allow it; others don’t. I can’t tell you what the difference is), I’ll post today’s diary entry with pictures and call it a day!

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Nicoline Colorado to Utah
Nicoline (September 19, 2012)

Last modified: September 19, 2012 at 23:42:24

Well, this was an unexpected end to the day. We arrived in Moab, Utah, around 7 p.m., thinking we’d drive up to the first reasonably priced motel we saw and book a room. Uh, no. It seems all the world comes to Moab in September, because it’s much too hot here in the summer. The place is booked solid! After enquiring at just about every motel or hotel in town, we finally found a cabin at a local hostel. Not quite what we had in mind, but it’s OK. Someone is singing and playing the guitar as I’m writing this, people next to me are having a civilized discussion about politics, and someone else is watching Mythbusters on a tv in the corner.

I do wonder what we’ll do tomorrow, because after we’ve hiked Arches National Park - not the whole thing, of course, just a feasible hike for us old fogeys - and possibly Goblin State Park, that’s pretty much it out here. There aren’t cities to speak of. As we drove in, we wondered why we didn’t see any houses or even any cattle near the road, as we’ve seen in every other state we drove through. We were a little low on gas, or we would have taken one of the exits to check out the “towns” they point to, while also making clear that there’s nothing much there: no services from the Colorado line to just past the first Utah welcome center, 40 miles or so into the state. The lady at the welcome center explained that this is because these towns don't really exist anymore, they're just names. Most of the land over which I-70 runs is owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

Good thing we gorged ourselves on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Grand Junction, CO. We actually meant to find an ice cream store, but when that didn’t pan out, we were like “To heck with it, we’ll just buy some at a supermarket and eat it right then and there!” Which is exactly what we did. We have all our stuff with us, after all, so Eric got out the camp chairs and I dug up the spoons and we ate a pint of ice cream each. Eric had Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch and I tried Key Lime Pie. To be honest, it could have been a bit more lime-ish, but it was good all the same.

We deserved it because we had been so abstemious at dinner last night, and breakfast and lunch today. Lunch consisted of 3 rice crackers with cheese and a banana each, plus as much water as we could hold, because we’d just completed a hike of only 1.2 miles each way, but what it lacked in length it made up in height: it rose 1,020 feet! We went into it thinking that if it got to be too much, we’d just turn around and go down, but a family with two little kids - one a baby in a carrier and the other a three-year-old - started at about the same time we did, but overtook us seemingly effortlessly. After seeing that we had to complete the hike, no matter how strenuous! Having seen so many beautiful sights the last two weeks, we thought we were a bit jaded, but the goal of the hike, the hanging lake and waterfall were among the most gorgeous things I’ve seen so far.

Today was certainly a day for gorgeous sights. After a breakfast of wheat puffs and instant coffee - which I served Eric in bed because of his sweet status update yesterday - we drove 30 miles or so from Idaho Springs, CO, to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Zachary had warned us Monday not to swerve off the road once we cleared the tunnel, and he was absolutely right. It was spectacular, and it only got more spectacular the farther west we drove. The more we see of this country, the more amazed we are! When you’re in a national park, you expect to see beautiful vistas and things, but you don’t really need to go into a park. The pictures below were taken mostly through the windshield, and it’s what we saw driving along I-70.

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Nicoline Rocky Mountain National Park
Nicoline (September 18, 2012)

Last modified: September 18, 2012 at 22:02:05

We spent today in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t visited it yet, you should! It is spectacular. We started with a hike, after getting hiking advice from a park ranger. After all, we’re not used to hiking at these altitudes - the mountains over which the Appalachian Trail runs in Maryland are mere mosquito bites compared to the Rockies - and we’re a tad out of shape into the bargain.

We settled on a couple of short hikes in the Bear Lake area of the park, for a total of 3.6 miles, going up 600 feet, which took us two and half hours. After that, we drove the Trail Ridge Highway (U.S. 34) through the northern end and down the western flank of the park. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the scenery; just look at the pictures.

The 48-mile drive rises to a high point of 12,183 feet (oddly, this isn’t marked) and crosses over the continental divide. It’s so high up that part of the road is closed from October to Memorial Day and road crews have to come in to clear snow banks that can be as tall as 35 feet before the road can be opened to the public. Because it’s only accessible a few months of the year, building the road took six years, from 1926 to 1932.

What with stopping every few miles, or so it seemed, switchbacks, and hardly ever going more than 30 mph, it took us three hours to complete the entire route, but that certainly wasn’t the end of mountain driving for today. After an hour or so on U.S. 40 we hit the Berthoud Pass, again crossing over the continental divide. The switchbacks here were even more challenging than those on the Trail Ridge Highway! We were glad to find a motel, even if it’s a bit on the seedy side, with a hot tub. We spent half an hour blissfully soaking in the hot bubbles and then headed back to our room and to bed with a dinner of rice crackers with cheese and an apple.

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Nicoline Nederland to Estes Park
Nicoline (September 17, 2012)

Last modified: September 17, 2012 at 21:46:45

A difficult start today. Late yesterday afternoon we both noticed that the car made the sort of noise you’d expect it to make when you drive over a rough patch of asphalt, even when the asphalt was as smooth as glass (well, almost). The brakes worked just fine, but I had seen that the rear driver’s side tire was wearing unevenly, so I thought the wheels might have been knocked out of alignment by driving over rough roads recently or that the shock(s) were giving out. As it turned out, that tire was about to blow. Eric took the car to a Meineke close to the hotel (yay for Google!) while I took the time to do two loads of laundry. Good thing we took the time to get it looked at, because you definitely don’t want to drive over mountain roads with no guardrails to speak of when one of your tires blows up. The Meineke people immidiately sent Eric to a nearby tire place, with the warning that “It’ll probably hold out while you drive over there.” The place was just a couple of miles away.

Having had both rear tires replaced - it doesn’t do to replace just one, of course - we drove a little farther west on I-70 and then up Colorado state route 119 to a little town called Nederland. As I said on facebook the other day, the people who named the town Nederland do not have a proper understanding of the meaning of the word “Nederland,” which means low-lying land. Sure, the town is at a significantly lower elevation than the nearby town of Caribou, but 8,236 feet hardly qualifies as low-lying!

Nevertheless, it is a lovely, funky little town where we were delighted to spend some time. One of the ladies at the local geodes, fossils, crystals and gemstone store actually spoke Dutch, too, because her mother happens to be Dutch. We mailed a ton of postcards with “Greeting from Nederland, Colorado” while we waited for the food to arrive at the Pioneer Inn, another funky place (which also happens to serve excellent food!) and where one of the patrons had the longest dreadlocks I’ve ever seen on anyone. I’m sure if he sat on a regular chair his dreads would sweep the ground, but as it happened, he sat on a bar stool. His hair hung down way below the seat but didn’t touch the floor.

When I asked at the visitors’ center if there were any attractions in town that we shouldn’t miss, the lady pointed us to the Carousel of Happiness. A Vietnam vet by the name of Scott Harrison couldn’t bear to see a turn-of-the-20th-century carousel with a real Wurlitzer organ scrapped, so he rescued the carousel and with help from family and friends set about restoring it. It took him 22 years, but the result is spectacular. And you know what? It really does make you happy! When I rode it this afternoon, I felt just like a little kid again.

From Nederland we turned onto Colorado state route 72 toward Estes Park, near Rocky Mountain National Park, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of miles when we came upon this spectacular vista. We are so lucky to be making our trip in September! I hadn’t realized the trees start turning here much earlier than we are used to in Maryland, because of the higher elevation. We met a couple who were trying to take their picture with the fall colors in the background. Rebecca told me she was from upstate New York, so no stranger to beautiful fall colors, but she was blown away by the panorama as well. I offered to take the picture for them, which improved it slightly, but Eric had of course gotten out his camera - Zachary definitely expressed camera envy :-) - and tripod, so I asked them if they’d like their picture taken with a Nikon D300 and we could email the pics to them or they could get them off our blog. One thing led to another, and Zachary was able to give us a couple of tips for the rest of our trip. We’ll be sure to check out the sites you mentioned tonight; thanks!

We continued on state route 72, but the scenery compelled us to make a couple more stops along the way, so we didn’t get to Estes Park until 5 p.m. Tomorrow we’ll be up bright and early to talk to a park ranger and see if we can figure out a way to hike in the Rocky Mountains without perishing in the attempt. We’re still adjusting to the altitude. It’s getting better, but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution in these mountains.

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Nicoline Pikes Peak & Air Force Academy
Nicoline (September 16, 2012)

Last modified: September 16, 2012 at 23:59:26

Today we went to Pikes Peak. To be honest, it wasn’t high on my list of priorities. We’d tried to go there in 2007, but gave up when we realized we’d be snaking up the mountain like rush hour traffic on the Capital beltway and I never thought it was a great loss. But I was wrong, and I’m glad we did take the time to drive all the way to the top and back.

In fact, I did all the driving so Eric could take pictures. Not that we didn’t stop plenty of times to take even more pictures, of course. I usually just wait in the car while Eric fiddles about with apertures and shutter times and what not, but this time the views were so compelling that I just had to get out of the car and enjoy them myself. It’s only a 19 mile drive, but what with the fact that you rarely get about 20 mph and all the stops, it took us at least 90 minutes to get to the top. Amazingly, we overtook several dozen bicyclists. I do admire their dedication, but I wonder if they’ll be able to walk at all tomorrow. Also, it must be pretty dangerous to bike down again!

The drive up is something of a challenge, especially on the switchbacks, but it is nothing compared to the drive down. After the first four miles or so a park ranger makes you stop for a mandatory brake check. The brakes were a tad on the hot side, even though I’m sure I rarely got above walking speed, mostly driving in first or second gear. Anyway, on the ranger’s advice I drove down most of the rest of Pikes Peak in first gear and we made it down safely. Yay for our reliable Honda Accord!

I was quite happy to let Eric take the wheel for our drive to Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy. Another item not high on my list - sorry, Fred :-) - but I’m glad we went. The display in the visitors’ center was informative, though I had to google Barry Goldwater to figure out why it is named for the senator from Arizona. As it turns out, Goldwater served in the Army Air Forces (the Air Force did not become a separate branch of service until 1947) and flew missions in South America, Africa and Asia, including going over “the hump” to fly supplies to Nationalist China over the Himalayas. After the war he remained a reservist, retiring as a major general and having flown 165 (!) different types of aircraft. All this according to Wikipedia.

It’s not surprising that he should be a major proponent of establishing an Air Force Academy. After the visitors’ center we walked up the chapel trail. The chapel is... something else. You’d never know it was a chapel if you didn’t go inside. I wonder why they chose to give it 17 spires. Most religions go for numbers like 3, 7, 10 or 12. It’s clear that the protestant variety of Christianity dominates, with Catholics, Jews and Buddhists relegated to basement. Muslims don’t get any room to worship at all, and that’s not likely to chance any time soon, given the latest furore. Of all the denominations, Buddhists were the only ones to make a point of saying that everyone is welcome. The floor of the synagogue is made out of stones that came from Jerusalem and that were donated by the Israel Defense Force.

From Colorado Springs we took the I-25 to Denver and now we’re trying to figure out if we feel like going into town tonight or if we’ll take it easy and just have dinner at the hotel. There’s a restaurant attached to it that looks decent... On the other hand, if we go into the district known as LoDo according to the touristy magazine in our h otel room, we’ll be in the most historic part of Denver. A tour of the capitol also seems tempting, now that I found out from that same magazine that the building’s roof is actually covered in 24-carat gold leaf in honor of Colorado’s gold rush. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Update: We did go into town and it was a nice neighborhood, seems to be in the process of gentrification. We had dinner at a Mexican place; all in all a great evening!

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Nicoline From the plains to the mountains
Nicoline (September 15, 2012)

Last modified: September 15, 2012 at 22:43:53

Today we drove from Lamar to Woodland Park by way of Cripple Creek. It’s not very far when you look at the map, but nearly 30 miles were over unpaved Colorado state route 67, which took a long time.

We began by driving toward the Rockies via U.S. 50. We followed the driving tour of the Santa Fe Trail until the trail route went down toward New Mexico, while we continued westward. It was clear we were already at a higher elevation than we had been in recent days, because it was quite chilly in the morning. So chilly, in fact, that I got up to close the room’s window (we prefer to sleep with the window open if at all possible) and put the comforter back on the bed. It didn’t really warm up until about 10 o’clock, either. At first it didn’t seem as if we were getting any closer to the Rockies, but after the city of Pueblo, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains all of a sudden.

After Pueblo we saw signs for the Royal Gorge bridge, and we thought that that might make an interesting side trip. Of course, the very fact that we continued to see sign after sign should have given us a clue that it was a tourist trap, but let’s blame that on the difference in altitude. We drove all the way up there, only to find that it’s some kind of bridge theme park, with all kinds of rides and no doubt crappy souvenirs by the bushel, for which they charged an entry fee of $26. Per person. We looked at each other and we immediately decided that while walking over the bridge might be a great experience (and would probably give gorgeous pictures), it wasn’t likely to be $52 worth of great. So we turned around and drove back down the mountain. The whole area around the Royal Gorge bridge is one big tourist attraction, just like Ocean City or Hilton Head. I’m sure if you came here in the summer you’d have to drive up the mountain in one long line of cars, like the Capital Beltway during rush hour.

I wanted to visit the Cripple Creek mining area and since state route 67 promised to be the scenic route there, we decided to take it. Luckily it was Eric’s turn to drive. I don’t really enjoy driving on gravel roads where you constantly feel the car sliding out from under you, even if you do keep it under control. State route 67 certainly lived up to its scenic route appellation. It was gorgeous! It’s owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the road is part of the Gold Belt Tour. A sign at one of the rest stops explained that miners used this road to transport gold out of Cripple Creek and supplies into it, until corporate mine-owners decided to build a narrow-gauge railroad. Unfortunately, narrow-gauge rail cars tends to be rather unstable, so the cars tended to overturn easily. The railway only operated from 1894 until 1912, when a flash flood washed out the entire system. The tracks were dismantled in 1915.

The whole area around Pikes Peak was the scene of a gold rush, although not all deposits were discovered at the same time. Gold was discovered at Pikes Peak in 1859, but not until 1890 at Cripple Creek. However, Cripple Creek and Victor (the neighboring town) remain active gold mining areas to this day. The first thing you notice as you drive into Victor is that it looks almost like a shanty town with a view of mountaintop removal mining and huge slag heaps that are by now as tall as the mountains themselves, except that they are barren. Not a tree grows on them. A sign at a scenic overlook just outside Victor told us that “Directly across the highway [state route 67] is the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. The largest gold mining company in Colorado, [...] Underground mining was conducted at this site for 70 years until 1961. Thereafter, all mining activity lapsed for a decade until the start-up of small-scale surface mining, using heapleaching methods. In 1991, surface mining was started on a large scale and continued to grow with the start of production from CC&V’s Cresson Mine in 1995.” Apparently, we’re all expected to applaud mountaintop removal. Perhaps the residents of Victor do. Except for the shanty town on the outskirts, their town look a tad shabby, but lived-in. Not so in Cripple Creek. That has become corporate America’s vision of what a 19th century mining town should look like. At first you think the store fronts have been beautifully restored, but then you notice that it’s casino upon casino, interspersed with bars and hotels and the like. I don’t think anyone lives in this town. It all counts towards the emiseration of the proletariat. There’s a reason unions sprang up in mining communities, people! As a matter of fact, the Western Federation of Miners was quite active in Cripple Creek. In 1894 they defeated a proposal by the mine owners to have the miners work 10 hours instead of eight for the same pay. The owners then offered 8 hours at a 16% reduction in pay, but that was also defeated. Unfortunately, a 1903 strike that resulted in casualties when some miners engaged in acts of terrorism ended up breaking the union, although elements were later subsumed into the Wobblies and later still the AFL-CIO.

Above Cripple Creek is what is called Heritage Center that’s almost, but not quite, a museum. I had found this place on the interwebz while we were preparing for this trip and it seemed to be less than perfectly unbiased, as indeed it turned out to be. One panel mentions strikes without specifying which strike they’re talking about, only to end with the triumphal announcement that the strike ended “and the union was broken.” Whoop-de-doo, I suppose. Unfortunately, most people know so little about history that this kind of bias will go unnoticed. I bet most people also never notice framed sign hung in an out-of-the-way corner of the center’s lower floor that reads: “GOLD. Proud of our environmental, health, and safety practices. Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company - Anglogold Ashanti” The latter is a South African gold mining outfit, in case you’re curious.

We were pretty tired from the high altitude (Cripple Creek’s elevation is 9,494 feet) so we thought it might be nice if we could stay in town. But there was no room for us at the inn, so we decided to drive on toward Colorado Springs. We ended up getting a room at the Woodland Park Country Lodge. It happens to have a nice pool and spa that we just used, which is why I’m posting so late.

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Nicoline From Kansas to Colorado
Nicoline (September 14, 2012)

Last modified: September 14, 2012 at 23:27:19

Today started with an indoor workout, because the road the Sleep Inn was on was not really suitable for jogging and the motel had a gym. Tiny, but it had three cardio machines, a weight lifting contraption and some free weights. I biked and worked with free weights, did squats and used the weight machine. Not quite as long or as intensively as I should, probably, but better than nothing. After that we showered and had breakfast. Scrambled egg and a sausage biscuit, plus coffee that we bring up to the proper intensity by adding some instant coffee to it. Maybe it’s just me, but the farther west we get, the weaker the coffee seems to be.

After we’d packed up all our stuff again we drove off to Monument Rocks, which was on Eric’s list. I wasn’t so sure about it, especially when the Google maps directions he had printed back home would have had us turn into some dirt path to get there. We both agreed that that was probably not a good idea and drove on to see if we might come across a sign pointing to it. That really bothers me about Kansas: they’re awfully stingy with signage. But we found it, by following a dirt road. Not quite as rutted and cratered as the first one, but still. I wonder how people drive on these roads after a really heavy rain.

Monument Rocks, however, was absolutely worth the drive. Whatever made the Grand Canyon must have used Monument Rocks as a sampler! It also reminded me a little of the Badlands, but that may have been because of the weather. When we were at the Badlands in 1998, it was also very bright and the light played a really unusual trick. Well, I think it’s unusual because I don’t recall it ever happened to me again. The sun light somehow combined with the light-colored rock face so that the washed-out jeans cut-offs the boys were wearing that had scarcely any indigo left in them suddenly appeared to be quite dark blue. Strange, but true. That didn’t happen here, but Monument Rocks is a very impressive rock formation. Along the side of the road, some of the dirt had washed away in a gully that looked exactly like a miniature of the Colorado River bed. Eric took pictures galore, of course, and by the time he was done, he was about covered in mud, but the pictures are worth it.

From Monument Rocks we drove back to I-70 and onto Colby, where we visited the Prairie Museum. Colby is a little town that was first settled in the late 1870s by a J.R. and Mary Colby. Most of its collection, however, comes from the the Kuska family, who have lived in Colby for 50 years. They must have crammed their house to the rafters with all kinds of stuff, some of it junk, but some of it also very interesting. What was also interesting was that the museum also has exhibits outside, such as a sod cabin. Early settlers in Kansas often used sod to build shelter for their families, because lumber was either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. This particular soddy did have a timber roof, a wood floor, what Laura Ingalls Wilders would no doubt call “boughten” windows and white-washed walls, but probably not every settler could afford to do that. Some could not even afford tar paper for the roof of their soddy, so that whenever they had a heavy rain, the ceiling would drip for two or three days afterwards!

After the Prairie Museum we had lunch on the road (an orange, bagels, Cheez-it crackers and water) while we drove to the last stop in Kansas: the roadside Van Gogh reproduction in Goodland. To be quite honest, we were a bit disappointed. For one thing, the reproduction seems quite small, but that may be because we’ve become accustomed to the wide open spaces of Kansas in recent days. For another, they placed the easel in the wrong spot! When you look at it, you see the ugly yellow and red sign of a Dollar General store, a Napa auto parts store and a Pizza Hut before you see Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Even if it’s just a reproduction, it deserves better than that, surely! I don’t know why they didn’t put it a little further west, so it could be sitting in some field by itself and have that much more impact. A question I’d like to find an answer to some day: How do they keep the colors from deteriorating if the thing is out there in all kinds of weather and exposed to prairie sun and wind day in and day out?

We drove off from Goodland to cover the last 20 miles of Kansas, only to find that the last stretch of I-70 west was being worked on and traffic was diverted onto the northern lane of I-70 east, which caused us to miss the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign. That was clearly unacceptable, so Eric drove onto the shoulder, backed the car up to where it said “road closed” and I walked the last hundred yards or so to the sign, much to the dismay of the some of the road work crew who drove up to me to tell me that we really shouldn't do that. I just told them that I’d be very careful and that I’d be out of their hair just as soon as I could. I guess they gave up on me...

Unlike Kansas, Colorado has welcome centers galore, so we stopped at the first one, 11 miles from the Kansas-Colorado line. A very nice welcome center lady gave us so much information that it’s probably going to take us at least an hour to sift through all of it and decide exactly where we want to go. For now, however, we were going to go to Lamar, in southeastern Colorado, to take a picture of the last Madonna of the Trail for this trip. From the welcome center to Lamar was a good 100 miles, and with the change in time zones from central to mountain, we thought that would be quite enough for one day.

However, just outside Lamar we came across the Amache internment camp for Japanese-Americans in World War II. Not much of the camp - which bears a disconcerting resemblance to a concentration camp, except that the inmates weren’t being murdered - remains today, but some children of people who were interred there began to get together in the late 1970s to remember and to preserve as much of the site as they could. One of the signs said that of the 110,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of whom were citizens, who were interred during World War II, not one has ever been convicted of espionage. Some Japanese-Americans of military age even volunteered for service in the armed forces and many served with distinction. When we came to Lamar, we found out that most governors exhibited the NIMBY-reflex when it came to establishing internment camps in their states, only governor Ralph L. Carr (1887-1950) took a principled stand, which cost him his political career. “One of the few voices of reason during wartime was Governor Carr, who continued to treat the Japanese-Americans with respect and sought to help them keep their American citizenship. He sacrificed his political career to bravely confront the often dark side of human nature. ‘If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.’” There is a statue to governor Carr in Sakura Square in Denver, according to an information panel at the Lamar welcome center. We’ll be sure to look him up!

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Nicoline More Kansas
Nicoline (September 13, 2012)

Last modified: September 13, 2012 at 22:51:20

From our Holiday Inn room overlooking I-70 we watched a pretty impressive thunderstorm last night. The weather had been beautiful, although on the hot side, all day but toward the evening it began to cloud up and by the time we checked in the rain had started. The trouble with sun in Kansas is that there’s always wind, so you don’t notice that you’re getting a sunburn or something until it’s too late.

I had clearly gotten an overdose of sun, because the back of my legs and my hands and arms were covered in tiny red bumps that I think is polymorphous light eruption: “Polymorphous light eruption is an itchy rash caused by sun exposure in people who have developed a sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity). The rash usually appears as red, tiny bumps or slightly raised patches of skin.” This according to the Mayo Clinic. Whatever it was, it looked awful and the itch nearly drove me crazy until I was able to wash in cold water and put some anti-itch stuff on it. Argggh!

Anyway, when we left the hotel this morning it was still raining - a cold, miserable, driving rain, too - and for the first time in I don’t know how long it was chilly enough to wear a jacket! We even turned on the heating in the car, because we were still in shorts and sandals and our feet were cold. By the time we were back at the Eisenhower Museum to finish where we’d left off yesterday, the car had just warmed up nicely.

We finished our tour of the Eisenhower Museum, both of us coming to the conclusion that while it contains interesting stuff, there’s no unity to the story it tells. It jumps around quite a bit and you don’t really see the progression of events. That’s unnecessary, because if anybody’s story is fairly well-known, it’s Ike’s. The museum did, however, pay attention to the role of television in Ike’s 1952 presidential campaign, even if he resented being sold like a box of detergent, as I think he’s quoted in David Halberstam’s book “The Fifties.”

From Abilene we drove to Lucas, where Eric particularly wanted to see the Garden of Eden. For some reason I had got it into my head that it was some kind of rock formation thing, like the Garden of Gods in Colorado, so I was somewhat lukewarm about this endeavor. However, this town of some 450 people managed to put to rest once and for all that there is nothing interesting to see in Kansas!

The town sign is pretty artful, which is a nice chance from the utilitarian green signs the highway department puts up, but the first thing we saw when we drove into town was what is billed as the world’s largest souvenir plate.

We found the Garden of Eden pretty easily and proceeded to take a tour of the home of a Civil War veteran from Ohio who built a “log cabin” out of native lime stone. One of the pieces he used is 17 feet long and must weigh a ton! That particular area of Kansas has a layer of limestone about a foot below the earth and because there were few or no trees in the area, early settlers figured out pretty soon that they could quarry this comparatively soft stone fairly easily and use it for everything you’d normally use wood for. One use that figures prominently in the area is as fence posts. There’s even a scenic drive called the Post Rock drive. We didn’t seek it out for its scenic qualities, but on the way to Lucas from I-70 we stopped at a dam where they had also used limestone and a sign explained the particular qualities of the stone.

Anyway, once inside the faux log cabin we got a tour which explained that S.P. Dinsmore built the cottage and the sculptures as a way to fund his retirement from farming in 1907. His statues are not just statues, but also social and political commentary. Dinsmore was by all accounts a guy who went his own way. For example, he built a mausoleum where he wanted to bury his first wife’s remains (after she died, he remarried at age 80 or thereabouts to a woman who was about a quarter his age!) but town ordinances forbade this. So he buried her in the town cemetery, but one night secretly dug her up and interred her in the mausoleum, where he encased her casket in concrete, so no one could get at it anymore. His second wife complained of being left alone all the time while he was out in the yard working on his concrete sculptures, so he made a little statue of a guy looking into the kitchen window (the kitchen and dining room are in the basement of the house) to make her feel like she had company.

But the statue I like best is the one he left unfinished because he went blind in the last two years before his death. It depicts a worker (labor) being crucified by four money-sucking fellows: a doctor, a preacher, a lawyer and a banker. Pretty incisive commentary for the early 20th century and still relevant today!

The tour guide also urged us to visit the Grassroots Arts Center, and because we like to just go places on a whim, we did. We were not disappointed! The things people can make out of what most of us would consider to be worthless junk. And to our surprise, it included stuff we had come across on our 2007 trip, which was also somewhere in Kansas. It was there that I found the perfect souvenir of our trip: another little monkey.

The last stop on our tour of tiny Lucas was the public restroom that had just opened in June. I don’t remember ever being in a public restroom where you are more interested in the decor than in doing your business and getting out. Due to the town’s quirky nature, the public restroom is shaped like a giant toilet, with the path leading to it an unwinding roll of toilet paper. Inside, the ladies’ and gents restrooms are decorated quite differently. Since nobody else was there, Eric went into the ladies’ room to take pictures while I admired the decor in the men’s room. Extraordinary.

By now it was nearly 2 p.m. and we wanted to get to Hays, to see historic Fort Hays. On the way there, we noticed while some people may not be in Kansas anymore, Waldo is definitely there. So you can stop inquiring as to his whereabouts.

Fort Hays was one of a number of frontier forts established to protect migrants on the Smoky River Trail and travelers on the Butterfield Overland Diepatch stagecoach to Denver. It was home to the 7th Cavalry, General Custer’s outfit that met such an unfortunate fate at Little Big Horn in what is now Montana, and to the Buffalo Soldiers. It even had its very own "Lady with the lamp."

Our idea of a frontier fort is all wrong. I remember having a Playmobil set of a fort and soldiers and horses and stuff, and it definitely included a stockade, complete with towers. For one thing, there usually was no stockade, because there wouldn’t have been enough trees in the area to build one. Also, the wide open spaces of Kansas made it unlikely that anyone, least of all a party of Native American braves on the war path, could sneak up on the fort. And Native Americans weren’t so stupid as to attack a fort when guerilla tactics were far more effective and less dangerous to them: lightning attacks on small parties of settlers or isolated groups of soldiers on a scouting mission etc. By the mid-1880s the Native American population had become so diminished that there was no longer a need for all the forts, so most of them were closed. Some, such as Ft. Riley and Ft. Leavenworth, remain active military installations to this day, though.

After Fort Hays we decided to take the Smoky Hills scenic drive. According to the Kansas Byways website, the “Smoky Hills Trail was established at the Civil War’s end to carry goods and travelers, including bona fide gold diggers, from Fort Leavenworth to Denver. Although it provided the shortest route to Denver, the trail was considered dangerous, and travel often required the protection of troops stationed at nearby Fort Hays.” It was a beautiful drive, even though we didn’t see very many wildflowers. Possibly September is a bit late in the year for that. We did see birds, though. I think it was Thoreau who said that you can’t be truly free unless you can look at a free horizon as much as you want, and he’s right. As much as Maryland is home, we just don’t have that kind of space in Maryland.

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Nicoline Kansas
Nicoline (September 12, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 23:10:16

Today was Wednesday, so we started out with a 30 minute run through Council Grove. It’s a nice town, even if the locals looked rather surprised to see people out for a jog. After breakfast - which we had luckily brought with us, down to an orange to stand in for orange juice - we took the time to go through the materials we had picked up at the information center in Lawrence the day before.

One of the flyers was hardly even a flyer, but more like thin book of beautiful pictures and descriptions of scenic drives available around I-70 called “Scenic Byways of Kansas.” Since we happened to notice a sign pointing to U.S. 56 on our run, we decided to start with the Prairie Trail. It did not disappoint. We drove down state route 77 to get to Canton and while that wasn’t part of the scenic route per se, it was a beautiful drive all the same, especially, since the sky was darkening with rain. Canto is near the old Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails, and for a while we followed the Santa Fe Trail signs.

Near Roxbury we stopped for a while at the observation tower at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. It’s a nature reserve begun by the brother John Gault and Henry Irving (the information kiosk at the observation tower apparently misspells his name) Maxwell. According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, it all started in “...1859 when Henry Gault Maxwell drove a small herd of bison to the area and established a homestead.” Mr. Maxwell was either already married and brought his wife with him to Kansas, or married after settling there. At any rate, he had two sons, John, Jr. and Henry. “After the elder Maxwell’s death, his two sons became successful businessmen and never forgot their father’s dream. The last surviving son, Henry Irving Maxwell, crafted his will to fulfill his father’s vision. In 1943, Henry Irving Maxwell’s estate began purchasing land to create a wildlife refuge. In 1944, 2,560 acres were deeded to what is now the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), which created the refuge.” In addition to buffalo there are supposed to be elk, but we didn’t see the latter. We spend a good twenty minutes looking all around us from the tower and then came down to have a picnic lunch in the shade of the kiosk. Even with the strong wind, it was hot enough to make us seek shade.

After lunch we drove on to Lindsborg, a town that is known as “Little Sweden U.S.A.” according to the scenic byways brochure. We didn’t stop in town, because we wanted to get to Coronado Heights, which marks the northernmost point that Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján (1510-1554) is thought to have achieved in 1541. Coronado Park was constructed under the Works Progress Administration in 1936, so almost 400 years after Coronado’s journey. I don’t know if they planted the grasses and other vegetation to bring to mind the southwest and Spanish conquistadores and all that or whether they grow there naturally, but both Eric and I were strongly reminded of New Mexico and Arizona, which we visited in 2007. It must be because we’re traveling in the off-season, but Coronado Park is such a beautiful spot that we simply couldn’t understand why it there wasn’t a crowd of people!

The next time anybody tells me “Meh, Kansas. It’s all flat, nothing to see, boring!” I’ll point them to just these two spots to show them they’re dead wrong. And even if you’re just driving from point to point, the landscape chances continually and it’s never in the least boring. The only thing you could possibly describe that way is that some landowners in the area hang old tires on their fences saying “Keep Out” as though you’d even want to come in over barbed wire.

From Coronado Park we drove on via state routes 141 and 140, because we cheated a little. Instead of heading west on I-70 we headed east, to get back to Abilene. It’s the hometown of President Eisenhower, so we wanted to visit the presidential library and museum. We started with a 24-minute movie in the visitors’ center, which was so condensed that it left out Ike’s command of Allied force that landed in North-Africa in 1942. Then we took a tour of his boyhood home. The guide, who had clearly conducted this tour about 9 million times and could recite it in his sleep, said that everything that was in the house was there when Mrs. Ida Eisenhower, Ike’s mother, died in 1946. I was looking at the book case in the parlor and noticed a New Testament in Syriac (presumably one in Syriac with an English translation next to it, or I wouldn’t have been able to read the title), so I asked who read that. It’s not a language that one expects to find in Abilene. As it turns out, both Ike’s parents were educated and later married at Lane University, a Church of the United Brethren in Christ school (some Mennonite faction, I presume) in Lecompton. According to Wikipedia, Lane University merged with Campbell University in 1902 to form Campbell College.

After the house tour we moved on to the museum and got as far as the D-Day landings in 1944, but the lady at the front desk was kind enough to mark our tickets for admission tomorrow, so we’ll complete the rest of the museum tomorrow. It did include a very beautiful display of textile art by a Korean artist. I found his depiction of the division of the two Koreas the most moving.

Eric’s research had given him the information that Mrs. K’s Farmhouse Restaurant just outside of Abilene was his favorite establishment, so we decided to have an early dinner there in honor of the 34th president so we could get to a motel with internet early and work on two days’ worth of diary entries, not to mention facebook and other sites that badly need our attention :-)

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Nicoline Capitals and constitutions
Nicoline (September 11, 2012)

Last modified: September 12, 2012 at 21:55:09

I’ve kind of lost track of the date. It wasn’t until I saw flags flying at half-staff everywhere that I realized it must be September 11. Strange to think it’s been 11 years already. The sky today was as bright blue as it was then, and it was pretty warm even though we got an early start. We were in the car by 8:30 and arrived at the John Brown Memorial Park before the museum even opened.

The park was open, so we just walked around and read all the information on the signs. Some appeared to have been put up just recently, maybe in preparation for the festival next weekend. And because we were very quiet and stood quiet still, Eric got a couple of really nice shots of a squirrel. OK, I know squirrels are no big deal, but still.

When the museum opened at 10, the site superintendent showed us in and gave us some information about the place. The stone building that houses the museum is actually built right over the log cabin that housed John Brown’s half-sister and her husband, Samuel Adair and Florella Brown Adair, who were both also involved in abolitionist work and had both been educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, a hotbed of abolitionism. In addition to housing the Adairs and their two children, it also housed John Brown and five of his sons (he had 20 children in total by two wives) and served as a station on the underground railroad. Brown and his sons attacked a group of pro-slavery settlers in May 1856 and on August 30, a pro-slavery militia led by John Reid attacked John Brown’s group in retaliation, resulting in the battle of Osawatomie.

Reid’s men then proceeded to loot and burn the town of Osawatomie, which did the pro-slavery cause a lot of harm in the court of public opinion. As a result of the battle of Osawatomie, John Brown gained fame - or notoriety, depending on your point of view - throughout the United States and became known as Old Osawatomie Brown. He used this new-found fame to plan the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, which involved robbing a federal arsenal to arm the slaves so they would rise up in a massive revolt and overthrown the government. This plan was foiled by Col. Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army and Brown was hanged for treason on December 2, 1859. The last words he wrote were: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” The Civil War, which is still the bloodiest war the U.S. has ever fought, began less than two years later, hence the slogan on the billboard outside town: “Cradle of the Civil War.”

From Osawatomie we backtracked along state route 7, because there was supposed to be a Olathe Visitors Bureau on 106th street where we thought they might have a road map of Kansas of the kind you normally get at a state welcome center. Kansas only has one welcome center, and it’s located at the western end of I-70 in the state. We preferred to get a map before leaving the state, but unfortunately we could not find 106th street. The numbers went from 119th to 83rd street with nothing in between. By now it was about noon, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some stuff for lunch and dinner and any meal in between. We had lunch right in the parking lot, because we were famished, and those baguettes with blueberry Stilton and yoghurt for desert sure tasted good, even if the other shoppers probably thought we were crazy.

After lunch we proceeded to follow state route 7 into Ft. Leavenworth, thinking we’d be sure to see signs for the Buffalo Soldiers Monument and the site of the fort that was home to the black cavalry regiment first authorized by Congress in 1866. That didn’t quite work out. We did find a marker for the place where the first landing that later became Ft. Leavenworth was located, but nothing else. A website for Ft. Leavenworth says that the monument to the Buffalo Soldiers wasn’t dedicated until June 25, 1992, when Colin L. Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first black man to serve as such. Better late than never, I suppose. Anyway, we gave up the hunt and decided to follow the Kansas Turnpike, which coincides with I-70 for a bit, to see if we could find a service center where there might be stack of Kansas highway maps available. As it turned out, the only service center on the turnpike was one that had a gas station and a fast food place and a whole bunch of touristy junk for sale, but no friggin’ highway maps or any other kind of useful information. That had to wait until we got off the turnpike in Lawrence and found a place where they not only had maps galore but a very helpful lady at the information desk who helped us find a bunch of stuff. They even had a display called “around I-70”!

Lawrence is home to Kansas University and former U.S. Senator Robert J. “Bob” Dole. After he retired from the Senate, Mr. Dole donated his papers to the university and it built the Robert J. Dole Center for Politics to house a research library and museum. It’s as close as he got to a presidential library, I suppose. One of its windows is a giant stained-glass American flag, very appropriate for 9/11, especially since the window is flanked by two sections of I-beams from the World Trade Center.

Having learned at the John Brown Memorial Park that Kansas had no fewer than 8 state capitals and 4 constitutions, we were eager to see at least one of them. One of the brochures we picked up in Osawatomie said that Ft. Riley, which was the state capital for a few days (!) happened to be closed, so we settled for Lecompton, where the 1857 pro-slavery constitution was created. According to the Kansas Historical Society the first capital was an office at Ft. Leavenworth. The next year, in 1855, the legislature met at Ft. Riley, but after 5 days it moved to the Shawnee Methodist Mission near Kansas City. In 1857 it met at Lecompton (see above) and Lawrence. In 1859 the Wyandotte Constitution named Topeka as its temporary capital. It was under this constitution that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. In the next election Topeka was voted the permanent state capital, although the state house wasn’t ready for occupation until 1869 and not completely finished until 1903. I suppose you could count Topeka twice, once because it was only the temporary capital and another time when it was voted the permanent capital, in which case you come to 8 capitals.

The history of Kansas’ constitutions is equally convoluted. Depending on whether pro-slavery or abolitionists (free-staters) were in the ascendant, Kansas territory legislators debated constitutions in Pawnee (slavery), Lawrence and Big Spring (free-staters), leading to a constitution approved on December 15 that forbade slavery but also did not allow free blacks to settle in the state. Congress disapproved and rejected Kansas’ application to be admitted to the Union. The next constitutional debate took place in Lecompton. The pro-slavery constitution it produced was submitted to the people to “ [...] on a special slavery article only: in other words, ‘for the constitution with slavery’ or ‘for the constitution without slavery.’ Because a vote ‘for the constitution without slavery’ meant Kansans could keep the slaves they already owned, freestaters refused to participate. On December 21, the ‘constitution with slavery’ won 6,226 to 569.” Meanwhile, the governor had called the legislature into special session on December 7, to schedule another vote on the Lecompton constitution. This time, it was defeated. The debate on the third constitution took place at Ft. Leavenworth in March 1858. It was the most radical document so far. According to the Kansas Historical Society, “The word ‘white’ did not appear in this proposed document, and it would not have excluded free ‘Negroes and mulattoes’ from the state. The Leavenworth Constitution was ratified on May 18, 1858.” Finally, the legislature, now firmly under the control of free-staters, met in Wyandotte to debate yet another constitution. The document was adopted and signed on July 29 and was finally approved by voters on October 4, 1859. This is the the constitution that allowed Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a free state in 1861.

We didn’t learn any of this in Lecompton, though, because all of its historic sites are open only from Wednesday through Saturday. That’s what you get when you go places on a whim. Oh well.

By this time we had been on the road for nearly 10 hours and we were finished for the day. So we turned picked up I-70 at Topeka and drove to an exit where the signs promised motels galore. First we drove a couple of miles north: No motels. We did, however, come to a beautiful scenic overlook. Then we drove back and a couple of miles south of the interstate: still no motels. By then we were about halfway to Council Grove, where a Madonna of the Trail was waiting, so we decided to drive all the way down there, hoping there’d be some sort of motel or hotel. And there was, but it didn’t offer internet. So we settled down with Doritos and M&Ms for dinner and a book instead of a laptop. And you know what: It was quite restful.

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Nicoline Frontier Trails & Civil War
Nicoline (September 10, 2012)

Last modified: September 10, 2012 at 21:59:09

With all the driving and sitting still, both of us started to feel our backs and other body parts that you normally shouldn’t notice, so we decided to start the day with a run. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, 70 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze, which helped. After that we showered and went for breakfast. It was one of these motels that are run as a family enterprise and they clearly don’t believe in spending a penny too much. The faucet in our bathroom worked, but it was held in place with gobs of silicon or something similar and at the breakfast buffet there wasn’t a basket of single-serving packets of oatmeal like you usually see, but just a large container of Quaker Oats (old-fashioned, too, not even the quick stuff), as though they were saying “What are you complaining about? There’s oatmeal, isn’t there? Well, then!” But, in defense of the Days Inn at Concordia, MO, I will say that their internet was pretty good.

Anyway, we were soon on our way to see another Madonna of the Trail, this one in Lexington, MO. As it happens, Lexington seems like a pretty pleasant town. It not only has a library and a bookstore/coffee shop right next to one another, but also a second hand book store. Pretty impressive, for a small town of some 4,400 people, even if the second-hand bookstore was closed. I had some cards to mail, so I walked back into the town center to find a mailbox while Eric took pictures and I came across the historic courthouse, where there is a monument to the Pony Express that started there in the late 19th century and right next to it is a sign for the Santa Fe Trail, for which Lexington was a jumping-off point. The courthouse was damaged in the Civil War and to this day a cannon ball from 1861 is embedded in one of the pillars. They also have a monument to the county’s war dead which I thought was particularly nice because it made a point of including sailors in the merchant marine and National Guardsmen, who sometimes tend to be overlooked.

Having found out all that we couldn’t, of course, turn our backs and head back to the interstate. Instead, we meandered our way to Independence, MO via the Missouri 224 scenic byway. It was a very pretty drive and it’s nice to drive at a lower speed so you can have the windows open without the noise driving you crazy. Eric and I are probably never going to agree on that! I’m always hot and he thinks it’s on the nippy side if it isn’t 80 degrees out.

We were a little late getting to the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, but it’s not like we’re running a race or anything, so we took the time to watch the introductory movie. Not really anything new, of course, but it’s fun to see anyway, even if we probably saw the same movie when we visited in 2002. Incidentally, the museum also has a Thomas Hart Benton mural. From the Truman Library website: "Benton began work on the mural in early 1960, three years after the founding of the Truman Library. Out of the mural, a deep and lasting friendship emerged between two of Missouri's most famous sons. In one account, Benton, high on the scaffolding, was listening to the comments of his chief critic and patron below, President Truman. Finally Benton called down, 'If you want to help paint, come up here.' 'By golly, I will,' Truman replied. He climbed up to the platform, seized a brush and began dabbing blue on the sky. Occasions like this, made the President and the artist lifelong friends." We toured the exhibits, and I found out that the Trumans actually visited Amsterdam after he had left the White House. We ate lunch on a picnic bench outside the museum - finally finished the awful Aldi bagels, yay! - before heading to the National Frontier Trails Museum, just a few blocks south of the Truman Library. It’s on a site where there used to be a flour mill owned by the family of Mrs. Truman, but it burned down in the 1960s.

Independence was a jumping off point for pioneers setting off on any of three trails (four, if you count the Mormon Trail): The Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails. When we arrived we were the only people there, and we had the movie theater all to ourselves, but as we began looking at the exhibits other people came in. It’s a bit creepy to be in a museum all by yourself. The museum has a pretty good exhibit on Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery and then goes on to show why people chose to migrate along any of the three trails.

There are probably as many reasons as there are people who migrated, but one of the things that struck me was that it actually had a pretty high success rate. Some 90 percent of those who made any of those three journeys arrived at their destination. Not without plenty of trouble along the way, of course. Disease and weather claimed their share of victims, as did attacks by Native Americans, although that became a problem relatively late in the history of the trails, and not until after treaties made with various tribes had been broken. Often they had to dump some or all of their treasures that they meant to bring along to their new homes along the way to lighten the load and wagons and animals sometimes broke down as well. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what possessed people to make such a long and hazardous journey. Looking at the Lewis and Clark movie at the Arch two days ago and seeing some of their exploits highlighted here at the National Frontier Trails Museum, plus all the thousands who made the journey later, we feel singularly unaccomplished. What sort of people were they? They must have been made of sterner stuff than we are.

After the Frontier Trails Museum we drove on into Kansas City because we wanted to see the Kansas City, KS, library’s parking garage that looks like a shelf of books. I don’t know who came up with the idea to plant trees in the one spot where they shouldn’t be, because half the bookshelf is obscured by them! Then we walked around the Power and Light District, which is supposed to be shopping and entertainment center. I’m sure there’s lots going on there on the weekend, but as we happened to be there on a Monday afternoon, we didn’t see any of it. We did walk past the Kansas City convention center where there was some kind of conference of actuaries going on. That must be fun :-)

On August 26, I came across an article in the New York Times that described off-beat places to visit and things to see, and it happened to mention the State Line Road, which divides Kansas City, MO from Kansas City, KS and was the site of pitched battles between pro-slavery forces and abolitionists during the “Bleeding Kansas” years. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise had stipulated that new states should be added to the Union in pairs, so that the balance between slave states and free states would be preserved. Missouri was at the western end of a belt of states that were above the 36 degrees 30’ parallel, above which slavery would no longer be permitted in new territories. Slave states that sat above that line are Kentucky, , the part of Virginia that is now West-Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the compromise by allowing the inhabitants of a territory to decide whether they wanted to be a slave state or a free state. Since Kansas could go either way, a lot of pro-slavery whites, known as border ruffians, moved into Kansas to help decide the question in favor of slavery. Pro-slavery and abolitionist forces sometimes fought pitched battles, such as the one fought by John Brown and his men against Henry Clay Pate on the Black Jack Battlefield near present-day Ottawa and Osawatomie, KS, in 1856 and in. We’ll visit the John Brown historic site in Osawatomie tomorrow.

It is decidedly disconcerting to drive down State Line Road today. There’s nothing to remind you of its contentious, not to say bloody, history. In fact, it looks just as suburban as Columbia, MD. The only thing is that on one side of the street all the cars have Missouri license plates and on the other side the University of Kansas Medical Center dominates the landscape. I wonder if the two states (and the 15 counties that make up the Kansas City metropolitan area) have some sort of cooperation agreement to run Kansas City as a single municipality? Imagine the hassles trying to figure out whether you should speak to the county or the city on the east or west of the line!

Anyway, State Line Road was pretty unexciting to look at, so we turned to find our way back to I-70 west and from there down Kansas route 7 toward Osawatomie. Unfortunately, that is farther away than we thought it would be, so in the end we decided to stay in Olathe, KS. We had no idea how to pronounce it and there are several possibilities, so I asked the desk clerk. He said it’s pronounced O-LA-tha, with an “a” at the end. I didn’t feel like asking why. I’ve also been mispronouncing Osawatomie. I thought it was OsawaTOmie, but it’s actually OsaWAtomie. Just so you know. Because we got to the motel rather early I decided to do a load of laundry, which took me about an hour or so. I feel very virtuous, also because I had brought two microwavable meals which we heated and ate and which were actually quite edible.

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Nicoline Little House in Mansfield, MO
Nicoline (September 9, 2012)

Last modified: September 9, 2012 at 20:50:24

Another itch scratched. This time it was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, MO. I think I’m done with the Little House-stuff now. In 1998, thinking we might be going back to Holland fairly soon, we took a trip to De Smet, SD, to visit the Ingalls homestead and museum. I still credit that trip with deciding us in favor of staying in the U.S. because of the friendliness of the people and the spaciousness of the country we saw. There is nothing quite like the wide open spaces of the west. It’s a cliché, I know, but clichés tend to contain more than a grain of truth.

Nowadays when I see people traveling with their kids, I wonder how we did stuff way back when. Mark turned five on the trip to South Dakota - we had a party at the indoor adventure park at Mall of America, where they also had a great Lego thingamajig, with Lego constructions big enough for a little guy to sit on. Even before that, we traveled with them not only from Holland to the U.S. by way of Heathrow Airport and by car from Short Hills, NJ, to Charleston, SC because I not only had a Little House itch but also a Civil War itch.

I do remember that we brought breakfast cereal with us, buying milk at a gas station early in the morning and fixing coffee in the room, to save both money and time. Motels usually didn’t offer breakfast, or if they did it would be just doughnuts and danishes, unsuitable for kids who will need to sit still in the car for a couple of hours. For lunch and dinner we mostly ate out, even if it was only at McDonald’s, and even there we had rules. The kids could not have soda, and they had to finish their meal before they were allowed to get up off the table.

We used to tell them that “the Romans [as in the ancients] lay down at the table with their heads propped up on their arms and they ate like pigs” to avoid charging any one nationality with having atrocious table manners. You know how it is with kids. Tell them the Moldovians have terrible table manners and they’re bound to make the acquaintance of a bunch of Moldovan kids in the pool at the next motel and mortally offend the parents by proclaiming loudly that their table manners are deplorable. Anyway. They would have to sit up straight and eat with appropriate utensils. No getting up and running around. I’m pretty sure whining was also a no-no, but it was probably unavoidable sometimes after long hours in the car. But they’d be in bed at approximately their regular bed time, tucked into one of the queen beds after a story from “Jip and Janneke” while Eric and I shared the other one.

People don’t seem to have figured out a way how to keep their kids under control or even how to get them to eat without getting food all over themselves or the table. No one ever seems to tell their kid “Don’t put your shoes on the seat; other people have to sit there, you know!” and yesterday in Rolla, the three-year-old blithely ran up and down the pool area without his mother even attempting to say “Don’t run!” on account of slick floor tiles. Of course it isn’t my business to say anything, so I just bite my tongue and hope he doesn’t fall flat on his face and howl. I’m just glad we don’t have to travel with little kids anymore. We just get the room with the king bed and enjoy the peace and quiet! Tonight's rest will be particularly blessed, I'm sure, since the motel is housed in what certainly looks like a former church to me.

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Nicoline The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
Nicoline (September 8, 2012)

Last modified: September 9, 2012 at 10:08:38

We thought we’d change things up a little and stay at a Baymont Inn instead of a Days Inn, but I’m not sure it’s a step up on the Wyndham ladder, as their paperwork suggests. Their internet is slow as molasses in January. I can just about check facebook and email and then it’s tired and needs a rest. It also won’t let me log into Eric’s laptop, which is a great bore, because I have a picture that tells the history of the Eastern half of the United States in a nutshell.

As I said, we drove out to Kaskaskia from Perryville, MO, this morning. Eric wanted to have the pleasure of driving into St. Louis from the east, which required a drive back into Illinois anyway, so it didn’t make much difference where we’d cross the Mississippi. The land was somewhat flat, but not completely so, until we got to what I suppose you’d call a bayou. It’s basically a part of the river that’s dry land under normal conditions but it floods without any encouragement at all. We couldn’t believe how Dutch it looked, coming up on a low dike and then standing on top looking over flat land as far as the eye can see. Even the wind was Dutch, definitely on the nippy side and I’m sure that had we tried to bike there, we would have had headwind no matter which direction we went.

At any rate, we drove to the town of Kaskaskia, where we saw the bell that Louis XV donated to the citizens in the first half of the 18th century (without pictures I can’t check the dates, dang it!) so they could put it in their church. It now hangs in a little chapel, which was unfortunately closed, but we could look inside it. A little ways down the road is the church of Kaskaskia, very European looking also, with an all-brick steeple, instead of the white wooden New England-looking ones we’re used to here. The place was and is French, down to the fleur de lis on the church steps, and we were not surprised to find that it was a Catholic church. Kaskaskia consists of a grid of nine streets, along most of which we walked because it was such a nice, fresh day and not at all muggy. During our walk we saw exactly one person, who greeted us but made no attempt at conversation, and two dogs. That was it. So we got back in the car and drove out along La Grande Rue in the opposite direction of how we’d driven in.

Pretty soon we ended up at the little dike again. No signs said we couldn’t drive up to the top and over it into a farm road, so that’s what we did for all of about 100 ft. I could feel the car slipping and sliding as I drove at barely a walk, so I told Eric I wasn’t going to go any farther and get hopelessly bogged down in thick mud. I intended to turn, but Eric didn’t think the sides of the road would hold up at all, so in the end I just put the car in reverse and drove out backward. We didn’t get stuck, but it took quite a while for the wheels to shed the mud.

We decided that maybe we’d better return to civilization and paved roads, so we took La Grande Rue back past Kaskaskia and out towards Ste. Geneviève, where there was supposed to be a ferry across the Mississippi. And that’s where Eric took the picture I’m talking about. A sign post bearing a street sign saying “La Grande Rue” intersecting with “N. King’s Highway." If that’s not a perfect metaphor for 18th century American history, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, we drove onto Ste. Geneviève, wondering how the locals pronounced it. Despite 15 years in Maryland and 17 years in the country, when I come across a very French name like that, I pronounce it the way the French would (despite my mistreatment of the the Gallic language, of course). It took me years to remember that Montpellier is pronounced MontPELE-ear, instead of Monpel-YAY. As it turns out, Ste. Geneviève is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri, founded ca. 1735, according to Wikipedia, and the natives pronounce it Saint Geneveef. A shame to mistreat a beautiful name like that, but there it is. It’s a charming little town that we spent a little while exploring. I think w sometimes forget, or choose not to remember, that the French are just as much part of our history as the English and Germans. It's great to be able to travel wherever we fancy instead of having to stick to a set schedule. So what if that means we sometimes fall a little behind?

Unfortunately, the ferry was closed due to historically low water levels on the Mississippi. The clerk at the welcome center, who was probably all of 25 years old, said he didn’t remember it ever been as low as it is now. So we ended up driving back into Missouri and up I-55 to loop back to a point where we could pick up I-70 west to St. Louis. I drove, and Eric snapped picture after picture, which you aren’t going to get to see until we get to a place with decent internet, I’m afraid. Or until the morning, when most people are busy eating breakfast or checking out and not hogging bandwith :-)

We quickly found parking near the Arch and walked to the visitor center that’s below ground. Security was pretty tight. The Park Service even made people take off their belts. We bought tickets for the 1.30 showing of a movie about Lewis and Clark, the 2.25 tram ride to the top of the arch and a 4 p.m. showing of a documentary about how the Arch was built. The movie was made by National Geographic and featured absolutely breathtaking nature scenes: rivers, prairies, mountains, glaciers, and oceans. Stunning. It’s worth a visit to the Arch just to see that movie.

President Jefferson, Lewis and Clark may have believed that there was plenty of space for white settlement and that Native Americans and whites could co-exist peacefully, but they were quite wrong. Probably no one set out to start a war, but just consider this: St. Louis had 500 residents in 1803, when Lewis and Clark set out toward the Pacific. By the time of the Mexican War, the town had over 47,000 residents! The whole history of westward expansion is beautifully laid out in the museum of westward expansion. Not as slickly produced, perhaps, as the show at the Lincoln Museum, but more authentic and probably more authoritative. I didn’t read every single panel, but there’s a whole wall devoted to a timeline of westward expansion, plus different tableaux with “moving” and “talking” mannequins and what looked to be real historical artifacts.

The documentary about the building of the Arch is also well-worth seeing, especially if you are an engineer. I just like it for architect Saarinen’s conceptualization and for the drama of making all the pieces fit together exactly so. At 630 ft. the Arch is the highest of all monuments in the country and it’s made out of a specially made steel sections clad in stainless steel from Pittsburgh that were shipped out to St. Louis by train and that were welded together in place. The people who worked on it cannot have suffered from vertigo, since most of them appeared to go about their jobs almost without any safety precautions. No one seemed to use safety harnesses, though they did wear hard hats. Nevertheless, the Arch was completed without the loss of a single life.

We meant to go on to the Old Courthouse, which is part of the Arch National Park, even though it’s two blocks away. But that had already closed. It’s the site of the first two trials in the Dred Scott case, before it came before the Supreme Court. The court itself is in the process of being refurbished on the outside and we decided we didn’t want to stick around St. Louis until tomorrow to wait for the museum to open. After all, the facts of the Dred Scott case are fairly well-known and you can easily find whatever you need to know about it on the internet. So we had a little picnic at the base of the Arch and then got back in the car to drive out west toward southern Missouri. After two hours of driving, we decided to call it a day. The Baymont Inn has a pool and we treated ourselves to some R&R in the pool and the hot tub. That sure felt good!

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Nicoline Three capitals
Nicoline (September 7, 2012)

Last modified: September 7, 2012 at 23:30:38

We managed to visit all three of Illinois’ state capitals - having woken up in the second one, Vandalia - which is pretty impressive, considering that our faithful Honda developed engine trouble which necessitated a trip to a Honda dealership in the state’s current capital. The lady at the Springfield visitor center sure thought it odd that we asked for the address of a car dealership rather than directions to any of the myriad Lincoln-related sights. But the Lincoln sites are pretty hard to miss in Springfield, while a Honda dealership is kind of hard to find.

We thought that driving into town on U.S. 51 and state route 29 we’d be almost sure to come across one, but no such luck. So we decided to do the touristy thing first and stop at garage-museum on Route 66. It was kind of fun, lots of early 20th century automobile memorabilia, but more of a jumble of stuff than anything you’d call a museum. We arrived at the same time as a group of Swedish tourists, corvette enthusiasts to judge by their t-shirts, who had flown into Chicago the day before and were going to drive the length of Route 66, all the way to Los Angeles. They had a bunch of questions about the road and wanted to look at *everything* so we slipped out to work on reaching our second goal.

One does not, after all, visit Illinois without paying homage to Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln library is of course a research library that isn’t really open to the public unless you come as a researcher. Some creative soul may be able to come up with some new angle of writing about Lincoln, but it must be getting more and more difficult.

In order to deal with all the ignoramuses who come to find out about Lincoln unencumbered by any kind of knowledge, they recently built a new Lincoln Museum right next to the library. It is a state of the art facility, where one is directed first to a holographic presentation sponsored by AT&T, which is, I have to say, very well done. Of course, it helps to have gobs of money to spend on it as the telecom giant no doubt does. When the presentation opens it looks likes an actor (it can’t be a librarian or an archivist, because the performance is so polished) explains a lot of things about the collection and what it can tell us today and things like that. When he opens a book, for example, a hologram appears to flutter out of its pages to “bring the past to life” as it were. It’s until the end that you notice that the guy who’s doing the presentation is actually a hologram himself who turns out to be a Union soldier who was killed at some battle with some regiment of which only the flag they carried into battle was returned. Pretty nifty.

Then you are directed to the next presentation, in Union Theater, the main sponsor of which is the Exelon Corporation. It’s all about an artist who supposedly gets the assignment to draw a picture or sculpt a bust of Abraham Lincoln. “I started out by finding out as much as I could about my subject.” Well, good luck with that. I’m not sure how many miles of library shelves are needed to house every book ever written about Lincoln, not to mention the thousands of artifacts stored in the Lincoln presidential library and no doubt elsewhere, too, but I’m pretty sure it would take you more than a lifetime to work your way through them. The presentation is, of course, state of the art, with all the appropriate sound effects timed for maximum effect - I jumped when John Wilkes Booth fired his shot at the president and the little girl sitting in front of me was scared witless by the Civil War sound effects. But the whole thing is just a little too slick, and a tad too nifty for its own good.

Of course it’s hard to see how much one can still say about a man who has become a myth to the extent that Lincoln has. The museum does try. When, after the show, you go on a tour of the Lincoln White House, they show you just how unpopular the president was in his day. But again, it’s too nifty. While you try to decipher the derogatory cartoons as they appeared in the popular press at the time, you are made to listen to a chorus of actors’ voices saying things that people will no doubt have said about Lincoln at the time, but it prevents you from concentrating.

The tableaux are beautifully done, but they inspired the most insipid commentary from a bunch of women accompanying children of various ages, whom I meanly supposed to be home-schooled. The girls’ questions seemed to focus mostly on the dresses as worn by Mrs. Lincoln and the boys were made to listen to a whole expose about “how they did not have electricity” and just think how terrible that would be: no air-conditioning. I know it’s a heresy, but there really ought to be a way to make sure that homeschooling is actually a process in which knowledge is transferred, rather than a way of preventing your child from becoming contaminated with such worldly knowledge as - GASP! - evolution. But I digress. The museum annex to the Lincoln Presidential Library is just a 21st century way to keep the myth going and does nothing at all to inspire critical thinking or even the thought “but what if...” And I guess corporate America prefers it that way. A presidential myth, nice and uncontroversial at (almost) the sesquicentennial of his death, without anyone asking awkward questions.

Since today was a Friday, we thought it best to get the engine trouble checked out before it we got stranded, who knows how many miles from anywhere out in the boonies. Of course the Honda place was on the other side of town, so we drove all the way around Springfield to get there. But it’s all in the game and it turned out that it wasn’t anything serious, just a bad oxygen sensor, which can wait until we get back to Maryland. After that, it was lunch time so we drove another big loop around and through Springfield to get to the Cozy Dog Drive Thru, a Route 66 landmark. As it turns out, cozy dogs are nothing but corn dogs, but it was fun to eat there anyway. After that, we continued on our way along Route 66, because there is a section of the road that is still paved with the original bricks. Let’s just say there’s a reason they switched to blacktop... In Girard we paid a visit to a real soda fountain, where they have a large world map up on the wall with pins representing the states and countries that various visitors over the years have represented. Unfortunately, they already had a pin for Maryland. I’ve decided that when someone asks me where I’m from I just tell them Maryland and if they figure I can’t possibly be a native, that’s just too bad. I can say “y’all” like the best of them and I figure that after 15 years in Maryland, I’ve earned the right to say I’m from that state, darn it! The last part of our Route 66 fix was to find and take a picture of a water tower that’s shaped like a ketchup bottle (not the real one, because that would have to be in Pittsburgh).

So much for Route 66. On our way out of Colinsville, home of the ketchup bottle water tower, we already caught a glimpse of the St. Louis arch across the river in Missouri, but we wanted to stick to Illinois a little while longer, because we wanted to visit its first capital, Kaskaskia. This modern-day metropolis of 14 souls actually has a storied past, having been started as a frontier fort during the reign of Louis XIV. We visited the ruins of Fort Kaskaskia, on a bluff above the Mississippi. You can see that that would have been a pretty strategic spot back in the day. After the French and Indian War France ceded the Illinois Territory to Britain and the town of Kaskaskia became the capital of Illinois Territory until Illinois became a state in 1819. It was the state capital for a year, until the powers that be thought it safer to move the capital to Vandalia. It didn’t help that the Mississippi River refused to cooperate: “As the Mississippi continued to flow through its new bed, earth was deposited so that the village became physically attached to the west bank of the river, which primarily lies within the boundaries of the state of Missouri. Now a bayou, the old channel is regularly flooded and has a bridge to carry traffic over it.” (Wikipedia)

However, by the time we had made our way to almost the extreme southern end of Illinois, the weather, which had been threatening most of the day, turned bad and we saw some pretty scary flashes of lightening and had a couple of heavy downpours. There are several historic sites in the area, including the sites of French forts. There was also a sign for a river ferry, which would have been a great experience, but we weren’t sure that it would even run in a bad thunderstorm. So instead of going back up State Route 3 for a couple of miles to the ferry, we decided to continue south on route 3 where there would be a bridge across the Mississippi at Chester, Ill. As it happened, Chester has a pretty nice visitor center, which was already closed for the day, but we could still use the restrooms and we even took our lives in our hands by venturing out on the viewing platform overlooking the river and the bridge Lighting flashing all around water and a metal bridge; probably not the safest spot, eh? But one has to have pictures. We also learned that the creator of Popeye the Sailorman was a native of Chester, so that the town claims the cartoon hero as an honorary citizen. By the time we had the necessary pictures, we knew we had to get to shelter, and quickly. The sky had turned slate gray, with some patches of a sickly green and lighting was practically continuous. Missouri does get pretty bad tornadoes sometimes, and I know that if the sky had looked like that in Ellicott City, I would have gone into the basement for sure. So I drove quickly but carefully to Perryville, MO. where we found a Days Inn with yet another acre of bed and a Chinese buffet next door. We’ll visit the town (hamlet?) of Kaskaskia tomorrow, and then we’ll go on to St. Louis and the Arch.

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Nicoline Murals, bridges and crosses
Nicoline (September 6, 2012)

Last modified: September 6, 2012 at 22:56:43

Today was a day for murals. We had set apart this day to see the Thomas Hart Benton murals at Indiana University. I’d been on the phone with a lady from the art department a couple of times and we’d agreed that we would be there on September 6 at 10.00 a.m. So we made our way to the IU campus in Bloomington and were amazed at the size of it. It takes up about a quarter of the town and the art department lady said that Bloomington’s population more than doubles when the students come back to school in the fall. It’s huge.

Of course, we got to campus way before 10, so we killed some time exploring. What little we saw of it is also very beautiful, with a large park-like area with walkways and brooks and little bridges between the buildings. These are some very lucky students! We also stumbled upon a manuscript collection in the Lilly Library that focused on the War of 1812, with pamphlets and books and prints related to that era. The library also owns a Gutenberg Bible, which surprised me, and a first edition of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” which has so many different color plates that with the librarian changing the page once a week it takes eight and a half years to see all of them! Another thing I learned was that World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle was a native of Indiana who attended the Indiana University Bloomington. There is a memorial to him outside the Memorial Union and the building of the journalism school is named for him.

When the time finally came to see the murals, we stepped into the theater that houses them and spent a good 45 minutes looking at them in detail. Unfortunately, the most controversial part of the mural, the one that depicts the klansmen, is housed in a different building. It’s inside an auditorium that is used as a classroom and therefore not readily available. That was kind of a bummer, because the klan-panel was what sparked my interest in the first place. Oh well. We did luck into an exposition of socialist-realist art by Rockwell Kent in the art museum next door. Kent’s work often appeared in leftist publications. He even won the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967 as an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Fine Arts, even though his style of work was by that time rather old-fashioned.

It, did however, fit in well with our second object the day, which was a visit to the Eugene V. Debs house in Terre Haute. Debs was a union organizer and one of the founders of the American Socialist Party. He ran for president on its ticket. He conducted his last campaign from his prison cell in Atlanta, where he had been sent after his conviction for sedition for publicly speaking out against America’s entry into World War I. He even used campaign buttons that said “vote for prisoner #....” with a picture of Debs in his prison uniform. Debs also published a newspaper “Appeal to Reason” and wrote a large number of pamphlets.

The Debs house itself is mainly interesting for the period furnishings and the political memorabilia. For many years it was used as a frat house, though every trace of the abuse it likely suffered in those days has been wiped out. But the most amazing part of the house comes as you walk up the stairs to the attic. There is still ugly 1970s paneling on the walls of the stairwell, but the attic is now in use as an auditorium and an art professor from Indiana State University in Terre Haute painted most of the roof with beautiful murals depicting Debs’ life and work. It’s quite an experience to come upon it unawares!

Now it was Eric’s turn to see stuff he particularly wanted to see. He’d found out that Indiana has a fairly large number of covered bridges and there are several car tours you can take to see most of them. A lot are in the area near Terre Haute, so after we finished touring the Debs house, I drove around rural Indiana with Eric directing me where to turn and where to stop and he got out and took pictures of the covered bridges. I think we saw about a third of them. They all have warning signs saying that the area may be subject to flooding, but there’s hardly any danger of that at the moment. We saw some of the saddest-looking cornfields we’ve ever come across, a testament to the drought in the Midwest. This being rural Indiana, we again saw Mourdock signs galore. Once near the end of the covered bridge tour, I thought I saw an Obama sign, but it was only a sign that encouraged people to sign up to help defeat the President. And if the political signs aren’t enough of a reminder that we were in a blood-red state, there’s also church after church, mostly Church of the Nazarene and Assemblies of God, and crosses and billboards exhorting the public to make sure they aren’t going to hell before it’s too late.

After the covered bridges tour we drove on into Illinois, where one of the items on our list was a visit to a thing that’s simply known as “The Cross.” It’s a 198-feet white cross next to I-70 in the town of Effingham. It took some doing getting there, because the exit we needed was closed due to road maintenance, but we did at last manage to make our way there. Nobody else was there, which is a hopeful sign in my book. The cross is surrounded by panels depicting the Ten Commandments. Eric wanted me to stand near the thing to get a sense of scale, but I didn’t. Why would I want to have my picture taken with a preposterously magnified instrument of torture? No thanks.

After that, we got in the car once again and drove on to Vandalia. which is the western end of the old Cumberland Road and where Eric wanted to get a picture of the Madonna of the Trail by night. So we ate dinner in our motel room first and headed into town afterward. The statue is still ugly, but at least that itch has been scratched :-)

Frank Grivel wrote on September 6, 2012 at 22:28:14:

>"Why would I want to have my picture taken with a preposterously magnified instrument of torture?"

For laughs?

Pictures? I suppose they're still uploading...


Eric Grivel wrote on September 6, 2012 at 23:37:29:

Pictures should be there now...


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Nicoline Indianapolis
Nicoline (September 5, 2012)

Last modified: September 5, 2012 at 19:05:13

After a good night’s sleep - for me, but unfortunately not for Eric - in an acre of bed we were off to Indianapolis by 9.15 this morning. Since we weren’t in any great hurry, we decided to take U.S. 40 and see if anything interesting turned up.

The first thing we saw just outside Richmond was a huge Mourdock for Senate sign. Mourdock is the TP candidate who defeated long-time Indiana Senator Dick Lugar in the primaries earlier this year. You don’t see a lot of political signs here, but the ones you do see definitely aren’t for any Democrats. At one point at U.S. 40 we were parked next to a car that had been behind us for a couple of miles, with an excellent view of our Obama and other “lefty” bumper stickers. I was driving and a just happened to look over at the passenger in the car next to me. The elderly lady looked as if she greatly feared that I was about to eat her or something.

One of the first places we came to was Cambridge Town. According a historical marker, the town was first laid out in 1836 and quickly grew because it was a hub for no fewer than four railroad lines and it also boasted a canal. In fact, Cambridge Town is going to be celebrating “canal days” next weekend, but don’t ask me how. There’s nothing left of the canal that we could find, even though we followed the signs to a scenic drive that supposedly ran alongside the canal. Oh, well. It was a nice looking town anyway. Incredibly spacious, too, as all towns tend to be here. They don’t go in for narrow winding streets in these parts.

On the way to Indianapolis we passed through the town of Dublin, which at one time was a hotbed for the campaign for women’s rights, just four years after the Seneca Falls Convention. Indiana hasn’t always been ultra-conservative! Dublin is a tiny town. Its town hall is about the size of our house and its library is a miniature.

Just around 12 noon we made it into the center of Indianapolis, looking for the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument that was built in 1901. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s quite an experience to come upon it suddenly and see it rise 284 1/2 feet in the air! You don’t see it as you drive in because there’s lots of tall buildings around it. I managed to find a parking space right on Monument Circle and brilliantly parallel parked the car behind some kind of electric vehicle and a couple of cars in front of a Texas car with Obama stickers! The monument is open to the public and you can choose to pay a small fee to take the elevator to the top, or you can walk up 331 steps for free. Since we spend the majority of our day sitting on our behinds in the car, we walked up. Let’s just say that we could use the exercise. The view over Indianapolis is worth it! There’s a Civil War museum in the base of the monument, but it’s only open Friday through Sunday, so we didn’t get to visit it.

From atop the monument we saw that there was some kind of market in progress, so when we had walked downstairs we went towards it. But as the sky was darkening rather alarmingly and the wind was clearly picking up, most merchants were packing up their stuff and besides, it was a farmers’ market and we weren’t in need of any produce. We’re still working on eating the cucumbers and apples we brought with us.

So we went back to the car and drove out in search of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not that we’ve all of a sudden developed a passion for the Indy 500, but we’ve been listening to Earl Swift’s book “The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways.” In the first few chapters, Swift tells the story of an Indianapolis entrepeneur Carl G. Fisher, who became the driving force behind the creation of the Lincoln Highway, but who actually got his start in business selling bicycles. When you think about it, it’s not that strange, since you need good roads just as much to ride a bike as to drive a car. He and three business partners built the Speedway in 1909, as an area where cars could be tested on a proper road. Many roads, even in the city, were not yet paved at that time and the least little rain turned them into bogs. Later on they added various racing events. Fisher went on to develop Miami Beach, but was almost wiped out when a hurricane hit the area in September 1926, while he was simultaneous working on developing the Montauk area of Long Island, NY. He sold his interest in the speedway to Eddie Rickenbacher, a World War I flying ace, but he didn’t manage to raise enough money and the 1929 stock market crash pretty much wiped him out financially. He ended up living in a tiny cottage at the Caribbean Club in Key Largo, his last development project, according to Wikipedia: “... about 8 years after his death, the Caribbean Club became famous as the filming site for the 1947 film “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Almost 60 years later, in 2007, filled with Bogart memorabilia, it is still in business as a tourist attraction.” Fisher died of a stomach hemorrhage in 1939.

We decided to visit the museum since we were in Indianapolis anyway, to see what it would say about Fisher, but in that respect it’s rather disappointing. Of course, the museum is there for racing enthusiasts and they can certainly get their fix. There are lots of historic race cars, from 1911 to 2011, right next to one another, and the Stoddard-Packard pace car that Fisher himself drove in 1911. Some pretty big name drivers raced at Indianapolis, such as Formula One drivers Mario Andretti and Nelson Piquet. I know I’m hopelessly dating myself here, because these guys haven’t been behind the wheel of an F1 car in 30 years or more, but I remember the sound of Formula One racing at the circuit at Zandvoort, the Netherlands. We spent many summers in the neighboring town of Bloemendaal and if the wind was just right, you could hear the race from where we were, a couple of miles north of the circuit. We never went to the circuit itself, which would probably have been way too expensive with five people.

After the speedway we decided to head for Bloomington, since we will be visiting Indiana University’s famous Thomas Hart Benton mural tomorrow. We had intended to drive south on the Indianapolis beltway and take the I-69 down to Bloomington, but we missed the exit and ended up driving down Indiana State Routes 135 and 144. The latter was especially scenic, even if we did hit a detour due to a downed tree. But we found our way back to Bloomington easily enough and found a Day’s Inn quite close to downtown. We had a burger & fries for dinner at Denny’s and we’ll treat ourselves to a desert of M&Ms.

Frank Grivel wrote on September 6, 2012 at 22:25:50:

Zandvoort is one of the most famous racing circuits in the world... I should go and visit it sometime ;)

Looks like you guys are having lots of fun! Keep me/us updated!


Nicoline Smits wrote on September 9, 2012 at 22:18:22:

Did you know you can drive around the circuit yourself? You can even get a racing license or something. Not quite F1, I'm sure, but still.


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Nicoline Update
Nicoline (September 5, 2012)

Last modified: September 5, 2012 at 8:26:29

During breakfast I looked through yesterday's pictures and I decided it would be a shame not to post any of them. But I don't want to falsify history by editing yesterday's post. So I'll just add another post with pictures, in reverse chronological order, so it'll be clear it was a bit of an afterthought.

The Daughters of the American Revolution placed a marker on or near the spot where there used to be a tollgate on the National Road.

Here's the Madonna that Eric desperately wanted to get a picture of :-) I still think the statues are exceedingly ugly, but now that we've made up our mind to get all of them, we're going to do so too, dagnabbit!

An impression of Main Street, Richmond:

This building marks the spot where the sporting goods store blew up in 1968:

The new Morrison-Reeves Library saved lots of materials from the old building, including a whole room named for a former library board president who was a great collector of Civil War and Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. Some of the books in the bookcase are very old and valuable, but they are still available to researcher upon request.

These are the Tiffany windows we came to see, with the information panels:

Meet librarian Sue King, who took the time to show us all the artifacts from the old library. Thanks again, Ms. King!

Since neither of us care a fig about football, we decided to give the Indiana Football Hall of Fame a miss. I'm sure Old Joe McCarthy must be turning in his grave, but there it is.

The Tiffany window:

Entering Richmond on the National Road:

We thought the weather was muggy in Maryland, but it was pretty bad in Ohio as well. It was so foggy the A/C started blowing fog into the car!

Lunch with Mark and his new house. And Hoshi, of course :-)

The miners' memorial at Kirby.

Looking back into Maryland:

Pitstop in Cumberland:

From one end of I-70 to another:

Frank Grivel wrote on September 6, 2012 at 22:26:37:

Looks like a lot more fun than what I'm doing! Keep us updated! :D


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Nicoline Kirby, Columbus and Richmond, IN
Nicoline (September 4, 2012)

Last modified: September 4, 2012 at 20:36:34

It’s been a long day, so you’ll have to forgive me for not trying to figure out how to get pictures from Eric’s laptop to mine. Maybe I can make today’s entry interesting without pictures. We were up at 3 a.m. and in the car by 4.15 and we were past Cumberland by the time the sun was up, even though we ran into a couple of patches of really dense fog at higher elevations. We made very good time, even if we cheated a little by not taking I-70 all the way through Pennsylvania. We’d driven it before, and it’s not the most enjoyable stretch of road, to say the least. Instead we opted to follow I-68, which ends at I-79 in West-Virginia and then turns north into Pennsylvania.

Along I-79 I saw a sign for a miners’ memorial at a rest stop. That’s something you don’t see every day, so we stopped to take a closer look at it. As it turns out, there used to be a coal mine right underneath where the Kirby, PA, welcome center is located now. On December 9, 1962, a methane gas explosion 460 feet below ground killed 37 miners. Their names are listed on the memorial. Inside the welcome center there is a large mural depicting miners at work and a display case of various pieces of mine workers’ equipment, some donated by the families of the dead miners, as well as chunks of the three different types of coal found in the region. Much of western Maryland, West-Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania and is coal mining country and they aren’t strangers to mining accidents. In 1928 an accident killed 195 miners in the same area and just over two years ago an accident in a West-Virginia mine claimed the lives of 21 miners.

Mining is a way to make a living, of course, but it irks me when you drive along I-70 in PA and you come upon a billboard saying that the fact that there are no jobs in the region is all President Obama’s fault, when five miles down the road there’s a fracking outfit’s billboard saying that they’re hiring! Call me a cynic or a communist or both if you like, but I have zero trust for mining outfits who claim that their operations are so safe that nothing can possibly go wrong and yada yada yada. If it’s so safe, how come you don’t disclose what kind of chemicals you use to hydraulically fracture (that’s where the word “fracking” comes from) the shale to get out the gas? If the water in fracked areas is so safe, how come some people can light it on fire straight out of the faucet? And how come an oil pipeline feels it has to play hardball when residents in an area where they want to run a pipeline ask reasonable questions about the safety of said pipe?

But enough already. We were on the road to Columbus, to have lunch with Mark and to see his new apartment. It was raining in Columbus and Mark asked us to pick him up at the animal sciences building, which we did. Fortunately he didn’t have his dog Hoshi with him, because there wouldn’t have been enough room in the car. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff we take with us now that it’s just the two of us! Eric proposed that we have lunch at White Castle in honor of Terry, who has a serious White Castle craving that she can’t satisfy very often because we don’t have them in Maryland. Perhaps the White Castle place on High Street wasn’t the best one, but none of us were particularly impressed with it. Mark and I shared a combo meal of cheeseburger sliders that supposedly came with jalapenos, but we never found any and when we complained the lady pointed out that the jalapenos were supposed to be in the cheese. The cheese did have a faintly peppery taste, but nothing like real jalapenos. They put on way too much onion, too, in our opinion. Anyway, we’ve crossed that off our bucket list. Sorry, Terry :-)

After we’d admired Mark’s new place - it’s much the same as his old apartment, but in a much better neighborhood - we continued on our way to Indiana. We ran into a couple of rain storms along I-70, courtesy of Hurricane Isaac, I guess. Near Dayton we noticed that the pylons of the overpasses all features airplane silhouettes in silver, which looked really pretty. We’d completely missed that when we were there in May. Just goes to show that visiting a place just once is never enough.

Just after the Indiana line we spotted a National Road Welcome Center. We wanted to stop in Richmond, IN, anyway because it’s home to one of the Madonnas of the Trail, so we decided to see what else was going on there. As it happens, Richmond churches feature quite a collection of Tiffany windows. I suppose it got started when a wealthy local family commissioned a Tiffany window for the library in 1895. Some of the churches apparently felt they must not fall behind, so they ordered Tiffany windows for their sanctuaries as well. They have an absolutely ridiculous number of churches in Richmond. There are five different ones in a six block stretch of North A street alone, and we saw plenty more on our way into town, which consists of 36,812 people according to the 2010 census. The Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church has no fewer than 62 Tiffany windows. Unfortunately, we did not get to admire them, because it was closed. We did see the Tiffany window at the First Presbyterian Church, but not those at St. Paul’s Episcopal, because it’s only open until 1 p.m. and we didn’t get there until 5. But since we were out of the car anyway and we felt like taking a walk, we walk four blocks to the Morrison-Reeves Library to admire their fine Tiffany windows. One large one features Johannes Gutenburg checking the type on his printing press and two smaller ones that feature the names of famous printer, such as Aldous Manutious, a famous 15th century printing house in Venice, and William Caxton in 15th century London.

An information panel near the windows told us that the original Morrison-Reeves Library had been torn down in 1975, but that pieces of its interior had been saved and put to use in the new building. As we were ready to leave, I noticed a particularly fine clock hanging near the customer service desk and I asked if that had also come from the original library. The librarian didn’t know, but she introduced us to the library’s resident historian, Ms. Sue King. She took us on a quick tour of the library, which was very kind of her, considering that we barged in on her out of the blue, and she gave us a lot of information about the history of Richmond. For example, on April 6, 1968 an accident with a gas leak at a local sporting goods store that produced its own gun cartridges caused an enormous explosion that killed 41 people and flattened several blocks of downtown Richmond and blew out windows for miles around. Only the fact that the library’s Tiffany windows happened to sit in a north-facing bay, while the explosion was to the south, prevented them from being destroyed in the blast. They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good, so the city council of Richmond decided to use the fact that much of downtown had been flattened anyway to get serious about urban renewal. They ended up making Main Street into a promenade and pedestrian mall, but unfortunately, many of the merchants thought that the facades of their late Victorian buildings badly needed updating. In many cases, they completely ruined the historic buildings.

By now it was 5.30 p.m. and Eric still had to get his pictures of the Madonna of the Trail, which we had passed on the way into town. It’s right on the edge of Glenn Miller Park, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why they should name a Richmond, IN, park after the legendary band leader. When Eric had gotten his Madonna fix (he has to get it somewhere, right, and I’m an unlikely candidate), we found a motel near the intersection of US 40 and I-70 and after a shower and a meal consisting rice crackers with cheese, mini cinnamon-raisin bagels, a sliced cucumber from my garden and the last of the oatmeal cookies, we plonked ourselves down on the king-sized bed to write up today’s diary entry - with or without pictures - and then we’re going to call it a day.

Nicoline Smits wrote on September 5, 2012 at 19:11:17:

After we had finished our diary entries for the day, Eric sent a link to Sue King, so she could see her picture and what we made of the things she told us. She wrote sent back this email, which answers my question about Glenn Miller:

"The answer to 'why they named the park after the band leader' is simple - They didn't. That area has been a city park since 1885, before the trombone player was even born. The city bought the farm from John Miller, and since much of the original acreage was in a valley, it was sometimes called just 'The Glen" with one 'n.'"

Thanks for answering another one of my questions, Ms. King!


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Nicoline All set
Nicoline (September 3, 2012)

Last modified: September 3, 2012 at 16:09:47

I’m ready to go. The car is all packed, except for the electronics. I even remembered to set my Freecycle messages to “web only” so I don’t have to wade through 40+ notifications a day on my phone while we’re on the road. I was going to vacuum one last time, but it’s too darn hot. Maybe if my feet get cold enough between now and bedtime. We’ll take a Nyquil at 6 p.m., be in bed by 8 and be ready for the big adventure at 4 a.m. Can’t wait!

Kandace York wrote on September 5, 2012 at 22:28:28:

Nyquil early to put yourself to sleep -- now that's a great travel trip! :-)


Nicoline Smits wrote on September 6, 2012 at 21:16:15:

Works well outside of travel, too :-)


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Nicoline The day before
Nicoline (September 3, 2012)

Last modified: September 3, 2012 at 9:36:28

If it wasn’t for the cats, I’d just as soon skip the last day before vacation :-) It’s not even that there’s still a lot of stuff to do. Actually, there’s too little stuff left to do, so you’re basically sitting around waiting for time to pass.

For now I have a two loads of laundry to get through and oatmeal cookies to bake, which will serve for dinner and possibly breakfast. Tomorrow morning we plan to be up at 3, and leave by 4 so we’ll have plenty of time to get to Columbus for lunch and after that it’s on to Indianapolis and the rest of the I-70 adventure!

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Nicoline Western Pennsylvania
Nicoline (July 15, 2012)

Last modified: July 15, 2012 at 15:35:15

As some of you many know, Eric's mom died in November 2011. Before her death I had made it a habit to write her a letter every other week. She once said she really enjoyed my letters and read them over and over again because they were so chatty and cheerful. After she passed away, Eric and I went through her things and found several shoe boxes full of the letters I'd written since we moved to the U.S. which she had saved.

The thing with habits, though, is that they're often easy to get into, but hard to shake. Though she's been gone for three-quarters of a year, I still find myself thinking: "I've got to remember to write Ma (which is what I called her) about this!" only to realize that I won't ever be able to write to her again. It happened again this past weekend, perhaps because Major-general Braddock had a connection to Bergen op Zoom, Ma's hometown.

Anyway, below is the letter I would have written to her about our Pennsylvania exploits had she lived.

Dearest Ma,

When they say it’s a small world, people generally refer to the present, but I’m finding that it also goes for history. Who would have thought, when we moved to America, that we’d come across a guy who played an active role in both the history of both Bergen op Zoom and the United States?

Major-general Edward Braddock (1695-1755) was a soldier’s son and had seen action previously at the third siege of Bergen op Zoom in 1747 in the closing days of the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1755 he was sent to the colonies to help drive the French out of Ohio territory. To get to the site of the battle, his men had to widen a trail previously made by George Washington so it could accommodate their artillery pieces and supply wagons. Unfortunately for him, logistics didn’t carry the day and he was mortally wounded at the Battle of the Monongahela in western Pennsylvania. He died at Fort Necessity, the base camp established by Washington, on July 13, 1755. To make sure the French and/or their Native American allies would not find Braddock’s grave and desecrate it, Washington had buried in the middle of the road Braddock’s troops had cleared and then made them march over it so it wouldn’t be found.

Parts of Braddock Road still exist today. It later became part of the National Road and later still part of the U.S. highway system. In fact, Braddock's remains were found during construction of the National Road, but the memorial that is there now wasn't built until 1913. Eric has been looking into the history of the National Road and how it relates to I-70, the length of which we will travel in September. We simply arrived at Braddock Road by taking I-70 west, to I-68 in western Maryland and then U.S. 40 into western Pennsylvania, which took us a little over three hours on a Friday night. Traveling through the area gives you a great deal of respect for the effort of Braddock, Washington and their men, who basically had to build the road they traveled on as they went along over steep, densely wooded mountains. If you look at other military engagements, you marvel at the distances armies covered over equally unforgiving terrain during the Civil War, too. And when we were out west in 2007, we drove along a road that Mormons traveled as they settled in Utah. We had a comfortable minivan with A/C and all kinds of creature comforts that zipped along a smooth asphalt surface, while they traveled in ox-drawn wagons through a wilderness that included a 1,000 feet drop!

Anyway, we walked part of the Braddock Road, in part as a segment of our I-70 tour and to honor its somewhat tenuous connection to Bergen op Zoom. It’s sad to think that battles are often fought in the most beautiful fields. We saw that at Antietam earlier this year and in Flanders two years ago as well. Eric tells me that the battlefields of Normandy, many of which are now war cemeteries, are also very beautiful. No doubt battlefields going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and other ancient civilizations are also beautiful. Why fight for a tract of land if it isn’t desirable, right? So in addition to the historic significance, we made a point of enjoying the natural beauty of the place as well.

Someone - I forget who - once said that the history of the world is made up of wars punctuated by intervals of peace. One of those pacific interludes gave rise to the construction of the National Road and with it the building of taverns and inns along the way so stage coach drivers could exchange horses and passengers could get something to eat and, if necessary, a bed to sleep in. Apparently, stage coach passengers were not too picky about hygiene. They usually slept fully clothed (though the rules of the inn forced them to take off their boots), sometimes as many as five to a bed. And we thought it something of an indignity to have to share a bathroom with another couple at the Stonehouse Inn Bed & Breakfast because we had booked late and all they had available was a room on the top floor that shares a bathroom with a neighboring room!

After we had toured the Mount Washington Tavern, we drove to Fallingwater, which is a house designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was intended as a summer retreat for the Kaufman family of Pittsburgh who owned a number of department stores. It’s a beautiful house that really works with its natural surroundings, as the architect intended, but not a very practical dwelling.

There is probably a reason most houses are built on the principle of a center hallway with other rooms branching off of it. This house is all about interconnectedness and enjoying the great outdoors, but the result is that it is something of warren of rooms and the people who owned the house having to do battle with the architect as to whether or not they could have a swimming pool or a garage. The architect finally “allowed” construction of a swimming pool as part of the guest house, which was built a few years after the main house. Wright considered that garages invite clutter and so he would only build car ports. Not that he is wrong about the clutter, though. It is very typically American to see one or more $30,000 vehicles parked on the driveway in front of the garage, which is crammed to the rafters with more or less worthless junk. Eric was particularly indignant about the architect deciding what the homeowners could or could not have. “If I want to have a swimming pool or a garage, who is he to say I can’t have it? And if I want to put my garage full of junk, that’s my business, not his!” I suppose I should be glad we don’t have the money to have a custom-designed house!

The trouble with these historically and/or architecturally significant houses is that as soon as they stop being private residences and fall into the hands of some trust or non-profit or other, those organizations become invested in the house’s importance to the point of myopia. The trust that runs Fallingwater is so enamored of its self-appointed role as guardian of the Frank Lloyd Wright legacy that they forget that it’s the public’s willingness to come pay homage that makes it possible to maintain it almost as a shrine.

It’s also a shrine that stank of urine absolutely everywhere. I don’t know if they had had some sort of sewer problem or if it’s because it had just rained after a somewhat prolonged dry spell which brought out the smell, but it was horrible. Eric said he didn’t notice it, so perhaps it speaks more to my personal hygiene than the house’s mechanical system. However, in my defense I will tell you that I only smelled it at Fallingwater and nowhere else. But when you think about a house that cost 31 times what it would have cost to build an average home in 1936 and since emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE) said pecunia non olet, it should not stink to high heaven. Vespasian is credited with building public urinals, and using the liquid collected there for use in tanning and other chemical processes. Whoever wanted to buy the chemicals derived from said liquid paid a tax that paid for the construction and upkeep of the urinals. To this day, public urinals are known as vespasiani in Italy.

For one thing, touring Fallingwater is pretty expensive, even if you go to the trouble of booking tour tickets online. For another, they make you stand or sit in line and bark at you to join your tour group. We were the last tour group of the day, no. 65, so I can imagine they get a little tired of it, but it’s not my fault they try to cram that many tours into a single day. You are allowed to reverently view the house and the artifacts it contains, but heaven forbid anyone should snap a picture of an interior, because you might sell it to National Geographic or something. Yeah, right. Of course, I understand that continuous exposure to flash photography would cause materials to deteriorate, but they act like absolute nazis about it. You are allowed to take pictures of the exterior, but only if you swear on the bible that you won’t use it for commercial purposes. Well, duh. Like those crappy cameras in people’s iPhones are going to produce commercial quality pictures.

After Fallingwater we toured around the western Pennsylvania countryside, until we ended up in West Virginia more by accident than design. Since we hadn’t really made plans or prepared ourselves in any way to visit other places, we decided we’d do better to head for home after dinner. So we dined at some golf club in West Virginia that couldn’t decide if it wanted to an upscale place or a family-style restaurant and consequently didn’t do a good job at either, and drove home afterwards. Unfortunately, we got caught in a severe thunderstorm just on the West Virginia-Maryland line. At intervals it rained so hard that we slowed down to 40-45 mph even on I-68. Luckily the weather got better after Hancock, and we made it home safely, arriving in Ellicott City just after midnight.

So that was our Pennsylvania adventure this weekend. I only hope we won’t see rain like the rain we had last night on our big trip in September!



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Nicoline Back home
Nicoline (May 20, 2012)

Last modified: May 20, 2012 at 20:35:24

Because today would have been Eric’s mother’s 82nd birthday and because we have an anniversary coming up on Tuesday, we went out for dinner at the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City, which was very good. After that we went home, where I hurried in to take care of the cats, even though the Pet Nanny had taken excellent care of them, while Eric brought in our luggage and stuff.

Now everything is done and the breadmachine is all set to bake bread for tomorrow’s breakfast, I thought I’d take a moment to think what we learned from our dress rehearsal for the big trip in September.

For one thing, it’s probably useless to take a dress & heels, because I’m not going to want to bother dressing up for dinner after spending the day sightseeing or driving from one place to the next. I need to bring a basic sewing kit. I had a rip in the pocket of my jacket, probably cause by my car keys, that drove me nearly nuts until I happened to find a safety pin with which I could repair it at least provisionally. If I’d brought the little wallet with needles and thread and stuff that used to belong to Eric’s mom, I would have been able to fix it right away. I’m also pretty sure I’ll have to find a way to bring my acne wash stuff. I didn’t think it’d matter if I skipped it for a week, but you should see my forehead! It may be, of course, that our rather irregular eating habits and the liberal application of sun screen also did their part to clog up my pores, but better safe than sorry in that respect. We’ll have to find a set of loudspeakers that we can attach Prudence to when we want to listen to a book on CD. Well, not really on CD, but you get the idea. The little radio thingy that we have now is enough to drive anyone crazy. Whenever you happen to get in range of a radio signal, you start getting interference. We should bring the green or blue folding chairs that we have. Sometimes you want to be more comfortable than a picnic bench and sitting on a blanket ruins my back.

Anyway, we made it back safely. Life will be more or less back to normal tomorrow.

Nicoline Smits wrote on May 20, 2012 at 20:47:01:

Maybe we'll get this: so Marching Monkey will have someone to keep him company :-)


Eric Grivel wrote on May 21, 2012 at 20:37:33:

I think that is a great idea!


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Nicoline Toledo Museum of Art
Nicoline (May 19, 2012)

Last modified: May 20, 2012 at 10:11:47

Time sure flies when you’re having fun. This vacation is almost over and we had to say goodbye to the Yorks today, but it was great seeing them!

But first we visited the Toledo Museum of Art and especially the Glass Pavilion. Toledo used to be a big glass manufacturing center and the founder of the glass industry in Toledo, Edward Drummond Libbey, left the museum $1M in his will. That’s one of the reasons it has an extensive collection of art from the ancient world (pre-pharaonic Egypt through late Roman Empire) and Renaissance art. There is art from other eras too, of course, but those are the parts we saw today. Check out the statue of the cat goddess Bastet, the Alexander the Great tetradachms, the Seleucid drinking horn and the Roman mosaic from the Carthage area. Attached to the room of ancient art is a replica of a Greek peristyle theater that is home to the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Some of the Renaissance art work includes a Della Robbia ceramic and a Brussels tapestry from the 1500s.

I particularly wanted to see the Glass Pavilion because we had missed that on our 2007 trip. We were in Toledo on a Monday, the one day that everything but the zoo and the botanical garden is closed. But we made it up this time. The Glass Pavilion itself is made of glass as much as possible and it’s only been open since 2006. The first thing you see when you come in is a huge Chihuly chandelier. Then there are several rooms with glass artefacts, from ancient to modern. I only wished I could have some of it wrapped up to take home with me!

By the time we had seen perhaps a tenth of what the TMA has to offer, it was time to say goodbye and hit the road. It’s great to have an Ohio native for a guide, because Ken told us that if we wanted to follow the Ohio Coastal Trail, for which we’d seen sign outside the museum, all we had to do was get on the Ohio 163 and follow that. He was absolutely spot on, and we followed it as far east as Lorain, a depressed looking town on the outskirts of Cleveland. It was such a depressing area that we decided to get off the 163 and onto the interstate. But most of Coastal Trail was well-worth seeing, even if it was a slower drive. And I got to dip my toes into Lake Erie, too!

The rest of the day we just drove and drove until we got to Richfield, Penn (at least, according to my phone) to get a good night’s sleep before the last leg of the trip tomorrow.

Kandace York wrote on May 20, 2012 at 18:38:50:

So glad we were able to spend some time together and the 163 route worked for you! Northern Ohio's beauty is so understated compared to, say, Niagara Falls or the Rocky Mountains, but it does have a certain quiet, down-to-earth appeal. Hard to believe that pre-glacier, it had the same peaks and valleys as southeastern Ohio.


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Nicoline Toledo Zoological Park
Nicoline (May 18, 2012)

Last modified: May 19, 2012 at 9:57:35

Today was a big day for the Toledo Zoo, because it was the grand opening of the Tembo Trail, a new state of the art elephant (and other African savanna animals) habitat. Kandace works in the PR & Marketing department of the zoo and had been pretty busy with the arrangements for the opening day festivities and she had left to go to work by the time we got up at about 7 a.m. So that tells you something about how hectic her day was. Ken drove us to the zoo a little after 9 and we got there just in time for the official opening, which was great. After the obligatory speeches by some officials and politicians, members of an African dance troupe danced their way around the little plaza out front and then led the crowd into the newly opened exhibit.

It was very crowded of course, so Ken, Eric and I decided to go see the other exhibits first and come back to Tembo Trail when the crowds thinned out a bit. (Watch the zoo’s webmaster’s video here) So we started at the reptile house opposite Tembo Trail and just meandered our way around the zoo after that. It’s a small zoo, but they really do a lot of work to keep things looking up to date and fresh. I particularly like the way they’ve re-purposed some of the historic buildings. The old science building is now used as office space and Kandace’s office is in there. Kandace said that Toledo, Ohio and Toledo, Spain were two of the earliest cities in the world to form a sister city relationship, in token of which Spanish Toledo sent American Toledo tiled murals. The back wall of Kandace’s office is a scene from Don Quixote Another building that’s found a new lease on life is the one that used to house the big cats. It is now the “Carnivore Café” where the four of us had lunch sitting in what used to be lion cage, how cool is that?

I had expected the zoo to take a couple of hours at the most, but by the time we’d seen most of what there was to see, it was near 3 p.m. We were pretty tired and decided to save the Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art for tomorrow. We’d agreed to meet for dinner in town, so we just hung out at the farm until Kandace called to say that work was finished for the day. So we got in the car and drove to the Docks, an entertainment area along the Maumee River in Toledo. The kids decided they preferred to stay home, so the four of us had a great dinner together!

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Nicoline To Toledo
Nicoline (May 17, 2012)

Last modified: May 18, 2012 at 16:37:21

Today marked the end of our I-70 exploration for now, so we made our way up U.S. 23 toward Toledo to see Kandace and Ken York and their daughters Emmalyn and Alexa who live near Toledo. But since we had a whole day to cover the distance between Columbus and Toledo, we took our time.

Near Marion we saw a sign for a tourist information center, so we decided to stop there and see if there was anything interesting to see or do in the area. As it happens, Marion is the home town of President Warren G. Harding, but we didn’t feel like spending time indoors because the weather was so nice. Besides, Harding is not one of the great presidents, so a drive by his house, with the famous porch from which he conducted his election campaign, was enough for us.

Marion is also home to the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, the world’s largest collection of pop corn carts. Great, we’ll take your word for it. Instead we drove a little ways outside the city to the Marion Tallgrass Trail, a 12-mile trail that follows the bed of the Erie-Lackawanna railroad. You can still see bits and pieces of the railroad along the trail. Sic transit gloria mundi. We didn’t have time to hike the whole trail, since it was already past noon, but we went a couple of miles up the trail and saw birds and wildflowers and even a turtle basking on a log in the sun. It was nice to stretch our legs for a bit.

From Marion we drove onto Genoa, Ohio where we were to meet Kandace’s brother Doug for dinner. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while but had never met in person, so now was a good time to finally do that. Doug is very much into cycling, both motorcycles and the human-powered kind and also kayaking, although that was a little hard to get pictures of in a town that isn’t anywhere close to a body of water. Why they named it for the great seafaring city of Genoa is anybody’s guess. You’d think there are towns inland from that city that they could have named the place for, no? But anyway, we had a great dinner at Rayz Café in Genoa and then drove onto the Yorks’ farm using Doug’s directions. I did have the address plugged into my phone and I had reception, but since Doug grew up in this area, why bother with electronics, right?

Around 8 p.m. we parked at the farm, where Kandace and Ken welcomed us and introduced us to their daughters. We knew them from Facebook also, but had never met them before. We sat and talked until bed time, and all the great things that are due to happen at the Toledo Zoo, where Kandace works. Pictures will follow, of course.

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Nicoline Dayton and Columbus
Nicoline (May 16, 2012)

Last modified: May 17, 2012 at 10:01:42

Another spot high on Eric’s list was the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. I'm not much into airplanes, but since it’s also the site where the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in the former Yugoslavia were signed, I thought it would be okay to go there, briefly look at the aircraft and then move on to the interesting part of the exhibit. Boy, was I ever wrong!

First off, if you want to learn about the Dayton Peace Accords, you’d better find some other location, like the National Archives in College Park, for example, because there is hardly a exposition panel’s worth of information on the Third Balkan War (the first two having taken place in 1912 and 1913, respectively). There’s a tiny section on it in the Cold War section of the museum - which is wrong in and of itself, since it couldn’t have happened but for the enforced and accelerated thaw caused by the end of the Cold War, but nothing else.

Second, if you ever visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, you want to make sure you have *at least* a couple of hours to devote to it. We got up somewhat late, breakfasted leisurely (and copiously) at a local Waffle House and then drove to Wright-Pat, as the locals call it. I learned that from one of the staff members at The Wilds, who happened to be from Dayton.

As I said, I thought I’d just glance at some of the airplane exhibits and then have time to look at the really interesting stuff, but I quickly became completely engrossed in the history of aviation in general and military aviation in particular. For example, I had long been amazed at how World War II era planes seem to be made of material that resembles nothing so much as soda cans hammered together. On the walkway to the museum you pass by a monument to the pilots who flew “over the hump,” meaning, they flew planes carrying supplies to China, in an attempt to mollify Chiang Kai Chek’s delusions of grandeur and keep him from signing a separate peace with Japan. Yes, yes, I realize that the planes were not actually made that flimsy, but they sure don’t look like they’re particularly well-made, certainly not anything I myself would care to hop over the Himalayas with! But looking at the models the museum had of the earliest planes, I realized that those “soda can” airplanes must have seemed quite an improvement over the “umbrella-type” aircraft aviation started out with. Of course, I had seen pictures of the first aircraft put together by the Wright Brothers, but that’s not the same as actually the thing itself.

At any rate, we spent more than an hour in the first half of three immense hangars and we realized that we would need to move faster if we were to have enough time to go through all three hangars and the displays outside and still have time to get to Columbus by 5 p.m. So we moved to the hall devoted to aviation during World War II, thinking that we’d be done with that pretty quickly, since the basic story is of course pretty familiar. But you always learn something new. I never knew that Walt Disney had volunteered to design badges for the U.S. Army Air Force (it was not yet a separate branch of service) and I never thought I would see Donald Duck in a military incarnation, and pretty ferocious-looking at that. Of course, Disney being Disney, it quickly re-established its copyright after the war and as a result, you can’t buy a Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse badge in the museum shop. Nor did I know that planes that carried wounded soldiers from battlefields were also used to bring in supplies, so that they couldn’t use the Red Cross symbol. Nurses who accompanied wounded men on these flights volunteered for duty, because it was so hazardous.

After the World War II exhibit we moved on to the exhibits on the Korean War and the War in Southeast Asia, as the museum calls the Vietnam War. I suppose it’s one way of looking at it, just like the South likes to call the Civil War the War between the States. I disagree with their appellation, especially since they don’t call the Korean War the War in Northeast Asia, even though the top commander in the field (well, not really in the field, since he hardly ever showed his face in Korea), Douglas MacArthur is known to have said that he prayed every night that the Chinese would enter the war. MacArthur was of the opinion that licking the Chinese Communists on the battlefield would be a matter of small moment, since he could count on the help of his buddy Chiang and his Nationalist Forces ensconced on Taiwan. Never mind that it was the Chinese People’s Army, i.e. Communists, who had forced him to retreat to Taiwan. One of the panels also referred to “strategic bombing of North Korean industry,” which is nonsense. Korea had spent the better part of the 20th century up to that point as a Japanese colony, run with such brutality that it would make even the Belgian Congo seem like an earthly paradise. Korea, either North or South of the 38th parallel, did not have any industry to speak of.

Of course, it *is* the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force so one expects a certain level of whitewashing. But what is the use of having a museum in which to commemorate the history of one of the nation’s branches of service if it’s going to be mostly spin? To quote Cicero: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” In the exhibit on the Vietnam War - excuse me, the Southeast Asian War - there is not one word about how the French got their derrières kicked at Dien Bien Phu, whereupon the U.S. stepped in with extensive offers of military assistance so as to keep the French in line in Europe, where the U.S. wanted to rearm Germany. On a side note, I have always thought that if it hadn’t been for the anti-communist trolls in Congress and the media, we should have felt great affinity for the North-Vietnamese under General Võ Nguyên Giáp. He had his troops disassembled heavy artillery, cart it up the mountains in pieces using manpower or bicycles for transport, reassembled them and used them to besiege Dien Bien Phu for two months until the French garrison surrendered. Now *there’s* resourcefulness for you! There is not a word about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that underpinned U.S. military operations and which is by now well-known to be a tissue of falsehoods. It mentions the 1972 Easter Offensive - no doubt the North Vietnamese had an entirely different name for it - that led to an extensive bombing campaign, Operation Linebacker, against North Vietnamese targets, culminating in the Christmas Bombings of Hanoi, mostly aimed at the civilian population. The inglorious Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 merits exactly one newspaper headline on display: “It’s All Over.” I don’t want to review the entire history of the Vietnam War, but I think I’ve made it clear that these are some very significant omissions.

Of course, the Air Force did great things, too. One example would be the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, when the U.S. and Royal Air Force worked together to keep an entire city supplied with coal and food and even candy for the children of Berlin in operation “Little Vittles.” This was a major propaganda coup for the West. I hadn’t known that salt was in short supply in Berlin and that transporting salt is dangerous to aircraft because it’s corrosive and abrasive. You’d think it wouldn’t matter if it’s packaged properly, but apparently salt had to be flown in by RAF planes that were normally used on maritime missions, since those were specially treated to withstand corrosion. One of the displays showed the bags of coal that were flown into Berlin daily. Commented one of the kids from a school group: “Oh, look! Body bags!” That’s why it’s so important to tell the truth.

From the Berlin Airlift we moved into the hangar devoted to the history of the Cold War. At the end of it is a tall missile silo that held a variety of Minute Men missiles. Since we recently had a discussion on Facebook about the use of the Space Shuttle for propaganda when the Air Force put it on display for the European NATO allies in the 1980 to counter the disease known as “hollanditis,” I particularly wanted to see a Cruise Missile if they had one on display. As it happens, it’s nothing much to look at. This drab olive missile (the top one in the picture) is what all the fuss was about.

By now it was past 2 p.m. and if we were going to be back in Columbus by 5, we had to get moving. So we only spent a short time looking at the replicas of a World War II British control tower, which they built in Dayton using the original blueprints. I hope they had a better quality black-out curtains in England, though, because the ones they put up in Dayton were pretty much useless. There was also a Nissen hut furnished as a mission head quarters. It showed officers preparing for a bombing mission to Germany, for which they would have to fly over German-occupied Holland. It is because of the dedication of the young men (and women!) of what has been called “the greatest generation” that Eric and I could walk around in Dayton, OH, speaking Dutch or English as we please and not German. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

And on that note we left Dayton to drive to Columbus to visit Mark and meet his dog Hoshi. Mark had meant to show off how obedient Hoshi was, but like a typical toddler, he was so excited about having company that he refused to obey. We took him and his roommate Kyle out to dinner and Hoshi went with us, too, and during dinner he was very well behaved. For dessert we went to Jeni’s on High Street, a local ice cream shop that the Washington Post had featured about a year ago. It has some very off-beat flavors of ice cream. We meant to get ice cream there when we took Mark to Columbus, but we couldn’t find the place. It’s a very small store front with an even smaller sign out front, but this time we knew where to look. I finally had my chocolate cayenne pepper ice cream (look for Queen City Cayenne) and it was great!

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Nicoline The Wilds near Zanesville, Ohio
Nicoline (May 15, 2012)

Last modified: May 16, 2012 at 22:30:09

Eric has long wanted to go on a photo safari and it doesn’t look like we’ll get to Africa any time soon, so we settled for The Wilds near Zanesville, OH.

As we learned from the tour guide, the area that the 10,000 acre (give or take) park is situated on used to be an open pit coal mine until the 1960s. When the coal ran out or became too costly to extract the government made American Electric Power reclaim the land that they had ruined. Yes, that would be the Environmental Protection Agency established by Republican president Nixon and so hated by Mr. Boehner and his cronies in congress today. While it’s great to see the ongoing reclamation effort, I doubt that AEP is doing it out of the kindness of its corporate heart. It’s just that there’s probably not much else they can safely do with it, like sell it to a developer to build houses on. It would be a Love Canal waiting to happen. In one area, trees that were planted over 20 years ago have only grown a couple of feet because the quality of the soil is so poor. The park people actually have to build structures under which the animals can find shade.

Nevertheless, the park itself apparently does a lot of work in the propagation of endangered species and it even houses some species that have become extinct in the wild. For example, they work with researchers from China on a project to increase the number of Sichuan Taksin, a species of goat. Since these animals live in the province of Sichuan where it can be bitterly cold in the winter, they consider a sunny, mid-70 degree day much too hot and so it hides out in the shade at the water.

The Wilds is also home to some predators, such as the cheetah, the African wild dog and the dhole (cuon alpinus), a native of South and South-East Asia. Unfortunately, the latter is extremely shy and it would not show itself for the camera. I looked him up on Wikipedia and it looks a lot like a fox, only bigger. But the cheetah looked at us as if it thought: “You people are *crazy,* walking around in this heat!” and the wild dogs trotted around in their enclosure as if to show off. The tour guide told us that these animals are so ferocious that even their keeper can’t go into the enclosure or he’d get ripped to shreds. They have to throw the meat over the fence. These animals will eat anything, which is why they have this sign on the fence:

The open air safari took about 2.5 hours, with two breaks of about 25 minutes each. The roads look smooth when you see them from afar, but I can assure you they are anything but. Pretty soon this may be the only legal abortion available in Ohio. But it was definitely worth the bumpy ride.

After The Wilds we drove back to I-70 and just as we entered the town of Zanesville, my phone’s email app interrupted the music player (we’re listening to “Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics” by Nicholas Wapshott), indicating that I once again had reception. Yay! Unfortunately we were not sufficiently out of the boonies to find appreciation for our liberal point of view as expressed by the bumper stickers on the Accord or the t-shirts we happened to be wearing. Mine expressed criticism of the idea that corporations are people and Eric’s, which says: “The universe exploded out of nothing billions of years ago and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” But we only wanted to buy two cokes, so we cleared out of the store quickly, before the louts had the wit to comment.

Since we had another half day to fill, we thought we would do something so un-American that old Joe McCarthy must be spinning in his grave: We decided to prepone our trip to Dayton. The object there was to visit the American Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. If we got to Dayton early, we’d have more time to spend at the museum without having to hurry to be back in time to visit Mark in Columbus. So we drove past Columbus on I-70 and then changed to U.S. 40 to enjoy the scenery. When we took a break in West Jefferson, we were surprised to find a disused Ohio church that had been turned into a store.

We continued on to Springfield, OH to find the next Madonna of the Trail, which happened to be red. I suppose they got a bit carried away when they mixed in the pink Missouri granite that is one of the components of the statues. But the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce had put a nice little plaza behind the statue which they call the “National Road Commons” with a nice seating area. overlooking a 24 hour bail bond establishment, but never mind), where we spend half an hour or so reading.

On our way out of Springfield, Eric noticed a drive-through liquor store. Since we’d never seen any such establishment, we *had* to go in there and buy something. I asked the lady what Ohio law said about open containers of alcohol but she said she didn’t know, so we risked it and bought a coke and a beer. As it turned out, we unwittingly broke the law.

We found our way back to the interstate and were in Dayton before we knew it, where we found a Red Roof Inn that had such a lousy internet connection that we didn’t even bother uploading anything until we could find one that would be faster than engraving the words in marble. Or Missouri granite.

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Nicoline Wheeling
Nicoline (May 14, 2012)

Last modified: May 14, 2012 at 22:53:22

Grrr! I just spend an hour and a half writing my diary entry for the day, and for some reason it just vanished. Poof. Kaput. Gone. I wasn’t going to retype it, but I can’t stand to let the damn machine win, so here goes.

Today it was on to Wheeling, WV, after a good night’s sleep (even though we had two double beds instead of a king-size one).

Eric hunts for physical aspects of the I-70/US40/National Road, while I’m more interested in what happened along the road, but we both agree that the men and women who went west must have been spectacularly courageous. Finding the Madonnas of the Trail that commemorate that courage is fun, even if the statues themselves are exceedingly ugly. They remind me of the kind of art favored by dictators from both the left and the right. Both Hitler and Stalin loathed abstract, modern art. Hitler called it “entartet” while Stalin and his cronies referred to it as “decadent bourgeois art.” The Madonnas of the Trail predate both dictators by a few years, but it’s the same kind of heroic, quasi-folksy art. All the same, the Wheeling madonna is set on the edge of Wheeling Park, a beautiful area, and markers explain how the State of West-Virginia came into being (during the Civil War) and that Wheeling’s most famous Civil War-era resident, major-general Jesse L. Reno, was killed at the Battle of South Mountain in western Maryland. We’ve seen his battlefield memorial many times, as it is on the Appalachian Trail. He’s not buried there or in Wheeling, but in the Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

From the madonna we drove on into Wheeling following U.S. 40 until we came upon a statue of an Indian. The local Kiwanis group donated this statue to the city of Wheeling in 1928. I suppose by 1928 what few Native Americans were still left in the area had no choice but to be friendly, unlike their 1777 counterparts. Less than 100 ft away from the Indian statue stands the memorial to the leap major Samuel McColloh made to escape a band of hostile Indians during the Revolutionary War, a leap of 300 ft. I looked down from the marker today and I find it very difficult to believe that he could have made that leap and lived to tell about it.

Still following U.S. 40 we drove into the center of Wheeling, which is well-preserved for the most part, to find two bridges, one famous one that used to be the world’s longest suspension bridge when it was first built and another one, much newer, which is less pleasing to the eye but does the job just the same. We drove to Wheeling Island in the Ohio River on the new bridge, parked, and walked back to Wheeling by way of the suspension bridge and back to the car over the new bridge, which surprisingly also had a pedestrian walkway. It’s quite an experience to walk across a bridge. In a car you don’t notice the vibrations of the bridge caused by traffic moving along the deck, but you sure do on foot! And even though I know it would be far more dangerous if you felt no movement at all, it still *feels* scary!

Once back in the car we again went back into Wheeling, this time to find a visitor center or a historical society or something of that nature, because I had made it my mission to find out exactly where in Wheeling Senator Joseph R. McCarthy made his Lincoln Day speech in which he accused the State Department of harboring Communists. I knew he had spoken to the Republican Women’s Club, because I read somewhere that McCarthy said he would have chosen a more prominent venue if he’d known how important that speech would be to his political career. Unsurprisingly, the visitor center isn’t too keen on highlighting the city’s role - however unwittingly - in a shameful chapter of recent American history, but the lady did point me to the Wheeling Public Library, about two blocks away, where a very nice and helpful reference librarian pulled up an article that mentioned the venue. And since the library also has a collection of Wheeling Intelligencer newspapers on microfilm, I pulled the reel that had the paper in which McCarthy’s speech was mentioned. As it turns out, the senator spoke at the McLure Hotel on Market Street. It still exists today. One mystery solved ;-)

After a leisurely lunch we drove on into Ohio, with Eric on a quest to find the S-bridges on the National Road in the Buckeye State. They used to build S-curves into the road to make it so the bridge would be exactly perpendicular to the river bank, so they would be cheaper and easier to make. Only one of the three bridges was still open to traffic, so we drove over it.

It happened to be in Amish country, because we saw a horse and buggy tied up at a gas station and another guy driving a horse and buggy passed by as we stopped to take a picture. Either Ohio law doesn’t require them to put reflectors on their buggies or they belong to a particularly conservative sect of Amish who believe that the government violates their First Amendment right to freedom of religion if it requires them to use reflectors (and never mind that they stop at a decidedly un-16th century gas station or have a plastic Rubbermaid jug and a nylon cooler on the back of the buggy). I’m happy to report that I did my bit for the First Amendment when I happened to notice a church advertising a local Tea Party meeting. I’m going to sic the Freedom From Religion Foundation on them.

After Eric had completed his photographic record of the S-bridges, we decided to drive to a wildlife preserve we want to visit. Since The Wilds also provides lodging, we thought it might be fun to spend the night there. Well, sure, but not to the tune of several hundred dollars! I’m sure it’s a great wildlife preserve, but it can’t be *that* great. However, the country surrounding it is beautiful, too, so it wasn’t a complete waste of gas. It must be very sparsely populated, since we hardly saw any cars and not too many houses, either. One high school we drove past was scarcely bigger than a large suburban house! Unfortunately, I don’t remember what county it was in, so I can’t look it up.

We drove back to the interstate to find more affordable lodging for the night and ended up at a Days Inn near exit 178 on I-70, where either the maid or the management or both believe that traveling is no reason to neglect one’s daily devotions. The bible in our hotel room was placed upright on the first table, so we could not possibly overlook it.

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Nicoline Henry Clay Frick
Nicoline (May 13, 2012)

Last modified: May 13, 2012 at 22:04:46

It may seem odd to name a post for the original union buster, but this is the connection: Henry Clay Frick was the manager for Carnegie's steel mill in Pittsburgh. When the union's contract with Carnegie was due to expire, Carnegie told Frick to see to it that the union was kept out of the next contract, whereupon Frick hired 300 Pinkerton agents to prevent a lockout at the mill. When workers and their families got word that several barges with Pinkertons were on their way to the Homestead mill, they chose to meet them head on. The ensuing battle became known as the Homestead Riot.

Today, the pump house that was the site of the battle in 1892 is home to a farmers' market. In one half of the building you can still see some of the pump house equipment and it holds an exhibit on the Homestead Strike, and the other half is home to a Sunday morning farmers' market. Unfortunately, Eric was so fascinated by the photogenic qualities of old steel mill equipment that he completely forgot to take pictures of the farmers' market.

Since today was Mother's Day and restaurants were likely to be packed wherever we went, I decided to buy some bread and scones and some cheese ball mix at the farmers' market to have for dinner tonight. It was an inspired idea, if I do say so myself. We had slices of a rosemary-garlic focaccia with cheese spread (made with cream cheese) and a scone for dinner and it wasn't half bad! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It had started to rain while we were looking around the pump house and it didn't look as though taking the walking tour to the original Homestead mill site, a little bit further west, was going to be an option. Besides, the Homestead site is now called the Waterfront and houses as choice a selection of corporate America as you find in any suburban strip mall. I saw a Costco, an AMC theater, a Best Buy, and a Target, to name but a few. Nothing at the Waterfront reminds of the Homestead Strike, of course. One historical marker mentioned the word "Homestead" but it was in reference to a Negro league baseball team that used to play there, the Homestead Grays. So we decided to drive around the Homestead Borough and we came across the cemetery where the seven striking workers who were killed during the Homestead Riot were buried. Unfortunately, there was no book or map or anything to help us figure out where their graves were, but the cemetery gave a nice overview of the cultural melting pot that is Pittsburgh. Many names recalled their owners' German, Irish, Slavonic or Italian names. There was one clan of Irish folks who had a whole cluster of identically marked headstones, McMillan. I hated to see the cemetery had been vandalized recently. Somebody apparently thought it witty to drive a car over the graves, knocking over headstones and gouging deep ruts in the grass. We drove around the neighborhood near the cemetery, because we had seen an onion-domed church that had to mean an Eastern Orthodox church. It wasn't much too look at from the outside, but the inside was amazingly scrumptious. Lots of gold leaf, icons, and an elaborately painted cupola. The words that were part of the artwork must have been in church Slavonic. I could see that they were in Cyrillic script, but I couldn't make out any of the characters, and I can usually figure out words in Russian by figuring out each character separately. Since services were going on, Eric couldn't take pictures, but they let us join the congregation (no more than two dozen mostly elderly people) who had to stand for most of the time. I knew people had to stand during services in Eastern Orthodox churches in Europe, but I thought that it might be different here, since they do have pews. But they stood for most of the time we were there.

But you're still wondering about the connection to Frick. Let me put you out of your misery. We drove to the University of Pittsburgh to see the International Classrooms. They are a number of classrooms (about two dozen, I think) that various countries have donated to the university starting in the 1930s. The rooms are in a building called the Cathedral of Learning, a neo-gothic monstrosity of a building that reminded me of nothing so much as the Stalinist tower the people of Warsaw were forced to buy themselves as a "present" from the people of the USSR. It sits on the site that was formerly occupied by the Frick house, but Frick himself was long dead by the time his heirs endeavored to expiate his sins.

Some of the rooms are quite interesting, such as the English room, with chairs that used to stand in the House of Commons and the benches set up in the same pattern as the benches in the Commons. Having just listened to a biography of the Reagan-Thatcher political marriage, I had no trouble at all imagining the Iron Lady at Prime Minister's Question Time, taking questions from obstreperous back benchers and verbally tearing them to shreds. Of course, we had to sit and get our picture take in those chairs. Many of the rooms were exceedingly gloomy, and the weather didn't help much either. It was a great day for indoor sightseeing! I liked the Italian room, where the backs of all the chairs are carved with the name and year of the founding of Italian universities. The oldest one was at Bologna in 1088. Milan didn't get one until 1923!

After the Cathedral of Learning (really, even the name!) we drove along the National Historic Road to near Wheeling, West Virginia, where we are spending the night in a hotel with a great pool. We dutifully swam some laps, but I have to admit the hot tub was too tempting.

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Nicoline Pittsburgh, PA
Nicoline (May 12, 2012)

Last modified: May 13, 2012 at 8:54:49

It's been a long day and I'm glad to be in my Econolodge room, in a king-size bed! I love the feeling of having an acre of bed :-)

We started early this morning, after I had packed some of our stuff into the car the night before. We had breakfast, said goodbye to the cats (exhorting them to be good; hope it helps. I'm talking to you, Cleopatra!) Now that we don't have to worry about people in the back seat, we don't even bother trying to fit everything into the trunk, either. I had an extra cup of coffee and wouldn't you know it, I spilled half of it over my t-shirt. Great. But Eric absolutely wanted to take pictures in Breezewood, PA, and the ladies' room at the Sheetz had a turbo hand-drying thing, so I used that to dry my shirt after I had rinse the coffee stains out. Good thing I don't take milk & sugar in it.

On our way to Washington, PA the Quaker State again lived up to its reputation for Philly and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle. Plenty of billboards extolling the uses of coal as a clean energy source. Sure, and pigs can fly. Also billboards about politics and fracking.

One of the first things we came across in Washington, PA was the Center for Coalfield Justice, with one window showing an old picture of a group of miners and the other one had a display on fracking. There was a list of 175 different chemicals that they use to fracture the rocks to get at the gas deposits, none of them sounding very benign, plus a couple of bottles of water that comes from people's taps in fracked areas.

We had intended to visit the David Bradford House. Bradford was the leader of the whiskey rebellion in the 1790s, who fled to Spanish West-Florida (now Louisiana) after his role in the rebellion was exposed. He was later pardoned. But the Bradford house had a note on the door saying that they'd be closed until 2 for an outreach program, so we kind of hung out in Washington for two hours. At 2 p.m. we knocked on the door, but still couldn't get an answer, so we gave up. Too bad. Maybe we'll come back some other time. We'd also wanted to see the Francis Lemoyne House, but that's only open to the public from Tuesday through Friday. Stores have weird opening hours there, anyway. There's a liquor store next to the Bradford House that's only open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. If you crave a stiff belt of whiskey on a Tuesday, tough luck.

From Washington we double back to Beallsville, to see one of the "Madonna of the Trail" statues put up by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, NSDAR. Rather an unfortunate abbreviation, I'm afraid. The statue depicts a pioneer woman with two kids, a gun set down at her feet, looking resolutely westward. On one of the sides of the base it refers to a nice helpful Indian by the name of Nemacolin. Kind of like the Indians in Massachusetts who supposedly asked the English "to come over and help [them]."

From Beallsville we drove to Pittsburgh. I conceived of the idea of finding lodging in a section of Pittsburgh called Carnegie, but unfortunately it did not boast of any hotels or motels. We drove around Pittsburgh for quite a while, until we finally found an Econolodge in Clairton, just south of Pittsburgh. With a king-size bed. I got online to get the address for the Duquesne Incline, thinking that I could just plug that into my nifty new GPS-enabled phone. Well, I could plug it in all right, but getting the directions was quite a different matter. It must be the mountainous terrain that makes it so difficult for Prudence to hang on to the signal. But we managed to find the incline all the same and rode it up to Grandview Street. People who live on the right side of the street have a grand view indeed! It is also *the* area in Pittsburgh for prom and wedding pictures, judging by the number of parties with the gentlemen in suits & ties and the ladies in fancy dresses and either completely flat shoes (think ballerina) or 6" platform heels. There doesn't seem to be a middle way. I hadn't changed from my comfy driving outfit of workout pants, t-shirt (sans coffee stains) and sneakers, so I was a tad undressed for the fancy restaurants near the Duquesne Incline, but luckily the Monogahela Incline had some places where 6" heels weren't required. I tried taking a few pictures of Pittsburgh's skyline by night with the camera in my phone, but it's hopeless. Having a photography nut for a husband has spoiled me for crappy pictures, I'm afraid :-)

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