Tag Archives: Road Trip

Nebraska Out of the Way Attractions

Smith Falls

IMG_4526

Smith Falls is pretty well hidden from most travelers. It is located in a very sparsely populated section of North Central Nebraska, far away from any heavily traveled interstate highway. It is also in a section of the country where few would expect to see a magnificent waterfall like this one.

Unless you are one of Valentine, Nebraska’s 2,820 residents, getting there is a long drive on empty roads, that even requires four miles on a gravel road off of State Highway 12.

Being so far out of the way of where people live and travel, the Niobrara Canyon, where Smith Falls is located, is quite secluded. The river itself looks nothing like the surrounding areas. The dense tree coverage feels reminiscent of places further East. It feels like the perfect destination for a private group experience; a float trip, family reunion, or some other group bonding experience.

IMG_4521

There does tend to be a few more people at the Falls themselves, as it is the main attraction at the State Park.

IMG_4522

Unlike some trails, visitors can freely walk right into Smith Falls without breaking any kind of rule. Many visitors bring swimsuits, and wear water shoes, as the trail to get from the parking to the falls is not vigorous at all, although it is about half a mile.

IMG_4529

Carhenge

IMG_4542.jpg

Carhenge, just north of Alliance, Nebraska, several hours west of Smith Falls is also quite far from any metropolitan area or heavily traveled highway. This image of an open two-lane highway with nobody else on it, wide open skies and small subtle sand hills in the background sums up the entire three hour drive between Smith Falls and Carhenge.

IMG_4538

While both attractions are out of the way, a few miles outside a small town (Alliance has a population closer to 8,000), in a way they could not be any more different. Smith Falls and the Niobrara Canyon is all about natural beauty, an attraction carved out of a glaciation event that occurred about 17,000 years ago. Carhenge is a homage to all things manmade, a recreation of Stonehenge, a mysterious pre-historic manmade structure, using a more modern human invention, cars.

Whereas Smith Falls is serious, Carhenge is has a goofy vibe. There is also more to Carhenge than just rusty old cars arranged like Stonehenge. This one vehicle apparently has a time capsule in it. In the year 2053, someone will open up memories of 2003, the last year before social media. That should be an interesting experience, especially for someone not old enough to remember such a world.

IMG_4544

There is also a car where people can write on.

IMG_4545

A few of these random structures that are made out of car parts, whose relation to the rest of the exhibit is not aparent.

IMG_4547

And, a car hood with a vaguely political sounding message on it.

IMG_4548

Chimney Rock

IMG_4562.jpg

Not too far from Carhenge is an attraction of both natural beauty and historical significance: Chimney Rock.

IMG_4559

Although this structure served as a landmark for Native Americans and fur trappers, its significance was heightened when South Pass (in Western Wyoming) was discovered to be the easiest passage across the Rocky Mountains. This lead to most major trails, including the famed Oregon Trail, being routed along the North Platte River, passing by Chimney Rock.

IMG_4563.jpg

Chimney Rock is a National Historical Site with a museum containing artifacts, primarily about the pioneers who traveled this route, including journals and letters written by those who made the journey.

It is hard to appreciate in the current era, where anyone with means can get on a plane and fly to some of the most beautiful places on Earth, but when pioneers in the mid-19th Century came across Chimney Rock, they were often in awe of its beauty. Many accounts went to great lengths to describe the structure that is Chimney Rock.

It was also recognized by those making the journey at the time as the point where the flat portion of the journey ended and the uphill part began. The journey ahead would become more rigorous, but also more beautiful.

IMG_4567.jpg

Nebraska is not always known as a place with a lot of natural beauty. However, it is not without its places to be appreciated. The truth is that beauty can be found pretty much anywhere, because, it is often not a specific place or a specific person. It is often an experience. A major part of the travel experience is driving. Nebraska offers open roads that pass by subtle features like the sand hills or the rock features further west. The key is to go a little bit out of the way, and to notice, be looking for what is around you. Then, with the right music on in the right vehicle (I personally found both classic rock and EDM to match this situation, you may find something different), the experience becomes a thing of beauty itself.

North Dakota’s Role in the History of the West

IMG_4296

In my childhood, I never knew what to think of North Dakota. Like most people living in metropolitan areas, I never gave the place much thought. I do recall hearing, at some point in the late 1990s, that North Dakota was the least visited state in the country. However, a more recently published list indicates that the state sees far more visitors now due to the recent oil boom. Apparently, Alaska, the hardest state to get to, is now the least visited state in the country, which makes sense.

My ideas about North Dakota were just kind of hazy. I’d wonder if the culture was just like that South Dakota and Nebraska. Or, if the proximity to Minnesota or Canada made it kind of different.

IMG_4316.jpg

A drive across North Dakota along Interstate 94 will confirm what most people think. It is a Great Plains State with a Great Plains feel. If anything, there are even less trees and fewer towns than the rest of the Great Plains.

However, there are some surprising encounters, with both natural beauty and history to be found, without going more than a mile off the Interstate.

IMG_4305

One of the most amazing parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Painted Canyon,  can be viewed just by going to a rest stop right off the highway.

IMG_4309

This is pretty amazing, considering that adjacent to the park in all directions is nothing but endless wide open prairie.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s significance to the history of the west is, as expected, related to the president the park was named after. Theodore Roosevelt first encountered this land on a train trip to Montana. He fell in love with the wide open spaces, colorful valley, and quiet seclusion the area offered. He would later buy a ranch here, and it is said that experiences like these influenced the conservationist policies he would pursue as president, including a major expansion of the National Park System.

Halfway across the State, I encountered another scenic area, or, at least the sign indicated it as such.

In both North and South Dakota, the Missouri River Valley, and the surrounding bluffs provide some variance in what is otherwise a fairly homogenous drive.

IMG_4326

This river crossing is also where explorers Lewis and Clark met Sakakawea, a 17-year-old Native American who would play an important role in helping the explorers complete their journey. The Shoshone were the predominant tribe in areas of what is now Idaho and Montana, where Lewis and Clark were headed to cross the Rockies. Sakakawea, a Shoshone who was captured by the Hidasta tribe and brought to present-day North Dakota, had the language experience Lewis and Clark needed for much of the remainder of the journey. She was even reunited with her brother, who turned out to be one of the tribe chiefs Lewis and Clark needed to trade with.

It was here in Bismarck I encountered a sizable North Dakota town, as well as a State Capitol building with a very unique shape.

IMG_4334.jpg

I was not sure how to feel. As I prepared to interact with people, my mind wandered to every pre-concieved notion I had about North Dakota. I wondered what people here do on a day-to-day basis. I wondered if, despite the fact that it was only the second day of August, people who live here are already dreading the winter to come.

I overheard some conversations from people who sounded like they were locals. What I heard was not complaints about excessive boredom, fear about a sub-zero temperatures four months in the future, or some foreign sounding discussion about fracking I cannot follow. I heard people with a lot of the same concerns I often have: How to help that one friend or family member going through some hard times. People’s concerns over changes being made at their workplace. Health concerns and other day-to-day topics that are common amongst almost all the people of all the world.

I thought to myself “Have I become this disconnected from really?” Do I now struggle to relate to people when they aren’t discussing some major global issue, an invention at a setting like start-up week or some grand adventure?

IMG_3395.jpg

Even in the most innovative cities in the world, more people would prefer to discuss their day than a diagram like this one.

It would be easy for anyone to say that, right now, North Dakota’s only really significance is in the world of energy production. However, that would be ignorant to history. For, if it weren’t for Lewis and Clark meeting a friendly tribe to camp with for the winter (Fort Mandan), and get the help they needed from Sakakawea, it may have taken several more decades for the West to be opened up. And, if it weren’t for a young future president finding picturesque Badlands he desperately wanted to preserve, the National Park system, which has a much larger presence in the West than the East, could look significantly different than it does right now.

usa-national-park-map

What occurred to me as I continued Eastward from Bismarck was that, whether the number of annual visitors is closer to 2 or 20 Million, most North Dakotans probably do not care about the relatively small number of annual visitors. It reminds me of some of the people I interact with in Colorado that were born there decades ago. Many of them actually did not want this gigantic influx of people and visitors that fundamentally transformed the state. Many of them just wanted to enjoy their state the way it was, and that is what North Dakotans get to do.

Road Trip to Santa Fe

IMG_5623.jpg

I spent about half a decade working in the Insurance Industry, an industry with a significant presence in Bermuda.  At workshops, conferences, and in meetings, I would regularly interact with people who lived there.  The place certainly has its draw, and with the right opportunity, a person with experience in the industry could make a really good life there, despite the high cost of living.

I often imagine what it would be like to have a totally different life, in a totally different place, particularly when traveling, or when I meet someone from somewhere far away.  While working in the insurance industry, although I never seriously considered up and moving to Bermuda, I did imagine what it would be like a couple of dozen times.  Each time I imagined it, I would always end up dwelling on the lack of room to roam around there.  The island is only 20.6 square miles, and getting anywhere else requires a flight.  I pictured myself moving there, getting my swimming trunks out, snorkeling, attending a few parties and such, but then, eventually, just getting restless, and missing something I love to do here in mainland U.S.A.; taking a road trip.

There is something I really love about road trips.  When I refer to road trips, I am not talking about simply driving somewhere.  A lot of people drive to work every day, or to a relative’s house every other weekend, and those drives don’t feel like “road trips”.  I’m talking about driving somewhere a significant distance away that is not a routine trip; somewhere that is somewhat unknown.  On road trips, we have somewhat of an idea as to what to expect, based on what we have heard, read, or researched, but we do not know it intimately.  We have not experienced the towns we will pass along the way, which exits have the best deals on gas, and where the best restaurants are.  In other words, there are still some surprises, and we are still going to encounter something unexpected.

IMG_5619

Driving south along I-25, the first indication that one is reaching the Southernmost portion of Colorado is the Spanish Peaks.  While visible farther north, they take prominence south of Pueblo. The Spanish Peaks are nowhere near the tallest features in Southern Colorado.  In fact, within 30 miles or so, there are 5 mountains taller than 14,000 feet (14ers)!  But, since they are relatively isolated from other natural features, and can be seen quite some distance, they are a prominent landmark toady (an entire region is named Spanish Peaks country, as well as the names of countless business in the region), and were a prominent landmark on the old Santa Fe Trail.

Approaching Trinidad, CO, the last town before the New Mexico border, the Spanish Peaks disappear from the horizon as the highway enters a much hillier region approaching Raton Pass.  It is here that the path of Interstate 25 joins with the old Santa Fe Trail, which it will more or less follow for the remainder of the trip to Santa Fe.  This trail was first pioneered by the Spanish and later played a pivotal role in American history including westward expansion, and the eventual conquest of the Southwest from Mexico.

IMG_5622.jpg

I had mixed expectations of Raton Pass.  Many years back, I was on a ten-day storm chase. Our group was situated in Clovis, New Mexico, which is quite close to the Texas-New Mexico border.  We were discussing the possibility of chasing upslope storms roughly an hour northeast of Denver the following day.  Some of us brought up the possibility of driving west to Raton so we can take the Interstate to our target destination, but the group leader balked at the idea, instead suggesting driving up 385, as he felt it might be risky to take a large convoy of chase vehicles over Raton Pass.  We ended up deciding not to drive up to Northeastern Colorado, as, in the morning, the storm outlook had weakened, and we no longer felt it worth the drive.  By the way, this is common on storm chases, you really never know where you will end up going.  However, ever since then, I had kind of wondered what it was like to drive over this pass.

As the photos indicate, the road gets windy as motorists climb from Trinidad, at roughly 6000′ in elevation, over Raton Pass, which tops out at 7834′.  It’s definitely not nearly as rough as heading over the Rocky Mountains along I-70 or I-80, but definitely is a much more major incline than anything a group of people that drives largely in the Great Plains from Texas up to South Dakota would typically experience.

IMG_5626.jpg

Oh, and in one of the strangest of coincidences, the top of the pass is right at the border of Colorado and New Mexico.  This is odd as, first of all, the Colorado-New Mexico border is defined as the 37th parallel, and has nothing to do with where any mountain pass is located, and roads through mountain passes are built to take the safest and most effective route.  The fact that the place where this road crosses the 37th parallel most effectively happens to also be the high point seems to me as a pure coincidence.  Maybe someday I will read into this, the story behind the road and such, but I have yet to do so.

After a descent into Raton, the road reaches a segment that is long, flat, open, and rather empty.

I switched the music on the radio to classic rock, The Clash, Ozzy, Queensryche and such.  For some reason, there is something about the sound of guitar rock that makes more sense while driving through scenery like this than many other forms of music.  As the afternoon passed along this landscape, cloudy skies gave way to peaks from the sun only every once in a while.  A few periods of gentile, chilly rain fell from the skies.  In some ways it reminded me of a storm chase gone horribly wrong, the day slowly but surely slipping away with no prospects of favorable storm conditions developing.  However, in other ways, the drive was relaxing, allowing me to think without any distractions.

After passing through a town called Las Vegas, NM (which I assure you is nothing like the Las Vegas in Nevada), the highway turns West.  It kind of loops the last 60 or so miles into Santa Fe, even heading back northward for the last ten miles, following the route of the old Santa Fe trail.  However, unlike the previous 100 or so miles, this part of the trail, and the drive, is far from flat.

To the right, is the southernmost part of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and an area now part of the Santa Fe National Forest.  It is these mountains that the trail routed 19th century pioneers around.  To the left are a series of bluffs which, luckily, the trail did not have to also bypass, as it would have added many more miles to the journey.  The road itself slowly climbs over Glorietta Pass, descending only slightly into New Mexico’s Capitol City- Santa Fe.

My Fall Road Trip

 

One Hundred Years ago, it was common for people to live most or all of their lives in one place.  People’s ties would remain with one community throughout their lives.  For a typical American one hundred years ago, this all but guaranteed that certain people would remain in each other’s lives throughout its course.

 

All that changed as society became more mobile.  While there are still some people out there that remain in their community or metropolitan area of origin throughout their lives, it has also become quite common for people to move to different regions as their lives progress.  This makes each of life’s new chapters increasingly involve new places, new people, or both.  In early 21st century society, even those that are committed to one place for life will experience significant flux with regards to the people they encounter and interact with on a day-to-day basis.

 

As one’s life turns from one chapter to another, it is all too easy for anyone to lose touch with the people that had grown important to them in any of their lives’ previous chapters.  Life’s new chapter demands attention, and it is a bad idea to constantly live in the past.  It also suddenly requires significantly more effort to remain in touch with people, especially if the next chapter of your life involves a move to another city/region. However, I definitely believe it is worthwhile to keep in touch.  Many people have told me that I am good at keeping in touch with people.  I believe this only to be true for early 21st century standards.  Overall, I still think I could do a much better job of this.

One problem is that our society is still in a restructuring phase.  We are restructuring our communities around increasing mobility, new forms of communication, and our society’s changing needs.  We now have websites like Facebook that help us keep in touch.  But, while Facebook helps us track each other’s lives from remote locations, it is no true substitute for having actual experiences with one another.

RoadTrip_Oct2013

This is why I decided to take some spare time I have to go on a major fall road trip.  My itinerary is summarized above, but there will probably be more to it than what is presented on this map.  My idea behind this trip is to see some people that have been, and still are, important to me, but also develop some new experiences.

With a total of two weeks worth of time, I will not be able to make it to all of the places I would like to, and see all of the people I would like to.  But, I still think I came up with a plan that will allow me to reconnect with a significant number of people with whom I would like to remain connected with, without being too hurried to actually enjoy the experiences.  I have a plan, but I am ready to adjust, and there is some extra time built in.  It is a balanced road trip, a mix of the familiar and the new, a mix of the urban and the wilderness, and a blend of efficiency and flexibility.

America’s Emptiest Highways

June 5, 2013

Today’s entry is going to really make me seem crazy. You see, I not only had planned to go to the Black Hills with my friends from Chicago, but I also enrolled in a Leadership Training Course with the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, MT. This course goes from Thursday through Sunday (June 6-9). After a lot of figuring, my plan for today ended up being to ride with my friend back from the Black Hills to Cheyenne, WY, where I met up with my father-in-law, who ended up deciding to accompany me on the trip to Missoula. We would get as far along on this journey as possible today, and get an early start for Missoula tomorrow. I need to be in Missoula by 4 PM tomorrow.

So, I ended up spending most of today in a car. We started early on, just after 7:00, getting from Custer, SD to Cheyenne, WY by around 11:30. Then, after some lunch, and some additional prep, we took off from Cheyenne at 1:30 P.M. In the end, we made it as far as Hardin, MT, which is the first real town you encounter after the border.

My main activity today really was seeing some new places, that I have never seen before, and experiencing some of the quietest places in the country. I am talking about places where very few people live. You will go over 30 miles between town on some stretches, with the towns you do experience being barely a couple of thousand people. These are places that over 95% of Americans will never experience. And, the solitude of some of these places is something that many of us will also never experience. A good portion of the U.S. population live in or around large cities, and vacation to places where many others also vacation, like Disney World, or the Wisconsin Dells. Really, it is strange got think about how many people really never get away from the crowd.

The highlights of my drive are as follows.

In Eastern Wyoming, most of the area was desolate, as previously mentioned. The main feature the stuck out at me was a rock formation just South of Torrington that literally looked like it was giving me the middle finger! Wow!

20130606-211250.jpg

In the area around Casper it was easy to see the northern parts of the Laramie Mountain Range, however, it is important to note that none of these peaks are above the tree line.

20130606-211327.jpg

After Casper, there was a break in the action with respect to mountain ranges.

20130606-211407.jpg

I got to the end of Interstate 25, and returned to the road that had dominated not of my week already, interstate 90.

20130606-211433.jpg

Sheridan and the Bighorn Mountains. This place is legit. Sheridan has a surprisingly full downtown for its size. It has a fairly long stretch of road that feels like a legitimate downtown, along a Main Street. I have to say I was way more impressed than I expected. And the views of the Bighorn Mountains, both from within town and outside of town were quite breathtaking. Overall, it was a pretty nice experience.

20130606-211510.jpg

20130606-211516.jpg

Hitting the Montana border (New State)! And then, I actually drove through an Indian Reservation. It seemed odd to me that an interstate highway would actually run right through a reservation, but I-90 runs through the Crowe Indian Reservation. The town of Harden is where the road exits the reservation, and probably why the Montana Welcoe center is 50 miles into the state.

Camping in the Badlands

Today, June 2nd, started with a bang. Following our friends Jason and Allison, after only about 5 minutes of driving, suddenly a large black structure came flying off their vehicle. At first glance, the structure looked like a tire, and I became concerned that they had lost a tire. But, they continued, seemingly unaffected, so I assumed they had just run over an old tire, or old piece of rubber of some kind that was on the road. Either way, they wanted to stop to check things, which turned out to be unexpectedly beneficial. We stopped, still on some county road nowhere near the interstate, and concluded nothing was wrong with their vehicle.

After returning to the car, I suddenly see Allison running back to us with the kind of look on her face that made me think that something could have been wrong. It turns out that I had confused the sad look with the amazed look. Outside their car, sitting on some county road in South-Central (Minnesota that is), they had spotted a baby fox. This baby fox was quite cute. It actually made me think of dogs. It seemed in no way alarmed by our presence- and just presented itself to us, the same way a pet dog would. Had the fox of 60,000 years ago done the same to our forefathers, could the fox have become the pet of choice for humans rather than the evolved wolf (dog)?

20130605-210640.jpg

The remainder of the drive across Minnesota on I-90 was uneventful. A lot of windmills, that is it. Our first stop off on our journey to the Badlands was in Sioux Falls, SD. I’ve been to this town before. In fact, whenever I see this town, I think to myself that if I were to ever run a city, this is what it would look like, mainly on the count of how many signs that say “CASINO” one encounters here. Of course, they are mainly for places that throw in a slot machine or two, not full-fledged casinos with table games and all, but you still see them. And it makes you think this town is a gambling haven. We encounter a couple of other peculiarities in Sioux Falls. First, the gas station we filled up at had the following “Free Dandelion” sign. I not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or for real. Then, we saw something peculiar from a civil engineering standpoint, an interstate highway, 229, that actually turns into a dirt road (after its’ junction with I-90). From the point of view of someone who did not even know dirt roads still existed until college, but then became all too familiar with them on storm chases. I still think of dirt roads as not belonging in areas near “civilization”.

20130605-210740.jpg

20130605-210758.jpg

To break up the drive, we stop at the Mitchell Corn Palace, in Mitchell, which is just over an hour farther down I-90. For over 100 years, they have been building a succession of buildings that are actually made out of corn. Since corn does not last too long, roughly once a year they reconstruct the building with a different theme. The whole practice is rather ridiculous if you think about it. It becomes even more ridiculous when you see that the town’s city hall is actually attached to this building! Imagine being able to say you get to go to a castle every day because you are the mayor of the seventh largest town in South Dakota. Talk about the life.

20130605-210841.jpg

20130605-210847.jpg

My party thankfully avoids making all of the corn related puns one could make when visiting a ridiculous exhibit like this. I won’t repeat any of them, but I am sure you have thought of at least four by now. I did enjoy getting my picture taken with “Cornelious”, and buying a corn dog at the concession stand.

20130605-210942.jpg

South Dakota is pretty dull to drive across until you reach the Missouri River Valley, at the town of Chamberlin. At that point it becomes sort of interesting, but it does not become exciting all at once, the way it happens in Colorado where you suddenly see the mountains in the distance and one of the dullest most barren areas suddenly becomes a playground of infinite adventure possibilities. This transition starts with the Missouri River Valley, and then with some other river valleys that carve out of the land, as is typical in the high plains. Either way, it feels like we are in the West again.

20130605-211026.jpg

The other gradual transition across the state of South Dakota today was in the weather. Upon entering the state, the weather was similar to the weather we left behind in Iowa/Minnesota. It was chilly for this time of year last night, and we woke up to temperatures near 50 degrees and a thick deck of strato-cumulus clouds. As we transitioned across the state, the strato-cumulus clouds gradually waned, until there were suddenly quite few clouds in the sky. It also significantly warmed across the state, and by the time we arrived at Badlands National Park, it was a comfortable 70-72 degrees with good sun.

Indeed we were in the west. The distance we can see, the dryness, the scenery, everything felt a lot more west than Midwest. I switched I to what I am referring to as “Western mode”, which basically means being more prepared for dehydration and drinking more water. As soon as we arrived at Badlands National Park, we found a couple of really neat scenic overlooks, and then an area with some minor hiking trails. Today’s hike only lasted some thirty minutes and was more of a goofy/exploratory hike. By this, I mean there was no serious burn, no real workout. But we did some goofy things, climb a few rock structures, and went off trail. I even threw a few rocks around to see if I could throw them over some of the gorges. Hikes like this can be fun, even if they don’t build anything.

20130605-211135.jpg

20130605-211142.jpg

After hiking we went to our campsite, which was actually within the grounds of the park. This is my first time camping at a National Park! As a result of this, we have the minor inconvenience of not being allowed to have a campfire. But, the bigger inconvenience on this day is the wind. The high plains is known to be a windy place. Sometime in the afternoon, a Southeast wind of around 15 miles per hour, with major gusts, developed. I think for a while sustained winds may have reached 20. The main issue with this has been that it keeps blowing into my tent, and knocking the rods that hold it up out of place. I wonder if I have a sturdy enough tent. They have to make sturdier ones, but, are they tougher to carry? What is truly the best tent to have for hiking, or bicycle touring? Maybe, having the tent be less effective when camping in the wind is just a fact of life. This, of course is somewhat disturbing to me, as Colorado can get windy at higher elevation.

20130605-211453.jpg

Isn’t it strange how experience often leads us to more questions? I have some camping experience for sure, but to too much. I had never really thought of the odds and ins of these types of situations. I just know that I want the tent to be big enough and comfortable, that is all. Now, I am suddenly in a quandary of thought about a number of factors such as a tent’s weight, it’s reliability, durability, and, of course, how many people it can hold. It’s been said before that for every new question answered, two more are created. I really hope this is not right numerically, as we will never create a closed system of equations if this is the case. But, I do se the reality in answers leading to new questions. So do experiences. In a way, this is the rhythm of life. We meet people, try things, and create experiences. This leads to new inquiry, new ideas, and new methods. Which, leads to new experiences, activities, and people. The cycle goes on and on. The same is true of work, leisure, pretty much any area of life. Getting into this rhythm will create a life that will continue to perform, be motivated, and advance.

20130605-211527.jpg

After a visit to the visitors center where we determine a good hike for tomorrow, and a brief incident that involves me actually breaking our pants, our day ends with an evening presentation at the amphitheater about the black footed ferret, and then some star gazing with some heavy duty telescopes available at the park. This activity was an unexpected possibility at Badlands National Park. I learned about why this area is called the “Badlands”, and a lot about the history of the black footed ferret as well as the prairie dog. Then, we got to look at Saturn in this telescope, which was really quite awesome. Their telescope was so advanced that you could see the ring formations around Saturn, as well as some of its moons.

Overall, it was a very productive day. It is hard to believe that so much of it was spent on a fairly boring road. Tomorrow will involve less driving and more activities, which I look forward to. But, today’s activities were so diverse and the day was so full that I hope I can absorb them all, as well as the frenzy of thought they all put me in, in time to enjoy tomorrow’s to their fullest.

A Long Drive Down a Familiar Road

There is no road that I know better than Interstate 90. Before moving to Denver last year, I lived in the Midwest for 19 years. In that time, I attended High School, College, Graduate School, and started my first job. I lived in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. But, I never lived more than 10 miles from I-90. I drove back and forth on that road so much that I once claimed that I could tell at least one story about every exit on that road from South Bend to the Dells.

Today’s journey began on that all to familiar road. It was surreal to be driving past the same places, looking at the same exits, and reminiscing about the same stories, the same people, but keeping in mind that I no longer live here. It was almost like a journey into another life, but one that I am still living.

20130605-203944.jpg

We got an early start on June 1, and raced across Wisconsin. Well, raced is a relative term. Wisconsin remains, along with Illinois, the only states in the Midwest to still have a statewide speed limit of 65. In addition, unlike in Illinois, they are looking to pull you over.

20130605-204426.jpg

Regardless, we still go to LaCrosse in 4 hours, with our first stop being in Sparta, WI. Sparta is known as the “bicycle capital of Wisconsin”, which, as a bike enthusiast, makes it near and dear to me. In fact, I had ridden through Sparta in 2006, on a ride across the state. It is where the LaCross River Trail ends and the Elroy-Sparta trail begins. Both are bicycle trails created from abandoned rail beds, and quite fun to ride. Sparta hosts a bicycle museum, and has even placed bicycle images on their road signs!

In LaCrosse, we did something I am not accustomed to on road trips. We actually stopped at a microbrewery to sample some beer. The Pearl Street Brewery would not open for tasting until noon. With a little bit of extra time, we went downtown and checked out some sights, including the grounds of Oktoberst. LaCrosse is said to have one of the best Oktoberfests this side of the Atlantic. I regret never having gone there, but I did live in Madison, and living in Madison is almost like a non-stop Oktoberfest!

20130605-204601.jpg

20130605-204612.jpg

After sampling some good beer, it was time to tackle a new state, Minnesota. When it comes to states to drive across, Minnesota is the ultimate tease. The first ten miles are utterly spectacular! The road follows the bluffs of the Mississippi River, which are almost at their best here. In fact, this is my favorite Mississippi River crossing (with St. Louis being a close second).

20130605-204713.jpg

Unfortunately, after those ten miles, the surrounding scenery suddenly goes dull. I mean suddenly! At mile marker 267, you suddenly enter a mainly flat terrain full of corn fields. It stays that way for pretty much the entire rest of the state. So, essentially, Minnesota presents itself to the westbound I-90 traveler as quite exciting, but ends up manifesting as dull and frustrating. It reminds me of our own government, but that is another issue.

20130605-204756.jpg

Today’s destination is Spirit Lake, Iowa, for some camping. Spirit Lake, despite being in Iowa is only about 20 minutes off of I-90. The drive is quite easy, and, to be honest, I do not notice the difference in scenery between Iowa and Minnesota. I would say that the part of Minnesota I had been traveling through today is like more like Iowa than the rest of Minnesota.

However, ironically, the part of Iowa I end up camping in may be more like Minnesota than the rest of Iowa. Specifically, I am referring to the size of the lake. Minnesota, of course, is known for its lakes. Every time I visit the state, it feels like half the population owns a boat. In fact, the state motto is the “land of 10,000 lakes”. Iowa may not be lacking in lakes the way many states out west are, but it isn’t known for it’s lakes. But, Spirit Lake is a place where life pretty much revolves around the lake, much the way it does for many places in Minnesota.

20130605-204854.jpg

20130605-204912.jpg

I am very proud of myself on this day. I put up the tent all by myself! Yeah, this is something that many people know how to do, but it is a skill I never developed, and really need to have. Especially, if I really want to dive into the experience of living in Colorado, and, what is the point of moving to a new place if you don’t plan to experience it with all you’ve got.

The evening was all about spending some quality time with good friends, the kind of people you truly feel comfortable around. We goofed off, we grilled, and played frisbee in the park. We had a few drinks, and got a bit loopy. My friend Jason found a way to break a rock trying to break a gigantic tree branch to make more firewood. It was quite hilarious.

More importantly, we talked about some real stuff. The kind of stuff that people don’t seem to talk about anymore. People, society, who we are, where we are going, what we need in life. I have no idea why people don’t talk about all this anymore. Maybe it is the constant distractions. It seems like we are more connected than ever, but also more isolated. I really don’t know what I personally can do about this, but be there for people when they need me, which I plan to do. If I can reduce the amount of loneliness in this world, I could truly be of service to humanity. Maybe this is the kind of realization people tend to have on a quiet (somewhat, as it has been windy) night in a lake in North Central Iowa.