Sunday, October 31, 2010

Little Rock and Gulfport

Did I mention on my last post that we reached Little Rock, Arkansas on Friday? In the morning there was a good layer of ice on the rear window of our car. But the sun was out, the sky was clear, and the day soon warmed up nicely.

In the morning we visited the capitol building in Little Rock. It was another beautiful building, well worth seeing. There is a sign on the grounds that states that these capitol grounds are the most beautiful in the nation. Well, they are very nice with lots of trees and flower beds. There were fresh blue and purple pansies planted in front of the main stairway.

This is the first capitol building without a statue on top. Instead there is this lovely cupola, grandly gleaming in gold leaf.

Arkansas had a hard time getting this building built. The cornerstone was laid in 1899, and then nothing more was done for four or five years because the current governor consistently cancelled any appropriation to pay for the building. The cap on costs was supposed to be $1 million. But over the years they had several architects, contractors, building firms and problems galore. So the final tally was more like
$2 1/2 million.

Inside there is lots of limestone, and, again, gleaming marble floors. That was one consistent feature of the capitol buildings we've visited: scrupulously clean floors. The limestone was one of the problems posed by this building, as the legislation specified that Arkansas limestone had to be used. The only available limestone was exceedingly hard and needed special, expensive cutting equipment. The original contractor surreptitiously substituted an inferior, softer limestone. When this was discovered, that firm was fired; the interior of the building was gutted; and they started from scratch again. They were conscious of the desire to build "for the ages" not just for their present time.

One of the delights of these older buildings is the vast amount of great woodwork, and the "built to last" fittings all around. I loved these brass doorknobs and lock sets. They've been in use for over a hundred years and they still look wonderful.

By contrast, we've lived in our present home for eleven years and we are already on our third doorknob set for the backdoor! The other ones simply fell apart after three or four years use!

Much of this building has been restored to the original state.

Here's a look into the Ladies' Washroom. In the
outer "chamber" there was a divan, just in case
someone needs a little "laydown." And in the inner sanctum there was this delightful little "boudoir" in case your makeup needs refreshing.

Around noon we left Little Rock and headed south. There was a little misunderstanding about just what roads we were using. Jim thought we were going into Mississippi next, but if I followed the route he had showed me that morning, we would dip into Louisiana for just a bit before entering Mississippi. (He pilots and I navigate--that works well for us.)

We were having a slightly "vigorous" discussion about Mississippi or Louisiana as we went along, because he saw that we were on Hwy 82 and that Greenville, Miss. was just 16 miles away. I kept saying, Yes, I know, but 82 is going to turn east, and we'll keep going south, and that's why we'll go to Louisiana.

Well, Hwy 82 kept going straight, and Hwy 65 turned right, but we didn't. SOOOO... we found ourselves on this magnificent new bridge across the Mississippi, and into that state. We never did get to Louisiana.

It took us about 20 miles out of our way, but east of Greenville we picked up Hwy 61 and followed that south to Vicksburg, and east from there to Jackson, the capitol city of Mississippi, where we stayed the night.

This morning we decided to head to Gulfport and skip seeing the capitol building of Mississippi. We had stunningly beautiful weather: clear, sunny and warm, just perfect.

All along the coast there are these typical
"houses on stilts." This one is rather grand,
but great and small, most are built a story off the ground. We also saw many groups of posts standing lonely, the house they supported blown away, or so badly damaged that it had been removed.

There is an awful lot of property for sale along this beach road. Perhaps people are fed up with the problems posed by
destructive hurricanes.

From Gulfport we drove west a little ways,
heading for Buccaneer State Park, right on
the coast. Here we are after enjoying a picnic lunch in a shelter at the park.

After lunch we walked on the beach. The sand was clean and warm. We had to take off our sandals and wade into the Gulf.
Hey! The water's warm!!! There were oodles and oodles of little "breathing holes"
visible where the water met the sand, evidence of a healthy community
of some sort of intertidal creature.

Although everything looked and smelled clean to us, there were these two fellows digging holes, sifting the sand and making recordings, taking pictures of what they found. So they are still working on the after effects of the huge oil spill.

We also saw quite a group of people in yellow vests, obviously part of a clean up
crew in one area of the beach. They were all sitting in the shade when we went west to the park, and still sitting there when we came back after lunch.

So here we are half way through our holiday, having made it to the Gulf. What a lovely spot! I wouldn't mind staying here for a week or two. But after our "little dip" we got back in the car and headed north again.

We've so enjoyed this warm weather. Feels like we're cheating winter a little bit this way, but if this is cheating it feels pretty good!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Beautiful Park in Arkansas

From Harrison, Arkansas, we drove south on Hwy 7, a state scenic byway. It was a 2 lane road, very hilly, very winding. Not the sort of road to make time on. But that wasn't what we were after.

We really saw the local flavour. I tried to get a snap in passing of some colourful cabins with everything sort of imaginable debris scattered in the yard. Too fast by, to catch anything interesting.

We did stop at the very beautiful overlook. Most of the time we were surrounded by hills and trees, a lot of oak and pine, with just a few maple and sumac bushes to give that flash of red in the landscape.

We also stopped at Nellie's Quilts and Crafts, a humble little building with oodles and oodles of quilts, along with baskets, and gewgaws. There was a beautiful, white, whole cloth quilt there, kingsized, with lovely handstitching, scalloped edges--a real work of art. At $600 it was a buy! I seriously considered it, but when I thought of how a plain white quilt would look in our bedroom, I decided not to splurge. I'll remember it, though.

Some time after 3 p.m. we reached Ouachita State Park, and were able to rent a "cabin" for two nights (for $400!). It was super nice new and beautiful, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, spacious living/dining room and well equipped kitchen (Cuisinart appliances). All the furniture is top notch, craftsman style.

There's a large balcony overlooking the lake, surrounded by tall pines and oaks. By a little after 4 p.m. we were sitting on comfy wooden deck chairs, relaxing with beer, cheese and crackers, lulled by the sound of the wind
in the trees, the crows cawing. As we watched two hawks (or maybe eagles) circling on the updrafts, oak leaves and pine needles drifted down onto the balcony.

I could stay here all winter!!! (But not at $200 a night!)

After a bit I cooked some supper: spam, potatoes, canned beans with mushroom soup and french onion rings. Vanilla yogurt for dessert.


We walked over to see the Three Sisters Springs, famous in the early 1900's as possessing curative powers. People came, camped nearby, drank gallons of the water, and were cured (apparently) of stomach
and kidney problems. When the Corps of Engineers took over the area mid-century, the water was deemed "not potable."

Later in the afternoon we hiked the Caddo Trail. It was very primitive: narrow and very rocky. In places the trail was concealed by fallen leaves which made the footing treacherous.

This is the view from the point of the peninsula, and was a beautiful view.

After 2 3/4 miles of a 4 1/2 mile trail we decided we'd have enough, and left the trail, came back to the service road and trooped on home.

This is a view of the trail on the north side of the peninsula. It's actually fairly easy to see here, but in many places was difficult to find. We did rely on the yellow blazes many times to see where we had to go.

Had a lovely supper: potatoes, carrot and sugar snap peas, chicken breast with fresh mushroom sauté with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Spent a quiet evening reading and knitting.

By the way, Ouachita is pronounced: wash´i taw.


Yesterday an icon on the dash lit up, meaning "check the engine." Jim checked everything possible, but couldn't get rid of the warning light. So we decided to go to Little Rock, find a Toyota dealer and get it checked out.

By noon we were trying to check into a Motel 6, with a totally incompetent, but sweet young woman who said she was new on the job, only two weeks. It took over half an hour. I've never seen such a "dipsy-doodle"! But we did get a room.

By looking on the web, we found a Toyota dealer, and drove out there. What an excellent business they were! Huge place, well organized, friendly people, competent mechanics--it was a good experience all the way round.

Everything checked out fine. The problem may have come from a gas cap not screwed down tightly enough. But for $50 everything was checked, even the brakes, etc. So we are all reassured that we're good to go!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not another Capitol!

O.K., I'll be brief. This morning we visited the very lovely and impressive capitol building of Missouri in Jefferson City. We had stunningly good weather: sunny skies, temps in the 60º's, and brisk wind.

One of the features of this building was the many inscriptions carved into the stone, above arches and around domes. Several were from the Bible, and there were even more from other sources: traditional Latin sayings, quotes from famous speeches, and just simply made up sayings meant to instruct and inspire people.

Here's a good Latin saying: Crescat Civitas, meaning, Let civility increase! (My own translation.) Here's a familiar saying: Where there is no vision, the people perish. Here is a strange combination: Righteousness exalteth a nation, followed by Party expediency is party honesty.

But my favorite is this quote from Washington's farewell address to the nation: In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion is it essential that public opinion should be enlightened. Anyone heard any enlightened public opinion lately?

Here's the view up from the rotunda through the center into the second, and in the center, the third floor of the building.

The Historic Museum is located right in the same building on the first floor, and we spent much of our time there looking at and reading those exhibits. Thought they were pretty good, but that the first nations were virtually ignored--only two small cases of display, and very little information.

Missouri has a lot of good, divided highway. Some seem quite new. They were adding lanes around Springfield but the traffic was flowing well. We went by there around 3 p.m. We've seen lots of very fine fall colours, though many trees are bare, and there are still lots of green leaves on trees also.

There is very pretty country around Branson, big, steep hills. You can't really see the depth here, but these are big, long hills.

I read that Missouri is considered one of the Midwest states, and going through the farm country north of here, and through these beautiful hills, with their colourful rock cuts beside the highway, I could relate to this scenery as Midwestern.

By the way, I finished the tuque that I started last week. This is my own design, using Noro Silk Garden, and it used just one 50 gram ball. It fits quite snugly, which is what I was planning.

I have three more balls of Silk Garden along and think of starting another hat, something a little thicker and longer, maybe with a ribbed cuff and an kind of stocking cap finish. We'll see what comes.

The last picture is a close up to show the design. I started with a 96 st. I-cord caston. Increased that to 112 stitches on the first round. Set up a 3 purl, 4 knit pattern, with a cable r and cable l, every 3rd row on the knit stitches. After 5 cables were done (15 rows) I finished two more rows in pattern, and then did a horizontal I-cord.

The crown was divided into 6 sections with a decrease on either end of each section every four rows. When there were just 4 stitches between decreases, I knit only two rounds before the next decrease, and after that only 1 round before another decrease.

I like it a lot. I'd make that pattern again!

Monday, October 25, 2010


Drove downtown again this morning to see the capitol building. The church we attended yesterday is just one block away down the street to the left of the capitol. You can tell from the picture that today was cloudy, but it's still warm.

This was another impressive building, built in the 1880's, so quite a bit earlier than some of the other capitols we've seen. It's in a nice setting, surrounded by very large trees, something we really enjoy as trees in our own neighborhood just don't grow to the same height.

There were very nice planters along the walks to the building, with profusely blooming fibrous begonias, and also planters full of roses. The perennials surrounding the statue in this picture had finished their growing season and were very drab, but the
begonias are visible behind them.

We headed toward the front door, up a long flight of stone steps. And, hey, these were easy to climb and descend, being of normal height and depth.

However, the doors at the top of the stairs were locked. After we went down the stairs we found a sign to the right of them that said, "Visitor's entrance" with arrows pointing to the east side of the building.

So we walked around to the other side, a block away and found the entrance thus:

The Kansas state capitol is undergoing a long, thorough renovation, planned to be completed on time for their 150th anniversary, next year, 2011. So, in order to still accommodate visitors, they've set up a tunnel-like entrance, between those two red "posts" ahead of Jim. The renovation goes on around and above the entrance.

Inside, a lot of the renovation is complete. I especially admired these copper newel posts that were at the head and foot of each staircase.

The bannisters are also plated with copper. I'm guessing here; it looked like copper to me.

All the marble floors were just gleaming, as you can see at the foot of this staircase. I asked one of the women working there if they were waxed, and she said, "Oh, all the time. There's a machine that goes around cleaning and leaving a light film of wax behind. Be careful that you don't slip on it!"

And, sure enough, there he goes! The guy on the "Zamboni" for marble. Just caught him as he was going through the door to another area. What a job, eh?

You can't actually get into the Rotunda, and look up at the dome, as they are still working in that area. But there was a window provided through which you could see what was going on there. No picture of that, though.

There are famous murals around the
rotunda, and this dramatic painting of John Brown, the famous leader of the raid on Harper's Ferry, memorialized in the song "John Brown's Body Lies Amouldring in the Grave." This was painted by John Steuart Currie, and provoked a perfect storm of criticism.

John Brown does look pretty devilish in this picture, but then, the photos we saw of him yesterday in the Kansas Museum of History showed a pretty severe face too!

To the left of the sky in that picture you can see just part of some roiling clouds that further to the left (which you can't see) spawn a tornado. Which brings me to the signs that we've seen in the public buildings in Nebraska and Kansas:

Tornadoes were not unknown in Michigan when I was growing up, but I guess they are more common in Nebraska and Kansas.

It was too bad that we missed the official tour of the capitol, as you can usually learn a lot from the tour guides.

After our "self-guiding" tour we were back in the car and putting on the miles. By 3 p.m. we were checked into our Motel 6 in Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri. So tomorrow, another capitol building tour. And then we're just about ready for something different.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Excellent Service

This morning we attended services at the First Presbyterian Church of Topeka. It was a great experience. We arrived early enough to hear the choir reviewing its morning anthem.

The service began with almost 15 minutes of announcements and chatting--a lot because this is their time of year to make a financial pledge. The "real" service finally began with an organ voluntary "If You but Trust in God to Guide Thee" by Bach, as a young boy processed down the aisle and lit the candles on the altar. After the call to worship, the full choir processed down the aisle to the singing of the hymn of praise, "Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above" (Mit Freuden Zart), vigorously accompanied by the very fine pipe organ. This all is about enough to make me feel blissful!

The whole service was organized traditionally: We Gather in God's Name; We Confess our Sins and Receive Forgiveness (a service increment sadly neglected in so many contemporary services); We Proclaim God's Word; We Respond to God's Word; We Go in God's Name.

Before the sermon the choir gave a spirited rendition of "Go Down, Moses" arr. Hayes. Two choir members later assured me that the music here is always very Traditional!--as if they were uncomfortable with today's choice.

The sermon was on Exodus 11 and 12:1-14 and was very good and Biblical. The pastor told the original happening (the first Passover), related it meaningfully to Christ, the Lamb of God, and applied it to our lives today, that is, our assurance that God is faithful to his promises, even when our lives are at their worst.

The offertory, printed on the bulletin was "I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord" by Powell. I thought it would be either an organ or piano version of the familiar chorus. Instead, a baritone from the choir got up and sang a marvelous piece of music I'd never heard before. Just a total treat!

Members were very friendly to us. Many greeted us, introduced themselves and chatted with us in the social hall after the service. One elderly woman (she and her husband are both 86, they said) was talking with us about the church's famous Tiffany stained glass windows. She led us back into the sanctuary and had us run our fingers over the glass.

The windows are very beautiful, but the surprising thing about them is that the deeper shades of colour--for instance, in the folds of a garment--are achieved by making the glass thicker, rather than painting on more colour. They were installed in 1911. I have no pictures, because I didn't take my camera along to church, but you can take a virtual tour of the sanctuary on their website at

We were glad we went. It was a good experience all the way 'round.

This afternoon we visited the Kansas Museum of History--an interesting concrete building dating from 1984 that reminded us of the University of Lethbridge. It's a excellent museum, well laid out, very thorough, giving lots of information through attractive exhibits. Jim carefully reads it all, but by the time I'm up to the 1920's I'm just gazing over the objects, reading a few of the highlights. I always finish a museum or art gallery before he does. Maybe he gets more out of it!

We ended the afternoon with a short hike through a tallgrass prairie on the museum grounds. The weather is just beautiful today, warm and fresh after yesterday's muggy high of 79º.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

IQSC, Lincoln

This morning we went to the IQSC, the International Quilt Study Center, in Lincoln, on the campus of the University of Nebraska. This fabulous building was put up by all private money to house the collection of quilts that the fiber arts department of the U of N had collected. They had a long history of studying and teaching the preservation of textiles, and this Quilt Study Center was the natural outcome.

The Quilt Guild that operates here has about
300 members. A few of them were at work in the 2nd floor lobby making "Santa Stockings" for distribution to needy children.

After entering the building to the right on the picture above, you ascend this striking stairway to the level of the galleries, and the open lobby where the women were busy sewing.

I find it strange that many grand public staircases are built with very short risers and long treads. It forces you to take two steps on at least every other tread. The whole thing feels very unnatural. The huge outdoor marble stairway leading to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha was on the same pattern. I wonder what the idea is?

The current display, using two of the three galleries, is "South Asian Seams," featuring many quilts made in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The quilts shown here were made by servant girls, using bits of cloth left over from worn out saris, given to them by the people they worked for.

Most of the quilts were very intricately pieced, embroidered, and hand-quilted. I'm sorry to say that I found them too ornate.
Viewing them felt a little like looking at a
picture of a very crowded Indian street scene. Pictures like that always make me feel a little suffocated.

Pictures of Japanese subway cars are like that too. I've seen pictures of a Japanese subway station that uses "pushers," people hired to cram more people onto a train. Yikes!!!

Well, I digress. Here is an example of a quilt that was probably made as a wedding gift, as it is rather large.
The amount of detail in this quilt is overwhelming.

Most of these quilts are pretty "wavy" as they were not quilted on a frame but just held on the lap as they were sewed and quilted. It really boggles my mind to think of the time and effort involved in making one of these.

Here is a close-up of the detail in the above quilt. This is part of the right-hand border. It is pretty much all reverse appliqué, and straight appliqué. The quilting is done in straight vertical lines.

One of the quilts had large areas of plain fabric, recycled from worn out saris. But the quilting was so interesting: carefully spaced, parallel vertical lines that formed a herringbone pattern. Such care to detail!

Here is an example of a more "simple" quilt. Straightforward 9 patch squares alternate with elaborate reverse appliqué squares.

There was a lot of this "cheddar yellow" in these quilts. A colour Bonnie Hunter likes a lot, but not one that shows up in my quilts.

The signage in this exhibition was excellent. There was lots of historic, geographic and cultural information about the quilts. Even Jim enjoyed the exhibition because of how much you could learn from it.

I kind of wished to see a little more variety: some old quilts, some art quilts, etc. but this was the exhibition that was on now.

We left Lincoln at noon and headed for Topeka, Kansas. On the way we stopped at a small WalMart (Yes, there is such a thing as a small WalMart) in a small town and bought a $10 watch to replace the one I left behind somewhere. Better hang onto this one!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Camels and Elephants in Nebraska?

This morning we drove the short distance from Omaha to Lincoln, the capitol of Nebraska, and, as we usually do first in a state capitol, we took a tour of the capitol building. This massive stone building was completed in 1932, and is full of wonderful mosaics, and intricate ceilings, unique chandeliers. We had a great tour guide, a young man who was very well informed and enthusiastic.

The tour started at the front doors, and he explained much of the symbolism incorporated in the doors, floors, walls and ceiling.

This wonderful dome was over the entrance. The mosaic in the ceiling includes various types of tiles, including metallic tiles. The center of the dome signifies the sun, as there is no life without the sun. The metal spokes separating the ring of lightbulbs around the chandelier (48 to represent the 48 states at the time Nebraska entered the union) are in the form of arrows, signifying the first nations. There are words around the edge of the circle, telling how the settlers brought thanks for the gifts of the earth, the fruits in their seasons. The arches surround the dome have many symbols of agriculture, culture, education and recreation.

In the hallway leading from the entrance are several wonderful mosaics. These are rather high up on the walls, and are very large. One of my favorites is this one, depicting a young (15 yrs old) rural school teacher leading her students to safety in the horrendous blizzard of 1888. The dark areas are the darkness of the storm, the light areas are the snow, and the glittering metallic tiles show the figure of the young woman leading the little children, all tied together by a rope, to safety at her boarding house, 1/2 mile from the school. They all made it to safety. You can see her figure quite well in the center, but the much smaller figures of the children are not clearly visible in this picture. The scattered bright tiles at the lower part of the mosaic are in memory of the 100 + people who perished in the storm. The day had started out mild, +50º and around noon, in the space of an hour, the temperature fell to -40º and the snow and wind howled in.

There are mosaics in the floors, also, and this particular one, under the dome is showing the state fossil of Nebraska: the mastodon.

I didn't realize that Nebraska is so rich in fossils, but we went next to the Morrell (not sure of that spelling) Museum on the campus of the University of Nebraska, a museum of natural history. It was loaded with fossils and casts and explanations of the rich deposits of fossils in Nebraska.

Long ago there were several species of elephants (proto elephants, I guess), camels, rhinoceruses (or rhinoceri), plus creatures dating even further back: a huge pleiosaur skeleton. Marvels too many to keep track of were displayed there, with lots to read about how they were discovered and preserved. Very interesting!

By the way, did you know that the word "Nebraska" is an English corruption of a first nations word meaning, "flat water," much the same as the French name for the most prominent river, the Platte. (I always enjoy learning the derivation of a word!)

We didn't have a very good map of Lincoln, and got pretty lost on our way back to the motel. Finally found it, and the went across the road to a Perkins Family Restaurant and had a perfectly delicious pot roast dinner.

P.S. I have no idea why the first paragraph is underlined and dark print. That happened once before, and then, too, I didn't have a clue!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Omaha Attractions

Since Blogspot will allow me to upload the picture from yesterday's post, I'll show you Jim--alone at the IMax!

Today we decided to spend the full day in Omaha, so after a leisurely start (boiled eggs and bread with jam in the motel room), we drove to downtown Omaha again. The zoo, where we were yesterday, is near downtown on the Missouri River.

This morning we went to the Joslyn Art Museum. This is a fabulous pink marble
building, constructed in 1931 as a gift from Sarah Joslyn to the city of Omaha. Sarah and George Joslyn were benefactors of their adopted city, Omaha, where they had made fortunes, first in the newspaper business, and then in real estate, and other ventures. This Art Museum is only one of their many gifts to the city. The large square building on the right is a later addition, built with the same stone, and on the same grand scale.

The interior of the building was also beautiful. Even the washrooms, which were
obviously a modern addition were beautiful, with black marble floors and walls, stainless steel cubicles and a huge mirror at the end of the row, making the whole room look twice the size, and startling you with your image coming towards you as you turn the corner.

This is a view of the interior center of the museum, a courtyard-like space with a beautiful tiled fountain. You are looking from one gallery, through a corridor, past the central fountain into the opposite corridor and the far gallery, which has an enormous painting on display on the far wall.

One of the most interesting displays for us was the work from 1970 to 2005 of the artist Kent Bellows. I had never heard of him before, and was just totally amazed at his work. Called a "hyper realist" he painted mostly portraits of people but also did some amazing work of natural scenes. The astonishing detail in his work is what makes some people call him a "hyper realist," but what you feel when you look at his work is the emotional charge. He is an artist I want to learn more about.

We left the Joslyn after about 3 hours, and drove to the river front to another great Art Deco building, the Union Pacific train station, also built, if I'm not mistaken, at the same time, 1929-1931. Omaha was booming, growing in population and becoming a transport hub at the "door" to the west.

Omaha also had massive stock yards at that time, and I can just imagine how bad Omaha smelled!

We sat down at the old fashioned Soda Shoppe in the former waiting room of the station. I believe the figures are 60' height, and 72' width to this room. Well over a 100' length. Beautiful terrazzo floors, and a fantastic ceiling. The picture doesn't do justice to it!

We had a great lunch: turkey and cheese on a Ciabatta bun, with pickle and carrots. And then spent a few hours going through the displays. It's very well set up, and gives a lot on the history of the station, which was used by UP for only 40 years. When Amtrak took over passenger train service, the station was closed (1971), and fell into disrepair. It was given to the city, and through the efforts of many fundraisers, was restored to the wonderful condition it's in today.

There are great displays of the history of Nebraska, and particularly of Omaha, with good explanatory signage, and lots and lots of pictures and objects. Very well done.

After we finished here (this museum closes at 5 p.m.) we went back to the Joslyn to finish (try to finish) viewing all the works on display there. I had a few favorites (the Equation by Manniere Dawson, and the Grasshopper and the Ant [I forget the artist, but it's in the older section].) The Joslyn is far and away the best art museum in terms of explaining the art and educating viewers that we have ever visited.

We ate supper in the café of this museum, a big bowl of wonderful bean soup, definitely not out of a can. Something we've found in our travels: the food in museum cafés is usually very good--healthy and interesting. Does it reflect an attitude of care and attention to detail? We've had some great meals in museum and art gallery cafés.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Alone at IMax

Between Fremont and Omaha there was some pretty new pavement on Hwy 275 that made the tires whistle continuously. It was pretty much all on a Bb, with occasional diversions to a D, and once, going over a bridge the pitch lowered to an A. Enough to drive a person crazy!

Because we arrived in Omaha by noon, we had time to go to the zoo, and to take in a showing of "Bugs" in the IMax theatre there. We made sure to get in line by about 10 to 3 for a 3 o'clock showing. I have a picture of Jim seated all alone in the theatre, but for some reason Blogspot won't upload the pictures I took today. We had a good laugh about being all alone in that auditorium, and then a family with one young child came in to see the film with us.

I'd been to Calgary Zoo in August with the daughter-in-law and granddaughters, and had been so amazed at how much better it was than when we visited in the 70's with our young children. Omaha Zoo also has some very fine exhibits, but I was a little disappointed. Some of the exhibits in buildings were so poorly lit that it was impossible to read the signage. Other exhibits lacked signage altogether, and the gorilla house had only signage, but no gorillas. Wish they had let us know before entering the exhibit that the gorillas were not there at present.

The weather was perfect for an outdoor afternoon at the zoo. When we left about 6:30 p.m., the temperature was still a balmy 74º. Heard on the weather report this morning that these temperatures are about 10º above normal for this time of year. We'll take it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Authentic "Middle of Nowhere"

Today we drove through the northern area of Nebraska from west to east on Hwy 20. The scenery changed from real "West" to "MidWest" as we went. At first there were all humpy, little hills with sand just under the thin coating of grasses. It reminded me so much of southwestern Saskatchewan, such similar countryside.

This gave way to ranching country, dotted with windmills pumping water into stock tanks, most of them surrounded by black cattle (Black Angus, I'm guessing.) Then cultivated fields took over in rolling, fairly hilly prairie. Gradually the land flattened out, and corn fields predominated. Most of the corn has been harvested, and the same black cattle are out in the corn fields, grazing off the remnants, and refertilizing the fields at the same time.

In the western part of the state there are several very small towns along the highway. I'm talking small as in population: 48, 63, etc. Most of them look pretty dismal, and I think you could buy an old house in one of them for very little money. But what would you do there?

Farther east the towns are larger and appear more prosperous. By far the best business to be in here is a farm supply of some sort. A town like Neligh seems pretty inviting.

Most interesting sight of the day: three large wild tom turkeys, grubbing by the roadside. Wish I had a picture of them! But driving by, you get a glimpse, and then you're past them. Another picture I wish I got: a big billboard telling travellers that they are entering "The Middle of Nowhere"!!!!

Finally got out my knitting, and finished a 5 ft long scarf for Dear Son #1. Tomorrow I'll start on a tuque for myself, made from Noro Silk Garden. That will be something I design myself, and I have a few ideas. We'll see what works.

Presently we're relaxing in a Super 8, in Norfolk, Nebraska. It's a good life!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Putting on the Miles

After a simple breakfast in our motel room: boiled eggs, bread and grape jelly from S., we continued our drive south on Hwy 59. The country side is very similar to what we saw yesterday afternoon. Pines grow in the higher elevations, and there are lots of Black Angus cattle around.

South of Broadus we started seeing groups of antelope. That and the clear blue sky reminded me of a song....

Oil, gas, beef and grain have helped Montana keep its unemployment numbers low.

Entering Wyoming we were surprised to see just a small green sign: entering Wyoming. Usually there's a nice big, braggy sign announcing the state you're entering.

We passed through an area north of Gillette where there was a lot of coal mining going on, and saw a large coal-fired power plant. We stayed on Hwy 59 as far as Douglas, and then turned east on U.S. 20. Wyoming has oodles of road signs such as this: "Hwy 18 and Hwy 20 are closed when light flashing. Turn back to Wright." Got a snowstorm? Just close the roads and stay home!

Wyoming also has oodles of railroad coal cars. There were long stretches of triple track through this area, and we saw several trains, all long, all made up of coal cars. Headed for the power plant north of Gillette? Maybe.

We camped in Gillette many years ago with the kids. It was a little campground right in town. I recall hearing many sirens throughout the night, and in the morning, the couple in the next camper had a doozy of a fight!

When I was young I read a series of three books by an author whose name I've forgotten. One of the titles was The Green Grass of Wyoming. I think this is just the wrong time of the year for green grass. Wyoming was a shining tawny gold in the afternoon sunshine. This snap doesn't begin to do it justice.

We saw so many antelope, but it's hard to
get a picture when you're driving by on the highway at 65mph. Near the Nebraska border I finally had an opportun
ity to catch some on film. There were about seven or eight in this group. This photo worked out about the best. We were able to pull off the road and take several snaps before they ran off. Such graceful animals!

Coming into Nebraska in the very northwest
corner we passed through a part of Fort ? (I've forgotten the name) State Park. These interesting rock cliffs were beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine.

When we reached Chadron, NE we took a room in theMotel 6. It looked so familiar! We realized we had stayed at this same motel on a previous trip.

That time we were on the way home from Texas. In Oklahoma we rented cabins in two different state parks, and enjoyed it very much. So we were going to do the same in Nebraska, but, alas, hunting season had just begun, and there wasn't a cabin to be had. The hunters had beat us to it. So we drove on until there was a room for us here in Chadron.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Slice of the real America

After a leisurely beginning to our day, including reading yesterday's Globe and Mail, showering and having our devotions, we went to the Best Western next door for breakfast. For just under $16 for the two of us, we could help ourselves to a generous buffet: pancakes, sausages, eggs, hashbrowns, cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels, muffins, toast or waffles, all of it very good quality.

The breakfast room was packed with families with children and with couples of all ages. A buzz of friendly conversation filled the room, and piped in muzak was blessedly absent. Several of the men wore their baseball caps while eating. Not one woman was wearing a skirt. Sweaters, t-shirts, hoodies were the order of the day. These were absolutely your salt-of-the-earth people. I was tempted to take a notebook and make an informal poll: where do you get your news and other information?

On the wall hung an old horse collar and well-used yoke. A slice of pine tree trunk sprouting a fistful of twigs tied in rope and topped by a flat metal cutout of an obviously male bison on a piece of rebar decorated each table.

A seriously cheerful older fellow, short and slim with greying hair pulled behind his ears and flowing down to his collar, was hurrying around, picking up empty plates and encouraging everyone to take another helping. "Wouldn't want you to go away hungry!"

We finished up with coffee for me and tea for Jim while we planned our goals for today. At the cashier's desk, another of "Charlie's" duties, Jim remarked on how busy Charlie was. He replied, "Life is wonderful, isn't it?"

Leaving Great Falls, we took highway 87 to Fort Benton. Fort Benton is a very pleasant small town on the banks of the Missouri River in the shelter of a valley. No museums were open, it being Sunday, so we walked the River Walk. There were many interesting signs, pictures on one side, and on the other side, information detailing the historic buildings, some still standing, and personages, including an acting governor who fell? was pushed?off a river boat and drowned.

The buildings lining Main Street were well preserved, for the most part, including these called "The Bloodiest Block in the West" and here's the sign that explains it:

Hope you can read the fine print!

Several buildings are for sale, and most businesses are looking for "a part-time cashier."

We strolled past the Senior Center and sitting at the window table was an enormous woman wearing a lime green fortrel top, shuffling cards.

We wound up our visit with a look at the restored blockhouse at Fort Benton, famous (or infamous if you're from Alberta) for being the starting point of the Whoop Up Trail--the source of supplies for the hard-living cowboys in Alberta, source of liquor for the doomed first nations people, and, surprisingly, the route through which the newly created Northwest Mounted Police received their pay packets from Ottawa.

One very interesting and telling differences between the U.S. and Canada is that the U.S. Calvary fought the Indians and protected the settlers, and the R.C.M.P (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), the modern form of the Northwest Mounted Police, was formed to protect the Indians from the whiskey traders the other scalawags that came up from Montana.

Leaving Fort Benton we drove south on Hwy 80 to Geraldine through typical rolling short-grass prairie, including quite a few fields of new spring-like green, some winter wheat newly planted, and some resurgent hayfields. Dotted among the fields were a few alkalai dry sloughs.

We turned east on 81. Both 80 and 81 are small, 2 lane state highways, pretty much empty of traffic. The scenery brought to mind: "O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesty, above the fruited plain." Regular farming area, fields dotted with big round hay bales, other fields populated by grazing Black Angus cattle.

As we drove the scenery changed again and again, going as we drove east from farmland to mostly empty fields, dry grasses redolent in the warm October sunshine. Approaching the Judith Mountains, you see evergreens growing on the upper ridges, interspersed with surprisingly green hayfields.

We went south to Lewistown, and then east on Hwy 200. Now that we are in the Judith Mountains, we can see that the evergreens are mainly pines. And very soon, coming down from these hills we see no more pines. A bald eagle feeds on prey close to the road with a coterie of crows waiting their turn.

Montana posts white crosses beside its roads to mark spots where fatalities have occurred. I think it was Sharon Buttala who referred to these in one of her books. We drive by a cheerful shrine of blue and silver tinselly streamers waving briskly in the breeze, marking a group of seven or eight crosses.

Hwy 200 continues east through a long 100-mile stretch of sagebrush country to Jordan, Montana. It's a good road with very little traffic. Most of this area is fenced, so it must be used for running cattle, but we saw very few.

What we did see were a variety of very strange landforms: hills with the tops chopped off completely flat, humpy little striped hills, and perfectly conical hills setting lonesome by themselves.

From Jordan I drove south on Hwy 59, and this was really a deserted road. I set the cruise control at 70 mph (legal limit) and touched the brake only once in the next 83 miles. That was for a short 55 mph stretch in deference to a few scattered buildings that couldn't even be called a hamlet. There was never a car in my lane, either in front of me or behind me, and in the first 50 miles I met only 4 other vehicles. By the time we reached Miles City, we had met a total of only 12 vehicles in the whole 83 miles.

Now we're settled into another Motel 6, this one with the very worst staff we have ever encountered. Hope for a quiet night!