The month of September saw us move across Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and into Colorado. We relearned that the American Great Plains are immense and Highway Sign, Tower, MN diverse, and we had lots of enjoyable diversions, excursions, and sights to see. We present a selection of our September photographs.
If you look carefully at a map of Northern Minnesota you will see the towns named Aurora, Cook, Embarrass, and Virginia ... among others! It happens that the road forks west of Tower, Minnesota, with two towns to the left and the other two straight ahead. The highway sign makers Troll in Thief River therefore had a legitimate reason to create this wonderful road sign.
As we drive through the country, we notice that lots of towns like to have sculpture on display. At first it was formal sculptures of local pioneers or military leaders; more recently the civic leaders have hit upon an animal theme, such as many statues of brightly colored cattle, or Early morning on the farmhorses. In Thief River, up near the northwest corner of Minnesota, the townfolk have decorated the stores and businesses with statues of trolls. Must be a lot of Norwegian heritage here!
As travellers we're early birds -- up and out in the morning and safely ensconced in a comfortable motel soon after lunch. We're often rewarded with empty highways and beautiful views -- like this view of the sun (behind us) reflecting its red light off a beautiful farm near Lisbon, North Dakota. Heads hanging down
Sunflowers fascinate us. We read that there are two kinds grown in the plains -- those for sunflower oil, and those used to roast the sunflower seeds as salty snacks. But which is which? Folks like us born and raised in cities and suburbs are at a disadvantage in the Great Plains. Is sorghum the same as milo? Why do sunflowers turn towards the sun? And what does it mean when a Memorials to Sitting Bull whole field of tall green sunflowers are hanging their heads, as in this picture? Are they ashamed of something?
Mobridge, South Dakota stands for Missouri bridge. We stayed there, and when continuing our travels took a morning excursion onto the Indian reservation, where we saw monuments to Sakakawea and to Sitting Bull. Visitors have left pebbles of remembrance. Here's the inscription on the monument to Sitting Bull -- Tatanka Iyotake:
"Sitting Bull was born on the Grand River a few miles west of Mobridge. His tragic end came at the very place he was born. He was shot when being arrested because of his alleged involvement with the Ghost Dance Craze. Sitting Bull was originally buried at Fort Yates, ND. On April 8, 1953 surviving relatives with the aid of the Dakota Memorial Association moved his remains to the present location and dedicated the Memorial Burial Site April 11, 1953. 1876 - Victorious at the Battle of Little Big Horn. 1877 - Sought asylum in Canada. 1881 - Returned to the United States. 1885 - Toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show." Deer caught by surprise
Everytime a prisoner is killed before coming to trial is a loss for justice. As we read about deaths of prisoners around the globe we are dismayed by the number of times law enforcement authotities summarily execute a person who has not been brought to a fair trial. So we were shocked to learn that the same was true of Sitting Bull.
Another advantage of getting on the road early in the morning is that you see more wildlife. In this picture, the shadow of the doe shows that it's early in the day. Do you see the buck in the distance watching over the doe? Pioneer Auto Museum, Murdo, SD
Murdo, South Dakota survives because it's a freeway stop halfway between Sioux Falls and Rapid City, so people do spend the night there. But it has one of the best tourist attractions in the Midwest -- the Pioneer Auto Museum, with many buildings filled with old cars, trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles -- anything that goes on the roads. Here's a picture of the signature extended vehicle that advertises the museum. If you're near there, make a point of visiting the museum. The Bailey Rail Yard
North Platte, Nebraska is a railroad town. The Union Pacific is the biggest employer, there is an annual railroad festival which we were lucky enough to attend, and the Bailey railway yard is the biggest in the world. We had a bus tour of the yard as part of the festival and then returned the next day to go to the top of the observation tower -- called the Golden Spike -- where we looked Floor of the Nebraska Capitol East and West and saw the huge yard stretching out for miles. Here's the view to the West.
We love to visit state capitols, take the tours and learn why each state is the best, has the greatest people and the finest legislature and of course the most beautiful and impressive home for Civic art, Salina, Kansas the state government. Nebraska really is unique, however, because it has a unicameral legislature. It was adopted principally to save money, and it seems that it does, but (or perhaps so) no other state has chosen to follow Nebraska. This photo is of the artistic floor under the rotunda.
Heading west through Kansas we passed through Salina and enjoyed the wide variety of sculpture which is displayed along the streets downtown. The bird's feathers emerge from beneath a dramatic cloak wrapped around its body, it has a big beak and seriously powerful talons, but what Hays, Kansas Public Library are those pebbles at the base of the statue -- visitors' mementoes?
We've been snapping photos of libraries as we go: it's an old habit, and we're both contributors to The Long Overdue Library Book (Bradley and Pendleton, 2014, Amazon). Libraries are frequently under the budget cutter's axe, which is a bit surprising, since they are very widely used, admired, and cost-effective. Hays, Kansas has the distinction of owning one of the best newly refurbished library building, with lots of rooms for community activities. We visited the Friends of the Library Bookstore, bought some books, and took several photographs, including this one of the Pelicans in Cheyenne Bottoms colorful Children's Library.
A big surprise for tourists in Kansas is the wetlands, fed by springs and formed in indentations in the land. Especially in the springtime, these wetlands are a mecca for birders come to see the amazing northbound migration of waterfowl, including pelicans like these we photographed. Cheyenne Bottoms is run by the state, and nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge by the feds, and both have a lot of shallow wetland that the officials preserve by careful use of canals to keep certain portions flooded. This means lots of habitat for shorebirds such as avocets, This blade is big! which we saw feeding.
We saw a map on a blog indicating that the biggest source of wind energy in the United States is not the mountain passes of California, but the wide flat Great Plains, where the wind blows long and steady over great areas. Everywhere we drove we saw wind generators, with more going up all the time. One worker staying in our motel said it was much nicer than working in the oil industry. The equipment must be made nearby, for example in Lamar, Colorado, where we snapped this photo of Elsa standing in front of a big wind turbine blade at the city visitor center. Bent County Courthouse, Colorado
Many of the towns of the midwest are slowly fading away; the farms are still thriving, but there are many fewer farmers. The downtowns slowly shut down, business by business as stores move to the nearest interchange on the Interstate Highways. But a sure promise of civic immortality is to be a county seat. There will always be business at the courts and recorder's office. Often the courthouse is the leading building of the town, perhaps built in a central square surrounded by memorial statues and plaques. Perhaps just because of the way our path wandered through the Great Plains, we were not greatly impressed until we came to the Bent County Courthouse in Las Animas, Colorado. What a beauty! The Mill Stop Cafe
The steel industry came early to Colorado, due to the plentiful supply of coal and iron, and the huge demand for steel rails across the vast distances of the Great Plains and beyond. The first steel mill in Pueblo was founded right after the Civil War, and run very successfully by John D. Rockefeller in the first half of the twentieth century. These days it employs many fewer workers, does a lot of processing of scrap metal, but still makes rails for railroads. The old buildings have been turned into a museum, which promises to be of great benefit to genealogists, since it has preserved the old employment records. While the mill flourished, everybody caught their lunch at the Mill Stop Cafe. We ate there, said hello to the grandson of the founder of the restaurant, and liked it so much we snapped a picture of the front of the building. Bishop Castle, Fairview, Colorado
Pueblo is located on the border between the Great Plains and the Rockies, and we took several day trips, including the Greenhorn Highway, Colorado Route 165, along which we found Bishop Castle. This is an ongoing construction of a stone castle with lofty towers and bridges that has been going on for decades -- artistically it represents a personal vision. Because of its remote location it does not receive large amounts of visitors; that might also be due to the sharp, libertarian, anti-government views expressed by the owner / builder on signs at the locaction.
It only took us a month to drive all this way, but we found much to see and admire and much that was just plain unexpected.
When we talk to friends from Europe they often think of confining their American travels to a few major tourist destinations -- New York, Miami, Las Vegas. What we have learned from years on the road is that there are wondrous sights to behold throughout our country. We'll keep driving and looking and snapping pictures!