Thursday, May 26, 2016

The West

If Wednesday saw us moving from the the Great Plains toward the West, Thursday put us into firmly Western territory as we approached the Front Range of the Rockies went into the mountains, onto the high plains, ending up on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

Sweetcakes, our trusty GPS system, gave us an interesting option, taking us off the Interstate in  western Wyoming and onto a route used by Oregon-and-California-bound emigrants as well as the Mormons and Pony Express riders. It was more historical than visually interesting but it broke things up and we found a nice Mexican restaurant along the route.

But the main thing is that we are now back in the West. Now, don’t get me wrong, we both enjoyed the South (me a bit moreso than Sharon), but the West is where we grew up and live. And while the West of Wyoming and Utah could not be more different than that of the Pacific Coast, it’s the West.

This part of the trip is not about images and touring but here are a few scenes from the West
We were not aware that the route traced that of the Oregon and California trails, but there we were.
Just before I took this we came across a small herd of pronghorn antelope and I did not have my camera ready with the telephoto, so I set it up. The rest of the afternoon all we saw were cattle and sheep. Note the mine tailings in the middle distance. The land here is too arid for agriculture, but you can practice extraction and animal husbandry. The route is dotted with old mines and modern quarries.

For those of you who are not Westerners, this is purple sage, yes, it's real

There is water, in contrast to areas to the west, just not much of it

More purple sage, see above
Unlike the compact farms east of the Mississippi, these ranches are huge and sprawling
After we rejoined I-80, we crossed the high plains and began a descent into the valley of the salt lake and once again the geography changed. Because we were on the interstate and it was mid-afternoon these were shot by Sharon with the iPhone

Rosa, as tired as we are

The owner of the hotel we are in also is a privateer, racing Porsches with some success

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Glancing Glimpse of Colorado (not much, really)

A long travel day on Wednesday carried us from the Great Plains to the front range of the Rockies, just a tad under 400 miles.

On travel days like these we don’t plan stops, if they happen they happen and around mid-day we found ourselves in Fort Collins, Colorado, home of the Colorado State University. Why does that matter? Our daughter attended CSU and graduated almost a decade ago, so we know the town and like it and we knew where we could have a good lunch, which we did at the Chéba Hut.

First glimpse of the front range of the Rockies means that we are back in the west.

One of Anna's favorite spots when she was an undergrad at CSU

Elk Mountain

Random windshield shots

Moreover, after lunch ‘Cakes (our GPS) suggested one of our favorite drives in the area, Highway 287 from Fort Collins to Laramie. From there it was pretty much a straight shot into Rawlins, Wyoming where we stay for the night. Thursday will take us from Rawlins to Tooele, Utah, just outside Salt Lake City.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

In Kansas

On Monday, we went from Arkansas through Oklahoma and into Kansas, pretty much non-stop, leaving the eastern woodlands for the prairie to spend the night in Wichita.

Tuesday, we slowed down a bit and our GPS (aka Sweetcakes or Cakes) having learned our methods actually took us off the interstate all on her own and led us along a scenic route between I-135 and I-70 that I could not recreate if at gunpoint. So, given the opportunity, I took some pictures to break the tedium of the drive.


Our first stop was Lindsborg, a neat, prosperous looking town which seemed half community center and half charming tourist trap. We stopped and even shopped.
In the 19th century the town ran on the work of blacksmiths and wagoners, today coffee.

Yup, tourist shops

The horse Sharon bought was a bit smaller


Then came something different, a prairie ghost town. Carneiro began as a sheep stating in the late 19th cntury, but by the mid 20th it began to be abandoned. Today it is described as a “tidy little ghost town,” which neatly sums it up.

These homes are so neat and tidy it's hard to believe they are abandoned

The church is still used for worship by a few families, no pastor is listed on the marquee/

According to an online history of the town, this school, built in 2016, has been closed since the 1960s and seemingly there is no use for this substantial building

Nature, about to reclaim this house

We even found a great little diner in Wilson where we had lunch. Everything was good, the pie was great. No dinner needed for us.

Town Hall

Made From Scratch, the name sums it up. They are serious about smoked meats and pies

But no more agricultural processing
This abandoned house must have stories to tell, or not, perhaps.
Across the road a prosperous farm.

Interestingly, this morning I read in Inside Higher Education how the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownbeck, has responded to the state’s economic distress by cutting taxes and, essentially, defunding government; the promise being that with no taxes wealth would flood the state. Apparently it has not worked out that way.

It was interesting to see signs of distress as we drove along. Not all the state stands in ruins, of course, but Brownback’s scheme seems to have failed and the state legislature has gone home and is allowing the governor to rule by fiat. Hmmmm.

Wednesday will take us from Burlington to Rawlins, Wyoming.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Magazine Mountain or Mount Magazine

(according to the USGS and Wikipedia, there is actually a difference)

Sunday was the final day of this year’s road trip before we strike off on Monday from the Ozarks for home.

We spent the day at Mount Magazine, which is part of the state’s excellent park system and is located within the Ozark National Park. We drove along the scenic route from Russellville to Havana and began with just a little hike, a walk really, along the one mile West Benefield Trail. From there we continued in the park going up to the high point, Cameron Bluff. The vista over the Petit Jean Valley was gorgeous. From there we went up to the lodge. It is large and modern, but overlooks Blue Mountain Lake. 

The drive up the mountain

Petit Jean Valley

The West Benefield Trailhead

Wildflowers along the trail
Near the end of the trail is the grave of one of the Benefield daughters, born and died sometime in the 1890s

Cameron Bluff

We are now resolved to come back for the 2017 Arkansas Pen Show and split a week here and at the Ozark Folk Center.

From Mount Magazine we returned to Russellville, and on Monday will go from there to Wichita, Kansas.

One final thought on Arkansas and maybe the south in general. People and places often meet your expectations. That was more true for this trip than the previous two. I’ll leave questions of why that is for another entry.

As we began this final portion of this trip, we had no great expectations for Arkansas or the Ozarks. We knew it would be beautiful, that’s all. What surprised us were the people. Southerners are reputed to be warm and welcoming and for the most part that was our experience. But Arkansans seemed to go beyond that. Moreover, not only is the state, or that part of it that we saw, extremely beautiful, but it struck us as a place that, for lack of a better word, “works.” In a time of national dysfunction, Arkansas seems a well-ordered society that places value on education, infrastructure and fostering community. I’m sure that if we lived here it would not seem so idyllic, but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay and will return.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Culture and Crafts in the Ozarks

Saturday morning, as we were planning our day’s activities, Sharon noticed in one of our guidebooks the Ozark Folk Center State Park and suggested that as an alternative to what we had planned. That sounded interesting and these trips are about (a degree of) spontaniety, so off we went to Mountain View, about a hundred miles to the northeast.

The first decorated barn we've seen in the South. Interestingly it is a quilting pattern

Farmers at work

The park is about what the name implies. It was established in 1973 to promote the folk arts and crafts of the Ozark and today it houses about a dozen crafts shops showcasing woodworking, gunsmithing, basketmaking, doll-making, a traditional print shop and, to my delight, knifemaking. And music, of course. (Sadly, no pens.)

So we bought an admission to include a walk through the village and the evening concert.

This fellow was there to greet us

As you might imagine, one of our first visits was to the knifemaker. The master knifemaker Tom Weir was not there, but his apprentice Lane was, and as I toured the shop and asked about knives it turned out that he was just finishing up his very first folding knife. He was quite sure that he would have it done by day’s end and we arranged to meet after the concert. At day’s end he called me and I went over to his shop to finalize some details (rounding and bluing of the handles). Then disaster struck. As he was doing final assembly, the hand-filed spring broke. The rest of the tale remains to unfold.

I was so excited to get this knife, that I did not take pictures of that shop or the work, but I did take a few others.

This young woman discussing spinning and weaving is the daughter of Martha Laster, the master spinner. We did not get her name but she was a fount of information

The quilter is listed as Lula Hudspeth, but we are not sure if that was she who shared news and views with Sharon. I wanted us to get another quilt either here or at Nellie's earlier, but Sharon says five is enough.

This was the daytime acoustic music performance, the Quebe Sisters who we would see in the evening.
And at the end of the day, the concert was great. Possum Juice, an old time band made up of local teens, opened by playing for some square dancers. The emcee and caller was Dan Smith. Then Mary Parker Friends & Kin came on. Parker is an eleven year old prodigy on the fiddle, vocals and even broke into dance once during the evening. Her nine year old brother Gordon was featured on the mandolin. The headliners were the Quebe Sisters who perform fiddle western swing music in the style of Bob Willis. Their harmonies, both vocal and on fiddle were amazing.

Square dancers, of course

Mary Parker Friends and Family. From left Kailee Spickes, Gordon Parker, Mary Parker and Alanna Brewer

The Quebe Sisters, from left Daniel Parr, Grace Quebe, Sophia Quebe, Simon Stipp, and Hulda Quebe
As we walked through, it became clear that the center has become a community and many of the craftspeople are not only deeply rooted in the culture of the area, but related by blood, marriage and friendship. It was a privilege to meet many of the folks and to have them share their stories and we actually did not have time to visit all the shops. Next year, I’m thinking seriously about a visit to the Arkansas Pen Show followed by a return to the Ozarks.

It was a fine day, tempered only by the disappointment of the broken knife. I did, however, find a knife earlier, in Mountain View and hopefully Lane and I will work out a way for me to get the knife he is still working on. 

Managed to get this new-in-the-box Case Cheetah from 2002 in nearby Mountain View

The drive back, though night time mountain roads, was a bit of a challenge, but worth it.