#2 of 6 posts  from 29 Days Driving 10,000 Miles around the Continent Jan. 17 to Feb. 14, 2010

Duluth was dark by the time we happened onto the scenic route that puts Ottawa’s Driveway to shame.  They have 49 miles of docking, are a center for mining and lumber exports and have ski hills practically downtown.  On the way in on Hwy 61 several deer crossed the road in front of us, white birch grew on the hillsides and three gleaming tunnels let the road burrow through mountains of rock. The highway hugged Lake Superior’s shoreline, so beautiful at sunset. We stayed at the Americinn in Moose Lake and Tom swam but I didn’t, since the lock on our door didn’t work.  It’s like a nice hunting lodge on I-35 and cost only $69.99.

Day 4 – Wed., Jan. 20, Moose Lake, MN to Des Moines, IA

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Tatra (Photo credit Minneapolis Institute of Art)

We drove straight to Minneapolis in clear weather through flat, snow-covered farmland. Lots of modest-size evergreen trees and a species of deciduous tree whose leaves turn brown but don’t fall off lined the I-35. Minneapolis was windy and felt even colder than Ottawa. We headed for the Institute of Art and, for Tom, seeing their Tatra, a Czech V8 rear-engine car made in the 1930’s was worth the whole trip. The paintings and furniture designs weren’t bad either. We lunched in the Museum’s restaurant and bought postcards.

An ice storm was in progress in the vicinity of our next destination, Des Moines, so we drove for the next five hours slowly and apprehensively. The wind was strong from our left, freezing rain fell sporadically and, while I drove, Tom gave me a refresher course in all the skills he knew for avoiding a skid if we suddenly hit ice. We could see the worst was over, judging by the overturned transport on the median (fortunately a wide one) and six SUV’s abandoned there or in the ditch. The temperature was 28° F but about 45 minutes before we arrived in Des Moines it rose to 32° and  stayed there.

The landscape was so flat, open, white and empty you couldn’t find the divide between snowy land and cloudy sky – except for little tufts of brush sticking up here and there.  The big trees were beautifully glazed. There were no signs of life; the farmers must have all been down south watching the ball players practice. Towns are few and far between and there are no services along the way.

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We reached Des Moines after dark, bypassed it and checked into the Courtyard Marriott on the southern periphery. It’s new, gorgeous, a bit above our budget. At a great restaurant, Chez Mimi’s, across the street we ate pot roast for dinner.

Day 5, Jan. 21   Des Moines,IA  Kansas City,MO Wichita and Pratt,KA

  • We left our luxury suite at the Courtyard Marriott in our ski jackets, with ice underfoot. Going south on I-35 the effects of the severe ice storm for the first hundred miles made it look like Ottawa after the great ice storm, with all the trees glazed over and four cars or SUVs abandoned. The land was very flat and snow-covered. Temperature was 36 and went up to 41 but still felt bitter cold as Ottawa because of the wind. The style of  bridges and overpasses and the colour and lettering of road signs is identical to those in Canada.
  • Kansas City was originally named Possum Trot and is two cities – one in Missouri and one in Kansas – that have a joint economy. It has scenic drives and many fountains which we didn’t see because we followed the CAA guidebook instructions to get us directly from the interstate to the Nelson/Atkins Museum of Art for lunch. We climbed the marble staircase and looked at fantastic Flemish Lynviers tapestries of the Phaeton myth.
  • Lunch in the Rozelle Courtyard Restaurant was exceptionally warm and friendly as we were surrounded by ‘merry widows’ eating close to the baroque fountain. They had a display table showing what the dishes on the menu looked like. But when you took your tray over to the counter to order what you wanted, they were out of the best-looking ones! We enjoyed looking at just a fraction of the fantastic collection of paintings and sculptures.
  • This Museum is located in a neighbourhood of old mansions, all made of fieldstone or else having fieldstone chimneys, pillars, fences, etc. We  saw our first one or two black people of the trip, such as our busboy at lunchtime.
  • At Wichita (originally called Cowtown) we took the turn onto Hwy 54  to go west, instead of south. It was very flat prairie, treeless, and not-too-interesting until we got lost near Emporia trying to buy stamps. We landed at what must be the farm Dorothy got blown out of in the Wizard of Oz. The acres of plowed soil surrounding it were very heavy black loam.

Back on the highway we went through the Flint Hills of cowboy country, with dark earth, little oases with a few trees, limestone and Angus cattle grazing. A few cowboy restaurants appeared.

It’s environmental shock for an easterner, it’s all so different.

It got foggy at dusk so Tom drove slowly and we found a room at the Regency Suites in Pratt. We had dinner at the Uptown Café/Club de l’Est which has movie posters on the wall and such broken-down booth seats (we tried three) we could barely reach the table tops.

We were a bit concerned about all the bad El Nino weather. We hoped we’d be lucky enough to keep on avoiding it and enjoyed swimming in the hotel’s very warm pool.

Day 6, Fri. Jan. 22 Pratt,KS  Dodge City & Liberal,KS  Tucumcari & Santa Rosa,NM

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We left Pratt and traveled in fog most of the way to Mullinville which was on the detour to Dodge City, our fun for the day. Marg took a picture of Tom with some of the miles of roadside pop art growing out of the tall grass at Mullinville.

Dodge City is great fun and cashes in on its notoriety as ‘The Wickedest Little Town on Earth’. Tourists enjoy the illustrated historical posters outside this authentic line of stores, the setting for many western movies.  Gunsmoke Street is located here and Boot Hill Cemetery. Marg posed with Wyatt Earp’s statue and we bought postcards saying, ‘Get out of Dodge’.

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After having lunch in Liberal, KS we started the long diagonal cut across Oklahoma and Texas, where few people live, for good reason. It is so dry that even the bridge over the Arkansas River spanned a dry bed. The road was good, the land flat as a runway and the wind and tumbleweeds were out in full force. We were fascinated by the big sky and types of rocks and plants. There were a few signs of prosperity (oil rigs, cattle, farmers’ co-ops, utilities and chemical plants) but more of desperation (abandoned or rundown shacks).

The temperature climbed from 38 F when we started out to 68 F. Then it began to fall as mountains (foothills) came into view in the distance.

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When we entered New Mexico we set our clocks back an hour and  also crossed the continental divide. Tucumcari has its own spectacular little mountain which was used by the Comanches as a lookout. Here we got on I-40. The famous route 66 started here and is still identified and lined with ‘museum’ motels and cafes, signs, names and 50’s and 60’s nostalgia. What we saw, on a drive-through and gas stop, was sinister characters speeding around in souped-up cars while many of the homes and would-be businesses show signs of abject poverty.  Outside town three trains finally went by us on the Atchison/Topeka/Santa Fé line we’d been driving parallel to for two days.

We were puzzled by the redness of the rocks, earth and highway and were thrilled to pass a canyon just before we entered Santa Rosa, NM and found a room for the night.

Day 7, Sat. Jan. 23 Santa Rosa to Santa Fé

The ‘mother’ who manages the breakfast room at the Comfort Inn took great pride in satisfying us and told us they had earned 93% on a recent inspection. Another couple were very friendly, welcomed us to their country and said they were going to visit friends in Tucson, AZ who had just phoned to warn them they had had an almost torrential rainstorm.

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Here we are with Adam Kokesh in the Tribes Restaurant in Santa Fé, NM, since we’d promised his Montreal-born and -raised mother we’d contact him. On the wall is an enlargement of an Italian stamp honoring espresso, which we thought was a good idea.  Adam was taking time out from a very busy campaign to get the Republican nomination for the  congressional race in November. As you can see, he’s a nice guy, 25 years old. He served two tours of duty in Iraq, completed a university degree and then became an anti-war activist. He’s passionate about the libertarian ideals of Ron Paul, who is his mentor. We didn’t talk politics, we just had a nice family visit and lunch (with espresso and capuccino). He jumped up a couple of times to shake hands with good prospects and give them a card.

As soon as we came into the restaurant, Tom plugged in our laptop computer and turned on Skype. Almost immediately it started signalling. It was our son Leslie in Pittsburgh calling. We turned the computer around so he would be surprised by seeing Adam, not us, and they had a good talk. Traveling around no longer isolates people the way it used to!

#2 of 6 posts  from 29 Scintillating Days Driving around the Continent Jan. 17 to Feb. 14, 2010

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