Okay, I promise this is the last grain elevator photo for awhile. I like this one best.
iPhone photograph, Wilson, Kansas.
Okay, I promise this is the last grain elevator photo for awhile. I like this one best.
iPhone photograph, Wilson, Kansas.
I didn’t realize it was smirking at me until I saw the thumbnail image. Yet another iPhone photo. Mid-afternoon, Wilson, Kansas.
iPhone photograph, Wilson, Kansas.
Special exhibit at Rolling Hills Zoo Museum, near Salina, Kansas. Tomato frogs live in the rainforests of eastern Madagascar. iPhone photograph.
Fuji X-10. I should probably download some kind of photo editing app for my iPad since I’m posting these on the road. Would like to have taken those highlights down a notch.
I’ve been having a good time playing with an iPhone photograph I took of tables and chairs at a Steak ‘n Shake in Goodland, Kansas. (I certainly took a lot more iPhone pix on my trip than I remembered having done.) Above is the version I like best. It’s highly cropped, with a watercolor filter applied, vibrance ramped up, blue ramped up. My favorites among the photographs I take tend to be those that look most like abstract paintings or that are clearly influenced by abstract painting. Applying a filter can, on rare occasions, turn an image into something more interesting. It also can, on rare occasions, save an image that is not sharp enough to work as a conventional photograph and make it worthwhile.
Here are two crops without the watercolor filter, and below those, the original photograph. I’m interested in feedback, so vote for your favorite if you’re so inclined. As a bonus, here’s a video of Lucinda Williams singing “Am I Too Blue.”
Day 13: Colby to Lawrence.
My destination for today was Lawrence, Kansas. From there it would be a quick drive to Kansas City on Sunday. Knowing I had plenty of time, I took back roads much of the day.
My first stop was at an old favorite: the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. It was my third visit (I’m not making this up). There was a time years ago, before my late husband and I stumbled upon this place, when I no doubt thought barbed wire was barbed wire was barbed wire. Ha! Not a chance of it, and this little museum, which is always deserted, will set you straight. It has hundreds upon hundreds of variations of barbed wire, plus the tools needed to string and tighten it, plus all sorts of auxiliary items. The director estimates that about 500 patents exist for different types of barbed wire. But each patent can cover hundreds of variations; the total is mind-boggling. One Glidden barbed wire patent covers some 2,400 variations, for example. Among my favorite exhibits at the museum are two barbed-wire tornadoes and a huge crow’s nest made of scraps of barbed wire.
Before leaving, I asked the director where I might get a sandwich to eat. He suggested the Dairy Queen in Hoisington, about 15 miles to the east. It was an inspired choice, because if I hadn’t stopped at the DQ and idly picked up a brochure on the counter, I’d never have known that Hoisington was having a Labor Day festival and that one of the activities was helicopter rides, 40 bucks per passenger.
While I ate my cheeseburger I mulled that over. I’d never flown in a helicopter before, or even been inside one. The prospect was scary, yet enticing. When would I get such a chance again? I could at least look. So when I was done at the DQ, I backtracked, drove through (or rather, around) Hoisington’s downtown, and found the helicopter site. The copter looked awfully small. The pilots said they couldn’t afford to take up just one passenger. Okay, I said, I’ll wait a couple of minutes and see if someone else shows up.
Meanwhile I asked a bunch of stalling questions: Do I weigh too much to go? (Not even close; they could take a 300-pound passenger!) Wasn’t it too windy to fly? (No, helicopters love the wind!) I had fallen a couple of days ago and my left leg was hurting; would I be able to pull myself into the helicopter? (They’d help me!) I sat in my car, still ambivalent. Then a black SUV pulled up: father, mother, son, daughter. The son was first out, and it soon became clear that he and his dad were going up. The pilots waved me over, and I found myself plunking down two 20-dollar bills. I and the boy, who looked to be about 10, would be seated in the back, where there were windows. The pilot (a woman! yes!) and the dad would take the front seats, where there were no doors. “I’m scared,” the boy said matter-of-factly, without any visible sign of anxiety. “I guarantee you I’m more scared than you are,” I told him unwisely. “It’s bumpy,” he said (we hadn’t left the ground, but it did feel bumpy with the engines on). “Should we hold hands?” I said. “I’m going to hold on here,” he said, grabbing the bar between the back of the front seats. I did the same. And then we were up and off!
We were all wearing headsets so that we could hear the pilot and each other. “This is awesome!” the kid yelled as we began to fly over Hoisington. I was with him one hundred percent. I believe I might even have added “Woo!!” I was taking pictures like crazy, and the kid and I kept announcing how fun it was. It was wonderful fun. It was even fun when the helicopter banked significantly, though I was grateful I had a window next to me and not an open door. The ride, which lasted only four minutes or so, was far too short. I wanted to keep flying. Heck, I was ready to take lessons. But Lawrence awaited. I waved goodbye to the family, who were in fact from Hoisington, and headed down the road to Lindsborg.
This Scandinavian town was new to me. I got there at 5 p.m., so most places were closed except for an exceptional fair-trade shop called Connected. But Lindsborg hosts a sidewalk herd of painted dala horses. Wikipedia: “A Dalecarlian horse or Dala horse is a traditional carved, painted wooden horse statuette originating in the Swedish province of Dalarna. In the old days the Dala horse was mostly used as a toy for children; in modern times it has become a symbol of Dalarna, as well as Sweden in general. Several different types of Dala horses are made, with distinguishing features common to the locality of the site where they are produced.” In Lindsborg, the paintings on the horses may reflect the business where a given horse is located, or the interests of the sponsors or artist. One thing I noted is that the dala horses, which are chunky creatures, have no tails. I enjoyed photographing details of the paintings.
And then, as I was leaving the vicinity of Lindsborg, serendipity struck. I finally found what I’d been looking for all over Kansas and eastern Colorado: sunflowers! A whole big field of sunflowers with their heads still up (though, oddly, not facing the sun but facing east). I did what I could with my Pentax and my not-so-long lens, trying to get the best photo I could for me and my sunflower-loving friend Dinah.
At Salina I rejoined I-70. The rest of the drive to Lawrence was tedious, but it seemed to me that, all in all, I’d had the best possible day on the Plains.
Days 5 & 6: Hays to Fort Morgan.
Everyone who has flown across the Great Plains has seen the crop circles made by pivot irrigation. They are a potent reminder that we cannot truly grasp the way humankind has remade this planet without seeing it from the air. But we also must see it from the ground—and we can, a little bit, in this case. When you’re driving in Kansas, anytime you see a pivot irrigator near the road, watch as the edge of the crop circle recedes from you on the far side. Often you can see the edge on the front side as well, if you’re paying good attention.
Irrigation circles are plentiful after Hays, which is high-plains country and where you begin to see gates at the entrances to the interstate, to close it off in case of heavy snow. I exited I-70 at Goodland, took an inordinate number of photographs at a Steak ‘n Shake (of all things), and drove back roads north to Haigler, Nebraska, right at the corner of the state. The last part of this drive finally satisfied my need for isolation.
One of my hopes for this trip was to see the fields of sunflowers, the flower that Kansas has made one of its state symbols. Eventually I saw two fields of cultivated sunflowers, but their heads were all bowed down, like a crowd of penitents. Drought? Too close to harvest? I’m not sure. The roads are lined with wildflowers that look like native sunflowers, rather small and not very tall growing, but I was able to get only one decent photo of them.
The county roads in Kansas, or at least this part of Kansas, are lettered rather than numbered. CR X amounted to a pair of barely discernible rutted tracks mounting an arid hill. CR Y seemed like a lament; a few miles later, CR YY seemed like a command. CR Z felt like the end of the world. After I headed west from Haigler and crossed the border into Colorado, I saw that the county roads here are numbered. One of them was CR 92 1/2. I am still puzzling over this and have come up with no plausible explanation for it. How can you have 1/2 of a road? I was hoping things would deconstruct even further, to 1/4 or even 1/8 of a county road, but I never spotted so much as one other 1/2.
I made it to my intended destination, Fort Morgan, Colo., but then I crashed. A pattern seems to be emerging: two days driving and/or seeing “attractions,” one day in bed at a motel. My do-not-disturb sign at this absurdly expensive Hampton Inn in Fort Morgan, Colo., says “Resting.” I noticed that someone else’s, however, says “Relaxing.” They’ve got me pegged. I’m surprised mine doesn’t say “Recuperating” or even “Restructuring.” The door plates here each have a black-and-white photograph next to the number. Mine shows an old-fashioned air pump from a filling station. I’ve checked out eight or nine other rooms and so far each photo is different. A pile of horseshoes. An old church bell. An antiquated alarm clock. A little boy sitting against a bale of hay. A parking meter. I like these.
As usual when I’m exhausted and hurting, depression sets in. After sleeping all day and then texting a good friend for encouragement, I finally pulled myself together around 5 p.m. and went out to eat. At the Acapulco Café I had my biennial BLT (no more bacon for me for two years), which came with fries better than anyplace in Carbondale makes them. And then for dessert I ordered the sopapillas, which can’t be had anywhere in C’dale as far as I know. These were served on a monstrous plate with a mountain of whipped cream in the middle, and they were the best I’ve ever had, even better than the ones at the diner in Santa Fe that I can’t remember the name of that’s just off the market square. I offered to share my order with the only other diners, a young woman and her little girl, who are staying next door to me at the Hampton (I recognized the woman’s dress). She turned me down and apologized in advance for her girl, who was talking incessantly, interspersed with shrieks that reminded me of the birds in Hays. So I ate almost all of them myself. I thought I’d regret it, but I didn’t; I felt just fine. They did me a world of good, I think.
Then I went a block down Main Street (which does not seem to be thriving here in Fort Morgan) to the old-fashioned movie theater. I could have seen “Straight Outta Compton,” which seems like a hilarious choice out here on the high plains, but instead I went with “Ricki and the Flash.” It isn’t a well-written movie—1970s rock ‘n roll really isn’t the quick fix for a rock-bottom relationship with the mother who deserted you when you were young—but Meryl Streep is a good singer and she learned to play the guitar for this movie, at least enough to get through the 11 songs she had to perform. Her singing was the part that interested me enough to pony up the eight bucks this small-town theater must charge just to survive—that plus the fact that I didn’t want to see any of the other three movies playing. I talked to the theater owner for awhile; he and his movie house are hanging in there, he says.
And then I did my laundry at the Hampton. Given that I plan to shorten the trip considerably, I may not have to do laundry again until I get home. So hurray for that.
I’ve been plagued with memories ever since I left Lawrence. I crossed Kansas once with my first husband, several times with my (now-deceased) second husband, and once with a (now-deceased) boyfriend, and it saddens me greatly to think of all of that potential life lost. Two of those trips were occasioned by my parents’ deaths. It will soon be September 8, the day Mom died 18 years ago. If I had had a baby that year, that child would be going off to college now. It’s a fact that almost stops my breath. I’m a ruminator by nature, and the comparative isolation of the Great Plains reinforces that tendency.
Day 4: Lawrence to Hays.
My hair has been whipped into a Medusa-like appearance thanks to the high winds here in western-central Kansas. Tonight I’m staying in Hays, and although one thunderstorm developed behind me as I was heading west, more storms are expected. I’m used to Kansas being windy, but this is unusual, and high-wind advisories have been issued.
I left Lawrence at 8:30 a.m. and got on the tollway headed for Topeka. The land opened up to the sky and I began to feel I could breathe freely. This landscape suits me much more than the landscape along I-70 in Missouri, which feels overgrown with trees and stifling. I hightailed it to Manhattan and the Konza Prairie. For years, on trips to see my parents in Broomfield, Colo., Steve and I noted the big sign along I-70 that announces the Konza Prairie. But I didn’t know much about it until I interviewed SIU plant biologist David Gibson, some of whose research involved prairie restoration out at Konza. This is a Nature Conservancy site administered in cooperation with Kansas State University. I walked for about half an hour along the main nature trail. It wasn’t far enough to get to the true prairie section, but it was peaceful and pleasant. Thinking of nature reminds me of how loud the cicadas were in Lawrence, even in heavily commercial areas, whereas here in Hays there are some kind of screaming, squabbling birds. I’m not sure what they are; they look something like crows, but their heads are differently shaped and they splay their tails.
After that short spell at Konza, I headed for KSU’s insect zoo, which specializes in tarantulas, walking sticks, katydids, cockroaches, and scorpions (the latter I passed by; reading “The Pearl” did it for me and scorpions, which I despise). Now that I think about it, more than half of the critters residing in the insect zoo are not insects at all. They’re other types of arthropods—arachnids (tarantulas and scorpions) and myriapods (centipedes and millipedes). (In confirming this online, I discovered two odd facts: Because all centipedes have an odd number of pairs of legs, no centipede species has 100 legs. Furthermore, no known species of millipede has 1,000 legs. So neither type lives up to its name. I feel compelled also to quote this from the Wikipedia article on centipedes: Even nonvenomous centipedes are considered frightening by humans due to their dozens of legs moving at the same time and their tendency to dart swiftly out of the darkness towards one’s feet. A 19th-century Tibetan poet warned his fellow Buddhists that “if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.”)
Lunch was a turkey sandwich with cranberry relish at the Bluestem Bistro, and a couple of chocolate-covered pretzels at Cold Stone Creamery. Then I headed out of town, intending to take a secondary road all the way past Salina to Lucas. But K18 was detoured onto I-70 because of road construction, and a good thing too. If I’d taken it, I never would have gotten to Lucas in time to make a quick tour of the Grassroots Arts Center. This quirky little museum preserves and displays outsider art (the more common term than grassroots art, and a better one, I think, for these self-taught artists truly are outside the mainstream, and their art often takes the form of large outdoor assemblages).
The docent told me that the museum is in Lucas because four such artists had lived and worked there. The museum tries to track and save outsider art installations across the country; too often, upon the artist’s death, these pieces, which are typically made of unconventional materials, are discarded. Two of my favorite pieces at the museum were full-size replicas of a car and a motorcycle made of thousands of aluminum pull-tabs from soda cans. Not for nothing is the artist, Herman Divers, described as “the master of pull-tab construction.”
I took many photos here and also at the town’s Bowl Plaza, which is the entrance to their public restrooms. (“Bowl” refers to exactly what you might think.) The mosaics in the plaza are made from pieces of colored bottles, bits of old porcelain plates, and other miscellaneous objects. The restrooms themselves also have mosaics; they’re supposed to be gorgeous and are actually listed in the AAA tour guide as among the state’s attractions. That sounded laughable until I saw the beauty of the outdoor mosaics. I wonder if these are the only restrooms in the United States so honored. Unfortunately, they were closed for repairs when I was there. But I hope to return to Lucas on the way back home.
This region of Kansas is called Post Oak Country due to the use of quarried rock posts instead of wood for fenceposts. The interstate from roughly Manhattan to Wilson also is paralleled by hundreds of wind turbines. As I drove a back road up toward K18 and Lucas, these gradually petered out. In a couple of places an old-fashioned windmill to bring up water for stock tanks was juxtaposed against the landscape of turbines. The drive from Lucas back to I-70 winds through sculpted bare hills reminiscent of some of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings, though in a different palette. Trees line the creeks and cluster in hollows; at Konza Prairie I learned that these are called gallery forests.
Then the road curves around the east end of Wilson Lake, which had whitecaps today from the wind. To the east the land drops off from the road into a huge valley; to the west is the lake. There are two or three parks and wildlife areas here that I’d like to check out on the way back. The light from the hazy sky—today has been very hazy, I suppose from the high winds picking up dust from the gravel roads—gleamed off the lake. (Note: The haze, which persisted to the Rockies, turned out to be pollution from the wildfires in the West Coast states.)
I stopped in Wilson, “the Czech capital of Kansas” with “the world’s largest painted Czech egg,” for supper, a piece of pecan pie. I didn’t have to go out of my way to drive by The Egg, which was propped up on a corner lot with what looked like makeshift, rusty metal braces. The world’s largest painted Czech egg should have a better setting than a weedy lot, it seems to me. Say, a corner-lot-sized park with some flower beds. That would be a big improvement.
Then it was down the road to Hays, with clouds and sun ahead of me and dark thunderclouds behind me. My legs and feet are sore from driving and walking. Road-trip fatigue has set in early, since I’m toting a ridiculous amount of stuff into the motel each night, even while leaving things in the car. That’s the biggest disadvantage of a solo road trip. Well, aside from the mixed-up jumble the suitcase becomes as dirty clothes mingle with clean clothes. And not knowing the good places to eat. And road construction. And the driving itself. But otherwise, I love road trips!
Days 2 & 3: Boonville to Lawrence.
Yesterday morning I left the Boonville Comfort Inn before 10:30, ready to face the “major delay” promised at mile marker 77. There turned out to be no delay, so I ended up parking outside the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City a little before noon. This is in the 18th & Vine district, where Charlie Parker came to prominence, so I listened to some of Parker’s music while I was driving to K.C. to put me in the right mood. (For those who haven’t seen it, “Bird,” starring Forest Whitaker as Parker and directed by Clint Eastwood, who is a jazz aficionado, is excellent; see what Roger Ebert had to say about it here). The museum was small but had lots of listening stations. I wandered around looking at the exhibits and listening to some classic jazz. The place was deserted. I would like to also have seen the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which is on the other side of the same building, but my legs needed a break and my stomach needed lunch.
I decided to look for a lunch place while en route to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which had been a disappointment when David and I visited in 2012. Why the Kemper? Because the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I always seem to be going through Kansas City on Monday or Tuesday. Argghh!
On the way a no-left-turn sign diverted me from my route and I found myself in a couple of gentrifying blocks. I photographed the sign for Bellicose Church, on the assumption that it was indeed some sort of place of worship and not, say, the design studio of someone who’d given himself a peculiar name. The typography was uncommonly good for a small church, or for pretty much any church. But I thought it was funny, whatever it was. (I just now looked it up and no longer find it funny. It is a church—a “missional community”—with this action statement: “We named our church Bellicose because we don’t believe that Jesus wants his church to be passive. Therefore we’re inclined or eager to fight for people’s hearts (John 15:13), aggressively hostile to the gates of hell (Matt 16:18, Matt 11:12), and warlike against sin (1 Pet 2:11, 2 Cor 10:3-5) — we’re aggressive in our love for God and people.” Well, at least they’re honest about it. But God save me from people who are aggressive in their love for God. So is ISIS.
After photographing the church facade, I went into, and back out of, a place called the Corner Café. I am indeed a total rube when it comes to food. I’m reluctant to try anything with ingredients that I need to have defined or that seem bizarre. For instance, one salad came with espresso vinaigrette, which seemed to be overreaching for originality. Every lunch entreé involved one or more such oddities, so I after I visited the Kemper Museum I sat in my car in the parking lot eating the string cheese, carrots, and almonds I’d packed, which was much cheaper and probably more healthful.
I spent very little time at the Kemper, which was again a disappointment because the main building has only a couple of small galleries devoted to their permanent collection. However, included in those galleries was an absolutely wonderful purple painting by Helen Frankenthaler called, appropriately, “Bacchus.” It alone was worth the visit. I took some photos, none of which begin to do it justice. Then I fell for a ceramic vase in the gift shop, which is precisely what happened the first time I went to the Kemper. Don’t go in museum gift shops when you’re tired and hungry: That should be one of my mantras. There is a vacation phenomenon whereby you give yourself permission to spend money on such things even though you tell yourself not to. And here I’ve been getting rid of as much stuff as possible at home.
I decided not to take the turnpike to Lawrence, but to go the southern route, through Overland Park. Once I got off 470 and onto Kansas Route 10, it seemed like I was in Lawrence in no time. I found the main drag easily, ate cheese ravioli and spanakopita at a Greek/Italian restaurant, then hit the nature store and the toy store that I’d spotted on my first drive-through. Oddly, given that I’d just mentioned Mexican jumping beans in my recent blog post on spirit animals, the nature store had some of those little clear boxes of beans on the checkout counter–the first I’d seen in years. The sales clerk, an older woman, knew about the larva, and about why they jumped. Some of the beans were in sunlight, and they did seem to be jumping more than the ones that were in shadow. “Here,” she said, handing me a section of newspaper. “If you put that over the display, they’ll stop jumping.” I did it, and bingo, the jumping stopped immediately. That was impressive. I did it a couple more times and told her about my blog post. I bought a 50-cent plastic lizard as a mascot for the trip and also an inexpensive but lovely fossil, an orthoceras–an ancient cephalopod that navigated by squirting water out of its body. The toy store, which was jaw-droppingly extensive, made me wish I knew someone with a little kid. It would have been great fun to explore the whole place and buy tons of presents.
This morning, in my motel room in Lawrence, I decided that I needed extra sleep before going to the Spencer Museum of Art, my main reason for stopping here. I ended up sleeping all day. In the evening I called the museum, which the AAA Tour Guide said was open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, and a recording announced that it was closed for renovations until sometime in 2016. So that was that.
I’d forgotten that when I sleep in the daytime, my dreams tend to be more nightmarish than usual. Now I’m feeling very bad emotionally, with my legs aching from driving, and I’m beginning to think about aborting the trip. The drive out seems overwhelming, and the drive back, impossible. Given everything I’ve learned about Fort Collins real estate in the last two weeks, it seems a fool’s errand to go out there. I’m also worried about my sister back in Carbondale, who has descended from hypomania back into depression, and I feel guilty about leaving the dogs in the kennel for so long. I’ve decided to put off the decision until tomorrow morning. I showered after getting up at 5:30 tonight, so tomorrow I can just get dressed, throw everything into the car, and take off. Whether west or homeward, I don’t know.