Dec 182013
Wildlife in Sidney, Nebraska.

Wildlife in Sidney, Nebraska.

We awoke day five of our road trip in Sidney, Nebraska, close to the Wyoming border. The weather was cold and clear and we were looking forward to a warm shower to help get us moving. Unfortunately, the shower was quite anemic in its spray and was not much help in this regard. After wondering if this was an indication of the poor water pressure of the area or Nebraskans hearty temperaments, the shower curtain offered a clue . . . it was probably an eco-friendly, water-saving measure.

The eco-friendly shower curtain.

The eco-friendly shower curtain.

The other item of note from this hotel was its valentine. The night before as we were getting ready for bed, I noticed some Hershey’s kisses wrappers on the floor. “Where did these come from?” I asked my husband. Since we had not purchased any Hershey’s kisses lately it was a total mystery. A quick check of the kids revealed, however, that wherever these had come from, my son had eaten them! A little more tidying later and the answer became apparent. They were a gift from the hotel my son had discovered.

What was left of the hotel's valentine to us after my son found it.

What was left of the hotel’s valentine to us after my son found it.

When we pulled into our hotel the night before, my husband noted that the address was on “Cabela’s Drive.” Little did we know that a Cabela’s store was just one block away, nor did we realize that we were in the “world headquarters” location.

Sidney, Nebraska's claim to fame.

Sidney, Nebraska’s claim to fame.

Naturally, we had to go shopping!

Cabela’s, of course, caters to hunters and fishermen. We expected a lot from the “world headquarters” store but sadly, it was pretty tiny. I’m not sure they even had one of their famous fish tanks. It had all the basics, though. It also seemed to have more large farming equipment, like tractors, than I recall seeing at other Cabela’s stores.

As we perused the store, it was funny to note the gendered differences in our shopping. My husband, for example, was interested to see they had a Leatherman tool designed specifically for firearms cleaning and maintenance.

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The children and I had more interest in their unique Christmas decorations.

Cabela's hunting and fishing themed Christmas decorations.

Cabela’s hunting and fishing themed Christmas decorations.

I still regret not buying one of these hunter-themed Nutcrackers.  So creative!

I still regret not buying one of these hunter-themed Nutcrackers. So creative!

And, of course, no visit to Cabela’s is complete without a stop at the fudge counter. They have the most creative flavors of fudge, including red velvet, snickers and chocolate orange. We bought a sampler box.

Mmmmm....Cabela's famous fudge counter.

Mmmmm….Cabela’s famous fudge counter.

Off we drove into the wilds of Wyoming.

Western Nebraska lanscape.

Western Nebraska lanscape.

Cows.

Cows.

The atmosphere began to take on a distinctly western vibe.

The atmosphere began to take on a distinctly western vibe.

There are two distinctive landscape features that help you identify that you are in Nebraska . . . . trains

There are two distinctive landscape features that help you identify that you are in Nebraska . . . . trains

.  . . and pumpjacks.

. . . and pumpjacks.

Probably my best bovine paparazzi shot.

Probably my best bovine paparazzi shot.

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Wyoming had been one of the concern points of our journey during the planning phases. We had been warned that winter driving in Wyoming can be especially treacherous because of Wyoming’s high winds. Combine high wind with even a little snow and you create slippery driving conditions that can overturn tractor trailers. Fortunately, we had great luck and today was sunny and clear and some of the best weather on our journey so far.

More interesting train equipment.  These were some sort of repair vehicles that roll down the tracks.

More interesting train equipment. These were some sort of repair vehicles that roll down the tracks.

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As we drove, I noted how masculine everything about the landscape in this part of the country seemed to be — cattle farming, train machinery, oil drilling. It made me wonder what women in this part of the country do.

Wyoming is the first state on our journey where we start to see mountains.

Wyoming is the first state on our journey where we start to see mountains.

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After a while, we entered Cheyenne, Wyoming, the state capital.

Downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

We headed to our first stop, a museum exhibit on Christmas decorations and fashions through the past century. It sounded wonderful!

Historic governor's mansion.

Historic governor’s mansion.

However, in the first scheduling mishap of our journey, it was also . . . closed!

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We were at a bit of a loss since there aren’t a lot of activities to choose from in Cheyenne. We drove past the state capitol decked in a large wreath.

The capitol building in Cheyenne.

The capitol building in Cheyenne.

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We passed a sign about the state museum. We looked it up on our phones and found it was open and had free admission! So, we stopped by for a visit.

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The museum gave an overview of several aspects of Wyoming life, including its geology and dinosaur treasures, its Native American roots, and a history of its hunting, trapping and railroad origins. Most notably, however, the curator of this museum has a keen interest in preserving the objects of everyday life throughout time. If you like retro, vintage and antique, this is the museum for you! They had vintage typewriters, hair styling machines and vacuum cleaners among many other objects. It was an interesting point of view that the story of our lives is often told best by the objects we use on a daily basis.

My daughter loved the exhibits where you could touch a sample of elk fur, horns and hooves.  It made the taxidermy animals seem more real to her.

My daughter loved the exhibits where you could touch a sample of elk fur, horns and hooves. It made the taxidermy animals seem more real to her.

There was a fascinating exhibit on saddles. It turns out that there are two general types of saddles: California-style and Plains-style. Plains-style saddles are generally more heavy duty. They have longer-square skirts to them and are strapped to the horse in two places rather than one. Plains saddles were developed for cowboys roping large cattle. The California saddles were designed for roping smaller animals and have rounded skirts to them.

An example of a Plains-style saddle.

An example of a Plains-style saddle.

I was also curious to see the exhibits about early Native American life that shed some light on how they managed their day-to-day activities. There was even some organizational history here. What did people do with all their stuff before there was a Container Store?

Bladder and stomach bags were the storage containers of Native Americans.

Animal bladder and stomach bags were the storage containers of Native Americans.

Animals also provided the storage answer for beads.

Animals also provided the storage answer for beads.

While I explored the exhibits, my husband watched the children children who were fascinated by a Montessori-style play area in one corner of the museum. There was a replica of a trading post, a covered wagon and even a wooden horse to ride. There were blocks to play with, costumes to dress up in and books to read.

One daughter transformed herself into a fur trader,

One daughter transformed herself into a fur trader,

Another daughter was tending the home fires on the prairie.

Another daughter was tending the home fires on the prairie.

We left the museum and made our way out of town. On the way, there were two items of note:

If you look in the far right corner of the background of this picture, you will see a sign where Santa rides on horseback.

If you look in the far right corner of the background of this picture, you will see a sign where Santa rides on horseback.

As we were filling up with gas on our way out of town, the woman pumping her pickup had on this wonderful pair of jeans with lace pockets.  It was a great way to show how women still manage to put a feminine twist in this uber-masculine environment.

As we were filling up with gas on our way out of town, the woman pumping her pickup had on this wonderful pair of jeans with lace pockets. It was a great way to show how women still manage to put a feminine twist in this uber-masculine environment.

We spent the rest of the day driving through Wyoming’s landscape, which is an interesting blend of plains and mountains.

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My daughter took this picture of me.  For me, this trip was more like a rolling photo safari!

My daughter took this picture of me. For me, this trip was more like a rolling photo safari!

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The little white dots on the fields are sheep!  We learned from the museum that Wyoming is the third largest producer of sheep in the nation, after Texas and California.

The little white dots on the fields are sheep! We learned from the museum that Wyoming is the third largest producer of sheep in the nation, after Texas and California.

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The western states have so much land mass they take a long time to cross. We witnessed another amazing Western sunset.

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Wyoming sunset.

Wyoming sunset.

A lone star appeared in the sky.

A lone star appeared in the sky.

A wild shot of a tunnel entrance.  Sometimes I enjoyed the blurred, low-light effect of my camera.

A wild shot of a tunnel entrance. Sometimes I enjoyed the blurred, low-light effect of my camera.

We drove on into the night toward Salt Lake.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 172013
Three letters that spark excitement in every child!

Three letters that spark excitement in every child!

When we were brainstorming the plan for our epic road trip, we asked our children if there was anything they wanted to see. My 5-year-old chimed in immediately. “We should see a zoo and a circus!” We knew the circus request was going to be a challenge but zoo was definitely doable.

A quick internet search produced a list of the best zoos in the United States. To our great luck, one of these zoos was the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. We love it when we find interesting things to do in the plains states so the Henry Doorly Zoo went on our list.

We arrived just as the zoo opened in the morning. We were a little concerned that our visit would be disappointing as the weather was quite chilly. We didn’t know if there would be any animals to see or whether our children could stand walking around in the cold. We dressed everyone in layers and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, our worries were unfounded. The zoo has numerous exhibits that are open year-round and many are indoor. There were more exhibits open than we would have time to see.

Our first stop was the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion. Seeing this name reminded me of watching the show on Sunday afternoons as a child. All I can remember is an older gentleman wrestling alligators and other wild animals.

Inside the Wild Kingdom Pavilion were exhibits of numerous small animals. Each of these exhibits was well done. While the animals themselves were sometimes underwhelming for adults, the children were thrilled! The zoo also made sure that there were boxes and steps so that smaller children could easily climb up to see the exhibits.

My children loved to watch the mice.

My children loved to watch the mice.

The clownfish were a big hit too.

The clownfish were a big hit too.

After the Wild Kingdom Pavilion, the children wanted to see the butterfly pavilion. The exhibit where butterflies fly free all around you was restricted to certain tour times with a zookeeper so we didn’t see that but there was another exhibit on insects that we toured instead. The room was designed to look like a tropical rainforest and it was humid and warm.

The setting for the insect exhibit.

The setting for the insect exhibit.

We stopped briefly by the chrysalis nursery where the zoo is always in the process of hatching hundreds of different kinds of butterflies and moths. We learned a few interesting facts about butterflies.

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Next, the children wanted to see the aquarium exhibit. This was a great tie-in with our recent homeschool science lessons focused on ocean life. The aquarium did not disappoint.

One of the best attractions in the whole zoo is the penguin exhibit. The penguins are enclosed in a glass-walled exhibit. There is a faux rock surround and even faux snow that falls from the ceiling! It looked exactly like a scene from the movie March of the Penguins.

The penguin display.

The penguin display.

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Penguins enjoying the snow.

Penguins enjoying the snow.

The penguins swim and dive in the surrounding pool. There is even a glass-walled bubble indentation in the tank so that children (and adults) can get a closer look at the penguins. The penguins seem to enjoy children and they swim right up to the glass bubble and sit there just a few inches away. You feel like you could reach out and touch them. It is a wonderful experience.

The penguin came right up to visit my children.

The penguin came right up to visit my children.

Next, we saw an amazing display of jellyfish that were almost artful in their presentation.

The jellyfish displays were terrific.

The jellyfish displays were terrific.

The zoo has a glass-walled tunnel tank filled with small sharks, sea turtles and other large fish that I could sit and watch all day.

Loved this glass-walled tunnel tank.

Loved this glass-walled tunnel tank.

Next, we visited one of the star attractions of the zoo, the Desert Dome, located beneath the world’s largest geodesic dome.

The Omaha Zoo's desert dome--the largest geodesic dome in the world!

The Omaha Zoo’s desert dome–the largest geodesic dome in the world!

Inside are huge desert scenes with rock walls, sand, rivers and other other natural-looking features.
One downside of the Desert Dome, however, is its distinctive aroma. My daughter had trouble getting excited to see the rest of the exhibit because of the overwhelming smell.

The aroma of the desert dome was a bit hard to take.

The aroma of the desert dome was a bit hard to take.

The great thing about the desert dome is that the zoo educates visitors about how complex the word “desert” is. Most of us would probably assume one desert is just like another with sand and cactuses. However, the zoo indicates that there are multiple types of deserts around the world, from Arabian sand deserts to polar ice deserts. The Desert Dome walks you through four different types of deserts. Each section replicates the plants and landscaping in that region and restricts the animals only to animals of that region.

The realistic landscaping inside the desert dome.

The realistic landscaping inside the desert dome.

The Henry Doorly Zoo’s attention to detail in its exhibit design made me realize that most zoos organize their animals based on the similarity of caging and care requirements rather than ecosystem accuracy. Unfortunately, this results in pairings of animals that would never be together in the wild, leaving visitors with a confused conception of the world’s ecosystems.

In an ingenious use of space planning, underneath the desert dome exhibits is an exhibit of caves and nocturnal animals.

Entrance to the nocturnal exhibit.  You descend some stairs to enter it.

Entrance to the nocturnal exhibit. You descend some stairs to enter it.

Again, the zoo design is incredible! There are replicas of stalagtites and stalagmites and glass-walled exhibits of bats, snakes and other cave-dwelling creatures. The zoo educated us that just like ocean animals live in 3 levels of darkness, cave-dwelling creatures also can be classified based on the levels of darkness they live in.

The realistic cave design of the nocturnal exhibits.

The realistic cave design of the nocturnal exhibits.

There was a wonderful southern swamp ecosystem portion of the nocturnal exhibit with alligators in the water and bullfrogs chirping. It was a little spooky walking over wooden bridges in near darkness with alligators nearby!

The swamp exhibit.

The swamp exhibit.

After the Desert Dome, we went for lunch at the zoo’s café. The Tree Tops restaurant overlooks the zoo’s rainforest jungle exhibit. There is a large glass wall to the café and you can watch monkeys climb and swing on faux trees as you eat. The children loved it.

After watching the monkeys during lunch, the children came up with some monkey poses of their own.

After watching the monkeys during lunch, the children came up with some monkey poses of their own.

More monkeying around.

More monkeying around.

Unfortunately, we can’t say much for the zoo’s food. Zoo food is always notoriously bad for some reason but there is really no reason why it should be. This restaurant could really use one super-delicious, gourmet-inspired daily special for adults to enjoy.

After lunch, we wandered through the rainforest jungle exhibit which is incredibly designed. There are large faux trees from floor to ceiling, a small river and waterfall.

A viewpoint through the waterfall.

A viewpoint through the waterfall.

There are also interactive spaces for children to enjoy, including a rope bridge and a “secret” staircase to climb. The designer of this space seemed to appreciate that when children observe animals, they are inspired by their movements and need some way to act those behaviors out. This space was an amazing mixture between a playground and a zoo.

Climbing the rope bridge.

Climbing the rope bridge.

My son in action climbing the rock steps.

My son in action climbing the rock steps.

Before we left, we wanted to see some of the zoo’s larger animals. We stopped by the tiger and gorilla exhibits.

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The gorilla exhibit was especially fun. The zoo incorporated one of their trademark glass bubbles in the cage design. The gorillas seemed to love visitors. If you went to stand in the bubble, one of the gorillas would come climb on top of the bubble and stare down at you.

Up close and personal with the gorillas.

Up close and personal with the gorillas.

There were numerous benches placed along the front of the cage so that small children could easily climb up for a closer look. The attention that was paid in the design to facilitating the visitor experience was inspiring.

It's hard to believe these glass walls are sufficient to keep the animals in but they certainly improve the visitor experience.  My children were about 3 feet away from a gorilla.

It’s hard to believe these glass walls are sufficient to keep the animals in but they certainly improve the visitor experience. My children were about 3 feet away from a gorilla.

Who knew a zoo could provide so many organizational design lessons? I would have to agree that this is one of the nation’s best zoos. Not only were the exhibit designs ingenious and visitor-friendly, nearly every single one of the animals seemed happy and alert. It is definitely worth a visit.

After our zoo visit, we had to spend a lot of time in the car to make our mileage goal for the day. We drove through miles and miles of Nebraska farmland.

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Nebraska seemed to have the largest concentration of cows of any state we had visited so there were lots of opportunities for cow paparazzi shots.

Nebraska's cows.

Nebraska’s cows.

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We ended our day driving into the Nebraska sunset.

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Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Dec 132013
13 degrees that morning in Chicago with extreme wind.  Brrrrr!!

13 degrees that morning in Chicago with extreme wind. Brrrrr!!

We awoke on day three of our journey in our Chicago to 13 degree weather with lots of wind. It would end up being the coldest morning of our entire trip.

While normally we aim for Hampton Inns, Chicago was particularly crowded this time of year and the only hotel available to us was a DoubleTree Inn and Suites just outside Chicago.

I have never stayed in this hotel chain before but I really love the concept. The hotels are designed around a large center atrium. Generally, the restaurant and pool are in this center atrium. All of the rooms circle the atrium. You can look over the balcony outside your hotel room door and see what is going on in the atrium or look at other guests on their balconies doing the same. It creates a nice homelike, community vibe. You don’t feel like you have been filed away in a small room. Instead, you are part of one large party. This format would be ideal for conferences, retreats or weddings where you want people to mingle.

The cheery atrium of the Doubletree Suites just outside Chicago.

The cheery atrium of the Doubletree Suites just outside Chicago.

Each room is a small suite. There are large entry doors to the room, a sitting area with couch, TV, desk and kitchenette and a separate bedroom area in the back that is closed off by a connecting door. It feels like a small home. The kids went crazy for the concept. It was so nice to have the extra space. I used the sitting room for exercise and it was also nice to have two spaces so that people could make noise in one space while others have quiet time or rest in the other.

A peek inside the suite of our Chicago hotel.

A peek inside the suite of our Chicago hotel.

One interesting organizational feature of this hotel was its segmented garbage cans where you “filed” your trash into garbage and recycling.

The hotel's compact recycling system for each room.

The hotel’s compact recycling system for each room.

After two full days of activities, day three ended up being a mellow Sunday drive. It’s a little tough driving through the heartland on a Sunday in wintertime as most things are closed or open limited hours.

We had to adjust our expectations to simply enjoy the scenery. And there was plenty to enjoy.

Illinois farmland.

Illinois farmland.

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Soon, we crossed into Iowa.

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We made our way to our first destination, a skybridge in Davenport, Iowa that would give us a chance to get out of the car, stretch our legs and have a great view of the Mississippi River while still being protected from the wind and cold.

Riding the elevator in the skybridge.

Riding the elevator in the skybridge.

Inside the skybridge.

Inside the skybridge.

View of the Mississippi from the skybridge.

View of the Mississippi from the skybridge.

Another view from the skybridge.

Another view from the skybridge.

We burned off a little stir-craziness from the car ride by having everyone run and jump in the skybridge. The kids thought this was great.

Catching some air in the skybridge.

Catching some air in the skybridge.

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The skybridge connects part of the city to a casino near the river. Inside there is music playing. At night, it is apparently lit with festive red and green lights. While we were in the skybridge, this song was playing, which was a perfect fit.

Seeing a homeless man sleeping at one end of the skybridge was a sobering reminder to be so grateful for all that we had.

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As we exited the skybridge near the casino, we were treated to more music of the retro variety.

We drove on, passing “The World’s Largest Truck Stop.”

The World's Largest Truck Stop.

The World’s Largest Truck Stop.

We stopped at the fine eatery below for lunch. Recognize it?

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Believe it or not, this is a McDonald’s! I was shocked. Apparently, McDonald’s is experimenting with a more modern look, including bright colors and contemporary furniture. We thought it was great!

The rest of the day we drove on through more farmland.

Iowa landscape

Iowa landscape

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And to answer the burning question, “What are cows in Iowa up to these days?” I offer this papparazzi shot.

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More landscape followed punctuated by wind turbines.

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We also noticed the first appearance on our journey of water windmills, that seem to appear primarily in the middle of the country and almost nowhere else.

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The sun began to set in a dramatic way.

Iowa winter sunset.

Iowa winter sunset.

Soon, we reached the Nebraska border.

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We checked into our hotel, another Doubletree Suites since the children loved it so much. The staff had decorated a Christmas tree in the atrium and it was a festive touch.

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The hotel atrium with Christmas tree, a touch of home.

The hotel atrium with Christmas tree, a touch of home.

The sitting room portion of our suite.

The sitting room portion of our suite.

The bedroom portion of the suite.

The bedroom portion of the suite.

Day three was a bit lacking in highlights but it was still great and helped us rest up for more adventures the next morning.

*I am not affiliated with any product or service mentioned in this post.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , ,
Sep 052012

For all the miles we covered on our trip, we might as well have driven to the moon!

 

We were strangely content being on the road over two weeks. Maybe we are starting to build up our traveling stamina.  The only sign of fatigue was the query from our 6-year-old:

“Are we going front or back?”

meaning were we headed back to where we had just come from or forward onto another stop.

We woke on Day 15 of our journey just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our first stop today was the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska.  This stop was requested by my husband to indulge his love of military and Cold War history.

The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska.

The museum is a very modern-looking building with a missile perched right outside.  Inside is a very large atrium with airplanes hanging from the ceiling, several large hangars filled with aircraft, some smaller exhibit spaces and some interactive, educational exhibits geared toward children.

My favorite memory from the museum was the small stage in the main hangar, where I assume the museum hosts events or lectures from time to time.  My children climbed up on the empty stage and as I climbed up to shoo them down, I sensed that I had an audience.  The immense aircraft were positioned almost in a perfect semi-circle around the stage.  It gave a sense of a Superbowl-sized crowd staring down at you.  It was a really impressive and humbling experience to think of all the people these aircraft represented, from the engineers who designed them to the craftsmen who built them to the pilots who flew them.

My children enjoyed the children’s exhibits, particularly anything that involved pushing buttons.  We talked about an exhibit exploring whether asteroids would hit the earth but this was a bit confusing and scary to them at such a young age.  They also loved constructing buildings out of the architectural foam blocks.

My husband’s favorite part of the museum was this quote:

After the museum, we stopped briefly at another Nebraska institution, the nearby Cabela’s store!  We did a little shopping and then ate in their cafe for lunch.  What a menu they offered!

My husband tasted some of the more exotic meats while I stuck to something more traditional.  The ambience for the restaurant was very unusual.  Our table was an interesting homage to hunting:

There were lots of animal heads on the walls and it made you stop for just a moment to think.  For some reason, it struck me that while this display was a little shocking, it represented a completely different mindset–one that was much closer to and more comfortable with the cycle of life and the pecking order of the universe.  In my bubble of life, I don’t have to kill my own food.  In Nebraska, it appears that many people do (or could) and it takes enormous strength of mind to handle the emotions involved with that.  It is not surprising that so many people in this region turn to fervent religious belief to make sense of it all.

After lunch, we drove on to Omaha, Nebraska.

Downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

Our scheduled stop was to walk around the “Heartland of America Park” which is supposedly home to the second tallest fountain in the world.

As we arrived at the park, it began to rain lightly.  A handful of elegantly dressed people came running out of the park in prom-like dresses and tuxedos, with one woman in a princess-style gown.  We asked it if was a wedding and were informed it was a Quinceañera (15th birthday) celebration.

The park has a central lake with a sidewalk all the way around.  It was very beautiful and peaceful.

When we were about halfway around the lake, the sun came out.

We never did see the record-breaking fountain.  Perhaps it had turned off due the rain or due to the droughts.  We finished our walk near some Norman Rockwell-like patriotic statues.

Then it was back to the car and on to Des Moines, Iowa.

This part of the drive was one of the prettiest of our journey.  When I look back at my pictures, I am not sure I have captured its beauty but I remembered thinking at the time that Iowa was really more like a landscape painting turned into a state.

We caught up with the rain again.

Iowa thunderstorm!

Which just made for even more dramatically beautiful landscapes.

Close to the city of Des Moines, we saw signs along the road reading:

Urban Sprawl

Ain’t too pretty

Save Our Farms

Build in the City.

Apparently Des Moines is plagued by the same problems we see here in the Washington area.

We arrived in Des Moines in the late afternoon

and took a walk downtown in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

We didn’t have very high expectations for Des Moines but it really blew us away.  This was an incredible display of art and the whole of downtown had an arts community sort of vibe.  There were people drumming in the park, lots of art gallery spaces and a vitality to the place.

Downtown Des Moines as viewed from the sculpture park.

My girls loved this sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara.

The sculpture park was a wonderful way to create an outdoor art gallery that is accessible to all.  Many children were enjoying the park during our visit and we learned that the park is even open at night!

We left Des Moines

and headed toward Davenport, Iowa.  What is in Davenport?  Dinner!

We ate at The Machine Shed, which is an odd name for a very delicious restaurant.  They serve traditional farm-style food.  Drinks are served in Mason jars, there are oversized knives in the silverware

and you could make a full meal out of just the appetizers, which included cottage cheese, coleslaw and fresh bread.  I have never been served cottage cheese as an appetizer before but I must say it was delicious!

There was a wonderful gift shop attached to the restaurant selling everything from pie-making supplies to die-cast tractor toys.  There were some wonderful humorous but true quotes among the merchandise.

There were some mouth-watering desserts on the menu but we had absolutely no room for them.  We would have gladly taken a to go box if there was any way to refrigerate the leftovers.  Overall, it was a fun Iowa culinary experience.

We drove on through the dark to our hotel in Aurora, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, where tomorrow’s adventures awaited.

Continue reading: Day 16 – Illinois, Indiana and Ohio

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Aug 302012

 

Train a rollin'

We left Wyoming the next morning, headed east through Nebraska.  The landscape slowly morphed from mountains to plains.

You often hear the phrase “middle of nowhere” when driving through places such as this.  After all the traveling we have done across the United States, I don’t like to use this phrase.  After hours spent in the car staring out the window, you start to realize that everywhere has something to offer, even if it is “just” the landscape.  In this part of the country, though, it is true that you are somewhat literally disconnected as cell phone service (at least data service) was practically nonexistent.

As with every state, there were some unique aspects of Nebraska:

Advertising for the antler trade

Large religious sculptures

Cropdusters

Cattle Feed lots (the stench from this enormous feed lot was overpowering!)

We also saw plenty of wind turbine farms as well as trucks transporting the enormous wind turbine blades.  Trying to shoot pictures of trucks carrying the blades in the opposite direction required very a very fast shutter finger.  I was reminded of physics problems in high school about two trains passing each other.  Fortunately I managed to catch a shot.

A single wind turbine blade transported on a truck.

We stopped for lunch in North Platte, Nebraska, feasting on delicious Japanese-inspired cuisine.  The restaurant owners were incredibly indulgent as our son crawled around exploring their koi pond.  When they served our meals, they took the extra step of creating “child-friendly” chopsticks for our children by creating an impromptu tweezer out of the chopsticks with the paper chopsticks wrapper and a rubber band.

Kid-friendly chopsticks.

They were a success even for my 4-year old!

Our meal ended with fortune cookies.  All of the fortunes were terrific words of wisdom!

After lunch we headed to the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska.

Golden Spike Tower

It is advertised as “the world’s largest bailey yard.”  I didn’t know what a bailey yard was and I was in for an education.  Before visiting the Golden Spike Tower, I had a very simplistic understanding of the rail system in the United States.  I assumed that train travel worked much the same as airline travel.  If you want to move yourself or your goods, you book passage from Point A to Point B.  What I was missing was that sometimes manufacturers load up their goods on a train and just get them moving to market.  As the train travels, businesspeople are actively buying and selling the goods on board the rail cars and they let the engineer know when and where to dump cars along the route based on the sales.

The Bailey Yard

Changing around the cars on a train appears to be a highly complicated process on the face of things.  How do they do it?  There is a big hill in the bailey yard known as the “hump.”  The train drives to the top of the hill and the railyard workers slowly uncouple the cars and let them roll downhill to the next waiting train.  The North Platte railyard sorts 3,000 railroad cars a day and over 10,000 train cars pass through North Platte daily!

The "hump" for the bailey yard (marked with arrow). Rail cars are decoupled and roll down the hill to hook up with another train.

Overall, it was quite an eye-opening stop.

Afterward, we continued east, stopping at a highway rest stop to view some art.  Yes, really!  Nebraska undertook a public art effort in 1973 to celebrate Nebraska’s bicentennial. Nebraska commissioned major artists to create works of art along various rest stops on I-80, which runs straight across the state. The one that sounded most interesting was George  Baker’s “Nebraska Wind Sculpture” near Kearney.  The work is a large metal sculpture of modern design that floats around a lake.

When we arrived, we saw the lake but no sculpture!  After some looking, we found the sculpture stranded in a small cove.

Nebraska Wind Sculpture

Yet another victim of the droughts.  I think the artist would find this an interesting continuum of its kinetic journey.  While it wasn’t the floating whirligig I envisioned, it was still wonderful to see such beauty at a highway rest stop.

We continued on our route, scheduled to overnight near Lincoln, Nebraska.  As the sun was setting, we called ahead to the restaurant we selected for the evening to confirm they would still be open when we arrived.  Sadly, the answer was no and it was the same story with several other restaurants we tried.   We even tried to find a Little Caesar’s pizza location per our children’s request.  Did you know that there are no Little Caesar’s franchises in all of Nebraska?  Explain that one to a 6-year-old!

So, again, it was McDonald’s for dinner.   By this point, we were so tired it didn’t matter and our kids never tire of their grilled chicken sandwich.  We collapsed into our economy hotel and fell soundly asleep.

Nebraska sunset.

Continue reading: Day 15 – Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois

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