Friday, July 29, 2011

Fri, July 22, 2011: Flint Hills and Chase County, Kansas - Part 2

After I left Council Bluffs, I found myself in the heart of the prairie without any towns for quite some time. This was perfectly fine with me, and I delighted in the colors and textures of the vast earth rushing out around me in all directions.
Near the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, I passed a small old structure on the side of the road that fascinated me. As I drove by, I noticed that there were 2 cars parked near it, and figured I'd turn around to see if it was open to the public. When I entered the small dirt road, I saw a sign pointing to the "Lower Fox Creek School", so headed up the driveway.

The cars belonged to two men who looked to be making a documentary or segment for a show, and I took Kaylee's collar off so that the jingling of her tags wouldn't be heard in their film. I found myself paying attention to how loudly I was tromping through the dry prairie grasses, and moved my feet in a way that made about half the noise. Trying to be quiet actually heightened my senses, which I really appreciated as this was a lovely place to sense!

The school was actually in the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, so the views around it were of tallgrass prairie. I guess this type of prairie vegetation used to be native to the area and widespread, from Missouri to Iowa and the Dakotas. Due to farming, the tallgrass is mostly gone now. Looking around me at the old school house, I couldn't really imagine why it was called "tall grass" as it certainly didn't seem to even come up to my knees.
The school house was a beautiful old gray stone building, with the date of "May 1882" commemorated in the circular feature just under the peak of the roof. There was an old water pump, I believe from the '20s or '30s, beside the school, and on the other side was an old rusty swing set with no swings.
This view of Rt. 177 was so pretty, arcing away from me and disappearing into the trees:
Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve:
I loved this random beautiful tree, and the way its lower branches seemed to just melt into the prairie:
The school was lovely, and I wondered how they obtained gray stone for its creation. Is that native to the prairie? Usually I see brownish stones in the prairie. It's not very visible, but a beautiful half moon hung just above the roof of the school house in this view:
I walked down to the fence below the school house, being careful to make as little noise as I could, and just stood there for a while to soak in the prairie:
The cicadas were ceaselessly humming once again, their song sharp and beautiful.

I entered Strong City, which seemed to be kind of abandoned and run down. My favorite building in the town was this lovely church:
In the semi-circle just below the roof of this building was carved "David Rettiger, 1886". The modern sign named the building "Dave's Place", and it appeared to be some sort of liquor store. I felt that Strong City could do better by such a beautiful old building!
I finally arrived in Cottonwood Falls, the county seat of Chase County. I have two words for this town: beautiful and abandoned (well I guess with "and" that's three words...). The Cottonwood Falls Courthouse stood at the southern end of the intersection of Pearl Street and Broadway.
Broadway was a lovely brick-paved street that ran through what looked to be the historic town center. The buildings all looked freshly updated and were painted with cheerful colors that complimented the deep blue of the prairie sky.
The odd thing was... they mostly looked pretty abandoned. I'm guessing that the town has recently renovated the stores in the hopes of bringing in more businesses and tourist dollars. Well, I think it worked because if there were any businesses I would have spent more time in this beautiful old town.

Aaaand then it was time to head back out to the prairie. :)
I found a few cow pastures and stopped to watch the cows for a while. Some hid in the shade of the surprising number of trees that dotted the prairie, and some wandered across the grassy fields.

Some just stood and stared at me...
..while some just minded their business, completely unphased by my presence:
I love groups of things, and the numbers of this picture pleased me: four metal cylindrical things with conical roofs (I have no idea what they are), four hay rolls, two telephone poles, two train tracks, and two rows of trees:
Near the small town of Burns, Kansas, I spotted this wonderful barn:
I think it's my favorite barn in the entire universe, and I would REALLY love to live in a house that looks just like that, with a few more windows and a handful of solar panels on the roof!

I took Rt. 77 back to I-70 and started the trek home around 2pm. I was surprised to learn that it was only going to take me about 4 or 5 hours to reach Denver. Kansas is a huge state obviously, and I think I have a tendency to overestimate distances there in the car. After all, the speed limit is thankfully 75mph. :)

Scattered heavy clouds dotted the sky around me about 100 miles into Colorado, and I watches as beautiful small columns of heavy rain drew a connection from the sky to the earth. The light among the clouds and the rain was breathtaking:
... as were the outlines of mountains, which were finally coming into view. The mountains looked so beautiful, rising suddenly out of the prairie, that they brought a few tears to my eyes.

I'm not sure that Colorado feels like "home", or if it ever will, but without fail it takes my breath away every time I return.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fri, July 22, 2011: Flint Hills and Chase County, Kansas - Part 1

When I lived in Connecticut, I picked up a book called PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. I had never heard of the title or the author, but reading about the prairie sounded like a fun adventure and hey, it was only 2 dollars! I ended up loving the book and was enchanted by his descriptions of the beautiful prairie, which is so different from the woodlands where I grew up.

Ever since my first road trip across the country, I have been fascinated by the Flint Hills area of I-70. Sadly, I only knew it as a highway blasted through a hill, leaving beautifully pink, orange, and gray striated rocks exposed to travelers and the wide Kansas sky.

I thought these two things, the book and the sight of the Flint Hills, independent of each other as I had apparently forgotten where PrairyErth took place... until I started doing some research on the Flint Hills in the hopes of stopping there on the way home from Connecticut. I was so surprised to find that PrairyErth was written about the Flint Hills! How could I have overlooked that fact?! The same fascinating, enchanting land from the book was the land that has caught my eye on every trip across the country these past 4 years. I couldn't wait to explore a bit of the hills.

The small town of Manhattan rested among the soft green hills when I woke up on Friday morning. A thick haze from a heat and humidity I didn't realize could exist outside of the east coast hung over the landscape. I headed onto the road that I thought was Rt. 177, but unknowingly ended up on Rt. 18 instead. The road funneled me right into Fort Riley, a military area, which is where I realized I must have missed a turn. The man who assisted me at the gate had the most wonderful energy I have ever felt from a person in a position of power. Rather than abuse my vulnerable situation (by making me feel like an idiot for being on the wrong road...) he gave off peaceful waves of confidence and calm. He had no interest in playing a power trip and was instead genuine and humble. His energy commanded my respect immediately, and I thought to myself that if there were more people like this in power, our society would be a much better place.

I turned myself around, found the entrance to Rt. 177, and headed off into the hills.
Kaylee was ready to roll!
I actually found that the hills outside of Manhattan were the largest that I experienced in the area. The farther south I drove away from the town, the more gentle the hills became. Not far from town, I found this gorgeous old farm.

I stopped several times to look at the circular hay rolls that were randomly laying around the freshly mowed hay fields. At one point, I pulled off onto this dirt side road, which really summed up the character of the roads in this area. They gently bumped over and down the hillsides, eventually seeming to drop away into nothingness on the other side of the tallest hill in sight.
Seriously... when I was a kid, hay was baled into rectangular shapes. And now they make them into circles... when did this change take place? And why are circles of hay superior to rectangles of hay?

There were two little yellow-breasted birds hanging out by this hay bale. I have no idea what kind of birds they are!
The hum of the locusts, every time that I stopped, was phenomenal. I love their ceaseless songs, carried to my ears by the slow, hot, humid summer air.
This stopping spot was the home of yet another dilapidated old barn.
This short green crop was being grown quite a bit. I wasn't able to figure out what it was. It sort of looked like spinach (?).
And, of course, there were fields and fields of corn...
... I don't know why, but I think that cornfields are so beautiful.

Near the small town of Council Grove was an unexpected body of water:
Council Grove was one of the best examples of the "old west" town I always imagined as a child.
The buildings were very well-kept, and the town was clean and cheerful.
I loved the old-fashioned architecture:
This building was by far the most majestic in the town. It is called the "Farmers and Drovers Bank", and the building was dated "1892".
This is another view of the Hays House, built in 1857. (I have no idea what the Hays House was!).
I left the lovely small town feeling refreshed and excited. I was not yet in Chase County (the setting of PrairyErth), but soon would be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Weds, July 20 and Thurs, July 21: Granby, CT to Manhattan, KS

Kaylee and I left at about 9am from Granby, after a leisurely morning of getting ready to leave at my own peaceful pace. I planned to take a detour through an area of Kansas that I like, so wasn't in a rush to make it across the country in two days.

The day was sunny and beautiful, and the country slipped past me in a rush of green trees and well-manicured farms.

I spent the evening of the 20th just west of Dayton, Ohio, in one of the worst motel rooms I have ever had the misfortune to experience. It smelled like a giant litter box, the toilet seat was literally cracked in half and half of it was missing, and the bolt on my door didn't work (I crammed a chair up under the door handle and it actually fit pretty well!).

Thursday was HOT and so humid! I didn't realize that the midwest could feel so much like Connecticut. When I stopped to get gas mid-day, I was baking even in the shade. A breeze picked up and blew hot and humid air all over me... not exactly refreshing! The rivers out here are still flowing up over their banks, with water levels so high that the surface of the rivers touches the bottoms of the tree canopies. It was crazy to see how flooded everything still is!

The motel where I am staying this evening in Manhattan (the self-proclaimed "Little Apple") seems to be full of men who enjoy congregating near the entrances. When I pass them, which I have done four times already since my arrival, they stop their conversations and stare at me for as long as I am in their line of sight. I can't tell if this is because I am female or from out of town... or perhaps it's both. All I know is that I seem to have landed myself in a strange little corner of the country.

Kaylee and I played a game of "Go Get The Cups", in which I stacked two disposable motel cups together and threw them around the room, and she ran around and joyfully retrieved them for me as if it was the most important job in the world! Her dedicated effort, the way that she pursued the cups each time as if the end of the world depended on it, totally cracked me up! She has a talent for being able to make me laugh.

Chasing those cups is really the only exercise she's gotten these past 2 days, and I realize I'd love to learn about how to keep a dog more physically active on a long road trip. Is it possible?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tues, July 19, 2011: The Ocean, Free Of Charge

I attempted to go to the ocean today, only to find that parking cost $10 to $20, in addition to a fee to get in to the beach....

I was super mad at the entire state of Rhode Island for charging the pants off people who want to go to the beach. The ocean is not a commodity!...

Then I remembered that we charge people to go up into several of our mountain areas such as RMNP, Mt. Evans, and Pike's Peak... and I became un-mad.

Still, there are free, beautiful views of the mountains all over I-70 and any highway in the mountains. I was able to catch a couple of glimpses of the water here and there as I navigated around, trying to find a free public beach. (I'm sure that free public beaches must exist, but I have no idea where they are...).

I guess I usually go to the beach during off-season, or at least off-hours of the day to see the sun set. I like it much better when it's not crawling with people.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sun, July 17, 2011: Floweretum

My parents and I headed up to Smith College's Arboretum in Northampton, MA today. There are several gorgeous old trees on the property, but my hands-down favorite thing about the gardens and greenhouses are the flowers (hence the title of this post - also, there are tons more flowers than there are arbors!).
Daisies for me are associated with Aphrodite/Venus, and I always take a moment to honor her through them.
These flowers remind me of a walk I took in high school with my friend and her boyfriend, who picked a small cluster of them for each of us. They were the first flowers ever given to me, outside of the expectations of a school dance. For me, their colors, shapes, and scent remind me of that innocence of young adulthood.
This was all of our favorite flower I think, some sort of an African Lily.
There is a massive 100-year-old ginkgo tree on the property that I love.
We wandered around, in and out of flower beds and landscaped areas. I was baking in the hot sun but was too enchanted by the beauty around me to care.

I love this tree, a big old weeping elm with gnarled and twisted branches, whose canopy opens up and is clear like a bell on the inside.
These purple flowers attracted a lot of bees, and I had fun watching a honey bee and bumble bee collect pollen near each other. They both just did their thing and minded their own business, moving away if they got too close to one another. I wish that people could learn from their peaceful co-existence.
Inside the greenhouses are orchids...
... that are so delicate and beautiful...
... and I love them.

My father pointed out this really neat spiky pink and purple flower:
The greenhouses hold several types of pitcher plants, and I always think it's strange being around a carnivorous plant:
The sun began shining more brightly, and the whole greenhouse lit up inside. There were more orchids:
... and more:
... and in the improved sunlight, I had to return to the original clusters of orchids to catch a few pictures in brightness. I'm glad I did, because I ended up taking one of my favorite shots of the day:
Our tour was rounded out by a walk through the cactus greenhouse:
We wandered around town, stopping by one of my favorite jewelry stores in the world that is housed in an old bank built in the 1920's.

I used to live in Northampton when I was 22 and every time I visit, I realize how much I miss it. Such a neat little town. :)