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May 26th 2009
Published: September 9th 2009
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We’re on the road again! We left sunny Sarasota on Tuesday, May 26 heading for Maryland and a Family Gathering with 23,100 miles on our car (last year we left with about 1,000 miles on our then new car and came back with 10,000 miles on the odometer!) Rain is typical in May and June and especially so this year. Our two-day drive was no exception for after we hit Georgia the rain came alternately in buckets and drizzle which lasted almost through the weekend including a side trip in the pouring rain to Annapolis . Family: In Pasadena , MD we were proud to have attended Megan’s 8th grade graduation on Thursday where she received a scholarship to Catholic High School of Baltimore and the President’s Award including a letter from President Obama. On Saturday we had a party for Megan’s graduation, Emily’s year-early graduation from high school, and Amanda’s 13th birthday with many family members in attendance. This wonderful series of family celebrations ended Sunday with Sarah, Megan and Sean each playing in their final soccer game of the year.

Monday morning, June 1, we began our westward adventures in earnest. While driving west on 68 through Maryland I paid attention to the altitude. Since we were leaving home in Sarasota at about 32.8 feet above sea level, I was surprised to see we were already at 2610’ outside of Hagerstown at the “Eastern Continental Divide”. Nose bleeds? I noted the last road in Maryland before crossing into PA was “Pig’s Ear Road ”, one of many roads I would ask Dave, “I wonder how that name came about?”

Our first destination was Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing Fallingwaterconstructed of glass and steel and locally collected Pottsville Sandstone. Of course what makes this house world famous is that it is built over Bear Run Waterfall. This amazing cantilevered house is nestled in the woods in Mill Run, PA. Lovely Cucumber trees that lined the river were in bloom but it had been too chilly for the native Rhodies to show more than a promise.

After a stop in Ohiopyle for an ice cream and a walk to view the falls from the Youghiogheny River Gorge, we drove to nearby Kentuck Knob to see another of Wright’s wonderful designs. Both houses feature Wright’s obsession with “compression and release”. I will admit, I was a bit uncomfortable in the dark and narrow passageways even thought they opened to larger spaces with low ceilings directing your eye to the outdoors. This design concept was most evident at Kentuck Knob which seemed to have less air flow and be a bit musty and dark despite the attractive skylights in the wood ceilings on the surrounding balconies. These homes featured cork and stone floors with radiant floor heating. Wright claimed Kentuck Knob was Usonian although the house went way over budget and ended up twice the size. Even so, plywood and veneer furniture was built in to control design and reduce the amount of extra purchases, yet stainless steel counters and double cook tops were what I would call expensive simplicity.

Tuesday, June 2 we left Cambridge, OH where we had pressed on from PA, to arrive at the Hyatt Regency Saint Louis Riverfront hotel (formerly the Adam’s Mark) where, from the big picture window on our 11th floor room, we had a front row seat to the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch, the Old Cathedral and the Old Courthouse on Dred Scott Road. Thank you Kevin and Priceline!

Tired from our long drive, we took a short walk around the riverfront through the old city, then revisited the wonderful Museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the arch (our first visit was last July 4Th when we watched the fireworks on the Old Courtyard Park at the base of this hotel as they were framed by the Gateway Arch.)

Wednesday, June 3 was a busy (and rainy) day! We started the day with a tour of the immaculate and efficient Anheuser Busch Brewery. Sadly the few Clydesdales in residence were locked in their ultra clean stalls looking gloomy, probably because their Dalmatian buddy was not to be found. I am not a beer drinker and the smell of hops was less that tantalizing, even so the world did look better after a free brew and pretzels (it was almost noon after all.) After our beers we drove over to Illinois to the Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site (a World Heritage Site). I was intrigued by this ancient culture. The Mississippians inhabited this area from around 900 to 1500
Anheuser Busch Brewery mash tanksAnheuser Busch Brewery mash tanksAnheuser Busch Brewery mash tanks

Who knew beer needed to be brewed in such formality?
AD. These people reminded me of the Maya in the layout of their cities. Fifteen to twenty thousand people lived and farmed (mostly corn) in this City of the Sun. Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas at a height of over 100 feet and covering more than 14 acres at its base, is the centerpiece of the 40-acre mound and thatch roofed community. Like Stonehenge in England , this culture also worshipped the sun and built a Woodhenge that also coincided with the equinoxes. Like the Maya and the Anasazi, these people also mysteriously vanished around 1500 AD after creating a rather sophisticated culture. I did climb to the top of Monk’s Mound and in comparison to the steep steps up Teotihuacán (12 acre base) and Chichanitza (.73 acre base) this seemed quite a bit easier and certainly more gradual.

Dave was pushed way past his lunch time so we left the Indian Mounds and headed to Forest Park for lunch at The Boat House. Perhaps if Dave had eaten earlier he would not have lost his cool when we got lost in the beautiful park (it is larger than Central Park !) We eventually
St Louis' Gateway Arch and the Old CathedralSt Louis' Gateway Arch and the Old CathedralSt Louis' Gateway Arch and the Old Cathedral

This view was from our lovely hotel room!
arrived and although the sun did not come out, it did stop raining and he did get to eat so all was well. We ate our lunch facing the lake watching the ducks watch the kayaker paddle past the empty boats lined up at the dock waiting for the sun to shine.

Forest Park has to be the jewel of Saint Louis . With this lovely park and free museums and events, Saint Louis would be a wonderful place to raise a family. The St Louis Art Museum south of the Boat House had a wonderful exhibit of the clothing and beadwork of the Lakota (Sioux) while at the northern edge of the park, the Missouri History Museum featured the story of hometown hero Charles Lindberg as well as a fascinating look at the amazing constructions for the Saint Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The Merry Wives of Windsor was being performed (for free) in the park but we had planned on meeting Will and Velma Horton to hear a jazz pianist (also free) at the Botanical Gardens. Sadly it was cancelled at the last minute due to the rainy cold weather. No matter, we found warmth and a good BBQ at Smokey Joe’s before heading back to enjoy our lovely hotel.

Thursday, June 4 I think Dave is cranky because he has to drag the computer to Panera’s since he won’t pay the $l5 per day internet fee at the hotel (can’t say I blame him) and we can’t reach the car without going outside since the hotel is under construction…oh did I mention that? Oh well, we had a fabulous view from a lovely room in a perfect location.

The Old Courthouse, right across the street from the Hyatt, showed a movie about Dred and Harriet Scott who sued for their freedom at this courthouse (and through that action helped to hasten the Civil War.) I can’t help but feel the ghosts of history soak into me from the Indians, pioneers and slaves who shaped our nation in this amazing city. A short walk past the hotel brought us to the river and back to the Arch where we saw the Monument to a Dream movie about the construction of the Gateway Arch. I think if I had seen that movie last year instead of Lewis and Clark and the Westward Expansion, I might not have gone up in the Arch! It certainly was a monumental achievement and doubly amazing that no one got hurt in the several years it took to construct. We walked to the river and the Old Cathedral before driving to the Cathedral of Saint Louis. I am so glad I took the time to see the inside of this amazing church. With its large collection of mosaic art and fine examples of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture I felt like I had driven down the street and ended up in Europe . We ended up at my favorite place in Saint Louis : the Missouri Botanical Gardens this time focusing on the Chinese and Japanese gardens. As wonderful as this visit was, I do think the best time to visit is in July when the lotus flowers are in bloom. The Niki sculptures that colored the landscape were missing this year but Dale Chihuly’s glass sparkled brilliantly in the peekaboo sun. I wanted to bring home a memento from here so I purchased a deep blue glass flower which when filled with sand and water should attract the butterflies in my garden.

In order to keep my Man on a Mission from unnecessary agitation, I left the gardens at 3pm as promised and I drove through the city traffic into central Missouri allowing my man his nap. All was well until Destination Dave began to worry about the next part of the adventure which I assured him would be starting in Independence, MO, just east of Kansas City. Spontaneity can be a challenge for Dave.
We stopped at a Days Inn which was clean but a far cry from the Hyatt. No matter, we froze our ice for the coolers and got great advice on places to eat and directions to sites we would see tomorrow. We had dinner at Zarda’s, the locally acclaimed BBQ restaurant but after being underwhelmed sampling Zadar’s BBQ (as well as last year’s taste of the locally acclaimed Rudy’s BBQ in Texas ) I am finding that I simply don’t like BBQ. Sorry guys.

Friday, June 5 Independence, MO is a sleepy town far from the madding crowd; in fact the whole town looks a bit dated in a ‘40s kinda way. Dave and I were eager to see the Truman family home after recently visiting his winter White House in Key West where they told us his mother-in-law was less than impressed with Harry and would not deed the family home to his daughter (and Harry). Frugality seemed to be the trademark for Harry and his roots. We stopped in the Clinton Soda Shop where Truman had his first job. It was charming right down to the malted milk bars with malted milk balls on top (their specialty). A horse-drawn covered wagon stood ready to take passengers but instead we watched a movie about the Pioneers and drove out to see the ruts left on the Santa Fe Trail.

On the way we visited the National Frontier Trails Museum, a must for history buffs! This museum recreated the stories of pioneers and explorers on the Santa Fe , the Oregon and the California Trails. All three trails went through Independence . After looking inside the Conestoga and covered wagons, I realized the arch in Saint Louis formed the same view that most pioneers had when peering out from their covered wagons as they moved west.

Dave was especially intrigued by the old Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot and the charming gentleman who clearly hadn’t seen a soul in a long

Truly, this is iconic.
time. We had a picnic near the ruts and swales left from the Santa Fe Trail . I am imagining myself in long flowing gingham skirts.

We left Independence (passing Leila’s Hair Museum …no we did not stop) for the modern Kansas City, MO and the Country Club Plaza influence by their sister city, Seville in Spain . The city is known for their fountains and rightfully so but we found the Plaza a bit contrived trying to disguise the fact that it really still is just a mall. Sorry Pam.

Onward we travelled looking for our own yellow brick road in Kansas . Although I refrained from going to the OZ Museum, I didn’t think a trip through Kansas was complete without some form of memorabilia pertaining to my favorite childhood movie so I got Dave to stop at one of the billboards to perform a photographic homage to Mr. Baum. With OZ on the brain it did not go unnoticed that at every rest stop there were signs for emergency underground shelters.

From Wamego we headed south on 177 into the rolling Flint Hills of Kansas. This is not what comes to mind when you
The Beautiful Flint Hills of KansasThe Beautiful Flint Hills of KansasThe Beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas

No, Dorothy, Kansas is not all flat! These beautiful rolling hills are what's left of the tallgrass prairie.
think Kansas. These lovely lush rolling green hills span for miles in any direction. We followed our own “yellow brick road” to Council Grove where we would be steeped in the history of the Wild West. We stayed at the charming 1867 Cottage House B&B near the Santa Fe Trail and had dinner around the corner at the Hays House 1857 Restaurant and Tavern directly on the Santa Fe Trail. Hays House is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi having served Custer and Jessie James (equally bad in my eyes). Inside there is a copy of a treaty signed with the Osage Indians promising safe travel for pioneers. A head of a rare white buffalo considered sacred to the Indians hangs on their wall. Seth Hays was the great grandson of Daniel Boone and cousin of Kit Carson.

Saturday, June 6 Pigs in a blueberry blanket for breakfast? How about biscuits and sausage gravy? I had a hard boiled egg and a muffin. Like the early travelers, we packed up our “wagon” and headed out to the old Last Chance Store before driving to the 11,000 acre Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Mid-morning Dave and I walked a few miles in the prairie loop. With no shelter from the hot sun, Dave opted for the haying exhibit and a shady tree. I took a bus up to the highest point on the prairie where the waving grassland unfolds before you and nothing is in view to suggest civilization. All you see is uninterrupted prairie for miles in any direction. At the highest hill (1490’ above sea level) the wind was blowing so hard it was a challenge standing still to focus my lens on the landscape. Wonderful wildflowers dotted the prairie along with the switchgrass, bluestems, buffalo and cordgrass. Closer observations brought me in touch with a pair of mating collared lizards on a limestone rock!

Dave was hungry so we drove to the Longhorn Café in Strong City, where I had the worst portabella sandwich ever (but what can you expect in a rural meat-eating cowtown?) From Strong City we drove two miles to Cottonwood Falls where the annual Flint Hills Rodeo Parade began its route to Strong City . This unusual parade lasted about half an hour. Instead of marching bands and boy scouts, hundreds of cowboys on horses, tractors and three wheelers made
Keeper of the Plains, WichitaKeeper of the Plains, WichitaKeeper of the Plains, Wichita

This 44 foot sculpture of a Native American proudly stands overlooking the Big and Little Arkansas rivers.
their way down the wide red brick streets, many throwing candy and drinking beer. I can assure you that the western gentlemen still do tip their hats to ladies. The Chase County Court House at the head of Main Street in Cottonwood Falls has an impressive hanging walnut staircase that ascends three floors. But the Court House and former jail was not accessible until all the cowboys had ridden through town.

Our trip through the Flint Hills ended in Cassoday, Prairie Chicken Capitol of the World, where urgent train whistles echoed through the little prairie town. Train cars carrying goods from China replaced many of the old cattle cars. Times change.

Sunday, June 7 Bed bugs! Wichita will be remembered as our first (and hopefully last) encounter with these nasties. After three tries we finally found a hotel that was bug free. It pays to check!

Another thing to note: before you go to Wichita call the Chamber because this town seems quite confused about opening and closing times for museums or events in Wichita . When we drove around the museum district last night there was no indication of the Chuckwagon Supper and cowboy show that night, nor was there information about the Native American Rings of Fire later that night on the river. Too bad. Nevertheless we took a lovely early morning stroll along the Arkansas River . Native American music flowed from the rocky Keeper of the Plains Plaza upon which stood the impressive 44 foot Native American Sculpture overlooking the Big and Little Arkansas rivers. Since the Indian Museum was closed and all others were opening at noon we decided to park the car and read at Botanica, The Wichita Gardens. The sign said they opened at 1pm but people were streaming in because of an unannounced quilt show, so in we went. We spent more time in the shade garden trying to keep cool in the humid 95 degree weather until the Wichita Art Museum opened. This art museum is a treasure not to be missed! Colorful Dale Chihuly glass sculptures decorate the ceiling entrance, also viewable through the glass walkway on the second floor. An enormous Chihuly chandelier similar to the one at the Saint Louis Botanical Gardens graced the entrance to the internationally renowned permanent collections focusing on American art with works by Homer, Cassatt, Hopper and western artist Charles
The Santa Fe TrailThe Santa Fe TrailThe Santa Fe Trail

These ruts are all that remains from the thousands of wagons rolling west. We had a picnic here and walked some of the remaining trail.

We left Wichita eager for more history and headed west along the old Santa Fe Trail to Dodge City in the stifling Kansas heat. Seas of golden wheat moved like endless waves in the wind alongside the road. As the landscape began to flatten and storms brewed on the horizon my eyes keenly scanned the skies for signs of tornadoes. Thankfully none appeared however hail was reported back in Wichita.

Dodge is a quiet little town with a great history. Since we arrived close to dinner time we booked a room then headed to Front Street and Boot Hill for a Chuckwagon Dinner and cowboy shoot out followed by a variety show at the Longhorn Saloon, inspiration for Gunsmoke. A bit corny but we enjoyed it.

Monday, June 8 Yesterday it was in the upper 90s, this morning I was shivering in the low 50s. Boot Hill Museum (warm inside) offers a reconstructed “Old Dodge City” in minute detail. A wonderful film depicts the tragic massacre of the buffalo but if you are looking for western history, this is a good place to start. The museum was built around the actual Boot Hill Cemetery and in

These cattle were on the side of the road just asking for their photos to be taken.
it were buried outlaws (with their boots on, hence the name.) For more recent history, Dave and I had a great time reliving our childhood memories with Kitty, Festus and Doc.

It was chilly and windy so we “got the hell out of Dodge” and headed west along the Arkansas River adjacent to the original Santa Fe Trail. We located two more stops with deep swales along the route that were actual ruts from the old trail. We had a picnic at the last site, then walked some of the old trail. What a journey it must have been for pioneer families facing this rugged and desolate trail.

After lunch we pushed on passing fields of sage and lavender into Colorado . La Junta, CO is right on the northern edge of the Comanche National Grassland but few know about the Koshare Indian Museum. This special museum is truly a gem and if you are interested in Native American history or art it is a must! Inside this tiny adobe kiva is one of the finest collections of Indian artifacts and Western art. Beautiful headdresses, costumes, beadwork and pottery from many Native American tribes grace these rooms along with wonderful sculpture and paintings from artists like Imhof, Remington, Blumenshein and Zepeda. I had a enjoyed every minute of my stay here.

We left the Santa Fe Trail in La Junta and headed south to the Comanche National Grassland, a landscape reminiscent of the pinion and juniper dotted grasslands east of the Grand Canyon. A storm was brewing so we drove hard to the reach the Prairie and Overlook trails leading to Vogel Canyon. Being extra wary of rattlesnakes, scorpions and centipedes we trekked the grassland trails spotting prairie dogs and antelope and we were lucky enough to see two Ferruginous Hawks! As we stood at the canyon edge looking down we could make out some of the ancient rock art on the canyon walls. We later discovered this area also is home to one of the largest dinosaur trackways in North America . So much to do, so little time. This is a place worth returning to.

As the sun was setting we landed in Walsenburg, CO leaving the flat land of prairie behind us.

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