August 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Trains, plains, and a new automobile!
(Here goes yet another woefully-late blog post...) Just over a month ago, I embarked on a long-distance trip to the Midwest to see my brothers, and do some incidental sightseeing, birding, music appreciation, and baseballing. It was the first time I had been out there since I flew home for what turned out to be my father's funeral in April 2016. I already wrote a blog post about the baseball aspects of my trip, and will do so shortly for birding and musical events as well. This post will focus on the sightseeing.
After a few false starts trying to coordinate potential activities with my brothers, I finally made concrete plans in early July, geared toward seeing the Ozark Mountain Daredevils play on July 29 at the Mid-america Music Festival in Trenton, Missouri. That's only about an hour and a half from Kansas City, where my brother Dan lives, and he agreed it would be a fun thing to do. So, I bought a one-way AMTRAK ticket from Staunton to Kansas City, and got ready to go. My brother Chris offered to sell me his car, so I took the risk that it would be acceptable and thus serve as my mode of transportation for the return trip to Virginia.
All aboard AMTRAK!
On the afternoon of July 26, Jacqueline I arrived at the station here in Staunton -- almost an hour early due to my own error! The "Cardinal" train (#51) left right on time, and I settled in for the long ride, reading books and newspapers, and occasionally checking my iPhone for news, etc. The train passes through familiar territory in western Augusta County where I often go birding, and makes stops at Clifton Forge and then White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any good scenic photos of the mountains or the small mountain towns. I had an adequate meal (hot sandwich plus a beer), and prepared to sleep. I learned from the last time I had travelled on AMTRAK (December 2015 - January 2016) that sleeping is extremely difficult, even with a reclining chair. So, I bought myself a travel pillow that cushions bumps and keeps your head supported so that you can relax. It worked pretty well, but I still only got about four hours of sleep that night.
The next morning our train arrived in Chicago, where rail freight traffic is so heavy that it causes delays in passenger trains. I had about a four-hour layover before my connecting train departed, so I had a big breakfast at McDonald's and then walked outside. I took a few photos of downtown, and circled the block where the Willis Tower is located. The clouds were low that day, and you couldn't even see the top of the building!
Just before 3:00 PM we boarded the "Southwest Chief" train (#3), and soon were on our way. The skies cleared as we headed west, past corn fields, soybean fields, giant wind turbines, and small towns. There were a couple delays as we approached the Mississippi River, and we finally crossed the bridge and stopped in Fort Madison, Iowa. I had been through Burlington, Iowa on AMTRAK a couple times (en route to Omaha), but I had never been to the far southeast corner of the state. The rail line from Chicago to Kansas City passes through some very out-of-the-way parts of northern Missouri, but it quickly grew dark and I didn't see much of it. The train rolled into Kansas City at about 10:40, about a half hour late, which isn't too bad for a long trip. My brother Dan drove me home, and we had fun with his guitars.
Kansas City, Missouri
The next day (Friday) Dan took me on a wide-ranging tour of Kansas City, parking at Union Station (where I had arrived the night before), and then taking a streetcar (free!!!) all the way to the north part of downtown. From there we walked to a park on the Missouri River. Dan has devoted a huge amount of effort to studying the history of that city, and explained to me that the riverside park was once the main port area where riverboats steamed up and down "The Big Muddy." Later on, we visited the district of Westport, which is kind of like Georgetown as far as being old and funky, with a vibrant night life. Dan explained to me the historical signs referring to the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails, which all started in Kansas City! While in Westport, we noticed the police arresting a black person, and we were later yelled at by a group of black youths in a car. Clearly there are racial tensions.
On Saturday, we had two big objectives: visit the National World War I Museum, and then drive up to Trenton, Missouri to see the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in concert. It was yet another beautiful day with blue skies perfect for taking pictures. The World War I Museum is at the base of a huge stone pillar, the top of which provides an ideal vantage point for scanning the urban area and photographing it. The museum itself is quite impressive, filled with original uniforms, army equipment, artillery pieces, machine guns, and tanks. The weak spot is the lack of maps, and one of the maps I did see conveyed rather misleading information. After that, we drove over to the site of the old Municipal Stadium, where the Kansas City Athletics (MLB), Royals (MLB), and Chiefs (NFL) used to play. (There were also minor league and negro league teams that once played there.) I had visited the historical marker there once before, and I noticed that it is in need of maintenance. Then we drove northeast through the city, and arrive in Trenton late in the afternoon. (That music festival will be discussed in a separate blog post.)
On Sunday we visited the Shawnee Indian Mission historical site, located just west of the Missouri-Kansas state line. Dan explained how various church groups gained a foothold in the area during the mid-19th Century by bringing European civilization to the indigenous people. Then we went to the Turkey Creek Diversion Tunnel, a flood control project built in 1919, cutting right through a big hill near the Kansas River, which empties into the Missouri River at the state line. Then we drove through the West Bottoms area, filled with old warehouses that lay abandoned for many years but which are now being restored. Kemper Arena (home of the NBA Kansas City Kings from 1972 to 1985) is in that area, but it is aging and doesn't get much use anymore, since a new arena (the Sprint Center) was built a few years ago. Then we went to Terrace Park, on the northwest edge of downtown, perched on a bluff that provides a great view toward the west. We saw several homeless people while there, another sign of social problems in Kansas City. There are several historical monuments and prominent churches nearby, as well as a quaint old bar called Quaffs. (I kept the plastic cup as a souvenir.) Next we went to world-famous Arthur Bryant's barbecue place, and savored heaping platters of ribs. Finally, we toured the historic 18th & Vine (African-American) neighborhood, a sprawling outside patio bar called Knuckleheads (which features live rock and blues music), as well as the Little Italy on the northeast side of downtown. There are many signs of public investment in improving living conditions, but it seems to be an uphill battle.
On Monday (July 31) Dan and I drove north, and paid a visit to our parents' grave site in Vermillion, South Dakota, where we placed a Chicago Cubs World Series champion flag that I had bought while in Chicago. We only stayed a few minutes there (our home town growing up), and then drove the rest of the way north to Sioux Falls, where Chris lives. Soon we were joined by John, making it the first time since Dad's funeral that the four Clem brothers had been together.
On the first day of August, I took Chris's Hyundai Sonata on a lengthy "test drive" to the northeast part of the state. Back when I was planning this trip in the spring, I had hoped to do at least an overnight trip across the state into the Black Hills, but without a person familiar with the territory, that just wasn't practical. So I drove up I-29 and had lunch in the town of Waubay, and then drove toward the nearby Waubay National Wildlife Refuge to do some birding. (I'll discuss that in a separate blog post.) Later on, I drove south via Webster and Watertown, returning to Sioux Falls at dusk. The car worked fine!
On Wednesday Chris and I went to Madison, about an hour west of Sioux Falls, where his son Justin is getting established as a medical doctor. I hadn't been to that town since the 1970s (if at all), and exploring the local college and seeing all the lakeside residences was fascinating. On Thursday, I did another solo trip in the Sonata, but my birding activities were cut short by a rain shower. Chris took me on a drive through some interesting parts of Sioux Falls that I had not seen before, and we stopped at the scenic falls themselves just as dusk fell.
The return trip
On August 4, I loaded my stuff into my "brand-new" car (!), said good-bye, and left Sioux Falls heading east on I-90. The skies had turned mostly clear again, and the only notable event as I drove through southern Minnesota was when a crop-dusting airplane swooped up within 100 feet or so of the highway right ahead of me! I stopped in the town of Albert Lea, where the rock group Kansas was scheduled to perform a show that night at the Freeborn County Fair. It was quite a coincidence that another of my favorite groups from the 1970s was playing during my trip, but I decided that staying to see them would have added almost an entire extra day to my trip, and I was eager to get back home. So, I kept going and crossed into Wisconsin during the afternoon. Just after 5:00 I arrived at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and did some birding there. (Separate blog post pending...) I thought I could get a motel room in the town of Mauston, but struck out there, so I had to keep going southeast on I-90. Around 9:00 I arrived in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin -- the first time I had ever been there. I navigated the busy Friday night downtown traffic, found a place to park, and took some photos of the state capitol building. I remembered the bitter political struggle over the state budget that took place a couple years ago, when opponents of Governor Scott Walker occupied the capitol for several hours. Finally, I found a nice place to spend the night in the city of Beloit, just north of the Illinois state line.
The next day, I hit the road early so as to get good parking in Chicago for the Cubs-Nationals game, which started at 1:20. (That was discussed in my baseball blog post of August 16.) The traffic was pretty heavy approaching the city on the I-90 toll expressway ($$$), and likewise after the game as I drove south past downtown, but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I went straight south on I-90 rather than take the I-94 toll expressway southeast toward Gary, Indiana, probably saving at least six bucks. Eventually I got onto I-65 south and spent the night in Lafayette, Indiana.
On Sunday, August 6, I resumed my southward course and stopped in Indianapolis for a couple hours, taking photos of the Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL Colts), the minor league baseball stadium (Victory Field), and the downtown area. For some reason, getting through Indiana always takes longer than I expect. I took I-74 southeast to Cincinnati, stopping to take photos of Great American Ballpark (where the Reds were playing the Cardinals), among other things of interest. I had considering attending that game, but the scarcity of time dictated otherwise. I had to get back on the road! From Covington, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati), I took the "AA Highway" (which I believe stands from Alexandria-Ashland, the two cities that it connects) toward the east, eventually getting onto I-64 not far from the West Virginia border. It was just steady driving from then on as the sun went down. I got home some time after 10:00, all safe and sound -- and exhausted from all that driving!
I updated the Chronological (2017) photo gallery page with dozens of new photos from my trip, and I'll probably add a few more in the days to come.