Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
We are now in Chicago and packing ready for our flight back to the UK tomorrow. The weather here is still warm and sunny which is not what we expected so all the warm clothes we brought with us have been a total waste of space. Today we took the bus down to the city centre and visited the Art Institute. We have been there before but it is a huge place and there are many display rooms we have missed. This time we concentrated on American Folk Art, European Art before 1900, European Modern Art 1900 - 1950, a Japanese Kimono exhibition, and some French Impressionists. This is about a quarter of the whole collection. We took a break from the Institute by taking a walk across the elevated bridge way which connects the Art Institute to the Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue. The views of skyscraper architecture around the park are stunning.
So this is the end of another amazing US trip. We have enjoyed every day and have lots of great memories of spectacular places and fascinating people. Thanks for keeping company with us on our travels. I will add the final pictures of our last couple of days after we arrive home.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska, USA
I am a couple of days behind so will catch up with this entry. On Wednesday we departed from Dodge City and motored north eastwards across Kansas towards our destination Manhattan. I think it was given this name because of a group of early settlers who came from Manhattan in New York. The further north we travelled the scenery improved so that no longer were we traversing featureless plains but entering the attractive Flint Hills of Kansas. Rolling tree covered hills were reminiscent of parts of England. The changing colours of the trees and the green of more fertile land made a pleasant contrast with the earlier part of the drive across the plains. Before we arrived at Manhattan we saw a sign for the historic Custer house. Custer had stayed here while based at Fort Riley before he was assigned further north on his infamous mission against the Sioux and Cheyenne. But as we turned off the interstate we found ourselves entering a huge modern military complex which is now the base for The Big Red One the 1st Infantry Division which is one of the key operators in the Middle East nowadays. Apparently the Fort Riley base houses 25,000 personnel and looks absolutely massive. So not wanting to get involved with security procedures etc. we did a quick U-turn and left.
On Thursday before driving to Omaha we visited Konza Prairie which is one of the few places where you can experience the prairie as it existed at the times of the pioneers. Only 4 percent of the original prairie of Kansas survives. The rest has been put to the plough and made into farm land. We hiked the 3 mile nature trail which gives a very nice feel to what it must have been like to trek across the Santa Fe trail in the 1870s.
After that we drove northwards into Nebraska and across to Omaha. The last stretch from Lincoln to Omaha was on the Interstate highway 80 which just reminded us why on this trip we have carefully avoided Interstates whenever possible. It is just like driving on an English motorway - nose to tail and hideously congested all the way.
Today in Omaha so far we have had an enjoyable time wandering about town and seeing the sights. We like Omaha very much. It has nice architecture both modern and old and a very pleasant relaxed feel about it.
Location: Dodge City, Kansas, USA
Today we started our return leg across the great plains of America. We left New Mexico, crossed the panhandle of Oklahoma and started across Kansas. We are much lower now and the temperature was back in the 90s. The roads are straight and stretch away into the dimly visible shimmering horizon. There are no features apart from man made structures, ranch buildings, water pumps and the odd agricultural machine in the distance raising great clouds of dust. It is so dry. We crossed innumerable rivers without a drop of water. For a long period the road ran parallel to the railroad. We saw one massive Union Pacific double stacked container freight train about half a mile long hauled by three locomotives with a fourth pushing at the rear. The roads were busy which made it difficult to overtake given the sluggish nature of automatic transmission cars. You need to put your foot down in advance of making a move. It is no wonder that most American drivers seem to have a problem with overtaking. On the positive side what is good about driving in USA is the lack of aggression, or impatience and the very courteous attitude that you find from most drivers. We Europeans could learn a lot about attitude from American motorists. Of course I am talking about here in the west and I dont doubt that driving manners are different in the cities. We did not take any photos today although we could have stopped and shot some fine views of ethanol plants, grain silos, the odd dust storm, the occasional dried up water course and the ever present plain stretching into a hazy merge with the pale sky. We are now at Dodge City at one time the most famous cattle town of the West. For a short time in its violent past Wyatt Earp served as a lawman here before he went on to Tombstone, Arizona and earned his fame at the OK corral shootout.
Location: Silver City, New Mexico, USA
We had a lovely drive today from Holbrook, Arizona south to Silver City, New Mexico. It was scenic and crossed two ranges of wooded mountains. The roadside flowers were especially colourful and bright. Part of the route went through an area which had been extensively damaged recently by a huge forest fire caused by a couple of campers who failed to extinguish fully their campfire. We were surprised to see the extent of fresh green growth under the blackened trees. These forests can recover pretty quickly. Silver City is an old mining town as you may guess from the name. The old part of town is colourful with lots of art galleries etc. so it was fun to wander about although by the time we arrived most places were closed. It was very hot in the 90s so we stayed on the shady side of the street. We are not far from the Mexican border here so the character of the place and people has changed subtly from further north.
It is a rather worn out cliché to say the world is a small place but how about this. Yesterday when we were exploring the Petrified Forest National Park in remote Arizona we took a break at the Rainbow Forest Museum run by the national park people. We were relaxing with a sandwich and a cool drink in the café which is part of the excellent gift shop at the museum. A group of very friendly Americans at the next table engaged us in conversation. They were from Tennessee and were delighted to find out that we knew the North East of England because they recently had visited friends in Cramlington, Northumberland which is not far from where I (Peter) grew up. So we had a great discussion about all the places they had visited there - Roman Wall, Sage centre, Morpeth, St. Marys lighthouse and so on. They live not far from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and were very keen for us to visit that part of USA in the future and to come and see them which is very tempting.
Anyway just after we had exchanged cordial farewells a coach load of tourists descended on the shop and as I was finishing my drink I overheard some Geordie accents from two ladies from the coach party who were looking for souvenirs. I mentioned to them that I was also from their part of the world and told them about our Tennessee friends and their visit to Cramlington. The conversation went something like this. Pity that I can't write with a Geordie accent!
Geordie Lady Cramlington! That is not far from where I live
Peter I used to live not far from Cramlington in South Gosforth
Geordie Lady Eeh, South Gosforth that is where I live
Peter Really! Whereabouts?
Geordie Lady Up Hunters Road
Peter Oh, I used to live in Bowes Street
Geordie Lady Well I live just opposite in Hunters Court
Peter You must have known my mother Susie Mullen who lived for most of her life in Bowes St
Geordie Lady Susie! She was wonderful. I used to go shopping with her. I really miss her
So that lady who is called Cindy was a good neighbour and friend to my mother. I just wonder what the odds of this kind of encounter are?
My brother Doug will be tickled by this story. So it truly is a small world.
Location: Torrey, Utah, USA
We had a nice drive south today from Vernal to Torrey. The sat nav (GPS) behaved well and directed us on a very scenic route. When I looked earlier on the map I had decided not to use this route as it appeared that a long section was unpaved however the sat nav was correct and the route was completely paved. Yesterday we had a brilliant rock art day courtesy of the park rangers at Dinosaur National Monument. One lady in particular who was clearly a great enthusiast about all things out of doors and in particular historic rock art spent quite some time showing us the most interesting places to visit. So a big thank you to her as we really enjoyed McKee Spring and Dry Fork Canyon which without her advice no doubt we would have missed.
From now on we are following Harvey's advice and dropping the diary entry texts and just showing text with the photographs. So to follow our travels just go to the photographs at the right hand site of the diary.
Location: Douglas, Wyoming, USA
On Sunday the weather was glorious and sunny but the temperature had dropped to around 70 deg F and felt quite cool. We drove W into Nebraska, the road, the US 20 again, getting quieter the further we travelled. We made a diversion at Orchard to visit the Ashfall Fossil Beds state historic park. This is an illuminating, unless you are a creationist, display of the fossilised remains of hundreds of rhinos, three toed horses, camels and other extinct beasts. They had died together around a watering hole, suffocating from the ash fallout from a huge volcanic eruption in present day Idaho several hundred miles further west. This occurred nearly 12 million years ago. The well preserved skeletons lay undisturbed in a blanket of ash, tiny glassy particles, until the 1970s when scientific study of the fossils began.
As we were walking around the site we were approached by an earnest be-spectacled young man who thought he recognised both of us from a previous encounter. It became clear that this was most unlikely as we were from England and he was a Mormon from Utah. However, undeterred he went on at length about his English/Irish ancestry and was very interested in our travels and where we came from and so on. Fortunately his 82 year old mother came to our rescue and dragged him off. We finished that day in Valentine still in Nebraska.
The next day Monday was another beautiful day and it got pretty hot later, in the 90s. We continued west along US 20 to Chadron where we visited the Museum of the Fur Trade. This museum is on the site of a trading post where Indians and trappers brought their furs to exchange for food, tobacco, whisky, knives, guns, cloth etc. The excellent exhibits cover a fascinating period of North American history when furs were in huge demand in the civilised world. Transportation of goods in and furs out was virtually all by water, river and lake. Many of the vessels used were flimsy birch bark canoes. Some of them were huge 36 feet long canoes which could carry a load of 4 tons. The voyageurs were largely French Canadian and Indian who were recruited each year. They had an incredibly hard existence travelling 2 to 3,000 miles each season. Expected to paddle 15 hours a day at one stroke per second the most difficult parts were the portages where they carried 90 pound packs. Most men carried two or even three packs at once for several miles. This method of transport started around 1650 and the last canoe brigade used to supply upriver trading posts sailed in 1947.
After this we drove on to our destination Douglas in Wyoming. Before we left Nebraska we stopped at an information centre in Crawford. The very entertaining information officer regaled us with accounts of local history. Close by, Fort Robinson which achieved fame as the assassination site of the famous Sioux leader Crazy Horse, was used during WW2 as a POW camp for German and Italian captives. They never had it so good. They were fed and treated well and many opted to stay in the US when the war came to an end.
Today in Douglas the weather was cool and clouded and after visiting the Wyoming Pioneer Museum we drove out to Fort Fetterman historic site. We were lucky to have this opportunity because officially the site closed down for the season following Labor Day which was on Monday. A very kind lady at the Pioneer Museum in Douglas rang the Fort people who were on site today closing up shop and wrapping exhibits etc. and asked them to allow us entry. We have met so many very helpful kind people on this trip. I just think that many Europeans have a completely false impression of Americans and do not realise how friendly and genuinely obliging they are particularly in the west and mid-west.
By 1870 Fort Fetterman was well established and despite its exposed position during the severe Wyoming winters continued to play a conspicuous part in the Indian wars for the next few years. Jim Bridger, Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody were among the colourful personalities whose travels brought them to Fort Fetterman. The military abandoned the fort in 1882 and it was transformed briefly into a notorious rowdy saloon and brothel town. Nowadays only two or three buildings survive. Anyway it was interesting and we had fine views of the Laramie Mountains to the south and the N Platte river to the north.
Location: Sioux City, Iowa, USA
After the extreme heat of the last couple of days it was a relief to be awakened in the middle of the night by a thunderstorm and heavy rain. Thunderstorms continued most of today as we drove across Iowa with torrential rain at times. The temperature dropped to a more comfortable 72 deg F. After 325 miles we arrived at Sioux City in the sunshine. We had followed the same US 20 highway in a straight line west the whole distance. The plains of Iowa can be monotonous but the monotony was somewhat relieved by the spectacular lightning displays as we drove into dense black skies. Even with the wipers operating at maximum speed the cascades of rain made visibility virtually non existent although, judging by the vehicles tearing past, American drivers must have inbuilt radar sensors. Perhaps they just rely on the fact that the road is very straight. Otherwise we enjoyed the drive. The predominant crops are maize which form interesting patterns on the undulating hills punctuated by traditional white painted farms and dutch barns shielded on the west and north by stands of protecting trees. The road verges are colourful with clumps of golden rod and rudbeckia which grow in profusion.
Location: Dubuque, Iowa, USA
After flying across a thick blanket of cloud over the Atlantic and across Labrador also covered in cloud we were expecting Chicago to be cool and cloudy so were surprised to find it in a heat wave with temperatures in the mid 90 s F. We could hardly believe it when we arrived it was so hot. After getting the rental car sorted out we drove down town to our hotel in the Lincoln Park region of Chicago. After a walk into the park trying to keep in the shade as much as possible we had an excellent meal in an Iranian restaurant. There are lots of different ethnic eating houses in this area of Chicago. By this time it was dark and we wandered back to the hotel in the still overpowering heat. It just did not cool down at night time. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
The next morning it was even hotter and our car external thermometer registered 101 deg F. We drove to the northern suburb Glencoe to visit the Chicago Botanic Gardens which is a magnificent 385 acres living plant museum. We didnt quite get our moneys worth as we eventually gave up the struggle in the oppressive temperature and cut our visit short. It is a very impressive establishment with different areas ranging from aquatic gardens, bonsai collections, Japanese garden to a natural prairie. It also houses a science centre dedicated to plant conservation.
Afterwards we returned to OHare airport to change our rented car. We had initially selected a Ford Edge which is a SUV vehicle but found that we really did not like it. It was uncomfortable and neither a genuine off road vehicle nor a decent road machine. After some discussion and sampling of other cars available we decided on a Ford Taurus which is the American version of the Mondeo which is very nice and handles quite well. The poor guy at Dollar car rental said it really hurt when I was critical of what he had to offer by pointing out they were dirty with torn upholstery and chips in the windscreen etc. But give him his due he did make the effort to give us something which met our needs.
Today it was still hot but a few degrees cooler than yesterday so more comfortable. We left Chicago and drove north west to Rockford and then on to Dubuque on the Mississippi. Before reaching Dubuque we stopped at Galena and visited the historic home of Ulysses S Grant which had been given to him from a grateful Unionist nation for his heroics during the Civil War. Shortly afterwards he was elected President. His wife was from a prominent slave owning southern family and Grants people were staunch abolitionists so family relationships must have been tricky to say the least.