On the Road to Colorado, Day 3

After a massive rain storm hemmed us hotel guests in last night, preventing any extensive exploration of the area (not that there was a terribly large amount to see, from the look of things—barring some sort of children’s fort dedicated to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show), morale for the Nebraska leg of my journey was not particularly high. After a few drinks at the hotel’s bar with a few of my fellow patrons (apparently drunk people, locked in by rain, occasionally enjoy a writer!) and a power sleep, though, I discovered two amazing things.

  1. Quality Inn, for all its talk of water conservation, did not have a low-flow shower, and that meant the shower was fantastic.
  2. Quality Inn does not skimp on its breakfast. Trays of tater tots, bacon, and ham; bowls of fruit; cartons of milk; a fine array of cereal. There was even eggs, for those of you silly creatures that can partake of such things. Personally, I loaded up on bacon, toast, OJ, and a bowl of fruit loops (you know, for my health). Breakfast of champions? I think so.

After that, I undertook the final leg of this journey…

Today’s journey began in North Platte, Nebraska. From there, I traveled 270 miles in about 4 hours (for once, the time Google and Tom Tom actually told me it would take…though my version of the trip included stops and photo look-abouts, so I still win) to Golden, Colorado.

Nebraska:

It occurred to me that I forgot two very important things to the Nebraska experience that fortunately still applied on the third day of this trip. To truly understand Nebraska, you must expect:

  1. Bugs. You don’t even know. Huge bugs. Lots of bugs. Machine gun bug massacre on my windshield level of bugs. For God’s sake, in my hotel, they even had a sign saying, “So we spray for bugs, but the bugs win—expect them in your hotel room, and it’s not our fault!” which I must say is very distressing.
  2. Construction. I thought Michigan loved construction, but Nebraska has (literally) 12 miles stretches of highway down littered in those orange cones, and the dreaded 35 mph speed limits. Get behind a semi there, and you’re pretty well doomed to the waiting game. And what a long, terrible waiting game it is…because the scenery surely won’t save you.

Back to the descriptions, though, the road bloomed in darkness and in rain clouds on the third day of the trip…spat a few globs of rain at me, and then went on to being just a grey haze. And let me tell you, if anything can make the Nebraska experience a little more uncomfortable instead of the same old blue sky on those same old green plains, it’s adding a grey cast to the whole affair. There weren’t even layers of clouds to break it up…it was just one continues grey slab.

Colorado:

First thoughts: Hills! Sweet and holy changes in elevation! AND NO CORN!

Quickly replaced by: Oh, God. Where did the hills go? It’s…it’s even more dead than Nebraska. Seriously, words cannot begin to describe—it was the lonely, barren prairie you see in all those classy westerns. To truly appreciate how dry it is here, observe:

 

The first picture is the Platte River, from North Platte, Nebraska. The second image is the Platte River, as seen in Sterling, Colorado. Yes, note the distinct lack of actual water there. Oh dears.

Kiwanis Cove

Speaking of Sterling, though, I stopped there to refuel, hit the rest area, and poke around the local nature area, as I was informed my brother and sister-in-law wouldn’t be about in Golden until 5…and I still had another hour’s time change to go through (Colorado is 2 hours behind Michigan, by the by). I got some pretty shots around “Kiwanis Cove”…and then I met some dogs.

Yes, dogs. A pair of wild dogs. They just, appeared out of the trees, lowered their heads, growled, and started to advance. Experiencing an, “Oh, crap” moment, I started to jog in the opposite direction. Naturally, they quickly overtook me. Curiously, they seemed content with me as long as I jogged. When I stopped—they growled, in the I’m-going-to-eat-your-face sort of way. When construction workers caught their attention though, I’m not ashamed to say I bolted the rest of the way to the car. Then I hit the road and tried to forget Sterling. Goodness.

After that, though, it was sparse towns. Eastern Colorado was even worse than Nebraska for finding gas. They actually had signs for towns that read, simply, “No services” – none, none at all. And though you had the continuous feeling of rising, the barren expanse about me made me eventually go, “Where’d the corn go? Bring back the corn!”

And the temperature was a thing to behold. In Sterling, still at about Nebraska’s elevation, it was 72 degrees. I swear I crossed like two rises and suddenly it shot up to 86…and kept jumping until Denver, for a total of about 93 degrees. Closer to the sun. Oh yeah.

Obviously, though, I made it (and the barren fortunately transformed into those mountains I do so love), and so now, this is essentially my back yard…

Win.

On the Road to Colorado, Day 2

Quote of the Day: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

Iowa—

America, husked

beneath wide skies.

Morning began early, to the sounds of two Hispanic maids quarreling in the parking lot. Oh dears. Nonetheless, it woke me in time for a good shower and the most important meal of the day: breakfast! Even if said breakfast consisted largely of Cheerios. I might have partaken also of the inn’s crescent rolls but they looked distinctly…more brown and less crescent-y than I would have hoped.

Regardless, breakfast provided the opportunity to meet my fellow guests—an asian couple that quickly departed, a pair of Israeli backpackers (who insisted to me that coffee is the greatest proof of God…alright, I’ll roll with it), and a young Native American family headed to Chicago (and yes, if you’ll note, that means one of these groups snuck in when I wasn’t looking during the night…thus ruining all that cozy space I had! I mean…THREE people in a hotel besides me? Madness. Two is just right.)

But after that breakfast of kings, it was back to the road…

Today’s journey began in Des Moines, Iowa. From there, I traveled 402 miles in 5 ½ hours (Tom Tom and Google both told me it would take 6 ½ – once again, technology is thoroughly walloped by my likely lead foot).

Iowa: There wasn’t a terribly large amount more to see. Lots of Windmills. Some of the flat gave way to trees and hills as rivers loomed. I-80 wound into a riverside city, to become one of the busiest and most congested bits of real estate I’ve seen since the highway through Chicago.  A bridge formed the border (thankfully toll-less) between Iowa and its neighbor, one city flowing effortlessly into another, and Omaha forming the welcoming party on the other side.

To Sum: Nebraska.

Nebraska:

  1. Initial thoughts: wow, look at all the green and the hilly nature of this place…maybe it won’t be at all as people described…
  2. Quickly followed by: Oh God. It flattened. Where did variation go? Where is height? I can see for miles…
  3. Which in turn made me miss and better appreciate the cloudy skies of yesterday. Though I was never hit by any real rain, the wide open spaces, and the stormy nature of the sky allowed me to see great variations in level, character, and color in the sunset-speckled clouds. Today, there was just open blue. The end result was a surge of boredom as everything blended into one another. Blue and flat green…that was my road.
  4. Along the way, I did see  that even here comes the occasional spurt of originality, in the form of a T-Rex Scarecrow guarding a Nebraska Corn Field. And this sucker was a good story tall. Rawr, indeed.
  5. On a whim, I decided to re-engage the radio. 94.1, I discovered, had surrendered itself to a bizarre mix of Katy Perry Pop and Will Smith Hippity Hoppin’. It was amusing, for a while. Then the pop saturated my soul too deeply and had to be expunged.
  6. As bad as that could be, though, what was worse was the lack of gas stations. There were numerous villages along the highway, yet many of them had a motel or dining establishments…but no gas stations. Where do these people get gas? Worse, on hitting central Nebraska, a grievous switcharoo transpires…
  7. The heartlands.

    Unleaded is now “Super” Unleaded. It costs 20 cents more than the unleaded many of you know and love. Unleaded has ethanol in it now, and to boot, I can get real ethanol, which they seem to be encouraging…but it’s all just there to screw with my head I think. Ah, corn country.

  8. By this point, the radio descends into either Radio Static or Country. Neither is optimal for sanity.
  9. Sign of the day: A bumper sticker reading: “honk for my beaver.” This Minnesota man – yes, it was a man, and his plate said Minnesota – is clearly a strange sort.
  10. North Platte looms, and with it, apparently, parks dedicated to Buffalo Bill. Also a fort. And my latest inn…

Quality Inn Bedroom...

North Platte, Nebraska. It has a gorgeous river view, I’ll give it that. Beyond, I would not recommend it to any of you travelers out there. If you do head that way, though, I would recommend somewhere other than the Quality Inn. The wi-fi is shoddy, the view and the room itself are obviously…both less efficient than my previous lodging was. Still, the rooms do come with both a fridge and a microwave, so that’s something at least.

Next stop? The final leg of the trip—on to Golden, Colorado.

Another night, another room view - they're gonna spoil me with these sights, aren't they?

On the Road to Colorado, Day 1

Quote of the Day: “A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” ~ Moslih Eddin Saadi

Rockford, MI

This week the Den is taking a bit of a twist in functionality as all words are twisted into my strange version of a travel log. That’s right, the day has come at last, and I have hit the road for the mountains of Colorado! Presently, I’m actually writing this to you from a nice little hotel in beautiful downtown…Des Moines, Iowa.

I hope you enjoy the peek into my mind and into my little road adventure, but to those of you coming here for poetry…I do hope you’ll forgive me for stepping out for a week or so! Promise I’ll have poems again once this little poet’s all settled in…

Now then, what was there to see? Well, let us reflect…

Today’s journey began in Rockford, Michigan. Hurrah for suburbanite America in all its glory. From there, I traveled 514 miles in 7 ½ hours (Tom Tom and Google both told me it would take 8 ½ – take that technology!). Along the way:

Hour 1: Morale is high, even when 94.1 abruptly changes from its alternative goodness to a firebrand evangelist preacher. Fearing that the Wells Hall preacher from MSU has tracked me down somehow, I quickly turn to 97.9 and don’t look back. Also, something in my back seat is squeaking. A lot. Madness.

Hour 2: 97.9 Turns to country. Twang twang. Scenery is pretty as the squeaking ceases. Sanity stabilizes with the emergence of the i-Pod. All is well.

Indiana: Oh hi Indi—oh? That was Indiana? But I didn’t even…well, that’s gone, I suppose.

Chicago: Chi-town. The windy city. The—OH GOD DID THAT GUY’S HUB CAP JUST BURST OFF ON THE HIGHWAY!? Fortunately, no one is harmed in the resulting evasive swerving of cars. 97.9 has returned from the dead as some sort of classic rock station. I hesitantly listen on. First toll booth—despite slow traffic at points, it’s probably the quickest trip I’ve taken through or around Chicago.

Illinois: Corn. Corn. Hill! Corn. Also a lot of semis. However I did see our…

Sign of the Day: Actually, this one was graffiti, but nonetheless…on a bridge somewhere outside of Chicago read the words, “Jesu rock around yo soul.” Given the prevalence of “He is coming soon!” signs elsewhere in this state, I do hope he shall wield better grammar than his heralds.

And it's all for little ol' me...

Iowa:
1. The great old Mississippi River! (By the way, the Mississippi River actually took me a count of 28 Mississippis to cross. Tsk tsk, false advertising.)
2. Now, I won’t deny it, after that, there was lots of corn, and a lot of flat…expanse. Regardless, I must say any time I’ve seen a river in this state, breathtakingly beautiful scenery has surrounded it. Vibrant trees, hilly dips, flowers, verdant everything…and then of course, more corn.
3. By God. The biggest truck stop in the country!—and all I can think is…Damn, look at all those trucks. Also of note: they did not have the lowest gas price in the state. Don’t give in just because it’s big!
4. Give me curves in the road. A bridge. Anything. BREAK THE MONOTONY.
5. Oh dear, glad I’m not going the other way. That is a semi. Those are a lot of ambulances and cops. And that…oh, that’s an emergency helicopter there to airlift someone out. Eek. Traffic on that side of the road? Backed up 5 miles. Everyone’s out of their cars taking pictures. I don’t fiddle with cameras while driving, so tough noogies to you readers.
6. Des Moines! First thing I notice…factories. Smoke. And an interesting array of clouds that lead me steadily to…

Best Western! See my hotel room? And that’s all for me, because they don’t really vary in their room types.

Best part? I’m apparently one of only three, yes, THREE guests in the entire hotel right now. In the words of the desk manager: “So, you know…don’t get too rowdy, or something.”

Rock on, good sir. Rock on. And right adjacent to my hotel? A gas station, a Cracker Barrel, and a Mexican place. (On which note I must say, Los Tres Amigos, you have been proven woefully deficient. While you charge $9 for your combos, and $2 for your drinks, EL RODEO charged a mere $7 for its combos, and $1 for unlimited refill drinks! I have seen your inferiority exposed!)

And thus ends, day one. Tomorrow? Nebraska. I must store up my courage tonight.

View from my window. What, you thought I was staying IN La Quinta? Goodness, note that sign's in the OTHER parking lot, silly.

By the Sea

At the Beach

It’s been a while, and a long weekend to boot. In sum: got some sun, traipsed some beaches, wondered and waxed philosophic and photographic somewhere between the trees and the waves, and tasted of the delicious sensation known as BBQ. It was a long weekend, but a good one, and I can honestly say it was the most relaxing I’ve had a good long while, even if I was still running all over the place.

I get the wanderlust, you know?

Big Red

C’est la vie, though, as they say. To those Americans among my readership, here’s hoping the fourth of July (the USA’s Independence Day, for those of you not up-to-the-know on your history of the land of the stars and stripes) was a delightful blend of summer warmth and rapturous relaxation with those you hold most dear. Plus, if you got to see some of the shiny explosions that were lighting up the country’s night sky, all the more power to you.

What’s the night without a little boom? Whether it’s a spiritual or a physical or even a metaphorical boom, well, that’s really up to your preference. I’m just the humble fellow wishing you a good time, regardless.

But I digress…and supposing you One Stoppers have sifted through my silliness and well-wishes, I’d like to kick off my return and the week with my latest submission to One Stop Poetry’s One Shot Wednesday, a tanka titled: “By the Sea“…

Sunlight on white sand

Refracted in pillowed veils

Hiding sand castles

Bronzed amidst unyielding tides

Sprouted in short-short visions.

Ghosts of the West

All the Pretty Horses –

it don’t matter none.

Just dust clouds on the wind –

the cowboys and their guns.

All the West was won,

the graves and ash to grind –

the child looks, but it don’t matter none.

All the Pretty Horses

have run their fated courses.

* My latest contribution to the wonderful One Shot Poetry Wednesdays! Once you’ve had a look, check out some of the other One Shot Poets as well–they’re a skilled bunch of poets, with a supportive and thriving community.

A Photographic Tour of the Sleeping Bear Dunes

Before I post my second poem from my trip into the “great white north,” it occurs to me that some of you might not be familiar with the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which was an important part of my trip. So allow me to tell you about one of the most curious aspects of life in Michigan, with the assistance of some of the photos I took while I was away.

Sunset on the Water. Traverse City, MI.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes encompass a 35 mile stretch of coast along Lake Michigan, the largest freshwater lake bordered exclusively by the United States (pictured above). The park was established for its breathtaking variety of natural features, including forests, beaches, and dune formations, as well as its historical connection to the glacier movements of old. The “bear” for which it was named was actually a small tree-covered knoll at the uppermost part of the bluff that. Sadly, wind and erosion have since caused the “bear” to dwindle over the years, leaving me without a photo for you.

Big and Little Glen Lakes

That’s a 450 ft. drop to the lakeshore, by the way.

The dunes were shaped by glaciers thousands of years ago, and evidence of their passing is still found in the diversity of the terrain, as well as the vibrant ecology of the environment. The national park that preserves them today was established in 1970, but the dunes themselves have never stopped growing. In fact, they are growing a little more every year–perhaps only by a few feet annually, but over time, that adds up.

Today, trails like this wind through miles of Pine and Beech-Maple Forests, all along the Dune.

There’s sand here. Lots and lots of sand.

Weather along the lakeshore and the dunes are actually a bit bizarre for those unfamiliar with them. The seasons are heavily influenced by winds crossing over Lake Michigan as they have a cooling effect in the summer and a warming effect in the winter. So temperatures remain somewhat moderated at most times of the year.

And that, friends, is a look at the beauty of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. I hope you like what you see, and consider a trip up north some time. It’s certainly worth your time!