I didn’t go into much detail about yesterday’s trek. The view from the interstate doesn’t change much as long as the land is flat. McDonald’s, outlet malls, and service stations all look the same, regardless of the state. I’m re-reading William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. On old maps, minor roads were shown as blue. The author did a complete circuit of the US on these roads, discovering what he couldn’t find on the major roads. Yesterday and today we’re making major pushes westward, so we’ll be sticking to the Interstates and probably not enjoying too many blue highways.
Last night’s contaminated meal made us want a good breakfast even more, so we stopped at Denny’s before hitting the road. I was surprised to see that grits were still on the menu, and that brought up the debate about whether or not Missouri is a "Southern" state. I guess that depends on your point of view. To Laura, Texas isn’t really "the West" since she is from California. To us in South Carolina, Missouri is just too far north. We got two conflicting pieces evidence – my grits were served in a side dish rather than on the plate, a sure sign of Northernism, but out on the road we saw a billboard with a rebel flag, asking people to join the Sons of Confederacy.
About 50 miles west of St. Louis, the road began to drop into the Loutre River Valley. The contrast in topography was enough to make us feel that we were finally in "the west", or at least on the way. The trip across Missouri was a trip of contrasts. The rolling farmland reminded me of the Piedmont SC. However, every river valley exposed rocks and scrub brush. The roadbanks were also covered with a small purple flower we assumed to be clover.
We hit Kansas City at noon and headed north toward St. Joseph and Iowa. We had crossed the Missouri River once just outside of St. Louis, and we crossed it twice again while skirting Kansas City. As it turned out, the Missouri kept us company most of the afternoon drive north. The terrain turned cornfields and grain elevators and a whole lotta not much more. At St. Joseph we decided it was time for lunch, so we headed into town. This is a smaller, older city on the banks of the river. Finding lunch turned out to be a challenge, but we found something that would suit us.
After lunch, we decided to cross the river into Kansas, then turned north into Nebraska so we could add a couple more states to our list. It was good to get off the Interstate for awhile. We followed road signs for the Lewis and Clark Trail, taking a route that followed the river on the west bank. Kansas was just as I had pictured it — low bluffs surrounding even more corn fields. Laura said she kept expecting Helen Hunt to drive by any minute chasing a tornado. Speaking of which, we had already practiced our "tornado argument" just to get it out of the way.
"Tom, pull over right now!"
"But it looks really cool and I just want to get this one picture!"
We crossed into Nebraska, and the corn was even higher. Either the growing season advances from north to southeast, or they planted earlier, or they just know how to grow corn faster in Nebraska. We also noted that all the small rivers and streams had leavees built up. After about an hour on the blue highways, we finally crossed back into Missouri and hit our interstate, only slightly north of where we left it.
As we drove north, we noticed dark clouds in our paths and an occasional flash of lightening. We turned on our weather radio to hear reports of severe thunderstorms and tornado watches. I thought we might have the chance to use our conversation. The further north, the darker it got, and our radio soon gave us a report of a tornado sighting in Lancaster County. Not knowing where Lancaster is, we didn’t know whether to proceed into darkness or stop in Omaha.
The bottom fell out in Council Bluffs, just east of Omaha. Fortunately, we made it through with only heavy rain – no hail or tornadoes. Laura did a great job getting us through the deluge. With the weather, we toyed with the idea of stopping in Sioux City instead of Sioux Falls. Continuing north brought better weather, so by the time we had dinner in Sioux City, we realized we could still make it to Sioux Falls.
Crossing into South Dakota, the bluffs smoothed into flat prairies with rolling hills. The farms were beautiful, and the wide open spaces and open sky was breathtaking. Or was it the 75 MPH speed limit in an open top car?
We got to Souix Falls just after 8:00 CDT, and almost didn’t find a place to stay. Seems there’s a big soccer tournament in town. Luckily we found one room – a reservation that had just been cancelled. With a room secured, Laura wanted to see the falls for which the city is named. As we searched for the park, our first impressions of this city were that it was clean, and had a lot of cultural activities, not to mention a lot of interesting restaurants. The smell of barbecue and wood smoke permeated the city, and we were regretting our fast food in the other Sioux.
We found the park with no trouble, and it was spectacular. A series of falls cascaded over stunning pink quartzite, wiht walkways and a footbridge. This is EXACTLY what Greenville should do with the Reedy, although the Reedy has nothing on the Big Sioux River. Turns out that there was to be a laser light show with music later in the evening. We were too tired to wait for it, so we headed back for the hotel. At a traffic light on the way back, a group of college boys in a Caddilac pulled up next to us and in unison shouted, "Cool car!" Laura’s response? "I love this city!"
Back in the room,we watched the local news, and found that just about everything that could be happening in town was happening. A local air force group return today with a huge parade, there was a large car show in town, and several other things were happening. We were indeed fortunate to get a room.
States: Missouri – Kansas – Nebraska – Iowa – South Dakota
One thought on “West, then North”
We’ve enjoyed your travel log. We have been to some of the places you mentioned. When you come back through KC you might want to get in touch with Bill Taylor’s children. Shari Taylor Hull and Kevin Taylor both live in KC. Enjoy and don’t get too many bugs in your teeth!