Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blue Hill, Nebraska

Last year, on our way out of Red Cloud, north to Hastings on the 281, where we spent the night, we passed a town called Blue Hill, notable for its name in as much as we had just left Red Cloud.  In an uncharacteristically unNebraskan manner, they called attention to themselves with a fifty foot high sign on the side of the highway...This is not a great photo, but neither is the sign.  What were they thinking?

Didn't spend much time there and don't remember much about it, but did take these nice pictures of the main street and the railroad station.

Need to get back next time around to see what the town was like.  Somewhere on the 281 between Red Cloud and Blue Hill was the Green Acres Motel.  A very colorful area indeed.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Red Cloud Redux or rather, re-do...

Back on Highway 136 , the road that runs along the southern edge of the Sandhills a few miles north of the border with Kansas.  This photo of the 136 driving east from Red Cloud to Ruskin is so good it looks photoshopped, but it is not!!!

 Ever since our chance encounter with Willa Cather's great nephew George, at the state capitol during our last visit to Nebraska (see blog posting, Red Cloud, 9/26/11), we have developed a certain affinity for Red Cloud and the Cather Family in general.  Like General McArthur, I pledged to return to work on that last Red Cloud blog entry which I found woefully lacking, but then again I feel that way about most of them, but here I am anyway, back in town a year older, no wiser, but hopefully a little more in touch with the Nebraska I am trying to find.

As luck would have it, the Cather Family home, which had been vacant and up for sale last year, was bought by the Society and turned into a bed and breakfast and we were able to spend the night in the very home that Willa grew up in from 1903 on and visited on her returns home over the years.

Inside are views  of the dining room, living room, and the Sweetwater suite the room we stayed in which was said to have been Willa's mother's room, refurnished.  In the upper right hand corner of the first photo is Willa, overseeing things.

Across the street from the house (Stewart Street) are the sad remains of the Baptist church where the Cather family first worshiped until they became Episcopalians in 1922, according to a recent society news letter.  In the most recent news letter highlighting the guest house, a photo of our Sweetwater room was on the cover.

This photo was taken last year.  According to the Cather  Society news letter the Episcopalian church is newly renovated and in wonderful shape and is being used by the society, but the Baptist church remains abandoned and in an increasing state of disrepair, but it is not out of sight given its central location, so hopefully the roof is in good repair and the society will find good use for it before it implodes.  

Got up early the next morning and hit the streets to make the most of what I could see was going to be another mainly overcast day.  This photograph of the State Bank Block seems to have been taken by just about everyone passing through Red Cloud, so why should I be any different, although it does seem more dramatic given the ominous backdrop which worked in my favor for a change, which is all you can hope for in such an oft taken picture...

Regarding unfinished business, last year I took a picture of the post office...

but neglected to go inside where I would have found 3 depression era murals painted as part of the New Deal WPA art project, if I had only known.  I was feeling badly about this, especially give my particular affinity for the USPS, and hoped to get back.   They were painted in 1941 by Arthur Musick, who went on to have a moderately successful career as an artist and teacher.  This is the largest of the 3 and the most accessable to photograph...

Lastly, last year I took a picture of an empty storefront that was reported to have been the place of business of Willa Cather's father after he gave up trying to be a farmer...

One year later it has now become an antique shop...

In conjunction with my earlier 9/26/11 Red Cloud posting,  I think that's an overview Red Cloud, more or less for now.  For more, check it out yourself, and while you are there, become a member of the Willa Cather Society.  Its not expensive and you will become part of something quite important, and very American.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Moonrise over Milo and Max, Valentine, Nebraska

It was getting late in the afternoon, and we were pretty hungry, and had our minds set on Milo and Max restaurant in Valentine, where we had some great mexican food last year and were looking forward to more of the same, if it was still even there anymore.  You never know these days.  This preoccupation could account for my tunnel vision during the last leg of out Nebraska Highway 83 journey.

Would have gotten there sooner, in fact we would have gotten everywhere a lot sooner, if not for the incessant 5  to 10 minute delays on the highways throughout Nebraska as a result of the economic recovery program dollars at work with states ripping up miles and miles of perfectly good and serviceable roadways and replacing them with new layers of unnecessary asphalt.  Don't know where they get all that stuff, but the supply seems unlimited and they are repaving anything they can get their hands on whether it needs it or not.  The money is there.  I guess you use it or loose it.  Here's us stuck at one such lengthy delay and Jackie waiting patiently in the car, while I am out and about meeting fellow travelers and taking pictures.  Our trusty steed, a Ford Fiesta, looks pretty clean here...

There's lots of time to get out of the car and talk to your neighbors.  Its amazing how much personal information strangers on the highway with time to kill are willing to share.  You don't even have to ask.  I met a dog named George W traveling with this very opinionated guy, you learn to keep your mouth shut when talking to Rabid Republicans, a guy who just broke up with his girlfriend in Iowa who was heading to the Dakotas to find work, and an old farmer from Iowa on his way to visit his brother in South Dakota, who was not doing too well.  And when you don't feel like get out of the car, there's often interesting reading material right in front of you.

Took longer than we expected, but got to Valentine, made a left on Highway 20, and there it was awaiting us with open arms!!!

If you look in the upper right corner, its the moon.  Not quite Ansel Adams's Moonrise over Hernandez, but then, I'm not Ansel Adams.  Had a great meal of cheese enchiladas with green salsa, and beans and rice.  Talked a bit to Jacqui, a certified pipe welder who loves to cook and took over as the present operator of the place, who I mistook for Twyla, her partner or something who was running it last year when we were there and who started the restaurant, but for some unstated reason is not there these days.  Milo and Max are the names of their horses.  The food is well made, tastes great and is quite inexpensive and there's plenty of it.  The beans are vegetarian, no lard (mantica in Spanish, which you may need to know here and there if the staff doesn't speak english and you need to find out), which are not easy to find if you care about those things.  If you're in Valentine, go there!!!

Last year we got talking to Clarence and Mary, an old retired farm couple who said they ate there 3 or 4 times a week.  Didn't see them, but Jacqui said they were fine and coming around regularly, in case you were wondering.  Left full and happy and checked in at our motel where I happened upon a copy of a small newspaper published 4 times a year called"Canada to Mexico...via Highway 83", published by the Sowders, Ron and Maudene, who operate out at 304 North Cemetery Road, Tryon, Nebraska, 69167.  Its full  of good information and history of the Sandhills and Highway 83 and has great stories.

It was only then, at the end of that leg of our journey that I realized where we had been and what we had done.  If I had only known at the start that we were part of the much bigger Highway 83 story I would have been more attentive.  Thinking about it, its kind of a metaphor for life.  You don't know what you are doing half the time while you're doing it, you just bumble though the best you can, and then there's not much you can do about it when its over.  Luckily, looking back at the pictures, I did OK, some good pictures and some regrets as always, which is all most of us can say, but all in all, a decent job.  Luckily and hopefully, in this case there is the possibility for a do over next year if all is well.

Tomorrow, its west on Highway 20 for a 2 or 3 day ramble toward the Wyoming border with stops in Cody, Kilgore, and Merriman, et al to fill in some photoblanks left festering from our last trip.  The situation out here is quite fragile, so you can't be sure what you will find.



This was the second time we stayed over night in Valentine and I didn't take any pictures.  Nothing caught my eye.  I did try, but...Walking through town in the morning I did meet Jacqui, and we talked for a while.  Felt like a regular.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Highway 83...When you come to a fork in the road...

take it, as Yogi Berra is reputed to have said.   Our fork came at the intersection of the 2 and 83 in Thedford.  Although we were planning to do the 2 from Alliance to Grand Island as the last leg of our journey, we followed this often photographed sign which contributes nothing new and interesting to those familiar with  Highway 83, but is important for continuity.

So, first to Thedford on the 2 to check it out with apparently unremarkable results and no pictures to show other than this Highway 2 sign...

and then north for 66 miles as the sign says, to Valentine.  This is a particularly lonely stretch of Nebraska with no towns along the way.  If you are at the intersection of 2 and 83 and need time to plan your next move, you can have a coffee at the Arrowhead Cafe and motel...

Unfortunately, the signs are alot more interesting than the motel or cafe which appear to be part of a
plain, boxy 1970's vintage motel that seemed clean and serviceable, but not much more.  Would have taken a picture anyway, but the sun was behind the building, with the facade in the shadows, so, no picture.  The elevated highway over the tracks is the 83 which we took as soon as I got these pictures.

You would think that with 66 miles of Sandhills ahead of us I would have more than these few pictures to show for it, but I don't, I still didn't have any idea about the significance of where we were.

How could a person be blogging about Nebraska and not have at least one obligatory photograph of the omnipresent windmill water pumps that dot the landscape, so here it is!!!  Needed to get that out of my system, but till now, couldn't find one that fit the paradigm.  Was lucky to find such a fine example, so well situated along the way.

Or another photo of the landscape, although admittedly, this one was taken on last years trip.  Somewhere about 17 miles south of Valentine, we turned onto the 16 B spur, thinking that we wanted to see something there, but changed our minds and got back on the 83.  This is the last picture I took before we got to Valentine.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Highway 83, Thedford or bust...

Out of Stapleton, and back on the 83 on our way to Thedford, 35 miles  to the north, we were enjoying the monotony of the Sand Hills and the fields surrounded by millions of miles of barbed wire...

when we came upon a sign for a turnoff to a scenic overlook.  Along the road you see many such signs announcing historic markers half a mile ahead, authentic pioneer homesteads two mile in on route 92, scenic overlook, half a mile ahead, etc.  After one or two disappointing experiences you tend to overlook these enticements at 65 mph, but as fate would have it, Jackie and I looked at each other and said lets check it out.

Don't know what's going on with the exposure here, maybe its the altitude, but this overlook afforded us a birds eye view of Highway 83 overpassing the Dismal River which runs about 10 miles south of Thedford and converges with the Loup River soon after that.  Did a lot of googling and looked into a guidebook or two, but could find no real explanation of why the river is called Dismal.  It is certainly nice enough and the surrounding landscape is lush and fertile.  Maybe it was just how the pioneers were feeling after traveling in broken down wagons for a thousand miles and they were still in the middle of nowhere, but then again that could describe just about everything they experienced on the westward journey back then, and that's if they were lucky, and certainly there are a lot more dismal places that this along the prairies, so there goes that theory.  Anyway, on to Thedford.

Not sure why, but the only picture I have of Thedford is this sign welcoming us.  I know we stopped in town, as we did last year while doing Route 2 before turning north to the Dakotas, but no picture then either, except the sign.  Don't know why, but there is a pattern here that needs to be checked out next time around.

I'm no cowboy poet, but I do write when the spirit moves me, and I mean that literally.   All that heat, it averaged over 90 for most of our visit, quite unusual for early June, all that barbed wire, the pervasive smell of the prairie air, maybe some sense of disappointment regarding Thedford, whatever...

                                               Even here, in the midst of these
                                                       soft rolling waves of indecision,
                                               punctuated by barbed wire and
                                                       menacing signs of exclusion,
                                               it was the silence, above all
                                                       that prevailed
                                               and the warm persistent hum
                                                       of curried air
                                               hanging soft and heavy in the hypnotic 
                                                       shimmer of that midwest afternoon
                                               that induced a reluctance to be even
                                                       a small part of those whispered remnants
                                               of old conversations.


Highway 83, North through Logan County...

If I had only known that it was "that" Highway 83 at the time, I would have paid more attention as we zipped through the city of North Platte, stopping in some little park only long enough to have a sandwich, but not long enough to take a picture.  In my defense, it was quite overcast at the time with a light drizzle, so as always, next time....

About 30 miles north, in the heart of Logan County, where the sun seemed to be shining,

was the town of Stapleton, about half a mile west of the 83, and a small town full of surprises.  After passing the gas station at the start of town, we didn't expect much, and were glad we still had half a tank.

But they have a post office, a great specialty food/gift shop selling mostly Nebraska made stuff called Heavenly Creations, a very stylish woman's clothes store/design studio with an interesting selection of fashions called Sublime Boutique, a hair salon, Frey's general store, that was authentically right out of the 1940's, a CPA, and a great little mini supermarket with a good sandwich shop inside and an engaging funny staff, and some other shops that slip my mind at the moment, but considering the location and my lowered expectations it was a pleasant surprise.

And a VFW Hall that serves beer and burgers to all, no questions asked, regardless of your status as a veteran or non-veteran.   Remaining viable is the name of the game in this tough economy.  And besides, we all do our part in our own ways to keep America, America.

Its hard to tell by looking at the east side of the main drag that was sun llit when we were there, but this is an interesting place to visit.

On the left, you  can kind of see the market.  Great sandwichs!!!  As far as isolated small towns go, this place is doing a good job in the struggle to remain relevant.  Stop by and give them your business.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Rural Electrification Project...

Leaving Maywood and heading north on the 83, there was not much to see, and I got thinking about the rural electrificaton program, which I tend to do a lot when we are out on the road in the midwest.  One of the prime movers behind this New Deal program was a Nebraska senator from McCook, George Norris, for whom the main street in McCook is named.  Building and generating the energy at the big dams was the hard part, but once this was done, it was just a matter of rounding up a few thousand unemployed kids from the depression stricken cities and transporting them west to stick a few million poles in the ground, string wire from one to the next, and bring electrical power to the vast expanses of rural American farms, ranches and little towns still living in the "dark ages" of kerosene lamps and wood fired stoves and largely and blissfully unaware of the world around them.

The idea was so perfect that it has barely changed a bit since its inception.  It remains little more than poles in the ground with millions of miles of wires strung from one to the next, bringing "light and joy" to all.  Standing in abandoned towns or looking down still unpaved roads leading to isolated farm houses,

it is interesting to try to conjure up images of what life was like not so long ago when people sat beside oil lamps in the evenings after a hard day of sod busting,  plowing or cutting hay, talking to each other, playing musical instruments, telling stories, or just sitting quietly smoking a pipe,  going to sleep early, and waking early, according to the natural rhythm of life on the farm.  Then came radio, electric lights, etc and the world began to take on an un-natural glow, and everything began to change.  I have always thought that the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the movie changed from the black and white of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz was a perfect metaphor for this transformation.   What a magical  experience to leave the tedium and isolation of farm life for a few hours, head into town and see a movie, buy shoes or a beer, and catch up with your neighbors.   For some first hand, eye opening, eye witness accounts of the rigors of the pre- electric/pre -mechanized life on the prairies, read Willa Cather... O Pioneers and My Antonia. 

Got me thinking about the irony of the computer age.  Here we are, using high technology so mind boggling complex that we really know nothing about it, that can do the most extraordinary things that we can't even comprehend, in mini micro seconds beyond our capacity to fathom, using computer chips as thin as a hair and as small as your pinky nail carrying tens of thousands of circuits that can do millions of calculations in an instant, and it is still being powered by some electric wires strung across some wooden poles dug into the ground by some kids from the city once upon a time, a technology that haven't changed in 80 years or more.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Highway 83...Mayfield

Somewhere about 32 miles north of McCook, about half a mile off the 83 is the town of Mayville, "Nebraska's Best Kept secret", self proclaimed, but an attribute that could easily be attributed to most of the towns and villages of Nebraska and even Nebraska itself, "Nebraska, America's best kept secret".  But maybe that is the magic of the place.

About a quarter mile in from the 83, as we headed down the side road into town, was this barn.  Nebraska is full of barns of all sorts, and coming from upstate New York, barns are ubiquitous and hold no particular interest to me in general,  photographically anyway, so I rarely if ever take pictures of them.  But for some reason, this Mayville barn caught my eye, and the rest is history, as they say....

Down the road you could see the town, the grain elevators, a church steeple, and the main street which was at least 50% abandoned.  There was a small market and a bar, both on the right side of the street, so I'm not sure who was getting the Bud Light delivery, maybe both.  This is the main street.  I guess people make the drive down to McCook for everything else.

These buildings are to my left, next to the metal shed of a structure on the left in the Bud Light picture, empty, and there's not much else, except of course the post office rounds out the picture of what was once a vibrant little agricultural community. 

Still, if I had realized that Maywood was going to be part of a bigger picture, I would have spent more time.  There's always the nagging feeling that I should have done more.  Next time, as always.  I'm starting to think there's a Highway 38 project in my future .