10 July, 2010

Vaction Pics - Days One & Two

What would a boring vacation monologue be without vacation pics?


Start of the trip: the beat up truck and the beat up camper.

Some views of the windmill farm along I-80 near Walnut, IA. Oh, how exciting!

The campsite in Limon, CO with the boys (Limon, KOA),

A thunderstorm on the plains. I tried to get a picture with lightning, but kept being too late.

Hopefully better pictures for Day Three.

Day 2

Usually when I am going through Nebraska, it is at the end of a trip. Thus, my usual voyage though the state goes from west to east, starting at either the Wyoming or Colorado borders, and heading toward Omaha and the state of Iowa. But today was something of an anomaly; rather than use it as a stepping stone home, I instead used it as a leg of my journey westwards. Have you ever noticed that things look different when you approach them from another direction? Nebraska didn’t look like the Nebraska I’m used to today, in large part because I was approaching it from an (for me) unusual angle. All the usual pit stops and turn offs looked the same, but the highway looked and felt different this time. It was a strange experience to be driving what felt like the first time on a highway I know very well.

One of the things I’ve found about driving across Nebraska on I-80 is that the major cities and landmarks are all just about one hours drive apart. Starting at the I-80 & I-76 split (which is roughly a mile away from the Nebraska/Colorado border) and going east, the first major city one encounters is North Platte; an hour or so east from there, Kearney; an hour more east, Grand Island; an hour east more, Lincoln; finally another hour, and you’re in Omaha. To be sure these are only approximates; the distance between North Platte and Kearney is about 80 miles, while Kearney to Grand Island is about 50. But the average works out pretty well, and it gives you a good picture how much longer you have to drive to get across the state just by knowing which cities/landmarks you’ve passed. And of course, if you’re heading westward-ho rather than east, the timing works just as well in reverse. A little tidbit of useless knowledge, for those interested. Oh, and before anyone asks, if you’re heading to Wyoming through Nebraska or starting at Wyoming heading east, the Wyoming border to I-80/I-76 split segment takes about an hour and a half to run, and is the only part of the rubric that doesn’t fit.

Anyway... Nebraska. I like Nebraska. It has an open expanse, no nonsense feel to it that doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. When you’re in Nebraska, you’re in “the country”, and Nebraskans wouldn’t have it any other way. As you head west, the grasslands become more dominant and the tress become fewer and fewer, until finally near the Colorado border they disappear almost completely. By then the grass has become all pervasive, covering plain and hills alike for as far as the eye can see. Only an occasional farmhouse disrupts the sea of grass, and even then only occasionally. Along the way across Nebraska, the Platte River runs mostly parallel to the interstate, but occasionally crosses underneath it. The Platte is a wide and long river, but very shallow; one can wade across it for much of its length. In the summer especially, when the spring rains are no more and much of the rest of the flow is being taken for irrigation.

As for the trek across Nebraska itself, mostly we just drove, trying to finish the trip there and thus have less traveling to worry about. There are a lot of tourist-trappy places I’ve always wanted to stop at along the way in Nebraska but never seem to find the time, much less convince the people in my vehicle they were good places to stop. The Pioneer museum in Kearney, for instance (which is in a building that goes over the interstate like a gateway). Or the Heartland Military Museum , with all of its decommissioned ordinance set outside. One of these days I’ll get the chance to drop by these places, perhaps even at the tail end of this trip. But sadly, today was not that day. This trip will be about mountain ranges, ruins, railroads.

Right now we’re camped out the KOA in Limon, Colorado, which is the first official bit of camping this trip. Nice campground, and one that is surprisingly crowded for an out-of-the-way town. Tomorrow we’ll be heading for the next KOA (in Cotopaxi, which is near Royal Gorge). But before that I think we’ll visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which will be our first real piece of touristy activity.

Cross your fingers that the program I’ve downloaded works. I’ve been wanting to post some pictures, but the picture size the digital camera I have produces is way too large to be practical to post tot he blog. I’m hoping to edit them into something more usable.

08 July, 2010

Day 1

Today was essentially a driving day.

My usual method on these trips is to spend the first day or two getting the bulk of the driving out of the way. Since I live in Chicago, even the closest areas of what I would consider "the West" are at least a good days drive away, and the areas I like to frequent (Wyoming, Utah, Arizona) are another good day beyond that. As just a straight roadtrip, you can do it in one continuous drive -- from Chicago, Denver or Cheyenne are only about 15-16 hours away. But with children and towing a camper, that isn't practical.

No real sightseeing today, unless you count whatever it is one can catch by looking outside the car window.  We crossed the Mississippi River at Davenport in the early afternoon, and the Missouri River at Omaha at about sundown.  Illinois along I-80 is mostly flat and green, but Iowa at least has the virtue of rolling hills and occasional valleys.  Much more interesting a drive west than taking I-90 through southern Minnesota, a route which I consider to be possibly the Most Boring Highway in the United States.

Windmills are sprouting up everywhere in Western Iowa.  It wasn't so long ago (3-4 years ago) that the only windmill you could find along I-80 was a towering one at Adair that never seemed to be working.  I'd often wondered what the deal with that windmill was, since every time I drove by it I never saw its arms rotating, just frozen stock still.  The only purpose I could ever see it performing was to advertise the town along the busy highway, since you could see the thing for miles before the exit.  But nowadays, not only is it working at generating electricity, but there are dozens -- perhaps even more than a hundred -- of similar size standing right along with it in the Adair area.  And not only Adair, but further west in and around the town of Walnut, another wind farm is sprouting up that looks like it may grow to be just as large.  Walnut -- which I've been visiting for years, since its better known as having the largest concentration of antique stores and antique malls in Iowa -- appears to be becoming something of a boom town, a rare thing these days.  The Wind Rush is on, and it looks like towns like Adair and Walnut are looking to capitalize, with still more towns joining in as well (truck convoys carrying those huge windmill blades have become an exceedingly common sight on I-80 through Iowa; I counted four on today's drive alone).  I wish them all good luck, though I am still skeptical that wind power will ever amount to anything more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to fulfilling our country's energy needs.

Tomorrow we head across dusty Nebraska and into even dustier Eastern Colorado, with the ultimate aim being the town of Limon and its KOA.

Something to Read Before I Leave

Siobhan wants me to wait a little before leaving so she can run some necessary errands and still see us off. Which means I have a little time to troll around the internet.

This is a damn good read:
The Progressives’ Legacy of Bankruptcy, by Tiffany Jones Miller
(National Review Online)

07 July, 2010

Night before

Well, I'm getting ready to depart. Cross your fingers that I keep up with this blog thing through the trip. I picked up a digital camera especially so I can post to the blog and email pictures of kids to people.

Mileage on vehicle at start of trip: 186,475.7.

05 July, 2010

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles

The Michael Moorcock original Doctor Who novel now has a name (The Coming of the Terraphiles), a release date (November 9. 2010), and a listing on Amazon:

The Coming of the Terraphiles,
by Michael Moorcock

Product Description:
Miggea - a world on the very edge of reality. The cusp between this universe and the next. A point where space-time has worn thin, and is in danger of collapsing. And the venue for the grand finals of the competition to win the fabled Arrow of Law. The Doctor and Amy have joined the Terraphiles - a group obsessed with all aspects of Earth's history, and dedicated to re-enacting ancient sporting events. They are determined to win the Arrow. But just getting to Miggea proves tricky. Reality is collapsing, ships are disappearing, and Captain Cornelius and his pirates are looking for easy pickings. Even when they arrive, the Doctor and Amy's troubles won't be over. They have to find out who is so desperate to get the Arrow of Law that they will kill for it. And uncover the traitor on their own team. And win the contest fair and square. And, of course, they need to save the universe from total destruction.

Notice the reference to Moorcock's Eternal Champion series ("Captain Cornelius")

Looking forward to this one.

Poll Predictions

Its the start of the first full week of a new month, which means several polls for various races in Illinois are likely to be coming out over the next few days.

The one I am most closely watching is, of course, the Illinois Senate race. Rasmussen should have their snapshot out about the middle of the week, and my bet is that it will still show Mark Kirk ahead, albeit with a small lead (probably in the neighborhood of 2-3%). PPP hasn't had a poll in this race out in a few months, so there's a good chance they'll weigh in; if so, I readily expect them to show Gianoulias either tied or with a sliver of a lead. Of course, as I've stated numerous times on this blog, I think polling at this time is close to meaningless, but its at least interesting to watch the various races make hash out of them.

The other big Illinois race I'm expecting to see polling on is the Governor race. My gut feeling based on personal observation is that Governor Quinn is in big, big trouble. I expect Rassmussen to show challenger Brady with another double-digit lead, while if PPP weighs in they'll probably show Brady in the mid-to-upper single digits. Honestly, the few Quinn supporters I've found are lackluster in their support at best, while the Brady supporters are getting fired up; this race may not even be close come November. But again, I've got to issue the same caveat as above in the US Senate race: summer polling, blah-blah-blah, wait until the September polls start coming out for the real snapshot of what's going on in this state.

BTW, I was expecting a Daily Kos/R2000 poll out by now for both races, but that ain't gonna happen in view of recent events. I expect now for Daily Kos to sit the summer out while they lick their wounds and find another (hopefully, more ethical) company to do their bidding polling for them. I wouldn't expect to see another poll from them until September or even October... much to many Democrat candidates disappointment, I'm sure.

04 July, 2010

Heading for Colorado This Week

My annual trek out west starts this week. I will be heading for Southern and Central Colorado, with some possible trips into New Mexico, Utah, and/or Arizona. Places I'm hoping to visit include:

Great Sand Dunes, National Park....

Mesa Verde National Park...

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park...

Royal Gorge...

...and many others. I'll be camping with the pop-up with both of my boys, and hoping to chronicle the trip here on this blog. So keep coming back and see how things are going with us!

How to Make the World Cup More Interesting to Me

In Congress, July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

On this day in 1776, the final draft of the United States Declaration of Independence was approved. In actuality, the Second Continental Congress had voted to approve secession two days earlier on July 2, but the final wording of the document was not ratified until July 4. Most historians agree that only John Hancock, as president of the Second Continental Congress, actually signed the document that day and most of the rest didn't sign it until nearly a month later, on August 2, while some may not have signed it until as late as September. But nevertheless, this is the day that is remembered as the true turning point, the moment the Thirteen Colonies became an independent nation.

Happy Birthday, United States of America.

01 July, 2010

WARNING: That which you have seen can never be unseen

From the same Chinese news service that brought you the CG "dramatic recreation" of Tiger Woods' Thanksgiving now comes.... Al Gore, Sex Poodle!