Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Rounding Out Our Great Plains Adventure: OLA

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rounding Out Our Great Plains Adventure: OLA

a covered bridge from the 'Bridges of Madison County' in Winterset, Iowa
We were fearful for the next day when we had to cross the Midwest (the breadbasket of the US where the land is very fertile, ideal for oats, wheat, and corn. Central Luzon, the rice granary of the Philippines seems like a speck against these vast green and amber waves of grain, the graceful grain terraces, and the wind turbines that power them). There had been so much swelling of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers due to early melts, we didn’t know what to expect, and we had heard about the devastation.

grains terraces on the Great Plains
The Great Plains is that section of the Midwest that is the most flat, covering the states of North and South Dakota (except for the Black Hils), Nebraska, and Kansas. Often described as having the most homogeneous (and monotonous) topography of any part of the US, the region experiences the greatest extremes in temperature and climatic conditions. Winters are cold, with frequent snowy blizzards, while summers bring hot, dry winds. Before we left the eastern part of South Dakota, it was over 100 degrees!

wind turbines at dusk
The Great Plains also experience more tornadoes (remember Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz?) than any other region. Joplin, Missouri, close to the southeastern tip of Kansas was most recently devastated by a killer tornado. When the region was first being settled in the late 1800s, periods of good rainfall attracted a large numbers of settlers. Then several years of drought that turned fields into dry wastelands, discouraged them. The worst dust bowls occurred in the depression years of the 1930s.

the Corn Palace at Mitchell
It is only fitting that a proud testament to the hardworking people stands in Mitchell, South Dakota. The world’s only Corn Palace was started in 1882 and is rebuilt annually from 275,000 ears of corn at a cost of $130,000. Using 12 different colors of corn and trimmed by grass, rye, wheat, etc., an artist’s design is executed on a building shell. This year the design theme is called ‘American Pride.’ In Sioux Falls, the Missouri River is broken by pink granite rocks that create a pretty system of little waterfalls. 
Sioux Falls in the city of the same name
Boys Town, a national landmark in Omaha
Just southeast of the Badlands are the Sand Hills of central Nebraska but we didn’t know so we missed them and the famous Chimney Rock. But it was a pleasant surprise to know that it was in Omaha, Nebraska where Boys Town was born. In 1917 Father Flannagan bought Overlook Farm and dedicated his ‘home’ to the care, treatment, and education of at-risk children. There are now 14 centers in America saving millions of children. Between Omaha and Council Bluffs is also the longest pedestrian bridge linking 2 states. 

the longest pedestrian bridge connecting Nebraska and Iowa
Bill's first home in Omaha, Nebraska
Bill started his family in Omaha, where, after working for a year at Caterpillar Tractors’ HQ in Illinois (where he met his late wife), he was reassigned. All three of his children were born there at the very first house he ever bought.  He had just graduated from Pittsburg State University in his hometown in Kansas when he joined the earth-moving equipment giant. And it was also in Omaha where he moved on to Burroughs which finally brought him to Seattle, where thirty-five years later we would eventually meet!

sections of I-29 that hugged the Missouri River
 between Nebraska and Iowa, submerged by the river's flood waters
Rosemary, Jack, Bill, Joe and Susan,
with Bill in Kansas City
So we also drove to Kansas City to meet his only sister, Rosemary, her husband Jack, and her children Joe and Bill, and Susan, Joe’s wife. Ordinarily the trip from Omaha to Kansas City would have taken 3 hours at most. It took us four hours and 15 minutes, each way! I could not believe it. Memories of Manila floods that leveled our tiny home beside an overflowing creek welled in my mind as I saw flood waters, being released from dams, submerge big sections of I-29, a huge American freeway!

John Wayne's birthplace in Winterset, Iowa
But before we moved on, we stopped at Council Bluffs, Iowa where we had our RV checked out at Camping World. While they worked on the heating/airconditioning system, we discovered that the famous Bridges in Madison County was just 2 hours away in Winterset. That is where Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep denied each other the love of their life!  And the town is also John Wayne’s birthplace!!! His home is just the right size...if only it were yellow! How is that for rounding out our adventure in the Great Plains?

Malcolm X's birthplace on the same street at Bll's Omaha home
Next Stops: Minnesota and Wisconsin