Arriving in Nebraska was definitely a turning point of our trip. The rolling hills of Kansas disappeared and were replaced by treeless prairies. The humid air disappeared and the temperature dropped in the evenings reminiscent of the mountain climate of the Southwest. To further confuse me, there were patches of cacti at one of our campsites.
While camped by a group of small lakes I made another discovery. Apparently Nebraska has a LARGE skunk population. We spotted two within 50 yards when we were walking one evening along the edge of a tall, grassy area of the woods. I thought skunks were nocturnal, but apparently not in Nebraska. So needless to say, when I went for a run the next morning (I could no longer use the hot, humid weather as an excuse not to), I was on edge and screamed like a banshee when a skunk came out of the tall grass and startled me. Turns out, it was a bird but how was I to know?
The next night in Nebraska we were trying to pick a camping spot by another lake as a massive thunderstorm was heading our way. All the camping spots were beneath large trees. Because we are camping in a big metal box, we were not comforted by this fact. Going with the theory that Ã¢â‚¬Å“lightning never strikes the same place twiceÃ¢â‚¬Â we camped next to a tree that had been hit many, many years ago. I’m happy to report we rode out the thunderstorm unscathed.
The highlight of our time in Nebraska was a tour of one of the original Pony Express Stations. This short-lived, privately-owned mail delivery system (existing for only 18 months) from Missouri to California is iconic in American history but like our current mail delivery system was not a profitable enterprise.
While touring the Pony Express Station, we met Mike and Wanda Shaughnessy from Indiana who were traveling back home from California in a beautiful 1940’s Ford coupe. Safe travels Mike and Wanda!
Back on the road we abruptly came upon a much welcomed terrain change and found ourselves in an area of rugged hills and large pine trees. The area is known asPine RidgeÂ and lasted all of 10 minutes at best and then we were back to the treeless prairie. We will not reach the Black Hills of South Dakota soon enough!
So tour guide and ambassador Mike plotted out a nice little back way out of Toronto Lake for us.
I think this bridge has been out a while.
I was half following Mike’s directions and half watching the GPS when I see a curvy little road to the west, (which was the overall direction for the day anyway) and turned left instead of right. A little way down the road I turned right onto the only curvy road I had yet seen on a Kansas map. After about a 1/4 mile the road started getting seriously slippery. Did I mention the massive rain storm the night before? So I put it in 4Lo and went a few more feet until I saw a “Low water crossing” sign. Hmmm, did I mention the massive rain storm the night before? I stopped and went on down the hill and around the bend on foot where I came upon a very swollen, very fast moving river about 40 yards across and at least 5 feet deep in the middle running across the road. So much for a “low” water crossing! On the other side was an immediate tight left uphill turn. Since the road got slicker the closer I got to the river, I judged my chances of getting across as very low and getting up the other side as lower yet. So the only option was to back up. Uphill, and off-camber no less. Needless to say I found both ditches in the process.
More than once the truck and trailer headed for this low spot. The fun part was that just left of that rock was a sheer five foot drop to the river!
After thirty minutes or so of backing up with almost zero traction I finally got to solid ground. I say I because after the first ditch excursion, Pamala decided she wanted out of the big ugly Dodge and by this time was safely walking.
A little muddy but no worse for the wear.
In retrospect I remember Mike mentioning “Rocky Ford”, and “not recommended even when dry”.Ã‚Â After getting to solid ground, I zoomed in the GPS close enough to see the road names. I guess I don’t have to tell you where we were!
As we worked our way northwest, I began to feel anxious to get to areas of the country I had never visited. I looked forward to seeing the sights and topography of Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota. I gave little thought to Kansas, other than knowing we would have to pass throughÂ it to get to Nebraska. To my surprise, I found Kansas to be magical. Forget all the stereotypes about Kansas being flat and unattractive. There are vividly green rolling hills, fields of colorful wildflowers and a multitude of lakes and rivers. Yes, there are areas of the state that are flat, but even those areas are beautiful in their own way. There is nothing unattractive about rows and rows of crops found in the flat areas of Kansas. Â I know, I know. I am biased because I love vegetables! I digress…anyway we spent five days in the Land of Oz. Initially we found a lake in Toronto (Kansas, not Canada) where we met Mike, Alisha, Braden and Lakin. Alisha spotted our camper as we crossed the dam and alerted her husband Mike, an emerging overlander. The family came to the campground and introduced themselves. We fast became part of their family, spending time at their cabin and boating with them. Lakin and Braden demonstrated their wake boarding skills, which were pretty honedÃ‚Â for a 5th and 7th grader. Alisha wake-surfed like a professional with no rope! I was impressed. Mike became the official ambassador of Kansas and guided us to some pretty cool sites in the state that we would have otherwise missed. It is unbelievable how much Jim and Mike have in common. Â It was as if they were old friends getting reacquainted. Â They are kindred spirits. Kansas was indeed serendipitous in more ways than one and will hold lasting memories for me.
Lakin and Braden with us on the lake
Braden, Alisha and Mike at our campsite
Field of wheat
Planted lilies won’t grow in my yard but are “wild” along the roadside here
Our lunch stop: Â The historic Trail Days Cafe and Museum in Council Grove, Kansas where historical food is served
Traveling to Wilson Lake in Dorrance, Kansas
Where we camped on the cliff of crystal clear Wilson Lake!
Sunset at Wilson Lake
We saw a swamp with cypress trees that at night would be straight out of a horror movie.
We wandered around a small town with an old fashioned bank clock, a “Catfish Museum” and decorated catfish scattered around town.
We toured the BB King museum.
And Magnolia trees lined downtown streets.
On the major highways in Missouri there are mile markers every .2 (yes two tenths!) of a mile. We never could come up with a possible reason for needing to see a milepost every 10-12 seconds.
Traveling along the Gulf Coast, watching miles and miles of coastline, definitely put me in a zen place. Plop me in front of a body of water and I am at peace. I prefer the ocean, but I appreciate lakes and rivers as well. In addition to the Gulf of Mexico, so far I have felt obligated to dip my toes into the Ochlockonee River and the Rocky Bayou. But seeing beautiful aspects of nature aside, I have discovered there are definite disadvantages to using roads less traveled. In exchange for avoiding interstate traffic and boredom, travelers on back roads miss the ubiquitous rest stops when the need arises to stretch the folded body or to use the bathroom. Although grocery stores are scattered here and there, they aren’t necessarily what I call full-service grocery stores. We stopped to restock food supplies at one small town USA grocery store and found such a dismal selection that our entire purchase consisted of two gallons of less than palatable water and a package of asparagus. If buying organic produce and alternative food items is your norm, their availability in the small town grocery store will probably be fleeting at best or more than likely, non-existent. Imagine my excitement when I spotted a Natural Food Store as we were passing through a town in the panhandle of Florida. Now imagine my disappointment when the loaf of bread I usually buy cost over $7 at said store, $3 more than I usually pay. Needless to say, I left that bread in the store. So do I need to say “it ain’t all good”?
Oh how I loathe thee!
In past years we would drive 12-16 hour days (on interstates) to get to a destination. Then drive 12-16 hour days to get home by a deadline. Part of the allure of this trip was having no deadlines or schedules and consequently avoiding interstates as much as possible. So after spending 5 days vs. the usual 12 hours getting out of Florida we needed to get to central Mississippi on a schedule. So instead of the 4-6 hour driving days on back roads we spent 8 hours on the road today with more than a few of them on I10. Erratic and inattentive drivers were the rule of the day. Add that to the homogeneity of today’s America along the interstates and it became a less than enjoyable day.
So please do us a favor, if you spot us on an Interstate during our travels please flag us down and direct us to the nearest back-road!
“On the road again Goin’ places that I’ve never been Seein’ things that I may never see again And I can’t wait to get on the road again” – Willie Nelson
Although this is my theme song, it isn’t quite true because our first stop is a wonderful island on the west-central Florida coast called Cedar Key that we visited four years ago. This place is a hidden jewel with old Florida charm and sans the commercialization of Walmarts and McDonalds.
We were hosted by a great couple, Pat and Cindy Bonish, who are the owners and operators of the Low Key HideawayÂ . Â Full service RV spaces and well-appointed suites are available. Â Located on the Gulf of Mexico, the Low Key Hideaway is famous for sunset watching off the pier. Ã‚Â The tiki bar is between the motel and the pier where you can get the Low Key Hideaway Special drink and a lemonade drink that is definitely not your kid’s lemonade!!! Â The tiki bar also offers a great selection of microbrews. We met fabulous and friendly guests at the tiki bar who made sure we didn’t go hungry. Â We were fed alligator tail, venison, clams, fresh-caught trout and red snapper. Yum Yum! Thanks Dan, Lori and Tilly and the rest of the gang for the great food and company!
The only disappointment we experienced while on Cedar Key is discovering the loss of one of the most striking structures we have seen on the water.
This building was called the Honeymoon Cottage, built as a vacation get-away for a family who lived in Gainesville. Â Over the decades, it has succumbed to the ravages of mother nature and is now no more.
So our two-day stay here has come to an end, but never will we forget the spectacular sunsets, hospitality and good eating!
Finishing the prep for our first post retirement trip. It’s going to feel good to be able to travel for the first time with no deadlines!
The schedule has been changed a few times but the basic premise is the same; Florida to the end of the road in Deadhorse Alaska and back. The route? Who knows, we’ll figure that out as we go. We hope to do a lot of back road/dirt road exploring and stay off the beaten track when we can. The truck and camper are “off the grid” capable for extended periods so we hope to do a lot of remote camping along the way.
This was a little shake-down run on the trailer in New Mexico last year. Nothing like views for miles and total seclusion!