If for some reason you are headed west from New England on I-90 and I-80 towards Denver, this post might be mildly interesting. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We are spending most of our time on this part of our trip on interstate highways, which is not our usual MO. We are headed west to meet up with family and friends, and in the last few days our temperature has been set at 72, speedometer has been largely pinned at 65, and our compass pointed towards W.
We are mindful – and humbled, by the pioneers who 200 years ago trekked from the east coast towards unknown and unexplored territories. Two hundred years is, what, six generations separated from us? Amazing what has transpired in 200 years.
For some small part of our trip, we have been following the Oregon Trail, if you don’t get too technical. Those pioneers were not traveling 65 mph in an air-conditioned vehicle on a paved road with signposts. What will take us a week to get from NH to Denver would take months, if not years for those pioneers, and many would lose their lives in the effort. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
We left New Hampshire in our rearview mirrors, trekked across southern Vermont and entered the Empire State to the Saint Johnsville Marina and Campsite where we were warmly welcomed by Joe the Harbormaster.
One probably doesn’t think about upstate New York needing a harbormaster, but that is exactly what is required at many locations along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River, at harbors and locks along the 363-mile canal. Connecting Buffalo to Albany, and thereby connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, this waterway was instrumental in furthering America’s growth and trade.
Far more today it is used as a recreational resource. Ambitious boaters, called “loopers”, will make a loop from wherever they begin, follow the canal in a 6,000-mile loop that eventually leads to the Gulf of Mexico, go around the Keys, and head back up the east coast to reach the Hudson River where they return to their start. An information packet tells us just to go end-to-end on the canal would take about 7-10 days, and by kayak about 3 weeks. Pretty cool.
I know we diverge from most people on this subject, but we love to camp close to train tracks, and hear the train horns – the more the better. So being squeezed in a marina between the Erie Canal and a pair of very active train tracks was heaven to us.
One of the trains (it must have been 100 cars long) was filled with trash! Guessing it was from NYC, but it got me thinking about what does a city the size of New York do with their trash? A tiny bit of research later, it turns out that any decent sized city often will load their trash on a “trash” train and have it transported elsewhere. I must admit it was a foreign subject for me. As we speak there are probably mountains being formed that will become recreational parks or ski areas. Ewww. I don’t need to know everything.
Always on our minds when we travel across upstate New York is to work in a stop at Duff’s. Duff’s and the Anchor Bar compete on the best Buffalo Wings. In all fairness, we have yet to make it to the Anchor Bar, but the wings at Duff’s are to die for. Always a treat. The circus was in town, but we didn’t take the time. Besides, clowns scare me.
We made a stop in Conneaut, OH at a private campground – I’ll be kind and leave out the name. The overnight sites are pretty nice, and the people at the campground seemed very nice. But don’t walk through the seasonal campground. This place is hospice for RV’s.
We did stop at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio along the way, as we had never been there before. As much as we love the national parks, this one underwhelmed us. But we did get to add an evergreen tree to our national parks map! So there’s that.
We ignored some outstanding warrants for Karen’s arrest and entered Indiana regardless, and more specifically into Amish country. Staying at Shipshewana North Park Campground in, you guessed it, Shipshewana, IN. For Karen this meant corn, custard, and camping. For me it was beer, bonnets and buggies. The Amish tend to keep to themselves, and speak (according to Google) Swiss German, at least in Indiana.
But their carriages and horses are simply pristine! I didn’t attempt to get too close, out of respect, but their rigs appeared in perfect shape.
And all you need to know.
Heading through Illinois, the stars didn’t line up for us to visit the John Deere combine manufacturing tour in East Moline (it was Saturday). Not to put too fine a point on my sexism, but what self-respecting male would not want to see how John Deere combines are manufactured? Rhetorical. Speak amongst yourselves.
When you stay to the interstates, your threshold to find something interesting can get pretty low. We know this because we stopped at the Iowa 80 Truckstop, self-reported to be the largest truck stop in the world. Sadly, we couldn’t take the time to visit the trucking museum.
For many campers, Army Corps of Engineer (CoE) campgrounds are a real find. Typically, CoE campgrounds and parks are near bodies of water, often man-made water supplies. These campgrounds are not only affordable (particularly with the Senior Pass) but also generally nice. No disappointment for us with Linder Point Campground, in Iowa City, IA.
With exceedingly hot temperatures yesterday, rain today, and generally limited time, we clearly are not taking advantage of this resource. Many folks come here to boat, swim, and hike. For us, we are just happy to not drive for a day and get in a short walk and a little reading time.
One of the points of interest was the Devonian Fossil Gorge. Flooding from 1993 and 2008 carved out a gorge that then displayed never-before seen fossils!
I took my trusty camera off for a photo shoot. If you have ever gone looking for fossils, it is not like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can find your favorite stars.
This fossil hunt is more like a Rorschach test. Is that a fossil? A bat, a butterfly? Do you feel angst towards your mother? I took a bunch of pictures, but honestly, I needed expert guidance. These are probably not even fossils, but I enjoyed myself – from one sociopath to another. You’re welcome.
And shortly after departing the campground, what do we behold but the largest wooden nickel in the world!
And a Danish windmill in Elk Horn, IA!
Over the years we have found county parks to be generally very cool places to camp, so Karen guided us into the George Clayton Hall County Park in Grand Island, NE. Typically, county parks are first come, first served, and we snuck into one of the last sites available. This park was superb.
Located alongside flood area for the Platte River, this was a shaded cocoon and a nice break from highway driving. The park has a ton of space, camping for RV’s as well as tents, running, walking and biking paths, all within a short distance to Grand Island if you so choose.
In keeping with our Oregon Trail theme, we stopped in Kearney, NE at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. This facility actually stretches across I-80, and while appearing as a really touristy thing, it was really impressive. Well done.
The display, for lack of better term, takes you from the earliest pioneers on their quest to find a route to the Pacific Ocean, to the gold rush, the building of the trains, and the highway system as the population has evolved west.
Speaking of trains, Karen found a place where we could see the largest train yard in the world – Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, NE! Huge!
You can take an elevator to the 8th floor of the Golden Spike Tower and see this mammoth facility.
To give you an idea, there are 17 receiving, and 16 departing tracks coming into or going out of this yard. Every day approximately 14,000 train cars pass through this facility, of which about 3,000 get sorted. This is truly an engineering marvel, but here are just a few shots. Totally worth the stop.
While originally having reservations at a different location, we made a game-day decision and traveled to see Chimney Rock National Historic Site, an iconic landmark on the Oregon Trail.
Early pioneers used this rock formation as a beacon to guide them in their journeys, which we are told they could see from up to 41 miles away. We found a campground close to its base (Settlers Trading Post Campground in Bayard, NE), which was particularly cool because they light up the rock at sunset – in a respectful way, not a touristy thing (although I guess it is).
The area is beautiful, and again we are reminded of the hopes, dreams, and hardships of those who preceded us.
On Day 8 we are making our final push into Denver, to see our son and his fiancé (yeah!!!) before we push on further west to meet up with some friends.
Upon entering Colorado, we passed through the Pawnee National Grasslands. One could see nothing but grasslands for as far as the eyes could see. No pictures here, but simply amazing.
We will camp for a few days in Denver on our route to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming where we will spend a goodly amount of time.
Stay out of our way – we’ll report back when we can!