Monday, June 8, 2009

Oh, Atlanta

I am home. More to post to complete the travel blog but I am enjoying just sitting still at the moment.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Homeward Bound

We are on our way HOME!

On the ipod I plan to play

Left and Leaving by the Weakerthans (namesake of the blog)
Georgia on My Mind - Ray Charles
Oh Atlanta - Allison Krause

Sunsets, Sunrise

At the Grand Canyon we saw the sun set and rise. At Arches we saw it set. On the Kansas prairie we saw it set once more. I had always thought of sunrise and sunset as rather gradual processes, as the colors linger in the sky. However, around 5:20 a.m. Wednesday at the Grand Canyon, there was a definite moment of particular brilliance. At that moment, the sun’s reflection on the western cliff glowed golden. Then, the sun slipped above the horizon, and the colors muted.

Friday evening, we were cruising southeast through the prairie approaching Dodge City. For some reason, Andy looked back and exclaimed, “Holy crap! Look behind you!” The western sky, completely unobscured over the flat prairie, was the most vibrant shade of red. This lasted only minutes, time enough to snap a few photos, then, again, the colors faded, as the sun dropped below the heads of wheat.

Sometimes, the most beautiful things are behind you, and fleeting

Greensburg, Kansas: Andy Makes an Involuntary Donation

Per the recommendation of Andy’s parents, who are addicted to the green channel, we visited Greensburg, Kansas, a town destroyed by a tornado in 2007 and now rebuilding as the first American GREEN town. Greensburg is a rural town made up of farms and small local business. It also hosts the world’s largest hand-dug well. This town definitely has a special feel to it, as all the residents are friendly and inviting. The main store was bustling with activity, including our three visits.

There were many empty foundations where houses once stood...

Andy Looking into the Well

Inside the well...

Signs of hope outside the well...

The school is still in FEMA trailers...

In driving around Greensburg, looking at the new growth amongst the remnants of devastation, we met a man named Harlan, who showed us his photographs of his family’s house, which was reduced to scraps of lumber in the storm. In the photos you can see the couch and chair his aunt and uncle sat on to weather the storm. Harlan told us both survived, but have since passed. He said his aunt never really recovered from her injuries. Sadly, Harlan’s cousin was also killed during the storm. Amongst all this sadness, Harlan was working on a new house built where his cousin’s had stood. This illustrates the vibe of the entire town: hope, courage, inspiration, optimism, faith.

Our new friend Harlan...

The new house on the land where his counsin's house once stood.

Greensburg's hospital is currently still in FEMA trailers. Harlan told us that people went to the old hospital's basement for safety during the storm (including his wife who worked there) and all of those people survived but the hospital above was destroyed.

A new hospital is in the works

Two of the most interesting new structures in Greensburg are the Silo Eco-House. It is built in the shape of a silo to commemorate that the silo was the only building unharmed by the tornado. This house boasts many sustainable features, including a roof-top garden designed to support root vegetables. The Silo Eco-House will serve as office space for local non-profits. The Studio 804 Arts Center features solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal heating, and other Earth-friendly systems. It is expected to earn the U.S. Green Council’s LEED certification, the nation’s most rigorous standard for environmental sustainability. It was designed and built for the people of Greensburg by students in The University of Kansas’s award-winning Studio 804 course.

On the way out of Greensburg, Andy was given notice to make an involuntary donation to the City of Greensburg. Apparently, our traffic infractions caught up with us. Andy was cited for going 75 in 65 mph zone. Kristi is a prosecuting attorney who once made the front-page news for recommending a ticket be enforced against a man traveling 90 in a 65 mph zone en route to the hospital. Kristi has offered to attempt to negotiate a dismissal or reduction of the ticket, but Andy is reluctant to accept the offer. What do you think? Please post as a comment.

It was really uplifting to see such activity and community after such a tragedy. A town of approximately 1500 people lost 11 people and 95% of the town was flattened. The storm shelters next to the new homes and remaining foundations were haunting. The local high school is still in FEMA trailers. They have a wall built for the new school and the fence outside displays student’s messages of hope.

Noise-a-Sarus likes green things....

Kansas and the Prairie

The vastness and sameness of the prairie are as breathtaking as the mountain vistas we have seen. The grassland generally appears to extend to the horizon in perfect flatness and uniformity of color. However, the prairie is not, in fact, flat, but rather a series of gently rolling hills. The yellow green fields and the roadside are dotted with clusters of wildflowers. Cattle graze contentedly, and pastures alternate with corn and wheat fields, occasionally punctuated with an oil well. This pattern repeats itself for hundred and hundreds of miles.

It is easy to see how early settlers, arriving on virgin uncultivated grassland, saw flatness. Kristi was listening to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie on audio book while driving. To hear Laura’s description while seeing the scenery brought new meaning to the text. Kristi was also reminded of The Children’s Blizzard, the story of a tragic blizzard which struck the prairie around the same time Laura was growing up there.

Along the way we saw a sign advertising the world’s largest prairie dog. Noise-a-saurus whispered to Andy that he wanted to meet this prairie dog. As it turned out, it was right on the way and at the right time for one of our gas/rest stops. So we pulled in. The actual exhibit was closed, so we peeked between the boards and over the fence. Noise-a-saurus has this picture to prove he met the world’s largest prairie dog.

We also passed through Scott City.

Each prairie town we passed through is laid out with one central street, unlike the block layout we are more familiar with. Instead of a courthouse square, we inevitably passed a grain processing plant. Dodge City, the largest town we passed through Friday, also boasts of its meat, with many steakhouses as well as old west/cowboy museums and historical sites.
Most of the prairie cattle graze and roam freely in fields whose boundaries are beyond the horizon.

On our way out of Dodge, we noticed a meat processing plant. This in itself was not shocking. As we passed it, we then saw black fields littered with lighter colored shapes. It looked, frankly, like a huge junkyard. As we drew closer to the fields, we realized they were feed lots. The lighter shapes were cows, standing in their own poo. The stench was almost overwhelming. Michael Pollock described these type of feedlots in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book Kristi recommends. We were so taken aback, we did not manage to get a photo. We are not actually disappointed that we didn’t see another such meat factory.

Colorado and the Rockies

Friday was our longest day of driving. We left Moab, Utah, bound for Dodge City, Kansas. This required that we cross the entire breadth of Colorado in one day, a total drive of twelve hours, road time. Because we had not actually finished our viewing at Arches, we headed for the park on our way out. As a result, we started the day’s official journey at 9:00 a.m. mountain time1.

This particular segment of our itinerary was carefully planned the night before. Kristi proposed we drive in three-hour shifts, with three 20-minute breaks. Andy was very compliant with the plan. The dogs, with the aid of benadryl and xanax, were tolerably compliant. Through bending the speed limit, we actually made up enough time to absorb our rest stops. We all peed on schedule. We ate in the car. We finally rolled into Dodge at 10:00 p.m. central time.

Passing through the Rockies was an incredible experience. The altitude challenged our driving skills and illuminated the limitations of Andy’s little Pontiac Vibe, notwithstanding the 100-octane gas. Our ears popped continuously. It was amazing to go from the dry desert to lush forested mountains and snow capped peaks. Unlike the mountains in the east, traffic cannot always go around or over the Rockies. Sometimes, you have to go through the mountain, in tunnels. We passed through Vail and saw the ski slopes and golf courses.

The Colorado River kept reappearing along the highway, and we actually crossed it several times. It was really refreshing to see trees and water again. The next major city was Denver. We were surprised at how much the altitude had dropped by then, and by how quickly the Rocky Mountains yielded to rolling hills to prairie.

Foot note: It took us about an hour to figure what time we left Arches for our travel, because it seems each time we pass through a time zone, we set a different clock. All our clocks – car radio, GPS, Kristi’s watch, and Andy’s laptop - are on different times. After mentally walking through our morning and consulting the gas receipt, we confidently concluded we actually started out at 9:00 a.m.

Arches National Park

I was in awe the entire time we were in Arches National Park. If you want to explore this country, I cannot recommend the city of Moab and Arches enough. I can’t even explain it in it words really. But before you go off and explore the rest of the world you should see the amazing creations the earth has made right here in our back yard.

I will let the photos speak for themselves….

As we left the park, Kristi looked at the rock formations scattered around the desert, and thought, this is where God left his toys out.