Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Day 10 Summary

Day Ten – August 12, 2004
Waterloo, IA to Brainerd, MN

By the end of this day, I’d finally be back in Minnesota! But first, I’ll talk about how this day began. We were in Waterloo, in a very chilly Iowa. Actually, it had been quite cold at the Hoover Memorial Park the night before, but it was even cooler on this morning. I’d later learn exactly how cold it had been in Minnesota the previous few days, as well.

I’ve completely forgotten about talking about the weather, now that I think about it. Basically, it was very warm the first day coming through Iowa, with temperatures in the 90s. A thunderstorm, with a lot of rain, thunder, and lightning passed through the Kansas City area the first day of the vacation, but we were not affected because it came through very early in the morning. Meanwhile, it was warm, but cooler than usual, in Kansas during the second day, and it even drizzled a little in Lawrence, KS. The third day of the trip was warm, but not too hot. While we were in Dallas, it was a little warm and humid, but according to the news there, it was actually very much below normal. The warmest it got when we were in Dallas was 89°F, and it’s not unusual to see temperatures above 100°F during the first week of August. Louisiana and Mississippi were much more humid than anywhere else we went on the trip, but the humidity wasn’t completely unbearable. Memphis was, like all other places, cooler than usual for this time of year, but still a bit humid. Finally, when we got to St. Louis, it was very, very comfortable. The cold front that brought cool air to Minnesota and Iowa had pulled into Missouri, and after having to have our air conditioning on every day of the trip, we were finally able to turn it off in St. Louis and points northward.

It was also a bit misty in Waterloo. That didn’t stop me from going to a cache and dropping off a travel bug, however.

We soon got out of Waterloo. Not too much happened until we got to the northern part of Iowa. This was a very, very scenic area for me; once again because I love rolling prairie and endless fields of corn (and soybeans, etc.).

The only relatively large city in Iowa we got to was Osage, in the extreme northern part of the state. Here, we picked up some farm-fresh sweet corn (which was really delicious) and some breakfast. We ate the local city park, which was really a wonderful place. Actually, all of Osage was a wonderful place. I’d be very happy to call Osage my home; the people who live there really have a lot to be proud of in their community. I simply can’t say enough about that place.

Anyway, we soon came to the Minnesota border, and, low and behold, the city of Lyle was right on the border (in some places there were houses only about 10 feet from the Iowa border).

Crossing the border into Minnesota also put me into Mower County, a new county for me. We followed U.S. 218 into Austin, where we got onto Minnesota Highway 59 and went into Dodge County, another new county for me. In Dodge Center, we turned onto U.S. Highway 14 and traveled to Owatonna. Here, we got on I-35 and the rest is really history, since nothing really interesting happened from there to Brainerd.

We did, however, encounter the worst traffic of the trip in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. It took us an hour and a half alone just to go from Burnsville to Elk River. I even got to see an accident occur in a one-lane construction zone on U.S. Highway 169, so I guess I shouldn’t have said nothing interesting happened.

Finally, at 6:30 PM (or so) we arrived back at home in Brainerd, and with that, my vacation came to an end.

Northern Iowa scenery
More northern Iowa scenery
Here's a picture of a Canadian National railcar in St. Ansgar, IA, with "Candian" misspelled
To the best of my knowledge, Dodge County is the only Minnesota county with lettered county roads
A scene in rural Dodge County
Some more northern Iowa scenery
Here is the Minnesota-Iowa border at Lyle, MN, but instead of a welcome sign, a Mower County sign is the first marker for Minnesota
After the Mower County sign comes the Lyle sign
Finally, after those two signs, a Welcome to Minnesota sign symbolically marks the state border
Main Street in Lyle, MN
The Dodge County sign

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

No videos for this day

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Day 9 Summary

Day Nine – August 11, 2003
St. Louis, MO to Waterloo, IA

Since I was in St. Louis, naturally the place I absolutely had to see was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, otherwise known as the site of the St. Louis Arch. We were about to go there at 8 AM, but after being informed upon checking out from our hotel that nothing at the arch opened until 9 – and that traffic would be bad until about 8:45 – we opted to kill some time at the local Target.

This was the first urban – we were within the city limits of St. Louis – Target I had gone to, and it was definitely a bit different from the ones I was used to, but mostly just because it was old and still had the look of a Target from the late 1980s.

After spending a good 45 minutes at Target, we left and got on the road into St. Louis. Traffic was pretty good; much better than it had been earlier. Unfortunately, the exits to the arch were not marked very well, and we ended up crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. Interestingly, I had never planned to go to Illinois at all during this trip, but, here I was, in Illinois for the second day in a row.

We turned around in East St. Louis, IL, and got back on the tricky road system crossing the Mississippi. We eventually found a downtown exit near the arch, and in time found ourselves at the nearest parking lot to the arch.

The Arch is located is what can only be called a very large city park. There are walking/bike trails that go all around it, as well as a lot of green space. The main attraction, though, was the Arch. It was amazing to be able to stare right up at it. It was much larger than I had ever pictured it, and a lot of fun to just sit outside and look around.

We did, however, go underneath the Arch, where the trams that go up to the observation deck on top of the Arch are located, along with the Museum of Westward Expansion, movie theater, and gift shop. We made the obligatory stop at the gift shop, but did not view the museum or purchase tickets to the ride to the top. We really didn’t have that much time to spare, and, even though I would have loved to have been able to ride to the top of the arch, I felt content with just being able to walk around the arch from the ground. Besides, Brainerd isn’t that far away from St. Louis, and I can, hopefully, go back sometime to see what I missed.

Since the goal of seeing the Arch was fulfilled, we got on I-70 out of St. Louis. Since we had to go to Waterloo, Iowa, we turned off on the 4-laned U.S. highway 61.

We passed Troy, MO, an extreme northern suburb of St. Louis, and later came to the Missouri Welcome Center near Hannibal, MO. Hannibal, of course, is the hometown of Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, and his boyhood home is available for tours in the middle of town. I didn’t get to see anything in Hannibal, but, like I said, it wouldn’t be that hard to drive from Brainerd to spend some time, say next summer, in this part of Missouri.

After unsuccessfully playing the Texas Lottery in Dallas and the Kansas Lottery in Topeka, we somehow got lucky by winning $7 on the Missouri Lottery in Alexandria, MO. We were only a mile away from the border – the gas station we stopped at advertised that it was my last chance to play the Missouri Lottery – so we had to cash the scratch-off there.

Sure enough, less than a minute later we crossed the Des Moines River and came to the lovely town of Keokuk, Iowa, located at the southernmost point in Iowa.

We then got on U.S. highway 218 to make the very long trip through some very rural parts of Iowa. We went more than 80 miles on this road before coming to the city of Iowa City, along interstate 80.

Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa, and since we had already made it to the Truman and Eisenhower memorials, I felt it was in order to visit Hoover’s as well. West Branch is the name of the small town he was born in, and it was only a short 15 mile drive on I-80 from Iowa City.

There was one problem, however, it was 4:30 PM when we got the Hoover Museum. All of the information I had received about the place said that the grounds closed at 5 PM. We would have to be quick if we were going to see anything while here.

Well, it turned out we were in luck. Upon getting to the museum, the person working there told us that during the summer, Wednesdays are family nights, and everything is open until 8 PM. What a deal!

So, we got to see the extremely interesting Hoover Museum, as well as walk around the park it is situated on to see the small farm house he was born in, a schoolhouse like the one he attended, the blacksmith shop his father operated, a Quaker meeting place like he and his parents attended, as well as various other things. Many century-old houses have been moved from around the West Branch area and brought into the park to recreate exactly what the area looked like when Hoover was born, as well.

Everything culminated in visiting the graves of both President and Mrs. Hoover. As a man who was very simple in life, so is Hoover in death, as well. His final resting place is rather simple by presidential standards, and, upon his request, nothing but his name, birth, and death year was inscribed on his gravestone. Check out the pictures below.

Hoover loved being able to say he was born in the prairie, and part of the Hoover Park includes a recreated, traditional Iowa prairie. The prairie, located behind Hoover’s final resting place, has a very elaborate system of mowed walking trails and is open to the public to walk through. I walked along some of it, and had a really fun time doing so.

By the time we left the Hoover Park, it was already 7 PM. We needed to hustle in order to get to Waterloo before the sun set. Nevertheless, we made it just in time, passing through the rather-large city of Cedar Rapids on the way. I’ll say very simply that I was surprised to see there was a nice skyline developing in this city, and that downtown smelled like oatmeal because of the Quaker Oats plant right in the middle of town.

My first shot of the arch, complete with birds flying around it
The sign of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Looking up at the arch
The Mississippi River adjacent to the arch - Illinois is on the other side
The old courthouse (part of the Jefferson Nat'l Expansion Memorial) and some of the St. Louis skyline
The other part of the rather wimpy (when the arch is taken out of the picture) St. Louis skyline
The sun shining on the arch
The windows at the observation deck on the top of the arch
The tree-lined paths going around the base of the arch
The view from standing right next to the arch
More of the park green
More birds flying around the arch
At the bottom of the stairs leading up to the arch
One final shot of the entire arch
The parking lot to view the arch was very strange, it was at quite a big horizontal angle
Notice how slanted the vehicles in the parking lot are in this photo
The spawl of Troy, MO
Missouri Welcome Center sign
The Quaker Meeting House on the Hoover Park Grounds
The visitor's center to the Hoover National Historic Site
The front of the farmhouse Hoover was born in
The back of the farmhouse
Hoover's father's blacksmith shop
Inside the old schoolhouse like the one Hoover went to
The site of Hoover's grave
The place where Hoover was born is purposely visible from the spot he is buried
Hoover's grave along with his wife's
A large flower growing on the prarie behind Hoover's grave
Scenery near Hannibal, MO
An interesting sign at the gas station in Alexandria, MO
The Iowa Welcome Sign

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

The St. Louis Arch
The Old Schoolhouse at the Hoover Park
Herbert Hoover's grave

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Day 8 Summary

Day Eight – August 10, 2004
Memphis, TN to St. Louis, MO

Day eight and the trip was still great. I don’t think I could have picked a worse time to visit Memphis, however, because we arrived right for the beginning of Elvis Week. This is an annual 2-week celebration of the life and times of Elvis Presley. There were Elvis fans everywhere, from just about every state in the country, who had gathered to worship their god: Elvis.

Since we had not booked tickets to see Graceland before leaving, it was very apparent that we were not going to be able to see the inside of Elvis’s house. That didn’t bother me much, though, because getting to Graceland was not on the top of the list for things to see on this trip. I did get to see the outside of Graceland quite a few times, however, since we had to drive back and forth to search for a geocache (which I wasn’t about to actually look for since it would have required me passing a pretty serious looking “no trespassing” sign, and parking under a “no parking or standing” sign in land adjacent to the Memphis International Airport [and in land owned by the airport authority]), stop at Walgreens, and eat supper.

I don’t think I’d ever want to live in Memphis. The entire city was very dirty – there was garbage all over the place: in the roads, in people’s yards, in parks – and it wasn’t really that inviting of a city, either. I’ll have to visit more of Tennessee sometime in order to get a stronger impression of the state, since all I got to see was the very extreme southwestern corner, where Memphis is located.

The visit we made to the Walgreens on Elvis Presley Blvd. was a pretty interesting experience. The store felt like much the rest of the city; much of the merchandise was thrown on the shelves with no apparent organization, and the floor was littered with boxes, both full and empty. The cashier who rang up our purchase was also simply hilarious, as well. First of all, it helps if you know she was in her 60s or 70s and spoke with a very southern accent. She took a personal phone call right in the middle of ringing our purchase up – to tell somebody on the other line about how her “godpappy” was doing. She also answered the phone by saying “mornin’ this is roar-grens”. In addition, instead of quickly ringing up everything we had purchased, she felt the need to look it over for a couple of seconds before putting it in the bag. I can just picture her saying to herself “hmm…I’ll have to buy me and my godpappy one of them before I leave the store today.” I almost fell apart a few times trying not to laugh, but I somehow managed not to.

We then ran into a construction zone, and subsequently a traffic jam, on the interstate getting out of Memphis. We sat – stopped – on the bridge going across the Mississippi River for about a minute. This was a little unsettling, since the bridge was constantly bouncing up and down from the traffic passing over it in the opposite lanes. We eventually made it across the river, however, and into the state of Arkansas.

We were still in the Mississippi River Floodplain, so the land here was very, very flat. There were, however, more trees in Arkansas than in Mississippi. There also appeared to be more farms in this northeastern part of Arkansas as well.

I wanted to at least make it to one city in Arkansas, so we got off I-55 in Dyess, AR, and headed for Jonesboro. We traveled on a very rural Arkansas state highway for about 20 miles until we met up with U.S. 63, the future Interstate 555. This road took us into Jonesboro, but I had seriously underestimated the length of this little jaunt off the interstate; it was almost 60 miles. We still had to make it to St. Louis today, and I had a little secret up my sleeve. So, long story short, we didn’t get to spend too much time in Jonesboro. But, based on what I did see of the city, it definitely seemed like a very nice mid-sized city.

We then came into Paragould, AR, and turned onto U.S. 412. This road took us into the state of Missouri, but, unfortunately, because the road is undergoing major improvements to make it 4-lanes, there was no welcome sign.

An interesting Missouri community we came to on this route, before making it back to I-55, was Kennett. The welcome to Kennett sign promoted the fact that this is the birthplace of Sheryl Crow.

We then got back on I-55 to go to St. Louis. Shortly after New Madrid, however, we turned onto I-57. You see, I wanted to be able to say I’d been to Kentucky, so we were going to take a little excursion. Getting from Missouri to Kentucky is unnecessarily complicated, however, since only a limited number of bridges cross the massive Mississippi River. At one point, on I-55, we were less than a mile away from the border, but since no bridges crossed the river, it was impossible to get to Kentucky.

We got off I-57 in Charleston, MO, and headed east on U.S. 60/62. We soon came up to a very neat bridge (look at the pictures below), which went across the Mississippi River. Consequently, this was also the border of Missouri and Illinois, and after we crossed the bridge, we were at the southernmost point of Illinois. Less than half a mile after crossing into Illinois, however, we turned right onto U.S. 60/51, and crossed a similar-looking bridge. This one went over the Ohio River – about a mile up from where it flows into the Mississippi. Once we got to the middle of the river, we had crossed into Kentucky. We followed U.S. 60/51 for about 5 miles into the small town of Wickliffe, KY. This was a very neat river community, selling basically nothing but genuine Kentucky cigarettes. I gawked at all the Kentucky license plates, and then turned around to go back the way we came.

Instead of going all the way back to where we got on I-57, however, I decided it’d be better to take Illinois Highway 3 from Cairo, IL to Cape Girardeau, MO – a distance of about 30 miles.

This route took us through the very historic city of Cairo, made famous by both Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in the Civil War as the city right across the border from two slave states.

About midway along this very scenic route, we came to a three-in-one scenic overlook, historical marker, and rest area. Naturally, I just had to stop there; take a look at the pictures below.

We finally made it to Cape Girardeau (gee-our-do, by the way), the hometown of Rush Limbaugh, where we got back on I-55 to make the still-80-mile trip to St. Louis.

These 80 miles were very scenic, though. The interstate, in this section of the state, is surrounded by very high rock cliffs; the steep hills in this region had to be cut into to erect the interstate, so, subsequently, very old, red-orange colored rock was exposed. It felt more like I was in a western state rather than Missouri. The rock cliffs lasted all the way into the very southern suburbs of St. Louis.

We once again got to our hotel room after seven in the evening, so doing any sightseeing in St. Louis on this day of the trip was out of the question. Going to Steak & Shake (another restaurant I now wish would come to Minnesota) was in the question, though.

Have you ever wanted to know how they change the Walgreens signs? This is your chance to find out
Northeast Arkansas scenery
More northeast Arkansas scenery, and farmland
A Union Pacific train near New Madrid, MO
The flag set at the New Madrid Welcome Center
Scenery on the road to Illinois and Kentucky
A fascinating 5-in-1 photo; the Ohio River, Mississippi River, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri can all be seen in this picture, and I've neatly labeled everything for you
The same photo as above, only without the labels
At the rest area in Illinois
The Mississippi River near Thebes, IL - Missouri is on the other side
Another shot of the Mississippi River near Thebes, IL
First sign for St. Louis
A train comes above the interstate in Memphis
Jackson and St. Louis, two places I've now been to
Welcome to Arkansas sign
We had entered back into Hardee's (instead of Carl's Jr.) territory upon reaching Arkansas
First sign for Chicago
The bridge crossing the Mississippi River
Welcome to Kentucky sign (the bottom says "where education pays"
Illinois Welcome Sign
Illinois Highway 3 near Cape Girardeau, MO
Missouri Welcome Sign
The state of Missouri is perfectly shaped to use it on state highway signs
They named a road after Minnesota in Cape Girardeau, MO

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

Illinois Rest Area by Mississippi River

Monday, August 23, 2004

Day 7 Summary

Day Seven – August 9, 2004
Jackson, MS to Memphis, TN

One week away from home and I’m still having a great time on vacation. We woke up on day seven in Jackson, MS, still 995 miles way from home (according to my GPS, anyway). Interestingly, Jackson, MS was the farthest we got from Brainerd on the entire trip, since the Dallas-Fort Worth area is closer to our house by about 50 to 60 miles. No matter which way you looked at, however, there was still quite a lot of driving to be done before we got back home. Besides that, we hadn’t even begun heading north again once we made it to Jackson. Day seven would be the first day we would start doing that.

There wasn’t really one thing I really wanted to see in Jackson, but thanks to the Mississippi travel guide I had ordered before the trip, as well as this handy travel book about Jackson in our hotel room, I was able to create a list of possible things I wanted to see.

I knew I just had to see the Mississippi State Capitol, so, first thing in the morning after checking out from our hotel, we headed off in the direction of the capitol. It turned out to be an incredibly easy drive, since our hotel was on the same street as the capitol, less than a mile away. There was a slight problem, however, in getting out and getting some pictures of the building. First of all, the visitor’s parking spots must be in a very tricky location, because we could not find the correct place for non-employees to park. Secondly, the day we visited was convict-work day; there were quite a few convicts – complete with “Mississippi State Prison” t-shirts and striped pants – doing landscaping work outside the building. It was obvious the guards overseeing their work did not like us driving around so close to where they were working. Nevertheless, I did manage to get one picture of the capitol; check it out below.

Another place on my list of things to see was the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History, only a matter of blocks away from the current capitol building. This museum is in the site of the old Mississippi capitol building, which was used from 1839 to 1903, until the new capitol was constructed. The old capitol now houses exhibits telling the complete, unabridged, history of Mississippi.

The museum and exhibits were actually very, very interesting. Interesting enough for me to spend more than two hours there, and still wish I would have been able to spend another half hour or so.

After we made the obligatory trip to the gift store, we left to get on the road and out of Jackson. It was already noon, and we had more than 100 miles to cover before getting into Memphis.

Jackson, although it is the largest city in Mississippi at a population of 184,256, really felt much smaller. It’s really got a rural, calm feel to it; a feel that I really liked. The city was also much nicer than I was expecting it to be, especially considering all the negativity that is associated with Mississippi.

I’ll discuss more of my observations about Mississippi living later, but right now I’ll say we left Jackson on a more non-standard (i.e. non-interstate) route. Instead of taking I-55 from Jackson to Memphis, which would have been easy to do, I thought it would be much more interesting to travel a route less traveled.

The route I decided upon – there were a few ways to get from Jackson to Memphis – was U.S. 49. This four-laned divided highway brought us into the very flat, very scenic floodplain of the Mississippi River.

From Jackson to the first mid-sized city we came to, Yazoo City, the landscape was actually a little hilly. Besides that, there were also a lot of trees all over the place. I absolutely loved looking at the scenery in this area, because most of the trees I could see from the road were drastically different than the kind we have in Minnesota. I’m not sure if I saw one of the famed magnolia trees that make Mississippi the Magnolia State, but I did see a lot of interesting trees nonetheless. Besides that, another thing this area of Mississippi had that cannot be found in Minnesota was vine plants. Everything, it seemed, was covered in very, very thick plants that grow as vines. Entire trunks of trees were covered in nothing by leaves from the vine growing up; I even saw a billboard almost completely smothered in vines. It was all a pretty interesting site.

It was easy to see that when we got to Yazoo City, we had entered the very large Mississippi River floodplain, also known as the Mississippi Delta, where the "delta blues" style of music originated. Up until this point, the terrain was hilly, but just before getting to Yazoo City, we went down a very steep hill, never recovering the elevation again until Missouri. All of the land after this point was almost completely flat, and there was definitely a thinning of all the dense forests and trees.

We stayed on U.S. 49 following Yazoo City, and after passing the small town of Belzoni, came up to the bigger city of Indianola. After becoming hooked on Popeye’s the day before, I just had to eat there again. Luckily, Indianola was just the right size to have everybody’s favorites: like Church’s, Sonic, and Popeye’s. This time, I tried their shrimp basket with Cajun rice and pineapple honey dipping sauce. It may not sound the best, but, believe me, it really tasted good. I’m probably going to make it a tradition to go to the Popeye’s in Minneapolis whenever I’m in the area from now on.

In Indianola, we turned west onto U.S. highway 82. We took this road for about 15 miles, before turning onto U.S. highway 278. We traveled on this course for about 60 miles, going through some very rural areas of Mississippi. It was, nonetheless, a very scenic highway, with a very pleasant mixture of dense forests and farmland. Actually, there were all kinds of different farms along this route. I saw cotton, soybean, corn, peanut, pecan, and walnut farms/fields all along this road. The corn growing season, however, had already ended, and many of the corn fields were being mowed over.

We eventually came to the city of Clarksdale and upon finding the local Wal-Mart (picture below), got out and took a little break. I would have liked to have gone inside the store, but, there wasn’t really anything I needed to buy, plus I do have convictions with buying merchandise at Wal-Mart.

Anyway, we then got back on the road, ready to make the 80 mile trip to Memphis. The only populated area of significance here was Tunica, but only because it is where all the Tennesseans go to gamble. Mississippi supports state-run casinos, and Tunica is clearly the place where the majority of them are located. The main street in town was lined – for about 5 miles – with a lovely assortment of trees and shrubs; it was nice to see how some of the money made at the casinos is used.

Not too long after seeing Tunica, we crossed the border into Tennessee. Of course, since Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley, I wanted to try to get to Graceland. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks away from the main gate to his house, but, because it was already evening when we got into Memphis, there was no way we could go on this day. Read tomorrow’s report to find out if I got to see Graceland.

As an end to this day’s report, I’d like to share some observations about Mississippi. Of course, whenever I mentioned I was going to be going through Mississippi on vacation, most people couldn’t believe why I would willingly want to go sightseeing in Mississippi. It seems as if most people would think of Mississippi as the last place they would like to spend a vacation in. It is true, Mississippi continually ranks at the top of the list for unemployment, number of people on welfare, crime, and the bottom of the list in just about all things education. Poverty and destituteness was apparent in just about every community I passed through on this day of our trip (except for Indianola, to a certain extent), but there were still some very nice people living in Mississippi. I guess what I’d like to say is it was definitely a learning experience for me to leave my little bubble in Brainerd, Minnesota, and see first-hand how unfortunate some people in other parts of the country are.

The Mississippi State Capitol
Downtown Jackson scenery
The Yazoo City water tower, with a closed K-Mart in the foreground
A crop duster in the Mississippi floodplain
A Memphis sunset
Welcome to Jackson signs
These stoplights had pulsating strobe lights on them when they were red so motorists would stop
Yazoo City street scene
Another Yazoo City street scene
A train comes through Yazoo City
People loitering under the No Loitering sign at Yazoo City's Amtrak shelter
Yazoo City's Winn Dixie
Clarksdale's Piggly Wiggly
Mississippi floodplain scenery
More floodplain scenery
Welcome to the Volunteer State

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

Mail Truck Hijacker
Sonic Drive-In Commercial

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Day 6 Summary

Day Six – August 8, 2004
Dallas, TX to Jackson, MS

Unfortunately for me on the beginning of day six of my vacation, I was forced to say goodbye to my fabulous view of Dallas I had had for the past three nights. I knew I’d miss being able to peer down at the entire downtown area of Dallas; the only thing I can do to try to emulate the experience would be to play Sim City for awhile. Oh well, every good thing must come to an end eventually, I guess.

Next to the first day of my vacation – which was the longest single-day drive at 500 miles – day six of my vacation was the second longest single-day drive. Dallas, TX to Jackson, MS is over 400 miles, meaning we had quite a lot of ground to cover if we wanted to get to Jackson before it got dark at 8 PM.

We left Dallas at about 10 AM on what would, until the evening hours, be a largely uneventful day of traveling.

The first stop we made was at a rest area east of Tyler, Texas. This was probably the strangest rest area I’d ever been to, mostly because it was built along a hillside, and had quite an interesting parking arrangement. Instead of separating semi trucks from automobiles, this rest area had semis and RVs parking on one side of a narrow, single-lane road, and all other vehicles on the other. When semis drove down the road to get back on the interstate, they narrowly missed hitting either side of parked traffic by mere inches. It was a little unnerving seeing how very close the semis and RVs came to hitting cars and other semis parked at the rest area.

For obvious reasons, we didn’t stay at that rest area very long. We soon got back on the road, and finally approached the city of Tyler, Texas, some 80 miles away from the Dallas Metroplex. Although Tyler is located about 8 miles off of I-20, we decided to get off the interstate to find a place to eat in the city. We quickly found a Whataburger (the last one I got to eat at during this trip – oh how I want to bring one to Minnesota!) and picked up some food.

We soon got back on the interstate after taking some back roads out of Tyler. I really noticed how much the landscape had changed in this area of Texas. There were large forests full of trees all over the place. A lot of the trees were pine, but there was also a large assortment of deciduous trees as well. I guess I couldn’t have expected much else, though, since this area of Texas is called the “Piney Woods” Region.

The cities of Longview and Marshall are located along the 70 miles of Texas between Tyler and the Louisiana border, but since the interstate more or less bypasses them, I didn’t get to see much.

We eventually made it to the border of Louisiana, and shortly after doing so were brought into the city of Shreveport – the third largest in Louisiana. Traffic picked up a little bit – and the interstate became 6-lanes – but that is about all I can say about Shreveport. I would have liked to have gotten off the interstate and seen some of the community, but we just didn’t have enough time to do that. I really would have liked to have gone to a Cajun restaurant, to be honest.

The stretch of interstate from Shreveport to Monroe was unlike any I think I have ever been on before. Basically, all I can say is the landscape is completely flat and filled with nothing but trees, trees, and more trees…and an occasional river or bayou. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have very dense, flat forests here in Minnesota, but definitely not as continuous as what I saw in Louisiana. I really can’t say I’ve ever been in such flat, tree-filled land. Maybe another reason why I thought it was so unusual was because of the lack of many pine trees. Probably because I’m so accustomed to seeing Minnesota forests…but when I picture a forest, it almost always has pine trees in it. There were some tall pine trees at the rest areas in the state, however. There were also many times when the opposite two lanes of the interstate could not be seen from the one we were traveling in because there were so many large trees growing in the median.

I think it would be hard for me to live in such a place like this, because all the trees and flat land really felt confining; I’ve made it perfectly clear I like wide, open spaces, such as the kind that can be found in North Dakota.

We stopped to get some gas in Minden, LA, which, to say the least, was quite an experience. We had clearly crossed another accent line by entering Louisiana, for the people here did not speak the same southern accent in Texas or Oklahoma. I’ve got a hilarious story of an experience we had at this gas station, but you’ll have to hear it in person, because I’m afraid it just doesn’t translate into words very well.

There were a few small towns along the way that we passed through, but it wasn’t until Monroe that we came to a larger-sized city. We didn’t stop here, though, so I can’t really tell you what I thought of the city.

The next stop we made was in the lovely city of Tallulah, LA. I was getting hungry again, and ready to splurge by going to another exotic (because we don’t have it in Minnesota*) fast food restaurant: Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits. The visit to the drive thru at this place did not come off without a hitch, however. The fact that we clearly didn’t come from around the area, combined with a very horrible speaker and microphone system, meant it took about 5 minutes to place an order that could have easily been done in less than 1 minute. I’m very surprised that I ended up getting what I wanted, because we had such difficulty understanding and being understood. I’m thinking it could have been easier to just try to speak with a Louisiana accent when ordering, but then the people running the drive thru probably would have figured out it wasn’t genuine Louisianan.

Shortly after that experience, we crossed the truly-mighty-in-this-part-of-the-country Mississippi River into the state of Mississippi. Vicksburg is the city right along the border, and I-20, in this part of the state.

Fortunately for us, even though it was 6 PM Sunday evening, Vicksburg National Military Park was still open. We got our pass at the ticket office, and were informed that even though the gate to the park closes at 7, we could stay in until 8, when it got dark.

Even though I had 2 hours to explore the area, it really wasn’t as much as I would have liked to have had. It’d be pretty easy to spend an entire day at Vicksburg, which, if you take out your America: Past and Present that you dusted off for day 2’s report, was the site of one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. Still, I’m happy that I got to see the entire park, even though the tour was a little rushed at times. Check out the pictures and videos below to see what I saw at Vicksburg.

We left Vicksburg at about a quarter to eight and drove the 40 miles east to Jackson, where our hotel room was waiting for us. The amount of trees got even thicker on this part of the trip, and, although the sun set at 8, it got dark much earlier because no light was able to get through the flat land and dense forests. When we finally got to our hotel, I was shocked at the type of vegetation they had there: palm trees and many other warm-climate shrubs and trees! I had definitely crossed into a much different part of the United States.

*Although I said Popeye’s has not yet come to Minnesota, that is not entirely true. Indeed, there is a Popeye’s restaurant near downtown Minneapolis, the closest Popeye’s for over 230 miles (the next closest being in Madison, WI).

My final picture from the Dallas hotel, this one shows the colors of the sunrise
My final photo of the Dallas skyscrapers
Here are some Texas road signs for you
While Oklahoma may have had teepee-looking picnic shelters at one of their rest areas, Texas had these cute oil well-looking ones at a rest area
There are pine trees in Louisiana, and they're at the I-20 east welcome center
Here's a nice Louisiana sign at the I-20 east welcome center
Some Louisiana wilderness
Cannons at the first tour stop of Vicksburg
A very nice backlit shot of a soldier aiming a gun while kneeling next to his horse
The other side of the monument described in the previous link
The tour road going through Vicksburg (steam in the air is visible in this picture - the humidity in this part of Mississippi when we were there was very stifling)
We missed the big monument dedicated to Minnesota soldiers who fought at Vicksburg, but here is a small monument dedicated to the Minnesota 5th Infantry
Closeup of the plaque on the Minnesota monument described in the previous link (now you know who provided Hubbard County its name)
The Union Army's Thayer's Approach hill
Closeup of the sign for Thayer's Approach described in the previous link
The tunnel that the Union soldiers built to transport goods and men to Thayer's Hill
Deeper inside the tunnel, about halfway to the end (it was pretty neat inside)
The fabulous view of the Mississippi River from the Confederacy's Fort Hill (although the Confederacy had a great view of the south and west from here, the Union Army was smarter than that, and built their camps to the north, which is completely blocked from view at this site)
Some of the factories along the Mississippi in Vicksburg
A monument for Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman
A picture of the still-used railroad tracks that were originally built to carry supplies and troops during the Civil War (the steam in the air is very visible here)
The primary monument to the Iowa soldiers who fought at Vicksburg
Texas had some interesting reflectors on the side of I-20 in the eastern part of the state
The official Louisiana State Line sign
Bienvenue en Louisiane signe
The state of Louisiana is shaped perfectly for it to work on the sign to state highways
Using negative image mode, I was able to make the scenery red, white, and blue
The scenery near Minden, LA
Crossing the Mississippi River at the Mississippi border
Here is the Mississippi River - and the Louisiana/Mississippi border
Mississippi Welcomes You
The scenery east of Vicksburg, MS

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

The view from Fort Hill at Vicksburg

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Day 5 Summary

Day Five – August 7, 2004
Dallas, TX

The fifth day of my trip started sort of late, thanks to me not wanting to get up too early. I did finally get up, however, and got ready to go to Fair Park, which, when it’s not home to the Texas State Fair for three weeks in autumn or the SBC Cotton Bowl in January, is the premier cultural and entertainment center in Dallas. It is home to a total of nine museums and six performance venues. We went to a couple of the museums, the first being the Dallas Museum of Natural History.

Before I talk about this museum, however, I should mention the way we took to Fair Park. Because it was only three miles from our hotel, the most direct route was to take residential roads to the park, instead of the interstate. If I had to do it over, though, I probably would’ve stuck to the interstate route. From our hotel, we had to go through the neighborhood of South Dallas to get to Fair Park. Well, this neighborhood is clearly one of the shadier sides of Dallas. I got a very eerie feeling that I was traveling through Mexico for a moment too, primarily because of the immense number of small shops and strip clubs in a state of disrepair with Spanish names and writing all over them. This is not to mention that every window and door to every building – including houses – had very thick steel and metal bars protecting them from criminals. The destituteness of the area was very apparent.

Anyway, after that downright scary ride, we finally made it into Fair Park and to the Museum of Natural History. It turned out that it was reptile day today, so everybody in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who owned a snake, tortoise, iguana, or other sort of reptile was there to show off their creature. The event was clearly designed for children – almost all the reptiles could be held or petted – but it was fun, nonetheless.

Since we were actually two of the few people who came to the museum to see the natural history exhibits, not the reptiles, I was able to enjoy everything inside the building mostly undisturbed by other people. Although it would never be able to match up to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum I saw last year, this place was actually very interesting. All of the exhibits inside had something relating to the natural history of Texas. I’d have to say I enjoyed the “Animals of Texas” exhibit halls and the Wild Wild Weather Exhibit best of all. The Weather Exhibit was the monthly exhibit for August, and featured information concerning just about every weather event that would ever have the possibility of occurring in Texas.

After visiting all of the exhibit halls, and even partaking in a bit of Reptile Day, we made the obligatory stop at the gift shop and proceeded out of the building. From here, the next place I wanted to go to was the Age of Steam Railroad Museum.

Finding this museum was a bit tricky, particularly because by the time we left the Natural History Museum, Fair Park became extremely busy due to a concert of some sort being held near the Cotton Bowl. Nevertheless, we did make it to the Railroad Museum, only to discover that nobody else was there.

Anybody who has an interest in trains (like me) – especially old ones – would just absolutely love the Age of Steam Railroad Museum. There are three long rows of nothing but old railroad locomotives (both steam and diesel-electric) as well as passenger cars almost a century old. Best of all, there are stairs that allow you to take a peek inside some of the locomotives. There are even a few steam locomotives and passenger cars that you can walk inside of as well.

The main office of the museum is located in a very historic century-old railroad depot, one of the first in Dallas. Take a look at the pictures I took from the museum below to see for yourself how neat this museum was.

After stopping at the obligatory gift shop to the railroad museum, we left for Fort Worth. Although there wasn’t one major attraction I wanted to see in Fort Worth, I was interested in seeing what the Burlington Northern Santa Fe headquarters – where all the dispatchers work – looks like. So, we got on the road and drove the approximately 30 miles from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth.

We were going to explore downtown Fort Worth a little bit, but decided against it based on how bad the traffic was getting to the northern suburbs of Fort Worth.

There were a few elements that combined to make the trip from Dallas to Fort Worth less than enjoyable. First of all, we were visiting on Texas’s Tax Free Holiday Weekend. Texas, like many other states, has one weekend each year where most products that are usually charged sales tax – 6.25% in Texas – are exempted from it.

Interestingly, back-to-school products are one of the products still charged sales tax. I found this a little odd at first, but then I realized the rationale for it. You see, school starts during the second or third week in August in most of the southern states, meaning that the first weekend in August (when we visited) is going to be when the majority of people are going to be buying what they need to go back to school. I guess since the Texas government realizes people are going to be buying back-to-school supplies, they might as well try to save them money by sales-tax-exempting the other necessities – like clothes – that are needed to start a new school year – or something like that...

The other reasons why traffic was bad on this trip was that the Texas Department of Transportation leaves a lot to be desired in how well things are marked on their interstates – both state and federal. Also, think about all you’ve heard about Dallas drivers – it’s mostly true. Incidentally, if you click on the link on Dallas drivers, rules 2, 8, 10, and 18 are very, very true.

Nonetheless, we made it to the northern Fort Worth suburb of Watauga and did some shopping. I spotted what I thought to be a Whataburger from the side of the road, and immediately knew that I wanted to go there. I’ve watched enough King of the Hill to know that Whataburger is a genuine Texas institution. Well, it turns out that Whataburger and Wienerschnitzel have uncannily similar logos; we ended up eating at a Wienerschnitzel instead of a Whataburger.

After that mishap, we made it to a very suburban-looking strip mall. We stopped to do some wonderful tax-free shopping at the Marshall’s and Super Target store. I went into the Super Target, and I can say I really enjoyed myself listening to all the Texas accents being spoken. Of course, I knew people say ya’ll and everything in the south, but I had never been exposed to it on such a large scale before.

After spending a good couple of hours shopping and whatnot, we drove back to our hotel room in downtown Dallas. This drive was a lot better than the one coming the other way, probably because it seemed like everybody was at the malls going on their tax-free shopping sprees.

I then spent one more night staring endlessly out my hotel window onto the city of Dallas. There was a little twist tonight, however. Because there was wireless internet at the hotel, I was able to find and program the frequencies for the Dallas Police Department into my police scanner, which I had brought with me on the trip. So, for the couple of hours that I stared out the window, I also had my scanner with me, keeping track of all the action going on within the city. It was quite an experience to be able to stare directly down at the city of Dallas, and hear, over the police scanner, what sort of things were going on. It brought me right back to that Sim City experience again.

Anyway, even though every night seems to be rather busy for the Dallas Police, Saturdays are probably even more so. The police had quite a few domestic disturbances, DUIs, drug cases, assaults, etc. the Saturday that I listened. But there was also something else: a high-speed chase around Dallas and its suburbs. It was very interesting to listen to how the police handled the chase on the scanner, since I had never been listening to the scanner when one happened before. All in all, the chase lasted probably about 45 minutes, and even though spikes were about to be set up to catch the suspect, he finally crashed his car into a concrete barrier, and ended the chase. Check the pictures and video below for the full experience of what I did on this day of the vacation.

An ALCO locomotive at the railway museum
Standing next to the Union Pacific DDA40X - a monster of a locomotive
The information sheet attached to the DDA40X
Standing next to the Pennsylvania Railroad's GG1 electric locomotive
On top of the stairs to the GC1 locomotive, looking down at the rows of railroad equipment in the museum
Front of the Union Pacific "big boy" steam engine - these were the largest steam-powered locomotives ever built
Inside the cab of the "big boy"
Inside the 70-year old Frisco Railway standard passanger car
An artsy b&w shot inside an 80-year old Pullman Sleeping Car
A very artsy sepia shot of a Frisco Steam Engine (too bad it looks like it's going right for the depot in front of it)
One of the cabooses in the museum, this one is a former Santa Fe Railway caboose
An ordinary-looking shop in the South Dallas neighborhood we visited
The Fort Worth suburb of Watauga
They even have 7-11s in Texas
For the theme park lovers out there: here's a shot of Six Flags over Texas from the road
An artsy, out-of-focus shot of downtown Dallas at night
Nighttime shot of Union Station
Supurb photo of the Dallas skyscrapers lit up at night
A nice sepia photo of downtown Dallas at night (sorry for the camera)

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

High-Speed Chase

Friday, August 20, 2004

Day 4 Summary

Day Four – August 6, 2004
Dallas TX

Upon seeing the magnificent view of Dallas from our hotel room, I genuinely would have been happy just sitting at the window all day watching over the city of Dallas. However, I knew this wasn’t really practical, since there were a few attractions I wanted to see while in Dallas, one of them being the Sixth Floor Museum.

The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the building that used to house the Texas School Book Depository, otherwise known as the place President John F. Kennedy was assassinated from.

The museum was a short walk through downtown from our hotel room. We could have driven, but then we would have been charged for parking. I’m actually glad I decided to walk, because I got to see Dealey Plaza up close. This is a small little area on the western side of downtown Dallas – adjacent to the Grassy Knoll made famous with the JFK assassination – that commemorates the first people who lived within the city of Dallas. Since it’s downtown, all of the major skyscrapers of Dallas can be seen here, as well as the very intricate Historical Court House building, which now serves as a visitor’s center operated by the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Look for a picture of this historic building below.

The Sixth Floor Museum was one of two places on this trip where security was pretty tight. Everybody who comes into the museum has to go through metal detectors, and all bags have to pass through an x-ray machine. In addition, photography of any kind is strictly verboten, so, unfortunately, I can’t show you anything from this wonderful museum.

There are actually two levels to the Sixth Floor Museum: the sixth floor, the one Lee Harvey Oswald was on when Kennedy’s motorcade turned down Elm Street, and the seventh floor, which features rotating exhibits.

Naturally, we stopped at the sixth floor first. The exhibit area – which is quite large – is split into two different parts. The first part, beginning as soon as you arrive onto the sixth floor, contains exhibits including (but not limited to) life in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the hot issues of the 1960 election, Kennedy winning the Democratic nomination and election, Kennedy’s first two and a half years in office, Kennedy’s decision to tour Texas, some of the strong dislike for Kennedy within Texas, Kennedy’s touchdown in Dallas, The public’s response to Kennedy visiting Dallas and Fort Worth, and the shooting and mayhem that followed it. This first part culminates in visitors getting to the exact spot – the corner window – where Oswald stood to fire his gun. Up until this point, all of the other windows on the floor have been blacked out, so it is quite a sight to be able to see daylight and the city of Dallas at the exact spot where Kennedy was shot. The corner area where Oswald fired has also been recreated to look exactly as it did in 1963.

After viewing the window, visitors are taken to the second part of the museum. This part contains exhibits including (but not limited to) the airplane inauguration of Texan Lyndon Johnson, the capture and arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, an evaluation on the life of John F. Kennedy, Jack Ruby’s assassination of Oswald, The endless conspiracy theories that abounded after the assassination and continue to this day, an evaluation of the government’s reports concerning the Kennedy assassination, and an evaluation of the various conspiracy theories that have surfaced.

We then exited the permanent sixth floor exhibit and went up to the seventh floor. The exhibit currently on display there is called The Living Room Candidate. It is a study of the use of television commercials in presidential elections. I really, really enjoyed this exhibit – just as much as the one downstairs; in fact, I probably could have spent all day here. You really have to have an interest in politics and the media to enjoy yourself as much as I did, though.

Upon entering the seventh floor, you are greeted with a mural depicting all of the Democratic, Republican and prominent third party candidates for every election year from 1952 to 2004. The mural also includes the birth year and death year (if they have died) for every one of the candidates.

Just to clarify things, the election of 1952 was the first that really emphasized television commercials, so that is why everything in this exhibit begins with the year 1952.

Following the mural were 14 different stations, one for each election year from 1952 to 2004. At each station was a board that explained what the big issues for the particular election year were, who the two candidates were, the methods used by each candidate in their television campaign commercials, an expert’s evaluation of the candidates’ commercials, and how each candidate ended up doing in the popular and electoral vote of the election. Next to this board was a TV monitor that constantly played all of the campaign commercials for each particular election year. They didn’t just have some of the most famous commercials from the election year, either; they had all of them. I remember I sat at one of the stations for almost ten minutes and did not see any repeated commercials.

Clearly, I must have been the most interested person in this exhibit when I was up there, because most of the other people who came up to the seventh floor just looked around for a few minutes and left. At one point, for about 15 minutes, I was the only person – besides a couple of security officers – who was on the floor.

Once we came down from the seventh floor and made the obligatory stop at the gift shop, we walked back to our hotel room. It was about 3:30 PM, and even though there was more I wanted to see, rush hour was already starting (it was Friday, after all), and rush hour in Dallas is not something you want to ever experience.

So, instead of going out to do some more sightseeing, we stayed up in our hotel room for the rest of the day, literally spending hours upon hours gazing out our 19th story window at the city of Dallas. Some of the best pictures and video I captured in Dallas came on this day; many of them can be seen below.

The next day would be a little bit more eventful, but you’ll have to wait to find out exactly what I did and saw.

Looking Southeast at night from the hotel room
The Bank of America Building, the tallest in Dallas, is also surrounded by green neon lights at night
Another shot of the downtown skyscrapers
The Old Courthouse in Dallas
A Dealey Plaza pond
A marker commemorating the first house in Dallas
Looking across Elm Street at more Dealey Plaza memorials
Daytime picture of Downtown Dallas (sorry about the camera)
Looking southeast during the daytime
Closeup of Dallas Morning News Newspaper Building
Closeup of the WFAA-TV Tower
Looking northeast during daytime
The old Texas School Book Depositoty is the building in the center of the foreground
A signal bridge along the railroad tracks that were in front of our hotel
Closeup of the Sixth Floor Museum; the square, corner window on the 2nd floor from the top is the one Oswald stood at when JFK was shot
A Greyhound bus travels down a downtown street
Closeup of the downtown Hampton Inn
The Hotel Lawrence can be seen prominantely in the foreground of this picture
Picture of the DART - Dallas Light Rail Train
Another daytime picture looking northeast
A view from further back in the hotel room
We saw a lot of the planes coming into DFW Int'l Airport - here's a Southwest Airlines flight flying over the Bank of America Tower
A shot of downtown with a Union Pacific freight train and a DART train on the railroad tracks in front of our hotel
An airplane with a banner attached flew by later in the afternoon; the banner was an ad for Toyota of Plano
The Bank of America Tower reflecting the colors of the sunset
Looking southeast again at night
The rushhour traffic on 35E could be seen reflected off of the windows on our hotel
Closeup of one of the two giant downtown billboards for Royal Carribean Cruises
Closeup of the WFAA-TV tower at night
Close of The Dallas Morning News sign at night

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

Downtown Dallas at Night
Downtown Dallas During the Daytime
Dealey Plaza Activity
A DART Light Rail Train Arrives at Union Station
People Waiting for their Train at Union Station
The Window From Which JFK was Shot From
More People Waiting for their Train at Union Station
Friday Night Downtown Traffic

Note: All the videos were shot looking out the window from our hotel room.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Day 3 Summary

Day Three – August 5, 2004
Wichita, KS to Dallas, TX

A major event on the news in Wichita the night we stayed there was a large 6-alarm fire that completely destroyed part of downtown Wichita. After going to a cache near our hotel, and stopping at a grocery store, we drove through downtown to see the spot where the fire took place. There was certainly quite a lot of damage to the building where the fire was located, but, since it was very old and made out of brick, I’m sure it was much worse looking inside the building than out. It was fun to see all the media reporters and news vans parked along the street, though.

After quenching the curiosity I had of seeing where the fire was, we got back on I-335, which later merged into I-35 and the Kansas Turnpike. We once again took a toll ticket. Dallas, TX was our destination for the day.

We stopped at the Belle Plaine Turnpike Service Area in the southern part of Kansas to get some brochures and Kansas bric-a-brac. Let me just tell you how very much I love those Service Areas, both in Kansas and in the eastern states I visited last year. I was kind of disappointed that this would be the only one we would be able to stop at during this trip, since Kansas was the only state we were traveling through on part of a toll road.

After leaving the Service Area, we came to the point where we had to pay the toll for traveling the turnpike from Wichita. From here, which is near Wellington, KS, to the state border 20 miles south, the turnpike turns into a free road. What a deal!

I’ll talk about the scenery for a little bit here. I loved going through the central part of Kansas; that might be the type of scenery I like the most. From Wichita down to the border of Kansas, the landscape really changed from what it looked like in the more central and northern parts of the state. There were quite a few more trees, and more farmland. I still thought it was nice looking, but not as much as the treeless prairie from the day before.

We soon passed the Oklahoma border and came to the state welcome center. A picture of the interesting picnic shelters reminiscent of teepees at this rest area can be found below.

Let’s talk about accents for a bit, here. The people in the parts of Missouri and Kansas I visited largely spoke in the same Midwest accent I am used to here in Minnesota. There were a few words here and there that had a particularly southern quality about them, like “wash,” and Missouri is, of course, pronounced “miz-ur-a,” but, for the most part, there wasn’t much difference in how I speak and how they speak. Crossing the Oklahoma line, however, is equivalent to crossing into an entirely different accent region. The people encountered here definitely spoke a mix between a very Texas-like and (not trying to be mean) hillbilly-like accent. Fortunately, though, we had no trouble in being understood at the Taco Mayo we visited in Perry, OK.

We then drove through the oil country of Oklahoma: the north-central region. There were quite a few oil wells actively drilling along the interstate in this area. These weren’t the only oil wells I had seen on the trip, though, since there were also a few, along with a very large refinery, in the central portion of Kansas we traveled through the day before.

We finally got to Edmond, OK, the beginning of the larger-than-you’d-expect Oklahoma City metropolitan area. While passing through Oklahoma City, I knew I wanted to see the memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1995 terrorist attack on the Murrah Federal Building as well as the state capital.

Getting off the correct exit on the interstate to see the memorial was pretty easy, thanks to the brown signs that marked which exit to take. However, after leaving the interstate, it became increasingly difficult to navigate the streets of downtown Oklahoma City in order to find the memorial. Luckily, we only had to travel in circles a couple of times before we found where the memorial was. We even found an open parking spot (with meter) near the site of the memorial. What a deal!

I would have liked to have gone into the Oklahoma City Memorial Center Museum, but, such had been the case for the rest of the trip so far, we simply did not have time to do so. I did, however, get to walk around the very tranquil and symbolic memorial dedicated to the 168 people who lost their lives on April 19, 1995.

From the memorial, we somehow found ourselves at the Oklahoma State Capital. I say somehow because the capital is located outside of the primary downtown district, and navigating the roads around downtown Oklahoma City was not such an easy and straightforward matter. Anyway, I was able to walk around the grounds and take some pictures, which you can see below.

We then got back on I-35 and left Oklahoma City, discovering that Oklahoma drivers are neither the politest nor best drivers in the country.

We then got off the interstate near Davis, OK to take a more scenic route into Ardmore by going through the Arbuckle Mountains, a range of low, rolling hills, rising some 700 ft above the prairie.

Stopping to get gas in Ardmore, we realized that, in some areas of the country, even though the ordinary person is allowed to pump their own gas, full service stations are still around. Ardmore apparently has three of them, and it just so happened we stopped at one. That was a nice change from the self-service stations encountered everywhere else.

After taking the scenic route, we then got back on I-35 in Ardmore. 30 miles later, we finally approached the Lone Star State: Texas. The scenery here was a lot like what it looked like in southern Oklahoma, primarily flat with spread out forests, and a lot of farms *oops* ranches.

There wasn’t much of a rural feel for that long; I-35 comes up quickly to Sanger, TX, which is really the beginning of the large Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (locals call it just “The Metroplex” for short).

One of the interesting features about Interstate 35 is that it is the only remaining interstate in the system that splits into separate routes distinguished with a “W” and “E.” This happens twice along its route: in Dallas (35E) and Fort Worth (35W) and Minneapolis (35W) and St. Paul (35E).

Well, we took 35E into Dallas, and, after getting – what I felt – hopelessly lost amid the one way streets in downtown Dallas, we finally made it to our hotel: The Hyatt Regency at Reunion. We were put on the 19th floor (out of 24 total) and given a room with a stunning view looking directly into downtown Dallas. I literally sat peering out the window of our room for three hours non-stop that night, mesmerized by all I could see. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s report, however, to see the best pictures from my personal observation deck.

At the Gaslight Creek Cache
Picnic shelters at Oklahoma Welcome Center
Very old Wal-Mart in Perry, OK
Very old and strange stoplight in Perry, OK
Another old (and short) stoplight in Perry, OK (almost all of the stoplights in town looked like this one)
Northern Oklahoma scenery
Entrance of Oklahoma City Memorial
Field of Chairs at Oklahoma City Memorial
9:01 Wall at Oklahoma City Memorial
A mother duck and her babies walk around the Oklahoma City Memorial (they later got into the pool of water)
Close-up of the ducks
9:01 wall from the street
Two chain-link fences that were put up by rescue crews after the bombing are now places for people to leave memorials and personal mementoes
"And Jesus Wept" statue
Close-up of the things people have left on the fences
The entrance to the plaza of the Murrah Building still stands
A sign on the plaza grounds showing pictures before and after the bombing
The Field of Chairs, as seen from the plaza
Downtown Oklahoma City
Front of the Oklahoma State Capital
Another picture of capital, with statue of Native American in front
One more picture of the front of the capital building
A sampling of more to come: downtown Dallas from our hotel room
Entering the turnpike in Wichita: the ticket booth
Yep, we're going there
Welcome to Oklahoma sign
Drilling for oil in Oklahoma
The Oklahoma City skyline
Entering the Arbuckle Mountains in southern Oklahoma
Leaving the Arbuckle Mountains in southern Oklahoma
Scenery near Ardmore, OK
Welcome to Texas sign
Lone Oak Road sign
"The Auto Ranch" was overflowing with old, rusty automobiles
The big 35E/35W split is right ahead
Reunion Tower and our hotel, as seen from 35E coming into Dallas

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

News coverage of Wichita fire
If you don't want to watch all of the above video, then watch this short clip of one witness's reaction to seeing the fire
Gaslight Creek Cache (spoiler included)
Oklahoma City Memorial Field of Chairs

Click here & here for 2 more newspaper articles about the Wichita fire.

Previous Posts

Four Years Have Passed
Winter of 2007-08 Musings
7th Annual Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials
Another Birthday
A Beltated Update
2007 Vacation: Day 10 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 9 Summary
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Mitch's Blog Copyright 2001-2012 Mitch Wahlsten -- All Rights Reserved
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of Mitch Wahlsten and the participants
Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001