Since I got home from my 10 day vacation, I guess it’s now time for some reports of what I did and saw along the way each day. Here is the first installment in what should be some very interesting reading – if you choose to read it, of course. As usual, I will also include pictures and videos that correspond with the report of my activities during each day of my vacation.
Day One – August 3, 2004
Brainerd, MN to Independence, MO
For varying reasons, this year’s vacation came up much more quickly than the previous year’s vacations to Salt Lake City, UT, and Washington, D.C. It definitely approached much more quickly than I would have liked it to. The day before we actually took off for the long 10 day vacation, I was amazed at everything I still had to accomplish before being able to say I was ready to spend more than a week on the road.
Nevertheless, however, I did manage to do everything I had to on the Monday before we left, which included planning what sights I wanted to see along the way, setting light and water timers, printing out any geocaches I would have the opportunity of finding along the way, retrieving a travel bug from a geocache in the Brainerd area that I could take with me on the trip, and packing suitcase after suitcase full of everything I’d need to spend 10 days away from home. Even though I had my doubts, I still managed to get everything done; I even got to bed at a pretty reasonable time at night, too.
Although I had gotten everything packed the night before, it still took some time to transport everything into the van on Tuesday morning. We were finally able to leave Brainerd at 7:30 AM, though. This would be the last glimpse I would see of Brainerd for 10 days.
The trip from Brained to the Twin Cities was fairly uneventful, mostly because I had traveled the route we took so many times before. Since we were going to be spending the night in Independence, MO – one of the larger, and oldest, suburbs of Kansas City, MO – I figured it would be a pretty straightforward route to follow interstate 35 from the Twin Cities into the Kansas City area. For the most part, this is exactly what we did, too.
After getting onto I-35 and going through the Twin Cities, I entered some new territory I had never been before: Rice County. This was the first of six new Minnesota counties I would travel through for the first time on this trip.
After Rice County came Steele County. Once we got here, it was pretty evident the landscape had begun to change ever so slightly. The number of trees began to decrease, and more farmland could be seen alongside the road. The terrain also changed from being mostly flat to being full of gentle rolling hills, which reminded me a lot of western Minnesota.
Since we were so very close on I-35, I thought it would be worth it to take a bit of a side trip into Waseca County and into the county seat of Waseca. We did exactly this, and even ended up getting something to eat at the Dairy Queen in town. Waseca was a really nice, little lakeside community. Many of the houses along the town’s main street were very well-kept stately houses dating back almost 100 years.
After Waseca, we headed south and then east again, in order to get back onto I-35. It was at this point that the cloud turned very dark and looked as if it would be ripe for a thunderstorm. I was certain that rain was going to be coming at any moment, but luckily no raindrops fell. I later found out – through listening to the radio – that we had narrowly missed a pretty big severe thunderstorm cluster that would wind up spending a few hours in the southeastern portion of Minnesota.
After crossing back into Steele County to get on I-35, the next new county I entered was Freeborn, home to the city of Albert Lea. We were determined to get to Independence today – it was, after all, more than 500 miles away from Brainerd, the largest single day trip planned during this trip – so we didn’t get off I-35 to see much of Albert Lea.
About 8 miles south of Albert Lea, we met up with the Iowa border. I had already said my proper farewell to the state of Minnesota, so I was ready to finally be in another state.
Right after crossing the border, we came up to the Top of Iowa Welcome Center. It was the first of many rest areas and state welcome centers we would visit on this trip. This one, however, unlike most of the other ones, had a convenience store and gas station. It also had a Des Moines Register paper machine – which made me happy.
After Albert Lea, there really isn’t any other city or even town of significant size along I-35 until Ames, IA, more than 130 miles away. Mason City (population 29,172) is here, but since it is 6 miles away from the interstate, it’s hard to tell you’re passing a city that big.
Between the Iowa border and Ames, the number of trees really decreased and gave way to large fields of corn, soybeans, and whatever other crops are grown in this part of Iowa. This type of landscape is actually one of my favorites, but, like I’ve said before, I can enjoy just about any type of scenery.
We eventually made it to Ames (population 50,731), home to the large Iowa State University. The city really felt like a large college town, just like how most other similarly-sized cities that have a large college within the city limits feel.
We came up to the primary metropolitan center of Iowa, Des Moines, after leaving Ames. The state capital was very visible from the interstate going through the city, but, unfortunately, we did not have enough time to stop and take a closer look. Besides seeing the capital, I would have also liked to have seen the Iowa State Historical Building, but, it just did not fit into the plan. It was already mid-afternoon when we made it into Des Moines, and we still had quite a long drive in front of us to get to Independence.
Now, as much as I liked the scenery from Des Moines to the Missouri border, I will admit that I really started to nod off during this part of the trip. If there hadn’t been a rest area near the Missouri border, I probably would have had quite a hard time keeping my eyes open. Luckily, though, there was a rest area, and, after being able to walk around there for awhile, I felt much more refreshed. One neat thing about this rest area was that it had free wireless internet available to anybody traveling with a laptop and wireless card. I wish I would have tried it now, because I’d like to know whether it was broadband or dial-up. The rest area was in such a very secluded area of Iowa that I find it hard to believe there would be broadband internet there, but I guess anything is possible.
Not long after that, we crossed the border into Missouri. The scenery was pretty much the same as in southern Iowa, with a lot of hills, trees, and farmland.
About an hour and a half later, we made it into the Kansas City area, and to Independence, where we stayed for the first night. It was about 6:30 PM when we made it to our hotel; it took about 11 hours to make it from Brainerd to Independence. Because it was too late to do any major sightseeing, we put off seeing the Harry S. Truman House – which is why we were staying in Independence in the first place – until the next morning.
Along the extensive I-35 resurfacing project in southern Minnesota
Scenery near Waseca, MN
A very old I-35 sign and Freeborn County Road sign
Albert Lea and Mason City in Minnesota, 2 miles from Iowa border
A farmhouse in Minnesota, 2 miles from Iowa border
Extreme northern Iowa scenery
North-central Iowa scenery
Iowa flag at state rest area
Long line of power poles on U.S. 10 in Minnesota
Waseca County sign
Waseca city limits sign
Freeborn County sign
Minnesota is the only state I've been to so far that has "thanks for visiting" signs at nearly every border crossing
Iowa Welcome Sign
The Iowa Capital dome
Some of the Des Moines skyline
Southern Iowa scenery
Missouri state line sign
Welcome to Missouri Sign (with somebody parked to take picture)
Entering the large Missouri River Valley outside of Kansas City
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 (I'll make my digital camera pictures 1024 pixels beginning with tomorrow's report).
Missouri & Kansas Primary Election News Coverage
Note: Tuesday, August 3 primary election day in Kansas and Missouri. The current governor of Missouri, Bob Holden, was actually beaten by his challenger, and will not be able to run for another term in the Novemeber general election.