Fourth of July in Small Town Mid-America

The reason for our trip beginning three days ago was to drive to our family cabin in Northern Wisconsin.  The adventure is in the moment.  The day after we left Phoenix, the temperature rose to a new record for that date of 119 degrees.  Obviously I was very happy to be out of the Valley of the Sun.

It always surprises me as I travel from the dry desert Southwest to our mid-continent U.S. how not only does the landscape change dramatically, but our weather changes too. From clear blue skies to hazy gray skies.  From sandy tans and browns to so many hues of green I loose count. 



Growing up in Minnesota I looked forward to summer and especially the week of the Fourth of July.  So many things to do, parades, fireworks, picnics, family get together and of course all kinds of water activities.  Swimming, water skiing, sailing, canoeing and fishing.  These were the main activities we enjoyed all summer, but they had a special feel on the Fourth.

Having been away from the midwest now for 40 plus years, coming back to the places where I lived for thirty years was almost a sensory overload.  Fond memories flooded my brain the closer we got to our lake cabin.






The lake and cabin was as I remembered it.  The people and the activities have changed a bit, however, the feeling of pride in our country still prevails.  The small town friendliness and feel is still here.  And of course all of the activities that make the Fourth what it is are still enjoyed.

The boat parade on the Fourth still brings out all the lake people and of course the craft fair on main street still draws a crowd.













Fireworks viewed from a pontoon boat out on the lake is the best part of a lake Fourth of July celebration.  Sunset is a bit later in the northern hemisphere so we push off on our boat about 8:30 as the sun is fading into the west.

The navigation lights are seen all over the lake as we all converge  on town bay.  This ritual has not changed in 40 years  The boats are fancier, but the ritual is the same.  As darkness approaches, we all crowd into town bay and greetings are heard across the water as old friends greet each other.  Then, as if on some unseen signal, the first of the fireworks screams skyward.  With a bang the sky is lit up with a thousand bright stars in multiple colors.  Our evening is off to a roaring start as we all oh and ah after each explosion.










The most incredible light show is after the fireworks when all of the boats in town bay begin their trek back to their cabins.  What a secondary treat.

Now all of the people around the lake are setting off their fireworks so we are treated to a second show.  This show is usually fun to see as it is surrounding us as we make our way back to the cabin.

The rest of the evening our silence in the Northern woods is punctuated by the boom of firecrackers and fireworks.

Very late that evening as the noise tappers off, I hear the sound of a Common Loon calling to its mate.  This mournful sound echoes across the lake as I drift off to sleep.

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Liberal Kansas to the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserves, Kansas

This morning we begin our adventure with a drive through historic Liberal, Kansas.

This is big time ranch country.  Agribusiness is the driving force of this economy as is oil and natural gas.  The largest helium gas producing plant in the country is located in Liberal.

Today we followed the “Yellow Brick Road” to the Land of Oz in Dorothy’s official hometown. Liberal is also known for its flipping pancakes at their International Pancake Race Day festivities, or visiting the 100 planes located at the nation’s 5th largest air museum, the Mid-America Air Museum – all right here in Liberal, Kansas.

Driving down the center of town there’s more pickups that autos and the cowboy hat and boots is the mode of dress.  The economy here is based on the price of beef, grain, and of course oil and natural gas.

The largest helium plant in the world is located here as well so the economy is very strong.  We are now off of Interstate 40, having left the freeway at Tucumcari, NM and now are driving the “blue lines” roads.  In a name this is U.S. Highway #54.

As we see Liberal disappear  in our rear view mirror, the vast expanse of plains stretches out in front.  Miles and miles  of straight highway lies ahead.  The drive will become a bit boring today, however we will see subtle changes in our vegetation along our route.

We are traveling with Pippa, who loves to travel and as soon as we mention a road trip, she is into her travel carrier and ready to head out.

Traveling with a dog adds some challenges to a cross country trip – or even just a trip across town.  Keeping your dog safe in summer heat means never, and I mean never leave the dog unattended in your car.  If you are stopping for lunch or something else, you will need to take your pet into consideration.  A very short time in a closed car can see the temperatures soar to over 130 degrees.  So when traveling, make sure your lunch stops are at places that are pet friendly.  We always search out on the internet before we travel, hotels, restaurants and parks that are pet friendly that are on the route we are taking.

Our next stop is the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve.  Part of our National Park Service, this is dedicated to preserving the U.S. prairie the way it was before inundated by the white settlers.  The Native Americans traveled across this land and hunted the animals that inhabited this lush landscape.  The did not change it.  Our white settlers found the soil was rich and tillable, so most of the land today is farm land growing wheat and other crops.

Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America.  Now less than 4 percent remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  This National Preserve of 10,894-acres was set aside by Congress in 1996 to assure the protection of this ecosystem.

Today Donnita, Pippa and I venture into the past to get a bit of feeling and flavor of what our early settlers faced as they pushed west.

On the Preserve is the Spring Hill/Bar Z Ranch.  This ranch represents a continuous ranching legacy from 1878 to 1986.  The buildings show remnants from its earliest beginnings as well  as changes made by the ranch’s owners. The Park service has designated a number of trails around and through the ranch as out onto the Prairie and into the Wetlands along the Fox Creek.  The Lower Fox Creek
















Walking The Southwind Nature Trail Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve


Mid afternoon, after reliving and walking the footsteps of our early settlers, we journey across the plains of Kansas and into Kansas City.  Our objective is to find the best barbeque in Kansas City.  After checking our the Trip Advisor reports on best barbeque places, we opted for Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, the original place.

With Pippa, we opted for take-out and drove to Richard Berkley Riverfront Park on the Missouri River.  Wow, what a beautiful park right on the river.  Great running, hiking and biking trails right on the River.  Great views of downtown Kansas  City too.  The weather was beautiful and the food was excellent.

Full of fine barbeque and a nice walk, we continued our journey into the state of Missouri.  Our destination tonight was Bethany, Missouri, only a 90 mile drive and just enough time to enjoy the evening twilight as the sun fades off into the west.

What an eventful and fun day enjoying the beautiful mid-west plains and some great history.  I am grateful for the time we have to enjoy all of these areas and to be able to share them  with you.

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