Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On the Road Again... Part 10


Crossing the bridge to nowhere  in Bowman, N.D. and (below) the missile-riding cowboy. (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Why would anyone ever want
to drive to NORTH Dakota??

Venturing from missile art to a peace garden



NORTH Dakota – It’s hard to pick a dateline for NORTH Dakota, even hard to believe we actually got to NORTH Dakota. But we found it right where the state belonged, on top of South Dakota, and the adventures were so spread out you’ll just have to take it as a whole.

Didn’t take long to find the bizarre as we crossed the Dakotas’ border on two-lane U.S. 85. It was on the right side of the road in the town of Bowman, a cowboy riding... a red and blue missile. Complete with a bold red USA on its tail. It was like a scene out of Dr. Strangelove, but mounted atop an old truck that had a golden eagle as a hood ornament.

If you didn’t notice the missile at first, that’s understandable – considering it was parked next to a bridge that had an airplane on top of it. And the bridge, with a road surface made of weathered wooden beams,  didn’t seem to go anywhere.  But I was assured by folks in a nearby insurance office it was safe to drive across. The owner of the property and apparent wizard behind the outrageously comical display owns a construction company, and his trucks have crossed the bridge, they said.

So I eased our Toyota Camry across the heavy wooded slats, and stopped in the middle so Bonnie could record the crossing. I just wished I could have moved the entire display back to Baltimore, because it was a scene straight out of the American Visionary Art Museum playbook.

A young chap from the insurance office walked over before we left, admiring my Ravens cap, and happy to give us Easterners some suggestions on our itinerary. For one thing, he said, don’t stay on U.S. 85 for too long, because it runs smack into the oilfield boom that is dominating the northern part of the state. He suggested cutting across the middle after our drive through part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and visiting the International Peace Garden on the U.S.-Canada border.

Sounded like a plan.

More badlands, and motel madness

We veered briefly westward across Interstate 94 to reach the South Unit of Teddy Roosevelt country, which was quite scenic – but another dose of badlands. We drove a loop road through the park, then went motel hunting in nearby Medora. It was, for this master of the cheap rate, a little over the top. I define that as $140-plus for a night. There was one place that had a $99 rate, but it just didn’t look very appealing.

So back on I-94, figuring there would be plenty of motels along the interstate. Well, there were a few – but none with a vacancy. We drove about 100 miles through a fierce thunderstorm while Bonnie shopped for motel vacancies anywhere close to our route. Just about every room was taken, apparently by oil boom workers in a region that can’t build housing for them fast enough.

Finally, in Mandan – a suburb of the state capital Bismarck (remember that for your next appearance on Jeopardy) – she scored a $99 room in a Best Western hotel that proved to be sheer luxury. Of course it didn’t include breakfast, which we ended up buying the next day in the hotel steakhouse restaurant. Sigh.

A day of distractions

By noon the next day, we were leaving the interstate to traverse State Highway 3 due north toward the Canadian border.

Old schoolhouse along North Dakota Highway 3.
Of course distractions are inevitable for us, the first of them a turn off the roadway to check out the business district of tiny Hurdsfield, and perhaps find someone who could identify an old white building Bonnie had photographed 20 miles back... which turned out to be an old schoolhouse.

The business district was about two blocks long on a street by the railroad tracks, where we poked our heads into the cafe in search of a restroom. And we found hospitality. We sat down at a table where Lou Weckerly was having her pasta lunch, and got to chatting. Lou owns the community store, and she and her husband own an area grain farm. But they flee to Florida in the winter rather than endure the below-zero weather here, she said.
Lou Weckerly sits by the autograph wall.

The wall of the cafe is covered with signatures. It was the result of a fundraiser that enabled the cafe to install new carpeting – donate a dollar, sign the wall. There were a lot of names up there.

We were about to pay for my coffee and Bonnie’s root beer, but Lou would not let us pay. “I’ll take care of it,” she said, wishing us a safe journey.

David at the center.
Another distraction was Rugby – not the game, but the town. Its claim to fame – not to be confused with center-of-the-USA Belle Fourche, S.D. – is being the geographical center of North America. We gather that this calculation did not include Mexico, but a town’s gotta do what a town’s gotta do. There’s even some accounts that the center is miles from Rugby, but why quibble? Rugby has a lovely stone obelisk staking out its middle ground.

By the time we were getting close to our destination, it was late afternoon and storm clouds were growing. We passed through the town of Dunseith one of several towns that celebrate their Turtle Mountains identity with giant turtle statues. I noticed one about 12 feet tall apparently made of truck parts, but missed the one pictured on the ‘Roadside America’ website made of several thousand steel wheel rims.

Looking without success for lodging, we called the International Peace Garden and were directed to the closest places – about 20 miles away, down a scenic country byway. It was too late to visit, since the attraction closes at 5 p.m., and rain had begun to fall.

Peace, beauty and inspiration

For all the 300-plus miles we had driven to get there from Medora, the Peace Garden was beautiful and inspiring – a project of the early 1930s covering 3.65 square miles straddling the international border and celebrating the peaceful relationship shared by the U.S. and Canada along a basically unfortified transcontinental border. The entrance is located between the two nations’ immigration checkpoint inspection stations.

Peace Chapel exterior
Aside from the beauty of its huge gardens and a conservatory with the largest cactus collection I've ever seen, the park features twin 120-foot concrete towers straddling the border, and a peace chapel whose interior sandstone walls are inscribed with quotes from the famous, the historical and even a few anonymous people. Every quote is worth contemplating. Here are a few:

When one door closes another door opens. But we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.
-- Alexander Graham Bell

Nonviolence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another. There is no god higher than truth.
--Mahatma Gandhi

And my favorite...

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time. For that is the stuff life is made of.
-- Benjamin Franklin

 Oh, Canada!

After several hours not at all squandered at the Peace Garden, we had to choose a route – backtracking or, as I preferred, crossing the border into Canada for a peek at two provinces we had never visited. We’ve done and loved the Maritimes, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in years past, but here was a great opportunity to see Manitoba and (I can spell it now!) Saskatchewan.

“How long do you expect to stay in Canada,” the border crossing officer asked. “A day or two,” I replied.

In Boissevail, Manitoba...
The highlight was probably the turtle statue in the Turtle Mountains community of Boissevain, Manitoba -- and I couldn't resist posing for a picture to give my readers a sense of its size. Take that, Marylanders -- Fear the Turtle!

About four hours of endless farmland later, Bonnie had gotten her fill of that part of Canada and directed me to turn left and back to North Dakota. “This trip is about the U.S,” she insisted. “I never wanted to go to Canada.”

I reluctantly admit she was right. And that's what I told the U.S. immigration official as we crossed back onto USA soil. "How long were you in Canada?" he asked. "About four hours," I replied. "We've seen enough."

And he smiled. "Welcome home."

Oilfields be damned, it was time for northern North Dakota. And it really was fascinating to see endless farmland where grain surrounds oil drilling rigs that look like alien grasshoppers. That and the booming development evidenced by logistics companies, temporary housing, new shopping centers and roads under construction. We heard that North Dakota is that rare state – it has a budget surplus. Small wonder. But it’s a mess up there.

Temporary housing, and job opportunities for oil workers in North Dakota.


After an overnight in Minot, it was time for some westward expansion to our itinerary: Oh, Montana! Oh, Wyoming!




 





Sunday, September 7, 2014

On the Road Again... Part 9

Bonnie at work, with tripod and camera, at a Badlands overlook and (below) the result of about two hours of patience.



Rushmore and a lot more

in western South Dakota

Land of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane,

and get this – the center of America!

After spending the better part of a week crossing Iowa and Nebraska, why the Dakotas? For the tourist in many of us, the answer would be South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore and the Badlands (but for us, add the people we meet along the way).

Driving out of largely treeless Nebraska, we aim for southwestern South Dakota and the heaviest concentration of attractions – around Black Hills National Forest. Our first night is in the town of Custer, a few miles from the giant sculpture depicting the head of Crazy Horse – the Lakota warrior chief who took part in the famed 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn where Gen. George Armstrong Custer  and his cavalry soldiers were slaughtered.

The town bears the name of the loser, while Crazy Horse gets a mountain profile. We drove past Crazy that evening, balking at an admission price that seemed a bit steep... believing a variety of online observations that seeing it from the road may be just as well. In fact, we got a good view from the roadside, and saved our energy for the bigger and more famous Rushmore and its mountainside carved images of four presidents.

Pop quiz: Name these presidents.
Rushmore was spectacular. We spent four hours the next day, enjoying the giant sculpture of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, a sight more spectacular that any photo we’ve ever seen of it. There were other features, including a walking trail/boardwalk affording different viewing angles, and the workshop of the late sculptor Gutzon Borglum who oversaw the federally-funded project from 1927 until his death in 1941.

The workshop has grown to a display of Borglum’s huge scale model of the sculpture, where a park ranger named Ed was giving a terrific talk about the project’s history as we arrived – fleeing a sudden strong thunderstorm. Hail was pelting the area as we listened, and then browsed the exhibits and gift/book shop until the storm had diminished.


A roadside attraction near Mount Rushmore.
We also encountered, on a park road, a modest herd of bison that became a traffic stopper as tourists (yeah, us too) gawked and took photos. I tried to imagine how this region must have looked in the years before pioneers pushed out the Native Americans and hunted the animals – bison, buffalo, whatever you call them – nearly to extinction. Imagine herds with thousands of them thundering across the grasslands.

The Scenic business district, including a couple of jail cells.
Scenic? You bet!

From Rushmore, we embarked on a terrific loop drive through part of Badlands National Park, but along the way became briefly confused by an intersection where a road sign for “Scenic” pointed to a right turn... instead of going straight, as the map showed.

“Scenic” turned out to be the name of a mostly-ghost town, less than 100 yards down the road, and an opportunity for one of my goofy photo-ops as I stepped into a jail cell (next to one occupied by an amused tourist in a small group from Denmark). Did I say “going straight” in the previous paragraph?

The proprietor of the gas station/snack stop across the road said the town pretty much died in the 1950s, and that it was a bad idea to walk past the road-front into a fenced-off area of other town ruins: “Rattlesnakes.”

I’m easily convinced.

Badlands encounter

As evening approached, we drove the loop of more than 20 miles through some of the best Badlands scenery, finally reaching an overlook where Bonnie put up her tripod and set about taking a series of photos recording the shadows cast by the setting sun. I amused myself by offering to take photos of couples stopping at the overlook – among them Gretchen and Scott Kirchmann, and their exceptionally well-behaved young son and daughter.
David photographs the Kirchmanns at Badlands overlook.

Turns out that among Gretchen’s resume of trades is journalist, for an outfit I’d never heard of: The Cowboy Lifestyle Network. Who knew?

One of her latest stories posted at its website struck a little close to home for this Greater Baltimoron. It’s headline: Star Spangled Banner Celebrates 200th Anniversary in September / Fort Meade, South Dakota the birthplace of our National Anthem.

Who knew? And not just that South Dakota has a Fort Meade. Don’t believe? Check out this link to her story: http://cowboylifestylenetwork.com/star-spangled-banner-celebrates-200th-anniversary-september/

Overnight, Gretchen joined my growing list of Facebook pals.

Costner's saloon and Wild Bill Hickok

The next day, we passed through (and passed up) Sturgis, the town best known for its annual invasion of motorcylists, instead making the obligatory stop in Deadwood where the Midnight Star casino and saloon displays movie costumes and props from a dozen or more Kevin Costner movies (including his baseball jacket, bat and glove from “Bull Durham”). Costner owns the establishment. You could look it up.
Hickok's grave

I liked that better than losing three bucks playing slot machines at a couple of the many other casinos that dominate Deadwood’s Main Street.

Of greater historical interest: Wild Bill Hickok was fatally shot in the back of the head in 1876 while playing poker in a Deadwood saloon. He was just 39, although maybe that’s old for a gunslinger. We visited his grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, high above the town. There rests another legendary western character, Calamity Jane, who, supposedly at her dying request, was buried next to him in 1903.


Center of the USA

Then we headed north on U.S. 85, for our next-to-last stop in South Dakota: The town of Belle Fourche, which celebrates itself as the geographical center of the United States. Now I would not guess in a zillion years that dead-center USA would be in either Dakota, but in truth the center has moved over the years as the nation expanded westward. The trick here is that the admission of Hawaii and Alaska to the Union made the difference.

The town’s little bit of celebrity is marked with a beautiful centerpiece monument in a park bedecked with flagpoles flying the colors of all 50 states. And Maryland’s waves close to the center. Of course I stood right atop the mid-point of the monument for another inevitable picture.

About midway between Belle Fourche and the Dakotas state line was Redig, the topic of this Road Trip blogging’s Part 8. Missed it? There’s links below to the entire adventure, to date.




http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-8.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-7.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-6.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-5.html  
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-4.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-3.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again-part-2.html
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-road-again_20.html

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On the Road Again... Part 8


A pastoral scene of cars, trucks and cattle stops us along U.S. 85. (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)


 
In the tiniest of towns,
we meet the Postmaster

REDIG, South Dakota – The sparkle of sunshine reflecting off some of maybe 150 cars and trucks out beyond the cow pasture catches my eye along U.S. 85, a dot of a place about three inches below the Dakotas’ border on our Triple-A map. The vehicles outnumber the grazing black cattle.


Redig Post Office
We stopped for a moment, then turned around on the two-lane ribbon where
... and its postmaster, Edgar Kumley
a high speed limit could render this tiny outpost invisible to passers-by. Across the road stands the Redig Post Office – a shack-like building next to a small patch of sunflowers and vegetables, and front yard to a small cluster of seemingly junked mobile homes. There’s a trio of old gas pumps on the front lot.

At the counter stands Edgar Kumley, folksy postmaster and proprietor of the pastoral salvage yard, farmer and native – and likely longest-term resident -- of Redig, whose population he puts at “ten today, maybe five tomorrow, one next week.”

“How long have you been postmaster?” I ask.

“More than 70 years,” he replies.

“But you don’t look a day over 72,” I lie.

He chuckles. He’ll be 95, come October.

There’s a computer hard drive atop a row of old dry-goods drawers, and Bonnie asks if that’s his computer. “No,” he says. “My granddaughter’s.” He says her computer equipment is all over the place.

And that raises another question, about what kind of impact an old man like Edgar Kumley makes in a wider world. Numbers help define it: Ten children that he and his wife put through college, and 35 grandchildren.

“How many great-grandchildren are there?”

“I’ve got no idea.”

The children and grandchildren and beyond are spread out across the nation, among them at least one doctor and lawyer... and probably more.

People from a wide area around Redig pick up their mail at the post office, where slots for each resident are filled with letters, magazines and, more than likely, junk advertising. But the postmaster says he gets little mail himself.

There’s a lot in the outside world that bothers him, starting with the U.S. Postal Service itself – that since its conversion to an independent agency back in the Nixon administration, it is not managed by the U.S.  government. “I voted for Richard Nixon,” he says, blaming him for giving away the postal service. “He was a thief.”  And no matter how the independent agency views it, he says, “the people own this post office, the people paid for it.”

Edgar is a Republican, but not bound up by party lines in his thinking. “That man in the White House,” he says, as I begin to hold my breath, “is the smartest and most cautious we’ve ever had.”

And in the slow-moving world of a 94-year-old postmaster, that’s excellent. He says Barack Obama is not jumping into war with Russia. Conflict like that, he fears, could ultimately go nuclear and that just three bombs could end the world as we know it.

A fan whirrs near a cracked window. There’s no air-conditioning. Afternoon temperatures outside are well into the humid 80s, and he wears a long-sleeve plaid shirt despite the heat. He slips on a pair of dark-lens glasses to ease the strain of bright light, just a few weeks after eye surgery. He’d badly injured an eye decades ago when a belt snapped as he and a son were working on a car, but surgery repaired it. Much more recently, he said, something flew out of a mailbag and damaged the eye again and now he was recovering from another repair job.

A postal patron walks in to pick up mail and exchange pleasantries. And it’s time for us to go. I reach out to shake Edgar’s hand. His fingers are thick, his hand rough, his grip stronger than a 72-year-old’s.











Saturday, August 30, 2014

On the Road Again... Part 7



Our ribbon of asphalt through the Nebraska Sandhills (above), and Pilgrim Holiness Church (below, left). (Photos by Bonnie J. Schupp)


Exploring faith and whimsy
before leaving Nebraska



ARTHUR, Nebraska – It’s not exactly the church around the corner, but the Pilgrim Holiness Church is a must-visit kind of place. It was made of hay bales in the late 1920s, and survived the possibility of being eaten by cows with coatings of plaster and stucco.

Arthur has a population of maybe 200 – “more at night than daytime,” jokes the town’s busiest octogenarian, Don Thompson, just done mowing grass in the local cemetery.

Don found us walking around the old white church, where Bonnie was taking pictures. We were easy to find. Probably everyone in town knew we had come through in the red Camry with those flashy Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial tags from Maryland, but hardly unique as travelers drawn by their religious oddity.

Our instant tour guide drew a cluster of keys from his pants pocket. “I think I have the right one,” he allows, slipping the silvery key into a padlock that keeps out intruders – not that such a tiny place would have a church burglar. It clicks open.

 Don Thompson sits in front of the double row of pews (above), and the wall opening that reveals hay behind the plaster.

Inside, although the church hasn’t been used for services in many years, are two neat rows of wooden pews, and a fading print color image of Jesus looking out from the wall behind the pulpit.
Don shows us an opening in the wall (photo, right), revealing a section of the straw under the plaster. Then he leads us to the front and sits down at an old player piano – not original to the church, but donated to the landmark by a relative. He pumps a foot pedal and the roll of music begins to turn, cranking out a hymn.

Bonnie – a church organist in her teens -- takes the seat and plays “Jesus Loves Me,” and Don (click on video, below) begins singing.  It’s so incredibly timeless, this moment in the house of worship.


 
 

Bonnie plays the old piano, and Don sings the hymn.

Then he beckons us into the back rooms, where a succession of preachers, some of them women,  made their home over the decades. Artifacts are everywhere. Old scrub washers and hand-plungers, a stove from the 1920s, dusty wall calendars with unturned pages,
lots of patent medicine bottles.
And upstairs, more furnishings – some from the church, others, like an early Singer pedal-operated sewing machine, brought there after their owners passed on. Don opens a couple of the little square drawers in the machine’s table, and there are the old bobbins and needles in perfect condition.

Time has taken a toll here. Ceilings and walls have stains and cracks, there’s dust and cobwebs. Spiders go about their business, seeming oblivious to passers-by like us. Life goes on here, just not necessarily the human part of... dare I say, God’s creation.

As we’re chatting, and Don checks in by cell phone with his wife Helen, we learn that they’ve been married since New Year’s Eve of 1950 – eligible for Bonnie’s Together 40-Plus photo-and-words project examining the glue that holds people together for so long, first with a single word (other than “love”) and then a short explanation for that choice.

“Christian,” Don says without hesitation, adding one of his ever-quick one-liners: “I’m always forgiving her.”

He invites us to their home, but on the way we stop for a look inside what “Roasdside America” lists as the world’s smallest courthouse. Don has the key, of course – the same one from the church.

The wooden 1914 building served as the Arthur County courthouse, and offices of the county clerk and commissioners, until 1961 – and, wouldn’t you know it, Don Thompson, at 83, is the sole survivor of all the commissioners who had met there for nearly half a century. A neatly typed sheet lists all the names and dates, and there was Don in the last group of three names.

There’s all manner of records and bric-a-brac sitting out on counters and tables, like old typewriters, a safe (its door removed, but lying atop it), newspapers (Warren Commission report released, Challenger disaster... historic events, but dating after the courthouse was replaced by a bigger, more modern building mere steps away). A set of shelves holds records from the local public schools dating to the 1890s. It’s a dissheveled, but fascinating, museum – frozen in time, just like the church.

And then there’s the old jail. The little wooden building, a shack really, was missing the expected padlock on its heavy wood door. Maybe folks don’t go out of their way to break into a jail. But Don told us there was one inmate many years ago, a neer-do-well named Lemuel, who tried to break out from one of the three tiny wooden-slat cells.
Jail cell furnishings
.e got into the outer room and banged on the inside of the heavy door, possibly with a piece of metal from the wood stove. Don couldn’t remember exactly what was used, but pointed with pride at the slight gouges that remain from the pounding. As for Lem, someone noticed the noise and foiled his escape attempt. Eventually, Don said, someone shot him. Maybe he’s in a better place? Probably not.

The Thompson house, which Don himself enlarged after Helen wanted to move into town from their 400-acre ranch some 12 miles away, is heavy adorned with Christian displays and photos of their large family. They have four children (three boys, one girl), eight grandchildren (all but one of them girls) and seven great-grandsons. The modern kitchen is Helen’s domain, and she’s talking with Bonnie and inviting us to stay for an early-afternoon dinner that’s on the stove, while Don takes me into his domain – a cluttered office packed with his shortwave radio equipment.

Don has been on the airwaves since the early 1950s, even built his own 100-foot transmitting tower out on the ranch. He’s also been a pilot, as co-owner years ago of a family airplane, still works as an electrician, digs the graves and buries the dead, and even works for a nearby county as a part-time roads inspector. One of his paintings, of the little ranchhouse where he was raised, is hanging along with many souvenirs and awards on the wall, near a drawing by a granddaughter of Jesus on the cross. Don also allows as how he’s been a writer, even selling some of his stories.  As I said, he’s rather busy for a country gentleman of 83½ years.

Helen sets up a card table in the living room and Bonnie helps open a set of folding chairs where we sit down to a supper of homemade meatballs and gravy, with macaroni salad, corn, and bright red and yellow varieties of fresh tomatoes. We hold hands, and Helen offers a prayer of thanks for the food, and for us visiting them.

Don and Helen (left), pictured for Bonnie's project.

 Religion is her strength. And, for Bonnie’s project, it is also her word.







 Her explanation is much longer than Don’s, but at its essence, she says, “Jesus Christ is our mainstay. All of our children go to church.” And there’s great pride and inner strength in her faith.

Our lives and feelings about religion are vastly different. But here in America’s heartland, some 1,600 miles from home, it’s good to look at the place of belief from another, very real, point of view.


And now this: Carhenge


From tiny Arthur, we hit the road for about 90 miles north and west, along scenic Route 2 through the Nebraska sandhills – seeing plenty of rolling hills of grasslands but hardly an ear of corn. This is cattle country, where many ranches are measured in thousands of acres. We had the railroad tracks to our right, and about every 30 minutes a long eastbound train would pass us, hauling cars loaded with Wyoming coal. 


Carhenge, and a perfect Nebraska sky.
Carhenge... America at its whimsiest.

Our destination was Alliance, home to that oddest of tourist attractions in this huge state: Carhenge. Doubtless you’ve seen it pictured, the old cars partially buried nose-first in the ground, and others balanced and wired atop them in imitation of that other “henge” in England. A town museum video on area history from native American roots to the 21st century took note of Carhenge, putting the number of visitors at some 87,000 a year. And small wonder, because it’s hilarious – the cars, and whimsical sculptures mostly crafted from car parts and an occasional chassis.

Carhenge was created in 1987 by engineer Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father on land once farmed by his family. It has grown in recent years with art-car contributions by other artsy folks of similar quirky bent.
Jurassic parking at Carhenge
Whether one might call it a spiritual invocation or spoof of the American auto industry, no doubt about it being art. It is very much in the spirit of Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum.

It was late afternoon, and we decided to spend the night in Alliance – particularly after our friends at the IHG hotels group 800-number told me there was special deal, and our king-bed room would set us back only 5,000 points a night. And it proved so convenient and comfortable after 12 days on the road, we decided to chill out for two nights instead. (Somehow, after four free nights this trip, we still have nearly 65,000 points available!)

On our second day, Saturday, we explored the sleepy town. Most shops along Box Butte Avenue, the historic business district, were closed. The impressive-looking Alliance Theatre movie house, dating to 1937, was the brightest spot – but not open until evening.  We drove about half a mile to find Central Park, graced by among other attractions a spectacular fountain, an arboretum (closed, but beautiful outside gardens accessible), and the Knight Museum Sandhills Center.

Named for a town doctor who became one of its most successful businessmen, and left money to build it, the museum has a large collection focused on regional history and fascinating artifacts. We luckily arrived on one of the final days for a traveling show of photographs of native Americans from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which complemented the museum’s display of native art and lifestyle relics.

When we arrived in Nebraska about four days earlier, it was a world we knew little about beyond its flat corn country. Now, as we prepare to leave for South Dakota, it’s like an old friend... albeit, Republican. We’ll miss it, and the kindness of strangers who casually greet you with a “good morning” as your turn the aisle past them in the Safeway supermarket.