Monday, October 17, 2011

American Gods and Roadside Attractions Tour: Some of My Favorite Things

When the sun rose over Williamsburg that second to last day of our trip, I didn't know what that day might hold.

After having experienced what we'd already experienced though - especially that supper on the Milwaukee River two nights before - I never suspected this day - the day before our trip would come to a close - would end up containing some of my most favorite memories of all.

As usual, the morning would start out leisurely with coffee and, for the first time for me, the interwebz (oh how I love me some interwebz!). We'd shower and shampoo, dress, pack up, and then load out all our gear. Never in a rush but always with a goal time in mind. By then, we were expert at it and could both call departure nearly to the minute.

We'd head west on I-80, back the way we'd come, only this time in morning light rather than through the cover of deepest darkness. Instead of driving straight through though, at Des Moines, we'd catch I-35 north toward Ames - home of a Giant Pitchfork and Iowa State University aka Home of Elwood, the World's Largest Cement Garden Gnome.

First stop...the pitchfork.

Giant Pitchfork - not certified by Guiness.

YAY! Big stuff! Hans liked it too (by this time, the gnome had been completely anthropomorphised and "talked" to me on a regular basis *laughing maniacally*).

Afterward, we'd make a brief stop at the office supply store (Acr0nym - always on the lookout for new pens) and the local K-Mart (where I would purchase a Trapper Keeper for impending nerdiness) before heading toward the Gnome.

We were a little nervous when the GPS told us we'd be turning into an alley *laugh*.

What the GPS considered an alley though was really the parking lot of the stadium at Iowa State University. For Elwood, World's Largest Cement Garden Gnome, is the resident of the Reiman Gardens on campus. YAY!

When we realized we'd have to pay a fee to enter the gardens - a rather steep fee, we felt, of $8 a piece - there was a wee bit of hesitation on both our parts. However, me being me and because Andy the Footless Goose had been such a bust, I insisted we go in at my expense to, hopefully, make up for Andy.

We were not disappointed.

First up? They had a butterfly emergence window where we could see any number of caterpillars (larvae) cocooned and butterflies emerging from cocoons.

Is that not freaking cool?! That is alive!
Then, as we headed down the hall, we'd find the atrium and this...

Yes, that is a lady bug painted VW beetle, as a matter of fact!
We'd discover that the bumpers of VW beetles are not made of metal. Hans would not stick to them. FYI.

After we'd had our fill of the tropical atrium paradise, we'd head outside and into a grassy wetlands area where I had the distinct dawn of awareness that we might see..

This, more than anything else that day, made me the happiest. I am heartfelt in love with frogs of all sorts.

Have I mentioned just how much I love frogs? Because OMG! FROGS!!!!!

Oh. Yeah. Heh. Moving on from said frogs.

We'd wind our way back and back and back until...finally...Elwood appeared...

Our first look at Elwood
He was everything I'd anticipated...and more! He was HUGE!

Hans and Elwood - brethren.
He was magnificent, delightful, dare I say, handsome?

I don't know who is handsomer here...Acr0nym or Elwood.
I was 100% soul-satisfied at having seen Elwood. The entire trip culminated in this one moment in time seeing him up close and personal-like. I don't know what it was about him that did this for me except that he was...sincerely and truly, THE WORLD'S LARGEST. Clearly. Fan-ta-bu-lous.

When we turned back toward the entrance and the Intrepid, I couldn't think of anything I wanted more from my Reiman Gardens $16 experience...

And then we spied this...

Leaf in mid-change. Ah, Autumn, how I love thee!
We'd been noticing some slight changes to foliage all along our route but this! This was a spectacular find! Stunning, delightful, gorgeous, divine. *sigh*

And then? Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, Acr0nym found an the loveliest little sanctuary...

Acr0nym's Angel
He would capture her in just the right light.

For the record, Reiman Gardens, even though size-wise it cannot compete with the Denver Botanic Gardens, is one of the most beautiful spots I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. Thank you, Iowa State University. You've given plenty to just this one city girl. Nature Heart = Full.

We'd stop - briefly - in the gift shop where I would purchase a frightening magnet in the form of an excruciatingly life-like spider for my beloved of which said he was tempted to fire his hand gun at it in fear and disgust. Oh yeah, I also purchased gummi frogs. I must have been hungry.

When we left Iowa State, we'd head west along US 30 and then south along SR 17...not a lot to see except corn fields, processing plants, and the occasional sad, little town. was lovely in its way.

And then, south of Madrid, IA, after excruciating road construction along SR 17, something quite extraordinary appeared out of the middle of the rows and rows of endless corn...

A Hindu Temple?!

That's right. A Hindu the middle of an Iowa corn field in the middle of literally nowhere.

Look at the detail!
All of a sudden, Elwood didn't seem so unique and of-the-awesome anymore. Not compared to this odd thing rising out of the corn in the least expected place on earth. A Hindu Temple? In rural Iowa? Really?

Yeah. It's true. It really really is true. It's there. We've seen it, documented it, researched it.

No one was there, unfortunately. I would have loved to have gone inside. Instead, we contented ourselves with pictures from the outside. That may have been just enough. Still...Hindu Temple? Iowa? AWESOME! Also? Weird.

SR 17 would take us back down to I-80 then. And we'd hardly deviate from its I-80 straightness the rest of the day.

We'd see...

Adair Water Tower - YAY! Smiley face :)

And, in the daylight...

Iowa Wind Farm
Still spooky...especially considering just how close to the road some of them really are...

Seriously? About 5 yards - if that - from my face

It was Acr0nym who would suggest we take the detour we'd seen advertised for the only working Danish windmill in the United States. It wasn't far off our path and I, loving windmills, couldn't disagree.

So, we would head north on Hwy 173 toward Elk Horn, IA - home of the only working Danish windmill in America.

It was worth the trip - if for no other reason that for what it was.

America's only working Danish windmill

Hans Gothwökkit and the windmill

It's the time we got to the windmill, I don't think Acr0nym and I were interested in the FULL experience of much of anything anymore. We came, we saw, we photographed the outside but, all of a sudden there was a strange sense of urgency that had not been there on days 1, 2, or 3.

We would opt not to go up inside and to the top of the windmill. Rather, we'd take a cursory glance at the offerings of the windmill giftshop (consisting of the typical Danish pride tourist crap we would have been enthralled with 2 days' prior...OK maybe not...mostly because neither of us can claim one speck of Danish heritage) and then we'd turn back toward I-80..toward other things on our way toward home.

I don't think this was because we were nearing home.

Neither of us, at that moment, seemed to be nostalgic for our respective homes. I think, and this is just my interpretation of events - Acr0nym has his own blog in which he can describe his own interpretations (you know, the one to which he refuses to update heh...dig, dig, dig) - Acr0nym and I, having found America by then, were less interested in America and more interested in what was happening in the moment, each moment, between us, in the Intrepid.

More about that in a minute - I'm trying to go chronologically.

Back on I-80, we had one more destination for the day that was 100% timed on that particular day...the World's Largest Ball of Stamps in Boys Town, NE (within the city limits of Omaha). We had just enough time to make it before the museum closed. Especially with the short cut the GPS gave us...along I-680. I wasn't paying attention...clearly.

OK, let me back up just a wee tiny bit. Prior to our departure, my sixth grade teacher, PW, now my friend on Facebook (insisting I call him by his first name...which I can't quite do without thinking it's not natural), who now lives in Omaha, posted a link to a story from the Omaha World-Herald about the decimation of I-680.

The article included this picture which sums the devastation up quite nicely...

I-680 just outside of Omaha, NE courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald...and spring flooding
When I saw the article, I even asked Acr0nym if this was along our route, because obviously it was impassable - even for the Intrepid.


So...when we got on I-680 just east of Council Bluffs, IA, I didn't really think about it much. I figured we knew what we (this includes the GPS) were doing.

I did mention it to Acr0nym but he assured me that, surely, they couldn't mean this stretch into Omaha...right? I mean, wouldn't we have seen detour signs along I-80? And then?

Then we hit the junction of I-680, I-29, I-80 and yeah, no, they weren't kidding and no, there'd been no detour signs along I-80. We were forced to turn around. No ifs, ands, or buts. All those roads into Omaha - with the exception of I-80 - were closed to us (no soup for you).

When we turned around, headed back toward Council Bluffs, we knew then we weren't going to see the World's Largest Ball of Stamps. That would become even more painfully clear when we hit rush hour traffic through Omaha. Acr0nym felt as though he'd disappointed me. By then though, I really didn't care about the World's Largest Spit Ball (for all intents and purposes). For my part, I was just glad - heart-felt glad - to be there, with him, in the moment.

We'd continue on along I-80 then. We didn't even want to stop for more Trader Joe's (having left our first stop on our trip's bounty largely untouched).

Just...Nebraska, I-80 into the quickening dusk.

We'd arrive at York (again), just at what Acr0nym calls the photographer's golden hour and head north on US 83 toward the Backyard Zoo...

A strange place reminiscent to me of my beloved Saraville (just east of Cheyenne...apparently long gone) of old...

Lions and Tigers and Bears (or just really fake lions) oh my!
We don't want to touch the fake giraffe, we just want to photograph its weirdness, OK?
There was more to photograph and, for Acr0nym's part, he did.

There were signs nearly evenly spaced along the fence that read....

"Don't drive like hell thru here
This is god's country sez Rog.
danger if we still had the old lone ranger.
don't drive faster then your angel can fly."

Really, Rog? You're fuckin' weird.

It was...weird. I would, had it been midnight, felt just as though I were stumbling across Saraville for the 1st or 12th time. Fearful that there was a shotgun, unseen, pointed at me for stopping in the public road to take pictures.

There was no shotgun but I did feel watched.



Here's the thing...

As we drove through York toward the Backyard Zoo, Acr0nym began recounting a story...a true story...and a story which, obviously, was full of grief. It would hurt my heart.

Later, as we would drive back along I-80 in the full darkness...peppered with distant, small town lights, we'd listen to a particularly intense episode of This American that would have me confessing my own secret, painful story full of grief and shame...slow in the reaction.

And it would hurt his heart.

Those were the moments to which I referred earlier...the moments that, unintentionally, would bring us together in this all-gone-to-look-for-America moment.

What we'd 5 days, 4 nights, was...

Each our Infinite Wisdom.

And that Infinite Wisdom?


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