Kathy & I have been a little surprised by the questions and comments we’ve gotten from people since we returned from our western road trip. Questions like, “did you have any trouble finding places to stay?” “Where did you eat?” “Are there a lot of people on the road?” And comments that begin with phrases such as “One of these days…” and “When this is all over…” and “If it’s ever safe to travel again…” Yeesh. Of course we’ve gotten our share of “Good For You’s” and “That’s Great.” and we really appreciate that.
When we tell people that we were in Oregon, we sometimes get a shocked look and some kind of question about “how bad was it?” The News would have you conjure up images of us driving down some rural highway with flaming trees falling across the road as we passed. Yes, there were fires nearby. “Nearby” as in 40-50 miles and in another valley and over a ridge or two. Yes, there was sometimes a lot of smoke and at times it got stinky. The fires have been devastating for a lot of people, but for those of us just passing through it was just an inconvenience. Mostly it was like driving in the fog. Yes, in some towns the restaurants and wineries with outdoor seating had decided to close. Who wants to eat or taste wine in the smoke? But there was plenty to see and do and we just had to adjust a bit. There is nothing like a road trip to teach you to be flexible!
My message is that the world is still out there. It’s a big country, and you don’t have to sit at home and watch The News telling you how bad things are. Everything – or just about everything – is open. We stayed away from the “famous” places like Yellowstone and Glacier, mostly because this trip was not about seeing those places. This trip was specifically intended to take us off the beaten path. We’ll get to those famous places at another time.
Restaurants on the road are operating just like they are at home. We carried a cooler with breakfast and lunch, to give us the flexibility to not have to go in search of food in the middle of nowhere. Hotels have scaled back their services a bit but they welcomed us everywhere. Gas is readily available everywhere and we had very little trouble finding a restroom when we needed one.
Not everybody has the travel bug but we do. And if you do, this is really not a bad time to travel by car. Trains, buses, planes and cruise ships? Not yet. But car? No big deal. It’s fall color time – get out there! Figure out how you can travel in a way that makes you comfortable and go. Try an overnight, a weekend or a week. But go! Someday is today, and times a-wastin’!
Kathy & I like to seek out train stations during our travels, especially ones that appear to be historically significant or that have some amount of architectural uniqueness. That’s what took us to Fairbury, Nebraska on our recent trip.
When I photograph these train stations, they are usually locked up tight, so I mostly walk around the outside, documenting interesting features and taking overviews of the building and surroundings. Since most of these stations are in fairly busy towns I get my usual curious looks from passersby, but for the most part no one pays any attention to me.
The station in Fairbury houses a museum, but I knew when we were on our way there that – even if the museum wasn’t observing a Covid-related closure – that we would arrive well after their normal business hours. But as we pulled up, a good 30 minutes after closing time, a woman was coming out of the building on the opposite end of where I parked. I got out and started my usual walking around. The woman drove down to the end of the building where I had parked. I said hello and told her – as if she hadn’t made the assumption – that I was just a train station buff out to take a few photos. Then she said, “would you like to see the inside?” Uhhh, sure (it didn’t take me that long to say yes)!
As it turns out they were having some kind of meeting there that evening, and she had been there to make sure things were set up. With evidently nothing else to do she talked to me and Kathy for about 30 minutes while I wandered through and took a few pictures. She told us that a local train club was in the process of building a model train layout in one of the upstairs rooms and apologized for that room being locked, but otherwise I had the run of the place.
Not wanting to overstay our welcome and knowing that we still had several hours of driving left, we politely said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed off for the rest of our adventure. It was a special and unexpected treat to be able to get inside this old station, if only for a few minutes!
One of the off-the-beaten-path places we visited on our journey westward was in Nebraska. The Homestead National Monument of America is located near Beatrice (pronounced be-AT-riss)Nebraska.
From the NPS website:
The Homestead Act of 1862 was one of the most significant and enduring events in the westward expansion of the United States. By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a “fair chance.”
Millions of Americans including immigrants, women, and formerly enslaved men and women would make the dream of westward expansion a reality for this country. For over a century these settlers would test their grit and endurance in the untamed wilderness and remote frontiers. Homestead National Monument of America, located in Southeast Nebraska, commemorates this Act and the far-reaching effects it had upon the landscape and people.
It is the purpose of our government “to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial burdens from all shoulders and to give everyone an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1861
Like most of the other places we visited, this park was mostly deserted at the time we were there. A few rangers working in the building and a few fellow tourists walking the grounds outside were about it. But the park contains some excellent information about the Homestead Act and its impact on the settlement of the west.