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In early August I headed up to southeast South Dakota from Tulsa for a family reunion on my dad’s side of the family.
I love the drive up there and the fastest route generally keeps me off the freeways most of the way. That kind of suits me. Lots less traffic and lots more to see. I love the big skies in the Midwest.
I also enjoy the small towns. Lots to see there. I like to see old infrastructure of almost any kind. The Midwest has lots of agriculture infrastructure to look at and photograph.
I also love their county courthouses. Nice big solid buildings for the most part.
Something I noticed on this trip that I don’t remember seeing much before is the plethora of barn quilts. In eastern Kansas it seemed like everybody had a barn quilt, the county courthouse had this one on the grounds. Doing the google thing I find out that barn quilts are kind of folk art that has been in the Midwest states especially for a long time. They are designs painted on wood that are then hung on barns originally. Kind of cool is what I think.
Getting close to my destination as the sun started declining I pulled off the freeway to get this shot.
Anyway it takes me a while to get anywhere and I enjoyed myself. When my wife goes with me she doesn’t put up with that kind of nonsense. I don’t blame her. But I enjoyed my drive up through America’s heartland of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.
Last week I posted about Cadillac Ranch on the west side of Amarillo. Once ou get through Amarillo, headed east, you come to a giant cross near, the town of Groom. Naturally, since I was by myself, I pulled off I-40 to check it out.
The cross is 190 feet tall. It was installed in 1995. In addition to the big cross their are other artworks on the site depicting the stations of the cross, the last supper, an empty tomb, a gift shop and other things. The name of the site is “The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries.” Hit the link to go to their web site. The cross and other attractions are free and there is plenty of parking.
The site was built by Texas oilman Steve Thomas and his wife Bobby. The story is that he always wanted to be a missionary but liked staying home so he built this because of its proximity to Interstate 40 and Route 66. So people come to him in a sense.
The Last Supper installation with the replica Calvary Hill behind it.
St. Michael the Archangel defeating Samson.
It’s a nice, restful stop, (complete with restrooms) and is nicely done. And if you are into such things there is a geocache on the property (yes I found it.)
As an aside, Steve Thomas built the site on land owned by another man, Ralph Britten. Mr. Britten is the owner of another attraction in Groom, the leaning water tower. The tower was built this way to publicize the Britten Truck Stop which is long gone. The water tower still stands today and is a long time Route 66 attraction.
Continuing my road trip from Springerville/Eagar Arizona for my first 50th High School Reunion. You may remember that I went by the El Malpais National Monument to see a natural arch and some spectacular sandstone cliffs. So after that I drove on into Albuquerque, spent the night and headed home to Tulsa the next morning.
Something that I have been meaning to see for decades was Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo. It was installed in 1974 by three architects from San Francisco who called themselves the Ant Farm, on land owned by a millionaire in nearby Amarillo. It was moved in 1997 to further away from the city. You can read all about it in this Wikipedia article.
I remember driving by it in 1977 when I left home after graduating with my engineering degree. I was on my way to Houston to start my new job with Mobil Oil Corporation. I saw the installation from I-40 and wanted to check it out but you know, I had a long ways to go and I was in a hurry. So here I am retired 46 years later and I took the time, finally.
It’s kind of a place. No admission fee but you can buy spray paint and people were making the most of it.
I just took it all in. In some places the paint is inches thick. According to the Wikipedia article it gets repainted now and again for television commercials, social protests, and once to mark the passing of the one of the founders of the ant farm.
I have had several people tell me that they came out originally to it in the 50’s and 60’s (it was installed in 1974). I just nod my head and say that’s cool!! That’s kind of common for Route 66 attractions. People talk about visiting places as kids when the thing wasn’t even built then,
I love that people are using really bright colors to paint with.
And what got me was the kids were really getting into it. Ordering their parents to go buy more paint, or bring them this or that. How does that work? I don’t really remember ever ordering my parents around. I would have remembered if I tried to do so!
Droplets of spray paint were wafting everywhere in the Texas breeze.
And I was glad that there was decent sky that day.
My advice is to not wait 46 years to go do something that you would like to do.
Have you ever checked out Cadillac Ranch? How about the Bug Ranch? It is a similar installation with Volkswagens on the other side of Amarillo. I posted about it about a month ago.
I’ve been traveling again, and I apologize for not being as active as I would like to be. I went up to South Dakota for a family reunion. It’s been four years since my last visit, so I had some catching up to do with a lot of people.
The church above was built on land donated by my great great grandfather way back when in 1889. It was a church for Danish immigrants who settled in southeast South Dakota. The second Sunday in August is the Reunion Sunday service where the little church is packed with family. Afterwards there is a picnic in town. This has been going on for decades. It is always nice to see people.
So continuing from last week, after I rode in the 4th of July Parade in Round Valley, Arizona I needed to head back home right afterward. A friend suggested a different route than what the apple maps app suggested. He said turn off at Quemado, New Mexico, head north to Interstate 40. There are some cliffs you will run into that I think you might like.
So I drove to Quemado and hung a left just past this beautiful little church and headed north.
And drove miles of road looking like this. Beautiful and desolate but no cliffs to be seen. After a long while I came to El Malpais National Monument and area of beautiful lava flows including lava tubes and other interesting things. No photos of any of that though. I was looking for cliffs. Pretty soon I came to an area where the lava flows came up against cliffs. And my friend was right, the cliffs took my breath away.
Truly spectacular with great skies that day.
Great views everywhere I looked.
And the La Ventana Arch just off the roadway. Aptly named as La Ventana means the window in English.
This shot is from the trail that gets you pretty close to the arch.
Lots of cactus in the area. This might be a cholla cactus.
I loved the blooms on the cactus.
So I loved the arch and the El Malpais. I was kind of mad at myself as well because I lived for years in Albuquerque, just 100 or so miles away and had no clue about the cliffs, the arch, the Malpais or any of that. Of course, that was back in the day when I was young and dumb, (I am now old and dumb.)
What a beautiful place this is. I intend to come back when I have more time.
Sorry, not sorry, I am still documenting my recent trip to Arizona for my 50th high school reunion in Eagar/Springerville, AZ. Our family left the area in 1971 when dad got transferred to Albuquerque. I hadn’t been back since so I was really curious. (The two towns butt up against each other so I am just going to call the area Round Valley since that is what the locals tend to call it).
John Wayne had a ranch, the 26 Bar Ranch, in Round Valley up until he passed away in 1979. It went through some changes and is now owned by the Hopi Tribe. He’d show up every now and then and the town had John Wayne days for him with a parade and all that. He was a very nice guy, very approachable, especially with kids. I never talked to him but I stood right next a time or two. The towns are still very proud of him.
The 26 Bar Herefords painted rocks are still there but they used to be a lot more prominent than they are now.
Round Valley is football crazy. They are used to winning and by big margins. The whole town would shut down on game days to either cheer them on at home or caravan to wherever they were playing. Years ago they passed a bond issue and they got the football team a domed stadium. As far as I can tell it is still the only high school football field with a dome in the US. I had never seen it before and I hauled my drone all the way to Arizona just to take a few photos of it. it seats about 5000 or so. They play other sports in it and it has been used as a shelter for some of the big forest fires they have had in the area including the gigantic Wallow Fire in 2011 that burned 538,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico.
Looking off toward the mountains is Flattop Mountain. I had plans of maybe hiking it but reading up on it, it is a nine mile trek with no cover. Nope, not for me.
Instead I headed downtown to the XA Bar. When I was a kid it was the XA Buffet and featured nightly entertainment by the Arizona Yodeler. He wasn’t around.
And it is still a bar. I felt like I was going somewhere forbidden. Bars outside the bible belt in the US are pretty much heavy drinking places. You go in, saddle up and drink her down. I never thought of drinking of being particularly sinful until I moved to Texas after college. I mean you are an adult are expected to control yourself.
So I had a couple of beers and a steak. I enjoyed it thoroughly. There was an enthusiastic crowd in there enjoying themselves as well.
The next day I drove up to the old saw mill and it was gone!! Southwest Forest Industries had a huge sawmill up there and it was the economic driver of the town. The market changed and the sawmill shut down. It was pretty much dismantled for scrap and off it went.
Just a huge empty tract of land and one remaining building left. All shut down. Two huge coal fired power plants started up and provided jobs for lots of people. That is how the town was able to afford the dome. Now the power plants are in danger of being shut down. It will cause some pain but the people there are resilient.
So now back to the reunion. The school was a kind of small and so here was the class.
You can examine the photos and names all you want and you won’t find me because I didn’t graduate there. Remember, I left in 1971. I had stayed in contact with them over the years and they invited me to join them in celebrating the 50 years. So I went and I had a great time! I felt kind of like an interloper but they made me feel welcome.
They had a dinner program the night before the parade and I got to meet people I hadn’t seen in decades. It took a little while at first because I didn’t recognize anybody. After a while it got easier. I was amazed at all my former classmates. Most of them had done quite well with families and careers. A few had challenges but they didn’t seem defeated by the experiences. And several had passed away including one classmate who ended up in Tulsa. She is buried just a few miles from where I live.
Part of the celebration was we got to ride on a float in the 4th of July parade. That’s a sign of being really old I think.
So there I am sitting on a hay bale in the parade, representing the class of 1973. It was a huge parade, it went on for a long time and we rode for miles.
Also in the parade was this thing. A privately owned armored car. I am not sure what the deal was.
So we sat on the hay bales and waved flags and tossed candy to the kids. And to show their appreciation they threw water balloons at us.
It was a blast. So we finished the parade, and said our goodbyes and off I went back to Oklahoma! And guess what, I got my Albuquerque High School 50 year reunion coming up in a few weeks. Don’t be jealous, riding in a parade is not on the agenda.
Earlier this month, during my sojourn to Eagar, Arizona for a high school reunion, one of the things I really wanted to see was the Very Large Array, a radio telescope the feds built on the Plains of San Agustin. A huge, very flat, very dry, former lake bed in a remote part of New Mexico. My family left the area in 1971 and the facility started being built in 1973 and was operational a few years later.
I had read and seen photos of the giant antennas at the site. There are twenty eight of them and they are ninety feet tall. When I dropped out of the mountains to the plains where the VLA is located, the plains are so vast that the antennas looked like small mushrooms popping up on a large football field. But when you get close, the antennas are indeed gigantic.
There are twenty eight of these antennas spread out on three rails going out from a hub. The rails are in a Y configuration and and are about ten miles in length give or take. This allows the towers to be wide apart to focus in on details. You see the tires are all wired together with fiberoptics and are connected to a supercomputer. So it simulates up to a 22 mile wide telescope. I am not sure that I understand it all but fortunately they have a comprehensive web site with all sorts of videos, photos, and other things to help you make sense of it.
They have a very good, self guided, walking tour. They ask that you register in advance. It only costs a few dollars per person.
This is big science but it is retro big science. They first started making images there in 1980. They have upgraded the software, wiring, and computational capabilities so they keep the site current.
The VLA is in this remote site because of the flat terrain, high altitude, and low humidity. The mountains that ring the plains help keep out radio waves. Warning though, the site has not very good cell phone coverage and the facility has no street address so they suggest you download the map on google maps or may never get there. They actually don’t like cell phones and ask that you turn yours completely off when visiting. They said the cell phones can kind of fog the images. In fact everything you have that is wireless including blue tooth just turn off.
This is the admin building where the technical stuff and people are. They let you walk on the balcony but you cannot go inside.
This is the barn where they do maintenance and upgrades on the antennas.
This is the transporter that picks up and moves the antennas. They change their configuration of the towers every several months.
Check this link for a video narrated by Jodie Foster explaining the VLA. She does a lot better job than I can. She made a movie, Contact, that had her at the VLA communicating with aliens.
On my recent trip out west for a high school reunion I stopped at the old mining town of Magdalena, New Mexico. Ever since I was a little kid I was intrigued by old mining town of the west. At the time, the early 1970’s the town reminded me of the desolate towns in Clint Eastwood’s Fistful of Dollars movies. Magdalena was a town where we never stopped, we just went through. My dad worked for the US Forest Service and they had a ranger district in Magdalena and my mother would thank her lucky stars that dad never been transferred there. So here I am years later able to stop. I didn’t spend too long though.
The Magdalena area was of course populated by Native Americans prior to, and after, Europeans arrived. Spainish soldiers explored the area in the 1500’s but I don’t think they stayed. In the 1860’s miners were digging for lead, gold, and silver and the town became incorporated in 1884. A railroad spur was built to the area about then. The railroad helped spur the cattle and wool industries in the region. Most of the mines were up the canyon in the little town of Kelly.
After World War II Magdalena started a long decline as the mines had depleted also wool and cattle prices declined. The railroad quit operating and the tracks were pulled up in the early 1970’s. Ranchers were shipping their cattle by truck by then.
The town has less than a thousand inhabitants but has kind of turning into a funky location. The town’s hotel and other buildings have been restored and there is kind of a funky vibe in the air. The Very Large Array Radio telescope is within a half hour and that has added some spice to the mix. They still have that beautiful blue New Mexico sky overhead as well as an intense sun beaming down despite relatively low temperatures.
I drove up the canyon the short distance to the old town of Kelly where the mines actually were. Lots of old mine entrances fenced off and violators will be violated signs. I don’t think anybody lives there any longer but it looks like a great place for the local high schoolers to party. The only building still standing was this old church.
I was up there all by myself and then this old guy in a truck with Texas plates shows up and he comes over and we start talking. Texans are like that you know. His family has a ranch in west Texas and it had an old abandoned mine in it. The guys brother was poking around in it and found some old metal parts of some kind labelled Magdalena Smelting Company, or something like that so this guy was always intrigued by that and so was scouting things out. He wanted to explore some more and I had a timed entry admission to the Very Large Array and so we parted ways.
On the way out of Kelly I came across these old foundations. Who knows maybe that was Magdalena Smelting Company?
So I got to visit Magdalena after being intrigued by it 50 years ago. Never give up is what I say.
Here is a video of the ghost town of Kelly made by not me. I tried to find old photos and there a bunch of them and many of them very cool old cowboy, ranching, mining stuff but all rights are reserved so I am not touching them.
On interstate 40 last week on the way to a class reunion in Arizona. The Texas Panhandle is pretty flat but the skies were interesting. Lots of people tell me how “boring” this stretch of road is. I don’t find it boring at all! Oh no, I see all sorts of interesting things while driving.
I stopped for gas in Shamrock, Texas. Shamrock is home to the Tower Gas Station. A beautiful art deco structure from the 1930’s. It has been restored and is beautiful. It is no longer a gas station but more of a visitor center.
Attached is “Do Drop Inn” a former restaurant that has also been preserved. Roadside America has a post on this stop. The gas station and former cafe are big stops for Route 66 fans.
Further to the west on the freeway is the Bug Ranch. It is kind of like Cadillac Ranch (for a later post). I found it fun. It’s free and they take donations so I gave them a couple dollars. It’s another Route 66 attraction. Most references call it the slug bug ranch.
You can buy spray paint but I declined. I just wanted to take photos.
They had a couple of other vehicles as well.
I love road trips. The rest of my family hates them. I kind of like the Route 66 attractions but I don’t spend much time driving Route 66. Too slowwww!!!
I’ve been incommunicado since last Saturday. I went on a road trip to Arizona to attend my 50th reunion of my first high school, Round Valley High School in Eagar, Arizona. I didn’t graduate from there but I was contacted by several of my classmates and why not go? I like those people and had not seen any of them since my family left the area at the middle of my sophomore year. So I went and had a great time. More on that later, and by the way I am attending my Albuquerque high school 50th reunion in August. How many people do you know get to attend two reunions? Sorry this is a skywatch post so I’ll get to the task at hand.
Keeping it real, iphone shot from the car, bugs on the windshield and all. The west has big skies. I could of taken hundreds of windshield shots but held back.
A leaning water tower in the Texas Panhandle. What I read is that it was intentionally installed that way by a guy who was trying to promote his business. He and the business are gone but the tower remains.
I stopped and checked out the Very Large Array in a remote area of New Mexico called the San Agustin Plain a very flat former lake bed that met the project’s desire for low humidity, “flatness” and isolation from human electrical signals, (you have to turn your cell phone off as well as any device that has bluetooth on it.) More on the VLA later and there were dramatic skies.
Another shot from the San Agustin Plain. It takes forever it seems to drive across, my father always called it the “San Agustin Very Plain.”