September 1, 2012
Now that summer is essentially behind us and school has resumed, it's a good time to look back on my recent adventures travelling through the Great Midwest. Whereas my trip to the Midwest last year was seriously affected by massive flooding that destroyed vast areas of cropland and shut down major highways, this year it was the opposite extreme: drought, which is pronounced "drouth" by most farmers in that region. (I had forgotten that dialectical quirk.)
During the westbound leg of my trip, my main objective was to see a baseball game at the beautiful confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Indeed, I managed to do so on July 19, as recounted on my baseball blog post of August 14. It was just wonderful, something I had wanted to do for a long time. Otherwise, the drive across the Midwestern states was fairly uneventful. I did take the opportunity to stop and take a photo (at night) of the Iowa State Capitol, in Des Moines. I was surprised by the large number of huge wind turbines that have been built in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa since my last visit, but I didn't get a chance to take a good picture of any.
Once in South Dakota, I spent most of my time playing golf with my father (who actually hit a hole in one while I was there!) and going on various day trips. On Sunday July 22 we went up to Sioux Falls to see an air show, and it was extremely impressive! About 4,000 people were there. For the first time that I can recall, I saw the Blue Angels exhibition team, consisting of four F-18 Super Hornets, performed breathtaking aerobatic maneuvers, zooming right past each other at over 500 mph barely 50 feet above the ground. There was also an F-22 Raptor doing incredible stunts, using its thrust-vector engines that allow it to do very tight turns and slow flight without stalling. The F-22 was in a "race" with a geniune World War II-era P-38 Lightning twin-fuselage fighter plane. My father has fond memories of that plane, and he probably enjoyed seeing it more than the F-18s and F-22, which were of course extremely loud. I also got a good, close look at a B-1 swing-wing supersonic bomber, and talked with one of the pilots about its performance capabilities. One of the very few operational B-1 squadrons is based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota. I also got to see an F-4 Phantom jet, an A-10 Warthog attack jet, and talked with the crew of a multiple-rocket launch system (MRLS) battery. In short, it was a wonderful, exciting day, marred only by the 104-degree heat, which caused some of the spectators to pass out from dehydration. Also, my camera battery died, so I couldn't take any pictures. Argh! Perhaps if I had taken fewer pictures of Calvary (Episcopal) Cathedral, which we attended that morning, I would have had more battery power. Oh well.
The longest trip we took while I was out there was too Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, in the south-central part of the state. I'll discuss that further in a separate blog post on wild birds. On the way, we had lunch at a charming local restaurant in the town of Wagner, which I learned is under the authority of Sioux Indian tribal law, even though it is not within the bounds of an Indian reservation. Later in the day we stopped to take pictures (and watch birds) at Fort Randall Dam, about 15 miles southwest of Lake Andes. Then we headed back home, stopping at other small (mostly declining) towns along the way.
On August 2 my father and I embarked on a tour of Yankton, South Dakota. On the way there, we stopped at the small town of Gayville (stop snickering!), which I learned is the center of a local music venue called Gayville Hall; [see gayvillehall.com]. Once in Yankton, I was impressed by how much bigger and artistic many of the main buildings are compared to my own home town of Vermillion. We stopped at the boyhood home of retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, who once took classes from my father at the University of South Dakota; we saw him speak at USD in October 2008. Later we saw Bishop Marty Chapel, [which features] a beautiful, tall stone spire, located at Mount Marty College. There was once a Yankton College in town as well, but it was closed in the [1980s; see yanktoncollege.org]. The facilities today are used as a Federal government prison. Finally, we saw the old Meridian bridge, which was built in 1924 and was closed in 2008, replaced by a [new bridge nearby]. For many decades, it was the only way to get across the Missouri River from southeastern South Dakota into Nebraska. I learned that funds for the old bridge were raised by private equity shares, which is an interesting approach. It was not built by the government.
On the return leg of my trip, I made an impromptu decision to take U.S. Route 20 across northern Iowa, rather than the usual Interstate 80, located about 50 miles to the south. It was partly because I hadn't seen the real rural countryside of Iowa in many years, and partly because I was thinking about paying a return visit to the "Field of Dreams" movie site, near the town of Dyersville, Iowa. Well, all the small towns and construction detours wasted well over an hour of my precious time, and as a result, my plans to see a White Sox ball game at U.S. Cellular Field that evening fell through. I didn't get to south Chicago until the sixth inning of that game, which was way too late.
The next day, I took a tour of the campus of the University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana. I walked around Notre Dame Stadium, and then headed over to the Main Hall, which has a golden dome on top, and beautiful ceiling murals and commissioned paintings of Christopher Columbus (a famous Catholic) along the walls inside. It is a truly beautiful building, and a beautiful campus. Then I drove north into Michigan, thinking I might make it to Detroit to see a Yankees-Tigers game, but finally decided against that. I did, however, spend some time visiting the campus of Hillsdale College, which has gained national prominence in recent years as a bastion of conservative thinking. As I learned, it was founded in 1844 by a group of Freewill Baptists. It too has a beautiful campus. But the main travel objective of that day (August 7) was to see the Twins and Indians play a game at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The home team [was ahead for most of the game, but ended up losing] their 11th game in a row that day.
By the next morning, I was too tired and impatient to do any serious tourist stuff or take photos, so I just drove home through southern Ohio, across West Virginia, and finally into the Old Dominion of Virginia. "Ain't it good, to be back home again!"
Those photos, and many more, can be seen on the new Midwest 2012 photo gallery page. Enjoy!
[NOTE: I made several corrections to this blog post a day later.]