An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

August 3, 2009

Heading to Points West

We just got back from our summer vacation, and this year's was more substantial than we normally enjoy. We decided to take a road trip to see our friends in Denver. This was our second visit to Colorado, and we debated flying which is the most expedient means of getting there, but my wife hates to fly and needs heavy medication just to endure it. The flight home from Colorado 5 years ago was a grueling nightmare for her, and the Ativan wore out during a chaotic layover in Philly. I looked into taking Amtrak, but the price to sit and sleep in one of their chairs for three days put it out of the question (not to mention the cost of a sleeper). We settled on driving knowing that, my car gets awesome mileage, we would have a chance to see some of the country, I had plenty of time off from work, and adding all the costs up it was the least expensive option even with the hotel prices.

Two weeks ago today, we left, and I promised my wife breakfast in Charlottesville if we could get out of the house by 6 a.m. I am an early riser and also wanted to leave Hampton Roads before the traffic got thick, particularly in the tunnels (few epic road trips begin in Norfolk without first going under the water through a tunnel, I considered it sort of a baptism for the trip).

We got to Charlottesville and finished breakfast just in time for Mincer's to open where my wife shopped for a UVA T-shirt and some school decals for her new car. While she was busy I took my son across the street to further his indoctrination into the glories of Virginia history by visiting the Rotunda and the Lawn. It seemed fitting that the beginning of our trip west would include standing in the shadows of some of Mr. Jefferson's best work.

Although these buildings are very significant both historically and architecturally, one of my favorite buildings on campus is Brooks Hall, mainly because of its animals. It was built in the late 1800's in a Gothic/Victorian style that fits in with the rest of the architecture like a Christmas tree in July. In fact is was almost torn down in the 1970's because of its misfit status.

The first day we made it to Louisville which is somewhat familiar ground, but once we crossed the Ohio River, I would be in terra incognito until we got to Denver.

The next day we began our trip into the Mid-West, and what little of southern Indiana I saw was incredibly beautiful. I do not know why this was surprising to me, I had no expectations as to what it should look like. I was also surprised at how rural Illinois was where we crossed - beautiful, but flat and full of corn. By mid-day we had made it to St. Louis.

I know you can never judge a city or state by what you can see from the Interstate, but Missouri does not show its best face from I-70. Would it hurt to have a few less billboards, or are they deliberately trying to hid the lovely countryside so more people will not want to move there?

By the second evening we made it to Topeka. I have heard tales of driving across Kansas, and I must say that the first third of the state was beautiful, maybe even stunning. I really loved the openness, the grasses in the wind, the hills and occasional rock outcroppings. It reminded me of driving through the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina - only the ocean never came into view. Hours after the land had flattened and the diversity disappeared, my opinion changed. I hope God has a special place in his heart for the people who live in western Kansas (and eastern Colorado), I couldn't do it.

There was not a noticeable difference crossing from Kansas into Colorado except the speed limit and our expectations were raised as we were nearing our destination of Denver.


  1. Road trip!!! My husband likes to leave super early for our trips too. Love UVA -- wonderful campus. Will reread in the morning, am off to bed.

  2. What a fantastic travelogue. You could be a travel writer. I'm enjoying my vicarious trip to CO. Many thanks.

  3. Hey, hey, where's the rest of your trip? We've done a lot of cross-country driving, and I always thrill at the sight of an unknown part of the country. You have to drive to really see it instead of just flying from one city to another.

    I hope you made it to the Denver Botanic Garden. I haven't yet, but it's on my list of gardens to see.

  4. I had to drive through Kansas. My Kansas-driving portion of that road trip was at night; and boy did my tune change about the flatness of Kansas when the headlights went out on the car! They were only out for about 40 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. If it weren't for the straight roads, I would have crashed - unless of course we were actually being abducted by aliens at that moment and I just thought the lights went out - but who can say.

  5. Driving can be tiring but it is the best way to see the country. I've never been to CO or KS. I like the building with the animal faces too.

  6. Wow! That is a mighty mighty trip. It must have been great to see all the sights.

  7. Janet,
    I would have left earlier if I was travelling alone, but my wife is by nature a night owl and the grump factor goes way up when my son does not get enough sleep.

    Karen and Joe,
    I hearby want Conde Nast to know that I will go anywhere they care to pay to send me, and I will blog about it.

    The rest of the trip is coming, including the Denver Botanic Gardens. I am still sorting through pictures and trying to get back into normal life.

    Have you had your head checked for hidden micro chips. I here they leave them there so you can be found again.

    I do not know if we will be driving that far anytime soon, but you are correct, it is a great way to see the country.

    Yes indeed it was.


  8. Hi Les.
    That last shot is awesome...straight out of a movie. I take it that the little "oasis's" are farmsteads?
    I would love to take a road trip like this one day.

  9. I did that same stretch of I-70 not to long ago. In St. Louis I headed south though. My impression was very much the same. I even recall rising a hill in eastern Kansas where the was a distinct wall of humidity that you could feel and smell and I knew I was in the east then.

  10. My family is from so. Indiana -- that is indeed beautiful country.

    I can very much relate to your wife's fear of flying. Too bad the train was so expensive. I love the idea of travelling by train, although I've never done it.

    Thanks for taking us along!

  11. Do we get to see CO too? I like to drive and see the country, but I know it must have been a long sit!

  12. ESP,
    Yes those little green spots were farmsteads. I really liked that last picture also, in fact it is now my desktop background. I had to quell dissent from my son when I stopped to take it, reminding him that it was my car, my camera and I was doing all of the driving.

    I also noticed the distinct difference between east and west flora and humidity, and it happened suprisingly quick.

    I hope you get to go back to Ind. frequently. It was very nice.

    Stay tuned for more posts. I have enough to keep me busy for a while.
    It was a long drive, but the drugs and alcohol made the time pass quickly (you know I jest).


  13. It sounds like you drove right near my undergrad college in southwestern Indiana, University of Evansville. I've driven to MN and KS this summer (from Lincoln), and I can tell you Iowa is awful, and frankly so is most of Kansas and 99% of Nebraska. I love the flatness, to see things comign, to prepare for whatver that is, but the hot monochromatic nothing is soul sucking--and yet it defines my soul, my life, my upbringing. Glad Colorado was good for you.

  14. BV,
    I have always agreed with the saying "bloom where you are planted".


  15. I would not want to miss this trip for anything in the world--so glad I'm reading it all at once!

    I've crossed the Kansas prairie numerous times. Did you see a sign for the Cambridge Cafe? Like some 700ish miles away? Did you go through Salina and was there a tornado? I've never been through when there wasn't. Did you see dust devils? But when the winds start sweeping cross the plains--is when semi trucks cross in to your lane! EEek.

    I use to laugh at relatives who came to see me in Colorado and Montana--they want to see it all. I told them that we'd see what we could in a week but if they wanted to see it all---they'd better stay longer. Not like here where you can drive through 3 states in one day.

    Your VA history tour and animal faces was entertaining too.

    I can relate to the flying thing--no thanks.

  16. Anna,
    I am glad to say we saw no tornadoes coming across KS. In fact the weather was generally very nice. The wind in western KS did make me lose 10 mpg on my fuel, but we made up for it on the way home.