Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Trip part two - still more pictures

Kansas City is the nearest major airport to TBH’s son’s family home. Whilst it is named Kansas City, it straddles the state line between Missouri and Kansas, with more of it in Missouri than in Kansas. It is quite a large city and is known locally as the City of Fountains and it does have a lot of water features in many of the public areas.
One of the many fountains in KC
Click to enlarge all pictures
 Amongst the seven or so museums in KC, one of these is the USA’s National World War One Museum. This records the USA’s involvement in that war and also has a section which covers the other nations allied in that conflict. It was interesting to find that there was a record of TBH’s grandfather’s regiment and from this she was able to discover how he died, something she had not known fully before. Because her family come from Gloucestershire in England, he served in the Glosters a British regiment that had landed at the port of Basra in what was then Mesopotamia, now Iraq. He was captured by the Turks somewhere near the Tigris and it seems he died from dysentery whilst still in captivity and was buried not far from Baghdad.

The WWI museum entrance and tower

Part of KC, with the railway station in the foreground.
This view was taken from the top of the WWI museum tower
Kansas City may well be getting more water than they want about now, because this year the spring melt was prolonged and melt water is still moving downstream in both the Kansas and the Missouri Rivers, which join at Kansas City. These rivers are so long, it takes months for water to actually flow down to these states from their sources in the Rockies and whilst we were there, there were continuous flood warnings as the high water peak moved downstream towards us. Temporary levies have been built and existing ones extended to hold back the expected rise in water level, whilst some roads had already been closed due to the rising water. This is slightly ironic because there had been much less rain than normal this spring in Kansas and grass and plants are suffering.

The family live about an hour’s drive west of Kansas City and we stayed in their home for the next week or so. The plan was for us to do a bit of Grandson sitting, whilst TBH’s son (TS) and daughter in law (TDIL) were still at work, but The Grandson (TG) had been doing a lot of competitive swimming and all the heats were that first week. These were being held in Topeka, a town further west and about 40 minutes or so drive from the family home.
Dawn breaks over Kansas

 Most of the events that TG was entered into were taking place early, beginning at 8AM, so this required that we all got up before six AM prepared a midday snack, piled into the car and sped off to Topeka where we set up deck chairs and blankets around the pool along with the hundred or so other families competing and sat around watching and waiting for the various events.

The pool at Topeka used for 'The Beach Bash' as this event was referred to.
It was quite warm with temperatures in the low 90s for most of the morning, reaching the mid to high 90s by the end of the morning, when we then returned to the family home and the comfort of the air conditioning found in practically every home in that part of the world.
We managed to find some shade by the pool. 

TG did well in most of the events he needed to qualify in and got the set of official times he needed for each event. He is quite tall for his age and was often competing against children three years older than himself, so he did not come first in many heats but held his own for most of them, often bettering his own previous times. His father and I filmed his progress so that he could look at what he was doing and like any competitive sportsman was able to see where he could improve his technique.

Once these heats were over, we were all able to sleep in until a more normal time to get up. Although not having to go to Topeka every day, his father continued to take him to the local pool for some organised practice on his way to work and his mother collected him before starting to her work each morning and when he was returned home, we then got on with the proper Grandson sitting.

The family own four cats, two rather elderly females, Hailey and Emma and two much younger males, Tom and Jerry. Hailey and Emma are both getting on in years and were originally rescue kittens from a feral mother. They were always skittish and uncertain of visitors to their house, but over the years we have visited, they have become used to us and soon settle down and regularly come to greet us in hopes of some attention, often vocalising this request.

Hailey in her usual dozing spot

The two boys, Tom and Jerry are TG’s cats and they chose him when his mum and dad took him to find him a cat at the rescue centre. Properly known as Sir Thomas Mousebane and Sir Jerrold Kibblebane, who is occasionally known as Sir Eatalot, they are much more forthcoming and were all over us on day one. Jerry is slightly aloof but will sit beside you, rarely on you, whilst Tom demands attention frequently, also very vocally, and climbs on your lap or lays down on his back beside you hoping for a tummy rub.

Tummy rub?  Please, pretty please

They play together and sleep in a heap, but are a bit too rough for the older cats who tend to keep away from them. All four will occasionally have a mad moment and when sleeping beneath their living room, (our bedroom was in the basement) at four AM, they are known as Thunder paws.

A sleep heap

Caught in the act!

In much of the USA and in particular, Kansas, weather is quite an important factor and most houses are equipped with a basement in which to shelter when things get rough. You can buy a weather radio that has the sole purpose of putting out bulletins and warnings if storms are approaching.
This is necessary for two reasons, firstly, thunderstorms are likely to be severe and apart from the problem of lightning strikes, they can cause massive hailstones up to grapefruit size, which will damage cars and houses and can be dangerous if you have no shelter. Powerful storms can also cause sudden micro bursts, a sudden short lived wind which can be devastating in a small area. Secondly tornadoes can form and where these touch down, the devastation can be immense. Joplin was virtually destroyed only a few weeks before we arrived in the USA, so the weather radar is monitored continuously and warnings issued where the clouds are forming most densely. On our previous visit, in 2009, there had been some grapefruit sized hail only a few miles away. A microburst had done some damage in KC and a couple of tornadoes touched down briefly but fortunately did no damage. A few thunderstorms passed through whilst we were there this time but they were minor events and no dangerous weather arrived this trip.

After a week or so of TG sitting, we started to prepare for the road trip. This required booking hotels at all the places we planned to stay overnight and hiring a larger car that would comfortably take all our luggage and seat us all as well. The rental company had a number of suitable vehicles and we were supplied with a large very new Chrysler Town and Country with tons of features ideal for the trip. A common feature on many people carriers are sliding doors for the passenger doors. On this model, not only were they sliding doors, but they were electric, so you simply pressed a button, or the key fob and they opened and closed by themselves. The rear door also opened electrically. There was a ton of room and we were able to travel in style.
We set off heading west along the I-70 interstate, through the lush green fields of Kansas. Kansas has very bad press, starting with the Wizard of Oz, where L Frank Baum describes the prairie as flat and grey. Much of Kansas is flat and maybe, late in the summer, rather arid out on the prairie, but there is much that is green and hilly and not too different from England in other parts of that state. The nearby states of Illinois, Missouri and Colorado all have large areas that are flat and uninteresting, but these are never mentioned in the context that Kansas receives.
Stereotypical West Kansas view
Another part of Kansas
Kansas has its places of interest too. On the way along the I-70, interstate which passes over miles of corn fields (maize), there is a really ‘exciting’ attraction that claims to have the ‘Largest Prairie Dog in the World’ on display.
An intriguing sign 

Wow! We had to stop and see this world wonder… well maybe not, it is a rather crude concrete model prairie dog behind a screen, so that you could not see it properly from the road without paying the necessary fee. Who says Kansas has nothing for the tourist!
The thing left of centre that looks like a skittle is a baby giant prairie dog whilst its gigantic mother is  just visible under the screen
However, despite this draw, we did not actually break our journey to admire the ‘Largest Prairie Dog in the World’ but continued past this irresistible attraction without stopping.
Much more interesting than a homemade prairie dog statue, was a herd of buffalo grazing in a pen nearby.
Buffalo in front of the Giant Prairie dog
We passed by several towns along the way, some I have heard of and many I had not. A few miles west of Topeka, we passed a town called Manhattan, not to be confused with the more famous district of New York and then on to Abilene, which may be known to us wrinklies from the song by George Hamilton IV who got it into the charts in the 1960s. Also the town where Wild Bill Hickok was sheriff for a rather short term of office, having been sacked after accidentally shooting his deputy.

Next is Salina, a crossroads on I-70 and I-135, which heads south to Wichita. For those strangers to the USA, all even numbered highways head East West, whilst all odd numbered highways head North South, so it is easy to understand which road to use to head in a particular direction.
Later in the day we passed a place with the odd name of Mingo and then Colby. Colby boasts a Prairie Museum which covers the history of the area. The land had been rising steadily and Colby is over 3000 feet above sea level so it is a touch cooler than East Kansas and it was a harsh place for the early settlers there, the story of which is displayed in the museum.

At the state line, we left Kansas and entered Colorado with little obvious change in the scenery, where we could all say with complete accuracy; ‘Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.’ and we continued west to Burlington where our first overnight stop had been planned. A little way before the state line, we went from Central Time to Mountain Time and had to put our watches back an hour.
TS had done all the driving and excluding stops had been almost eight hours at the wheel. He is indefatigable and seems capable of driving forever and claims to enjoy it. American roads are less crowded than ours so there is not so much stress, however, I would not have felt too fresh after such a long drive.
The hotel we had booked was not exactly four stars, it had had some favourable comments and recommendations on the web pages, but seemed to have either been taken over by some new management and had gone downhill, or been stayed in by people whose standards were considerably lower than ours. It did not seem to have been cleaned properly and the first room we were shown, smelt strongly of stale smoke. We rejected that one and were given another which was still rather dirty but did not smell. Although TBH did not recognise it, but having moved in different circles in my past, I had recognised the smell and it was not tobacco. I would like to point out, that whilst I knew the smell from previous encounters of that substance, in the words of President Bill Clinton, ‘I didn't inhale’.
A broken and dirty air con unit
It was only for the one night, and we survived without catching anything nasty and went on for the next leg of the journey.


  1. Cool cats!

    I had no idea that Kansas was flat. Interesting trip, from the sounds of things.

  2. Thanks for this journey, snafu. I am learning about a State I knew little about. It seems like you had a great time, especially with TG - there's nothing like babysitting grandkids, especially when you get to hand them back (although I am sure you wished they lived a little closer to you)!

    You have some great shots here - I love the photos of the cats - such crazy positions they sleep in! And the "dawn" photo is my favourite.
    Look forward to more.

  3. I love driving long journeys in strange places. It's one way for we Brits to get some idea of just how large this continent is. Love the sleep heap! Sounds like you did a lot in your short stay. The devastation of Joplin was pretty awful. Looking forward to reading about the next stage.