Thursday, 10 October 2013

Catchup Part two - The USA

Once The Better Half (TBH) and I arrived in Lawrence, for the next few days we stayed at The Son's (TS's) family house, where we did a bit of shopping and grandson* sitting whilst the family, who had not yet started their summer break, were still at work. (*he is not a baby, far from it, now topping his grandmother by a few inches)

One night, not long after we had arrived, I had an intensely vivid nightmare, something I rarely suffer from, where I dreamed that one of my family, who has been unwell for a long time, had died and their ghost was standing staring at me in an accusing manner.  In my dream, she was standing in the garden of the house I had lived in with my first wife when she was alive.  I felt I should be pleased to see her but instead I became unreasonably terrified and woke up thrashing about and yelling that my relative was dead and in the process woke up TBH too.  It was so vivid and unusual I worried the next day or so if it was true and that my ill relation was really dead, but after an exchange of e-mails I discovered they were still alive, if not well and dismissed the whole thing as weird but unimportant.

Over the next few days there were a series of thunderstorms and heavy rain.  This is not unusual for that time of year and we often experience storms when we are there.  The weather around that part of the world can be several times more destructive than anything we experience back home, and whilst the British are notorius for discussing the weather, it can be a matter of life or death knowing what is heading for you in the Mid West.  So being in Tornado Alley, we wartched the weather reports regularly following the path of each storm. and then witnessed live, the terrible real life drama as the Oklahoma City tornado developed minute by minute growing in intensity.  The extent of the damage began to come in as it made hundreds homeless and we watched the death toll rise, all the time wondering if it would come north and set about Kansas.
This is not one of my pictures, but it shows some of the brave people who go out and monitor these storms.  Three experienced Stormchasers died this year whilst gathering data for the news services.

Things calmed down weather wise and we all got ready for our trip to Washington DC. We hired a Chrysler Town and Country, which easily seats the whole family and luggage, but when it arrived we found it had not been cleaned out by the hire company or whoever had used it before us.  They, it seemed, were not too fussy about the state they left it in becaue there were bits of half eaten food, spilled coffee in one of the cup holders, melted icecream, candy wrappers, sticky broken toys and even a camera lens cap from a modern DTL camera in the luggage compartment. Since TS had arranged to pick it up on the morning we were planning to head off, this was a minor setback, because we then had to set too with dustpan and brushes, vacuum cleaner and wet wipes to make it habitable to a standard we felt comfortable with. We were going to be living in it for several days, so we cleaned and scrubbed until it was in a state where we did not feel uncomfortable touching door handles and such and did not feel we would regret sitting on the seats. Eventually, after working away for an hour in the baking summer sun, we were underway in an acceptably clean vehicle.

A Town and Country

The first leg of the trip, took us along the interstate highway, i70 through Kansas City into Missouri
and then on to St Louis.  Americans pronounce the S on the end and do not say St Looey as many Europeans would (and incidentally the old song lyrics, “meet me in St Looey, Looey”).  I used to have an Uncle Louis and his name was always pronounced without the S on the end.

Crossing the Mississippi at St louis

Once we had crossed the Mississippi we were in Illinois.
One of St Louis' claim to fame is the Gateway Arch, the tallest monument in the USA.  It is much taller than the Statue of Liberty.  It is so big, it does not look like much when you are close to it, but from a distance you can see how large it really is.

The Gateway to the West, but we were travelling East

The Gateway Arch seen from several miles away shows its true size

That evening we stopped at our hotel for the night, just outside St Louis and the following morning after an early breakfast, we went on a few miles to the Cahokia Mounds.

This is the site of a once thriving Mississippian Native American society. At its height, there was a busy town with a population measured in the thousands, not the small huddle of tepees which is the common image of the Native American. The residents traded manufactured and did all those things any present day society does on a day to day basis. Around 1250AD, the population declined and signs of malnutrition in the remains found, suggest that they had exceeded the location’s ability to feed such a large population. This coupled with climate change, which shortened the growing season and reduced rainfall, further reduced the food supplies. So it seems they were unable to feed themselves adequately causing a reduction in overall health and the population dwindled and eventually the place was abandoned. The original inhabitants had created some huge rectangular flat topped mounds on which all their important buildings were erected. The exact purpose of these is not fully understood, but it is presumed from the digs made that the most important citizens had houses on smaller mounds and important civic buildings were at various times on the larger mounds. The largest of these is now known as Monk’s Mound after some Trappist monks lived there in the early 1800s. Long before that at its height around, 1150 AD, Cahokia was larger in population than the contemporary City of London, at the time the largest European city of the same period and no city in the USA exceeded that population until 1800.

The Monk's Mound

Half way up
We went up to the top of the Monk's Mound and after recovering my breath, I was able to look around at the site.  We then had to come down again...
It is a long way down too.


  1. Glad you're back Snafu. I enjoy your travels as these are places we have never been. I hope you complained about SUV!

  2. It's always confused me why the Yanks pronounce the S in St Louis but not the one in Illinois.
    Those mounds are amazing. You don't really get the scale till you see the photo from the top of the steps.
    I'm looking forward to reading more of your journey.

    1. Please! St Lous is south of the Mason Dixon line, they are not Yanks! Illinois is in Yankee territory and they sure talk funny,.

  3. Snafu, I think you should have been a history teacher....I always appreciate your blogs, and learn much of interest. Greetings from Africa!

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment, I hope all is going well for you over there.