Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Great Road

Aug. 26, 2010

We started out today in Kearney, NE, at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. This museum, which is literally built as an archway over I-80, is absolutely fantastic! It immediately reminded me of a ride at Epcot Center, except we walked through rather than riding on a moving seat. We were given a self-guiding audio tour via headphones, and the use of technology was really excellent. Each area had dioramas, video, and large panels with photos and historical information. At the same time, the audio portion came through the headphones, consisting of excerpts from diaries, radio broadcasts, and all kinds of other audio information.

The first floor of the museum consisted of the pioneer experience—be it on the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, or the California Trail of the gold rush prospectors. The Trails started in different cities, but they all converged in the area of Kearney for a hundred miles or so, along the river near the site of the museum. We made our way through the rooms, starting with the hopeful emigrants searching for a better future, dealing with difficult weather, disease, and death; passing abandoned household goods and gravesites. All the while we heard the descriptions through our headsets and read the wall panels. The experience of the Native Americans was also included, of course. Finally we came to the end, and read and heard the expressions of joy, exhaustion, and new hope from those who survived what must have been a trek incomprehensibly difficult for us to imagine.

The second part of the museum dealt with the continuation of the travel westward, beginning with information—the pony express, and the telegraph—and then with the stage coaches, which offered a much faster way to traverse the country. Then came the railroad. Almost overnight, with the completion of the railroad, the uncomfortable and uncertain stage coach travel ceased.

But what moved us most was the development of the first transcontinental roadway, the Lincoln Highway. First of all, we grew up on the Lincoln Highway—even today, in Edison, there are signs on Route 27 which say “Lincoln Highway.” The highway ran from New York to San Francisco. The descriptions of travelers who could use their own cars to hit the open road without being “at the mercy of the train schedules” certainly hit home with us—I loved the tableau of the family with the tent set up, the table adjacent to their auto; and the small tourist cabins in the background. The quotes and memories coming through our headphones simply added to the wonderful experience as we vicarious lived both in the past and in our own present.

I took a photo of one of my favorite quotes: On The Road: "Informality is the password, snobbery is taboo, every man is your neighbor, and all are bound together by an almost unbelievably powerful tie--the dust of the open road."--Frank E. Brimmer, writer.

The last room on this floor showed us a large map of the US, which lit up all of these consecutive cross-country trails, tracks, and roadways following such similar pathways through central Nebraska along the Platte River. And finally, there was a window which looked down on the latest incarnation of the Great Platte River Road: Interstate 80 below the archway, with counters keeping track of both the eastbound and westbound traffic. Both Joey and I had a profound sense of being part of history—joining the thousands and millions who throughout the past 150 years have travelled this very route across our huge and beautiful country.
We left the museum and returned to our modern day covered wagon, and joined the great migration across America, this time heading east again. And that was what we did all day—travel through the eastern half of Nebraska, and across the Missouri River into the remarkably beautiful rolling farmland of Iowa. (We had hoped to time it right for a steak dinner in Omaha, as suggested by Rabbi Fellman which I wrote to him this morning, but we passed by the city at 3:30; we’ll have to come back someday for that—maybe when we follow the Lincoln Highway from home, all across the country!) Our favorite sight of the day was when we passed Adair, Iowa, which is home to a major wind-power installation. We saw at least 100 wind turbines twirling, spaced throughout the thousands of acres of cornfields. They were a stunning and beautiful sight, and we couldn’t help but wonder why more of these generators aren’t already in use all over the prairie states. We passed several trucks carrying the blades for the “windmills”, and they are simply huge, probably 100 feet long. They are very impressive.

We arriving just at dark at the Amana Colonies, and are expecting to explore a little bit here tomorrow before returning to the interstate. As I keep saying, each day just shows us yet more new roads that we long to travel. But for now, our road is leading us back home.
[Note: I had a lot more photos to upload, but this connection is taking forever; so I will try to upload them tomorrow. Iowa has WIFI at most of the rest stops, and it worked very fast this afternoon.]

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