Friday, August 30, 2013

The Wide Open Spaces
And Lots Of Corn!

Aug 30, 2013

Writing this post on Friday, August 31st from Sheridan, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone Park. We've been putting on the miles and I'm tired at the end of the day. I feel like the guy in Woody Gutrhie's song, Hard Travelin' -- take a listen

We left Duba and Buddy on Wednesday, bound for the Chicago area where we'd exchange kids for two more dogs (we already had our Biggie with us): Brooklyn and Annapolis - Dani's cocker spaniels and our grand-dogs. We were worried about travelling another full day's drive with the kids but that concern was misplaced - they did well and were tuned in to the countryside and towns that we were passing through. There was a constant banter and lots of questions about things that we passed.

We left Duba and Buddy and continued on our way.
Destination: Merrillville, Indiana - just south of Chicago.
This is the main crossroads in the small Ohio town of New Philadlephia:
"Welome To Our City."
Driving through Ohio we ended up in Merrillville, Indiana. I guess there might be an actual town there but, as you must know if you've ever traversed America's Interstates, each exit is a horrible collection of chain hotels, chain eateries and other signs of corporate domination of travel. Stacey and I try our best to eat healthy food but it really is a severe test of one's commitment to do that when you're on the road. Family-owned restaurants with home-made fare have largely disappeared from the scene. We've managed, like detectives, to find them here and there in our travels and it's always a reward when you do, but, travelling with kids who don't eat a wide variety of foods makes it even more challenging. So after unpacking in our Merrillville hotel, we tried an Outback Steakhouse, thinking "how bad could it be?" This is how bad: the bill came to $100.00 (yes, we had a few drinks - we deserved them, didn't we, after 10 hours of driving)? For that we got two disgusting inedible hamburgers with fries for the children. Why inedible? Because even Ethan complained that he couldn't eat it because "it's too salty Grandpa." I tasted it -- it was awful! Our so-called steaks didn't resemble meat either in taste or texture. It had obviously been brined or rubbed in some concoction. Outback prides itself on its "down under" origins so all its food is "seasoned" with spices that supposedly reflect Australian cooking. Basically, that comes down to SALT and more SALT! That was the flavor of the steak that they served. Regarding texture: none; just easy-to-chew, tenderized meat rather more like chewing on a soggy sponge than steak. Awful, awful, awful!

The next day I ruminated over this beautiful country of ours and the contradictions - the magnificent open spaces, the incredible variety of landscapes, the beautiful old towns and farms that we passed. And the vast wasteland of corporate-dominated crossroads at Interstate exits offering nothing to dine in but McDonald's, Wendy's, Hardees, Subways, Outbacks, Pizza Huts and on and on, ad nauseum. So very sad what they've done to our land and to our people. Talking about people, folks fed this stuff as a constant in their lives become used to it and actually begin to crave it, seeing it as the normand the gold standard in dining. That's even more tragic as the impact on American's health is evident in the obesity epidemic when your diet consists largely of fat and salt. Disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease is on the rise as well. Outback Salthouse is what it should be called - maybe that would warn people to stay away.

Back at the hotel, after that disastrous dinner, the kids fell asleep quickly and so did we.
Stopping on the road for a
chocolate dip.
Sammy - Yummy!

Sammy sleeping with his teddy.

Why being a grandparent is about the best thing
that can happen to you in life: our grandsons!

We met Dani and Erik the next morning at a Starbucks in a Chicago suburb. We changed cars - they took the Toyota Highlander, we the Camry. Suitcases and other items were changed. The kids continued with them - it was hard to say goodbye because of the great few days we had spent together. The dogs were secured in the back seat of our car and we went our ways. They drove through Wisconsin and into Minnesota, spending the night in Albert Lea. We followed on but behind them, stopping along the way to admire the sights. We crossed from Wisconsin to Minnesota over the mighty Mississippi just as a modern paddle wheeling tour boat was making its way through a lock as it plied its way north.

Stacey, Annie, Brookie and Biggie at the Wisconsin / Minnesota border.

Paddle wheeler approaching a lock on the Mississippi River, heading north toward Minneapolis
We had a more difficult time than Dani and family finding lodging. We had the dogs and most motels don't accept them. A few chains do, though many add exorbitant fees, up to $100 extra, per pet, non-refundable! But a very few, La Quinta and Americinn, are truly pet-friendly and don't charge any fees or if they do, mnimal amounts. So we had to hunt for those and sometimes get well off the interstate to find one. So we ended up in Kasson, Minnesota, about 20 miles west of Rochester, the home of the Mayo Clinic.  The latter town, a big, upscale burg (because of the clinic no doubt) allowed us to shop for dinner at a Trader Joe's and we ate salads and sushi in our hotel room that night - no more salt licks for us!

Dani discovered that Ethan's DS (a video game) charger had been left in our car. So we agreed to meet the next day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That, by the way is the largest city in the state with a population of 105,000.
The falls at Sioux Falls, SD. The Big Sioux river,
diverted by the ice age carved a new path and
cut through the red rock of the area.

South Dakota is a very large state with a very small population. It's beautiful beyond words. We had driven across Minnesota, land of 15,000 lakes, and were impressed by the vast farms that surrounded us on both sides of the road, stretching away to the horizon. As in Minnesota, the fields contained infinite amounts of corn or alternately, soybeans, but it was the corn that amazed us because we now saw, in person, just how dominant this crop has become. Corn production is subsidized by you and me (the taxpayers) to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over five years that goes into the pockets of huge agri-businesses. This makes corn prices artificially so low that corn sweetener - high fructose corn syrup - has replaced sugar as the sweetener of choice in many American food products. And that's bad for our health.
Mitchell, South Dakota's Corn Palace - redecorated each year with
a different motif and made from thousands and thousands
of corn cobs, husks, fibers. Crazy and corny!

Corn is king in Minnesota and South Dakota
Endless miles of cornfields stretch out to the horizon
and hundreds of these corn storage and processing plants.

A vast wind farm in Minnesota with hundreds of turbines
stretching as far as the eye could see.
When we crossed the Missouri River somewhere around the middle of South Dakota, the topography changed quickly. Now there were more rolling hills and more cattle. Instead of corn we saw vast fields of sunflowers - golden fields that stretched out to the horizon. South Dakota, to our surprise, is the second largest producer of that plant.

But more of that part of South Dakota, its awesome Badlands and then Wyoming in my next post. Right now: sleep.
Zzzzzzzzzzz - Matt