Thursday, June 6, 2013

Notes From the Country’s Heartland Day 3

We said good-bye to Denver and began our cross-country road trip after one false start. Traveling only a couple of miles, our grandson realized Puppy had been left behind, back at the house and still in bed. We made a U-turn, retrieved Puppy and hit the road - Grandpa, Grandma, nine-year-old Hayden, and Charlie the golden retriever, along with an assortment of suitcases, dog and people snacks, toys, books, DVDs, video games, maps, tour books, a large plastic tub of dog food, cooler, and a few other assorted odds and ends.

Driving east out of the metro area we left the interstate, wanting to see the countryside. Route 34 meanders through Colorado and southern Nebraska. The flat eastern plains of Colorado appear to continue forever. Farms, ranches, and feedlots jam-packed with cows, steers and huge silos dominate the landscape. Small oil wells also dot the landscape, methodically pumping away.

Many towns, sometimes one or two traffic lights, or no lights at all, with a few low-slung, often run-down buildings, small black specks on the map with names barely readable in small font, looked almost deserted. Boarded up buildings, a couple of cars, no one in the street - the result an eerie feeling of ghost-town emptiness.

We stopped a couple of times along the side of the road – a two-lane highway with few cars and a speed limit of 65 – as grandson could not wait a moment longer for a proper place to go potty.

I was looking forward to stopovers along the way to wander through a general store, for Hayden to enjoy a few minutes climbing playground equipment, to walk the dog through a park. Locating these simple amenities became a challenging treasure hunt.

As morning morphed into early and mid-afternoon, we grew more anxious to find a place for lunch. Although well supplied with drinks and snacks, we were ready for a break from the tedious drive.

We eventually cruised into the town of McCook. Suddenly fast food restaurants, grocery and convenience retailers, liquor stores and gas stations lined the road. We discovered what looked like the town’s main street, and directly in front of us an inviting Mexican restaurant. Lunch!

We walked Charlie around town, and then set his water and food bowls on the sidewalk. It is remarkable how the combination of a dog, a kid and an out-of-state license plate attracts bystanders and conversation. Yes, we were told, many small towns were nearly abandoned, but some towns survive and thrive, and everyone is friendly and always eager to help when needed (unlike the crowded, noisy, dangerous Eastern part of the country…).

Our destination was the town of Hastings, Nebraska, and an aqua park open until 8 p.m. We planned to arrive about 5:00 p.m., check into the motel, and enjoy the evening. It was not to happen.

We were almost giddy upon reaching Hastings. The GPS could not find the address for the waterpark, indicating the street listed in the AAA tour book did not exist. I called for information, only to get a recorded message stating the park was closed this particular day because of the cool weather.

Travel déjà vu. I had visions of our Hawaii cruise, passing a volcano that, although active for decades, decided to cease spouting lava the day we sailed by…and a trip to Switzerland years ago, eager to see a covered bridge dating back centuries, only to discover most of the bridge had recently been destroyed by fire….

We were disappointed – especially our grandson. We cancelled our Hastings motel reservation and drove another 1½ hours to Lincoln, Nebraska, settling in to a reasonably priced dog-friendly hotel with an indoor pool. Perfect!

Time to relax, rest and rejuvenate – ready for another day on the road tomorrow.

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