Day 1

Monday, January 10, 2011

After cramming camera gear, clothes, books, snacks, and woodworking equipment into our Subaru Roxy-wagon, we finally were ready to depart (only two hours behind schedule). All we had to do was drop off Chele’s Subaru Trixi-wagon on the west side of town.  Alas, the flashers, which had been on for an hour while we packed, had drained the battery. In under five minutes, however, we had the jumper cables out, on, and off. It was a good omen. We were on our way.

First stop was St. Louis where we were hosted by Chele’s brother Mark and his family. We decided to use Tuesday’s blizzard as a planning day.  In this short stay, we managed to lose BA’s mittens and one of Chele’s earrings. One of the guiding principles of the trip is that getting lost is a good way to find what you didn’t know what you were looking for. So we decided not to worry.

We were well fed by Mark and entertained by Chele’s nieces Grace and Sarah, and nephew John. BA got to sleep in John’s room with his hermit crabs (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

And Chele was treated to the girls room.

We gave Mark the second camera, and asked Angie to help the girls with the third camera. (the tester camera was left at basecamp:beta with Chele’s mom)

6:45 AM January 12, 2011…Chele’s brother gave us three pounds of his mother-in-law Marguerite’s homemade Italian fig and iced anise cookies. They are amazing; there will be no leftovers.

and we’re off!

…we remembered where we left the mittens!

…and NOW, we were on our way.

The start of the Santa Fe Trail (SFT) varied with the advent of the railroad. We decided to start the trek at Independence, MO because it was one of the earliest outfitting points. The rest of the trip will be navigated on two-lane highways and back-roads, but for now we took I-70 at incredible speeds in excess of 70MPH! Go Roxy, go!

We knew we were heading the right direction:

Not far from this sign (hwy marker 148) is Mexico, KS. Hmmm.

Our hosts at the first gas stop

informed us that we could visit a Missouri vineyard that was close by.

These wines, I was told, are best consumed cold. Very, I think.

On to Independence.

Independence had its heyday due to its role as a juncture between east and west via the Oregon, the California, and the Santa Fe Trail. It is also the home of Harry S. Truman and his presidential library and museum. This was our first cultural stop. The relevance to our trip is that it houses a fine Thomas Hart Benton mural that chronicles the migration and trade routes west. Of particular interest to us was the depiction of Hiram Young on the lower right side. He was a free African American blacksmith and wagon builder.

The museum was really interesting. In short, Harry loved Bess. A lot. The Oval Office is smaller than it looks on TV but bigger than its facsimile at the HST Library. Though it was supposed to be a faithful representation, the builders screwed up and the dimensions are off by about two feet (the ceiling height is accurate). This was the first of many examples of another guiding principle of our trip: “Erroneous historical renderings are interesting.”

We barely skimmed the surface of what the museum had to offer, but we were already way over the limit in terms of the time we allotted for all things Harry. We will return.

For now we will share one of the many interesting displays. On the first floor, there is an area that discusses the end of WWII and the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lighting in the curvilinear room has an affecting red tint and four or five monitors overhead show newsreel footage of the factory that made the bombs, the Enola Gay, and the aftermath. There is a montage of sound in which people who worked on the bomb (many of whom weren’t clued into what it was they were building), army personnel, etc., talk about whether they thought we needed to execute the mission to “end the war.” The exhibit is chilling. There was a book with blank pages on a shelf that was flanked by wall text which displays quotes by various people in the administration, war correspondents, etc. The quotes address whether, in hindsight, we needed to drop the bombs. Visitors were invited to write in the book to express their own opinions. There must have been 100 pages filled in since mid 2010. Here are a few, but representative, pages.

We handed out our first “on the trail” camera to Gary Ahern, a guard/docent at the museum. He was really helpful, a history buff, and knew the best coffee shop in town.

After the library, we headed to the National Frontier  Trails Museum. Very interesting exhibits…this link will take you to some of the wall text they had posted from travelers diaries. Some of the diary posts were from children 7 or 13 years old–this detail was easily missed because the writing was incredibly mature, aware and permeated with a sense of purpose and commitment to the enterprise of traveling westward. The recurring sentiment is how unsure they were that they would even make it to their destination. In equal measure is the sense that the journey and subsequent settling of the west is pre-destined. This painting kind of summed it up:

We recommend the Trails Museum.

We completely forgot to go to Missouritown, a re-enactment village on the way to HWY 56. It’s closed for the season, but we thought we’d look around. This is the first indication that we will have to do this drive more than once.

We left the beltway…finally….the Santa Fe Trail!

Except that this wasn’t the Santa Fe trail…it was our first event of being lost.

After some cross-checking with Chele’s iPhone GPS, we corrected our route and headed for Overbrook, KS. We were looking for silhouette cutouts by Ed Harmison. We also decided that we would try and find Ed to give him a camera. In an online search, we discovered that besides being the chief of police in Overbrook, he is also the area historian.

The motto of Overbrook (pop. 916) is, “Overbrook – not to be overlooked!” How cool is that? For more on Overbrook, visit:

As we cruised into town at about 5PM we spied a Police car tucked in a bank parking lot. We pulled up alongside and asked the officer if he knew where we could find Ed Harmison. He replied, “You got him.” We were so excited that he probably wondered whether he should be charging the stun gun. But in the end Ed took a camera and was very honest when we asked if we could find a good cup of coffee in town. After a pause, torn between civic pride and an honest disposition, he said, “No.” We asked about Shirley’s Cafe (we had read about it online when we were stalking Ed) but alas, after thirty-nine years, Shirley had recently wrung out the dish cloth and retired. It used to be the place, he said with a bit of ennui.

It was getting dark, so we pressed on to Council Grove, KS to look for a place to spend the night.

All along the route, there are diversions north and south from HWY 56 to find markers of the exact location of the SFT. These granite markers, in large part, are a 20th century project by the Daughters of the American Revolution. They point out river crossings, deaths, events, camping spots, and even sites that commemorate certain important Daughters of the American Revolution that helped with the markers! It would take about one thousand years to reach San Diego if we visited (and regaled you, faithful blog reader, with posts of) each marker. We decided to let intuition be the guide in terms of where we would deviate from HWY56.

Two other side projects along the way are to listen to Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and Chele is obsessed with keeping track of American flags at half-staff (or not) in response to the Tucson shootings. The White House decreed that they should stay at half-staff until Friday. Wednesday’s tally is:

7 at half-staff

12 at full.

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