Saturday, May 27, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska

May 17 - 21, 2017:

After the raging wind, rain, thunder and lightning of last night we weren’t sure what kind of conditions to expect for the drive in the morning.  Surprisingly, the skies were threatening in the morning, but it didn’t rain until we were very close to our destination and then only for a few minutes.  We were also surprised to find only a couple of open campsites but they were good ones and we quickly set up.  The Papillion Creek Lake Campground is a city park in Papillion, Nebraska which is a separate city from Omaha but is more like a suburb.

My usual campground gripe, why all this landscaping and
cement pad but the site is still not level ?

Omaha was started by Council Bluffs, Iowa land speculators across the Missouri River staking illegal land claims.  A treaty with the Omaha tribe eventually created the Nebraska territory opening the area up to settlement and Omaha was founded on July 4th 1854.  Due to its location on the Missouri River and the coming of the railroad huge stockyards and meat packing plants were soon the main business.,_Nebraska

My son asks what’s in Omaha, Kansas ?, isn’t that sort of in the middle of nowhere ?  That’s the common perception of people about the midwestern area of the country.  I remember someone telling us, what are you going through Kansas for, it’s just endless wheat fields.  People with limited leisure time usually want to maximize it at destination resorts or parks which is understandable and even many RV’ers with plenty of time feel the same.  Then there are the “Strange Ones”, that’s what Twinkles calls me, who want to go and see every city, small town and ghost town along the way.   

We took a ride to downtown Omaha to the tourist information Center and then checked out the adjacent Old Market area.  This old warehouse section of the city with its brick paved streets and unique old brick buildings that have been transformed into restaurants, bars, art studios, boutiques and various interesting stores.

Colorful Old Market area  advertisements

Street view

It's all old massive stone and brick buildings

Huge old factory buildings

The City of Omaha has so much to see and do, I’m a little overwhelmed.  Everyone told us not to miss the Omaha Zoo, it is one of the best in the country, but we skipped it due to the poor weather and the fact that we really aren’t big zoo fans.  Instead we start off by going to the Durham Museum in the restored Union Train Station.  The building itself is a work of art, designed by renown architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood.  It opened in 1931 and in it’s glory days, seven different rail lines connected to this station.  The last passenger train was in 1971 and shortly after the railroad gave the building to the city of Omaha.  It was then restored and converted into the Durham Museum which is primarily a Nebraska History museum with enough “stuff” to boggle the mind.

Omaha Union Station

Union Station entrance

Train departure board

Interior of station

Great murals in former restaurant area

Old Trolley car on display

Steam Locomotive on display

Cornhuskers Car that was used as a press car for Harry Truman's
whistle stop US tour while campaigning for election

After having a wonderful ice cream shake at the original soda fountain at Union Station, we drive a short distance away to the Heartland of America Park and Fountain. We then walked on the Riverwalk to the Bob Kerry pedestrian bridge, known as “Bob the Bridge” and go about half way across the bridge. As the boundary between Nebraska and Iowa is the center of the Missouri river, there is a spot on the bridge where you can stand in both states at once. This is strictly a pedestrian bridge, 3,000 feet long and is actually floating on the river anchored by cables. Rain was threatening as we were there, so it was a quick look and retreat back to the parking lot.

This fountain has a 300 foot water jet that routinely goes off, but I wasn't
there at the right time, the story of my life ?

A nice Lake in the park area with another fountain, boat rides
geese, picnic areas and playgrounds

Labor Monument on Riverwalk was very cool

"Bob the Bridge" from the river walk

Walking across the bridge

We are super hungry by this time and put directions to the nearest Chick-fil-A into the GPS, which to our surprise turns out to be inside a huge Mutual of Omaha Insurance building in the downtown business district. 

The weather so far is not cooperating, the forecast is cloudy, cold and rainy for most of this week. In our travels it seems we have been alternating between hot and sweaty one week and freezing the next week.

An internet search turns up the “Blues Society of Omaha” which seems to be a vibrant organization, more so than most.  I see a touring band called “The Nighthawks” scheduled nearby at the “Chrome Lounge”.  I know it must be a senior crowd when it’s scheduled from 6 to 9 PM and it sure was.  I arrived at about 6:15 to find virtually evert seat filled and the band playing.  The Nighthawks are a hard core, veteran blues band, kind of dirty and gritty, (like the blues should be) and they just play non-stop for the next hour before taking a break.  They are very good and have the crowd up and dancing, (not really a very pretty sight), but it's a happy attentive music crowd.

The Chrome Lounge is a good music venue and part time
biker bar

Another day and it’s still cloudy and likely to rain as I cross over the Missouri River to the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  It is the location of another great Railroad Museum, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.  The exhibits have much on the making of the Transcontinental Railroad and the effect the railroad had on the settling of the United States.  It also promotes the current Union Pacific Railroad, highlighting the efficiency of the railroad in moving vast quantities of goods across the country.

The former Carnegie Library now the Union Pacific Railroad Museum

You could travel anywhere from Omaha

Painting of the famous joining of the rails at Promontory Point, Utah

These train advertisements were great

You've gotta love the Streamliner Train designs

It's another rainy day, a good day to do laundry and visit the Joslyn Art Museum.  The museum was built in 1931 by Sarah Joslyn in the memory of her late husband and the original part of the building is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the country.  No expense was spared in the construction of this building as he was one of the wealthiest men in Nebraska.  It has been expanded over the years to now include a Concert Hall, additional gallery space, a sculpture garden and landscaping.  The quality of the art is equally impressive.

Front entrance to the Joslyn Art Museum

Sculpture of Hidatsa chief Addih-hiddisch

Twinkles found a book that she remembered
from her childhood that she could recite
from memory

Interior of the museum is special

The art covered all periods and styles although not
much is covered here

Also great sculpture

Painting by American artist Thomas Hart Benton

American Indian culture

Looking down from balcony at fountain and beautifully
tiled floor of the Stortz Fountain Court

In the night, I found the “Down Under Lounge” which has a artsy pub atmosphere, and an intimate setting for listening to music.  They have an opening act of two young guys, Ben Balmer and ? ( who I liked even better), who are solo acoustic musicians who have joined together for a tour.  They alternated on vocals and both were really good, I was loving these guys.  Eventually the main act who seemed to be a hot local band came on and sounded good, but their look was annoying me, the place was getting too crowded, I didn’t want another beer and it was just time to go.  At my age, this happens more frequently when you are surrounded by people decades younger and you start to feel kind of out of place.  

These guys were great

A section of south 24th street between M and O streets in Omaha was named to the National Register of Historic Places in1988.  The Union Stockyard Company built several meat processing plants here in the 1880’s and in 1886 the town of South Omaha was incorporated.  The early settlers were German, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants, followed later by Poles, Czechs and other eastern Europeans, mostly working in the meat packing plants.  Omaha annexed South Omaha in 1915 and the South 24th street area today is predominantly Hispanic. I had seen a walking tour guide for the area and went to explore, finding it to be kind of like a South Tucson Barrio moved to Nebraska.  It’s suffering from a lack of maintenance as most Barrios do which sort of adds to the charm.  I had a great time taking photos there and you can get authentic Mexican food (Nebraska style), not something I expected to find in Nebraska.

A very busy and intricate mural that wraps around the side of the building

The Roseland Theater is a beauty

Nicely done mural

Typical sidewalk view

The "Tree of Life" sculpture

Great tile and sidewalk pavers

Twinkles picked up a free book for me from the library recently, “Out Houses” by Roger Welsch.  I had previously read a couple of his insightful and popular Tractor books.  He is a former professor and quirky character who lives somewhere in Nebraska.  His Tractor books were part serious Tractor stuff with equal amounts of humor and human philosophy mixed in.  This book follows that same vein, is sometimes silly but equally enlightening.  I was hooked on the book when I read this; “ And it is further my clear impression that men, given a choice, would rather pee on the ground (or variously against a tree) than bother with any porcelain of wood targets at all.  Peeing outdoors is a primal male declaration of manhood, of oneness with nature, of the unfettered, feral primate”.

Back in Omaha again on a sunny day, I visited the “Pioneer Courage Park” with it’s Wagon Train sculptures, quite impressive and the nearby enormous mural entitled “Fertile Ground”.  The mural other than being enormous and a huge logistic accomplishment, leaves me cold, I don’t see the wonder of it.  Finally, I returned to the Old Market area for another look and stopped at the Upstream Brewing Company for an Omaha beef burger.

Wagon Train sculpture is very well done 

Buffalo jumping through a wall near the park

The Fertile Ground Mural from a distance, nearly impossible to get
into one frame without being in the baseball stadium across the street

The Upstream Brewery is in an old brick factory building

Shucks Tavern with a thought provoking sign

The Orpheum Theater

Nice geometric designs in building

Geese taking flight sculpture

Next stop is Sioux City, Iowa;
Twinkles and Slick

Friday, May 19, 2017

Waubonsie State Park, Hamburg, Iowa

May 14 - 16, 2017:

Our cat Alice watches our every move and when we start to pack up, she slinks across the floor to the bed and buries herself under a pillow.  We actually try to do things quietly so we don’t traumatize her so much.  Once stopped in a campsite for a few minutes she will then come out and act totally normal.  Cat’s are very weird !

The ride today was about 140 miles on route 36 west to route 29 north, all highway with lots of traffic, including many RV’s.  I was beginning to wonder why so many RV’s on the road when I saw a Nascar sign on one which triggered my memmory.  There was a Nascar race on Saturday at Kansas City and I believe it’s one of the tracks you can camp at, which I would like to do sometime, but Twinkles would hate it. 

The ride was horrible, really windy and so much traffic along that route, is Mothers Dat a big travel day ?  Anyhow, we arrived at Waubonsie State Park around noon.  They have a 3 PM checkout time here and many had not left yet, but there were many open good sites.  I believe this is our first Iowa State Park and it’s a nice one.  We have a large almost level site with electric that buttes up against the forest.  Water spigots, a show house and a dump station are close by.

Waubonsie State Park derives it's name from chief Wabaunsee meaning "Beginning of Day" of the Potawatomi tribe who resided in the area.

Chief Wabaunsee

This geology is rare and only exists here and in another area in China.  It is known as the "Loess Hills" and extends for about 200 miles in the Missouri River Valley in Iowa.  As the Glaciers passed through a deep layer of finely ground soil was left behind which blew into huge dunes, very similar to more common sand dunes.  Plants eventually took root in the soil dunes and  they are now covered with vegetation sort of hiding them from view.  However when you hike here, it soon becomes obvious with its steep ups and downs and narrow ridge lines just like sand dunes.

Route 2 is the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway

There are several hiking trails here with lots of ups and downs as this is a dune field that was sculpted by wind and erosion that is now covered by forest and grasslands.  There are several overlooks where you get an incredible panoramic view of the prairie, far below, stretching out into the distance.  These plains were originally all grasslands and the home of the Buffalo.  The soil is fertile and the settlers plows converted it to grain fields.  We did several hikes within the park that follow the dune topography both on the edge of the ridge line and in the forest.  There are many trees that we haven’t seen in a long time.

An overlook on the trail looking out onto the flat prairie lands

The trail is a narrow path with steep embankments on each side

We were surprised to find Yucca Plants blooming

These flowers were very prominent in the forest areas

The Columbine's were flowering very nicely

There was this pit house built into the hillside

A 1920's era car in the woods, it was a near impossible
place to get a car into these days

In the afternoon, I take a ride back over the nearby state line into Nebraska to Nebraska City.  Much to my surprise, I found the downtown area to be a beauty.  This is another city that had much going for it being on the Missouri River and having a rail line passing through.  Their most famous resident was J. Sterling Morton who started Arbor Day in 1872, something I remember but haven’t heard about in a long time. They do have several Orchards around town and have tree sculptures around town in various places.

Many old advertising signs repainted in town

Art sculptures around town with an arbor day theme

Another advertising sign

Several old fraternal organizations met here

Nice large mural in a downtown park area

A really nice Eagles Club neon sign

The Oregon Trail came through downtown

I love this Corn starch sign

Eli Windmills were made in town and there is a museum

I also went to the town of Hamburg a few miles from the campground which is a small farming community.  A few blocks of the original downtown buildings remain and the “Stoner Drug Store” with it’s original lunch and soda fountain area.  There are several  old buildings with beautiful stained glass windows in the upstairs, very unusual that I haven't seen anywhere else.  A few of the brick buildings have been sprayed with a thick coating that I suppose was an easy way to renew a buildings appearance, but now doesn’t look so good. 

The Colonial Theater

Interesting stained glass windows

Very ornate building metalwork

Hamburg Iowa mural

The Blue Moon Cafe beckoned but I didn't go

The Grain Elevators in Hamburg, Iowa

There was a severe storm warning last night and we had a hum dinger of a thunder storm with heavy rain, but luckily no hail.  It’s that time of year when the weather around these parts of the country gets scary.  While at the Loess Hills Visitor Center the attendant made sure I looked at the flood photos from 2011.  The Missouri River had flooded that year and everything for miles around was under water.  

Our next stop is a few miles north to Omaha, Nebraska;
Twinkles and Slick