Tumbleweed Traveling

Out in western Kansas, tumbleweeds seem to outnumber gas stations by a million to one.

I was in tumbleweed country, with a quarter-tank of gas and who-knew-how-many-miles to go before I could sleep in something other than my car.  When I saw the metal building with its gravel parking lot and a pair of pickups out front, it might as well have had a sign nailed up saying, “Tourist Information”.  

I pulled in, walked over to the open doors and saw two fellows welding pipe. The one facing the door saw me, pushed up his helmet and walked over, smiling as though he’d been expecting me all day.

“What can I help you with?” he said. I explained my concern about seeing no gas stations, and asked where the closest one might be. “Well,” he said. “You’re about a tenth of a mile from it. You see those Co-op grain elevators across the way?” I did. “They’ve got gas pumps over there, too. Drive over and stick your head in the office and they’ll give you the go-ahead. Around here, we get our gas at the Co-ops. If you see an elevator, you probably can get gas.”

When I pulled up to the pumps, I still couldn’t find the credit card reader, so a trucker getting diesel across from me explained what no one else had thought to mention. Just one card reader served all six pumps, and it was hidden away at the end of the island.  As I keyed in my pump number, I noticed him grinning.  “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re gonna have to revise that old song.”

I must have seemed confused, so he added, “Looks to me like it ought to be ‘T for Texas, T for tumbleweeds“. Following his gaze, I turned to look at my car and started laughing myself.  “You saw that, huh?”  “Couldn’t help it,” he said. “Don’t often see someone driving around with a tumbleweed in their back seat. Where’d you pick it up?”

In fact, I’d chased it down not far from Dodge City. I’d stopped to take a look at the ruts and swales left from the Santa Fe Trail when the strong Kansas wind sent an entire army of tumbleweeds marching toward me from the horizon. The one I eventually snagged was noticeably lighter in color than the others and easy to pick out in a crowd. I made a dive for it as it whipped past, but missed. Then, it got caught on a fence and it was mine.

In some ways the movement of tumbleweeds is like a great, botanical migration. Several species of plants cut themselves loose from their roots and head out into the world as “tumbleweeds”, but in Kansas it’s the Russian Thistle that most commonly rolls across the plains.

Their ability to fascinate is undeniable.  Thirty years ago, I dragged one home from Nevada and kept it in a pot until it dissolved into a pile of dust. If I’d known, I could have purchased a replacement from Linda Katz of Garden City, Kansas, who’s made quite a business for herself selling them by mail order. Even NASA has gotten tumbleweed fever and is exploring possibilities for using the lowly plant as a design model for their new Mars Rover.

Still, one of best uses for the scorned and lowly tumbleweed is as metaphor and model for travel. There’s a time for planning, but drifting along, pushed hither and yon by winds of curiosity, has a lot to commend it.

Through years of visiting family in Kansas City, my route rarely varied. I’d pick up the Indian Nation Turnpike in Oklahoma, make a beeline for McAlester and Joplin, then scurry north. This time, I turned east at McAlester, hoping to see autumn color in the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas before visiting the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville.

Just before crossing into Arkansas, I found this cemetery gate in Muse, Oklahoma. I’ve joked occasionally about my Muse heading off to Poughkeepsie for vacation, but it never had occurred to me that Muses, too, might have a natural life-span. This could explain a lot.

On the other hand, Muses seem alive and well at the Crystal Bridges Museum. My visit there was so enjoyable I would have spent another day had I not been expected in Kansas City. The setting, the architecture and the collection are noteworthy, and a return trip in spring to see the extensive wildflower plantings isn’t out of the question.

An exhibit opening November 9, “The Artists’ Eye: Georgia O’Keeffe & the Alfred Stieglitz Collection”, unfortunately ends in February, but the permanent collection is well worth another visit. I’ll say more about the museum in a separate post.

After my stay in Kansas City, I began traveling west. This large mural near the courthouse square in Harrisonville, Missouri portrays a Civil War raid by Jennison’s Jayhawkers, the Seventh Kansas Cavalry.  Already known as the “Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawkers” before Charles “Doc” Jennison took command, the group was considered heros by some, looters and thieves by others. As so often happens, both views appear to hold some truth. You can find an excellent short article about them here.

Speaking of conflict, an unusual plaque tucked into a corner of the Courthouse in Harrisonville led to this, from the September 1, 1887 New York Times.

“…Some fourteen years ago [R.S. Stevens] was mixed up in a complicated railroad bond transaction in Cass County, Mo. According to our recollection, there was a fraudulent issue of one hundred and sixty-two county bonds of the denomination of $1,000 each, and through a certain land grant railway trust company, of which R.S. Stevens was agent, the citizens of Cass County were saddled with a debt of $229,000, for which the county never received a dollar of consideration.
There was something of a disturbance over this affair, as we remember it, and we believe that Judge Jehiel C. Stevenson, Mr. J.R. Cline, and Mr. Thomas E. Dutro were subsequently shot to death at Gun City by citizens of Cass County during the adjustment of the difficulties growing out of the issue of fraudulent bonds…”

There’s nothing peculiar about conflict over taxes and bonds, but when I asked two ladies at the Peculiar, Missouri post office how the town got its name, only one knew the story.

The town first petitioned the U.S. Postmaster for the name Eureka Springs, but it had been taken. They tried again, hoping for Eureka, but that name had been used. In a fit of pique, they told the Postmaster to “pick just any peculiar name” -and so he did. Their town motto is “Peculiar, Missouri – Where The Odds Are With You”.

About an hour down the road, I crossed into Kansas and caught a first glimpse of glorious fall color. As it turned out, the trees were planted around the Louisburg Cider Mill, whose apples mimicked their colors.

After watching the cider-making process and talking to the ladies responsible for turning out the store’s apple cider doughnuts, I bought a half-gallon of cider, a half-dozen doughnuts, and headed off to the prairies.

The Tallgrass Express String Band sings of a “clean curve of hill against sky” –  one of the best descriptions I’ve heard of the almost indescribable prairie landscape.

Even outside the various preserves that dot the Flint Hills, the land has a pristine feel.  It took days for me to realize one of its greatest “lacks” also is a great virtue. There are no billboards.  There’s almost nothing to catch the eye until you reach the horizon – or an especially nice gate, like this one at the Division Ranch.

Chase County, the subject of William Least Heat-Moon’s extraordinary “PrairyErth”, has as one of its social and cultural centers the Emma Chase Café and Music Hall in Cottonwood Falls. Not only is the rhubarb pie delicious, it’s one of the best places in the Flint Hills to find entertainment or information.

Just down the road from the Emma Chase, I found Matfield Station, my home-away-from-home. Utterly engaging, it was the perfect place for train-spotting and served equally well as a jumping-off point for visits to Konza Prairie, Teter Rock, the Tallgrass Prairie and the tiny towns scattered through the hills. Softened by morning fog, the view from the deck was beautiful.

Only a few miles away was open range.  With no fences, there was no reason not to stop and have a walk straight into pastures alive with meadow larks and grasshoppers. The cattle guards were a good indication that cattle were around somewhere, but it’s a big land out there, and all I found was a delightful en plein air painter transferring the magic of the land to his canvas.

As it turned out, he’d been to Houston’s Bayou City Art Festival last year, and was hoping to return. We bumped into each other three times, in three different locations, which amused both of us greatly.

Both the Konza and the Tallgrass Prairies were remarkable. I was especially taken with the bottomland section of the Tallgrass Prairie, with its mix of grasses, trees and flowing water. Piece by piece, the land along Fox Creek is being restored with native plantings, though it’s filled with beautiful sights even now.

There’s life beyond prairies, of course, and for me that meant picking up the Santa Fe Trail, following more gravel and dirt roads than I have in the past quarter-century. TheTrail is far too long and complex to follow in one trip – unless you have a year or two – so I chose the section from Council Grove, Kansas through the Cimarron Grasslands.

Along the way, I learned that not all explorers memorialized in Kansas are from the 1800s. I wonder what Dr. Tombaugh would think if he knew that “his” planet has been kicked off the team?

Many important Santa Fe Trail sites are located within the Cimarron Grasslands, and long sections of wagon tracks are visible. The land here is starker and more difficult. Lush, rolling prairies give way to rocky outcroppings, prickly pear, yucca and sagebrush.  Pronghorn antelope appeared from time to time, at the eastern fringes of their range.

When I reached the “Eight Mile Corner” windmill marking the point where Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado intersect, I turned south, and headed for Texas.

Texas itself is a big state, and I’d never traveled the Panhandle north to south. While I missed Palo Duro Canyon on this trip, Highway 70 from Clarendon south provides equally spectacular views, particularly if you’re willing to get out of the car and do a little climbing. One of the formations reminded me of Shiprock, in New Mexico.

Once through the canyons and back up on the flatlands, cottonfields appeared. The harvest just had begun, and many fields still were drying.

In the midst of all that cotton and rangeland, I found an unexpected treat. I had no idea I’d be driving through Turkey, Texas, or that Bob’s old bus would be parked on the main drag. I pulled out my Asleep at the Wheel tunes in his honor, rolled down the windows and cranked up the volume – just for fun.

It was at that point that the emotional turn toward home was complete. I was ready for the comfortable and the familiar, and for time to begin absorbing all the experiences of an extended trip.

Today, my tumbleweed is at rest, no longer pinned against barbed wire but tucked into the comfort of a living room chair. As it watches, I sort other souvenirs – a clutch of books and trail maps, some postcards, a museum guide, a photograph from the gallery at Pioneer Bluffs.

Each of these tokens will continue to delight, as will those which lived as parts of the natural world I explored. A perfect shell from the cicada Tibicen dorsata evokes Matfield Station.  The seedcase of a prairie primrose once rolled across the Konza Prairie.  Buffalo gourds encrusted with dirt from the Cimarron Grasslands,  bur oak acorns from Council Grove and black walnuts plucked from the Cottonwood River bottoms are fragrant with autumn’s sweet decay.

A cotton boll, a handful of carded and combed buffalo fur, a six-foot exemplar of Big Bluestem – all set my mind to tumbling before the stirring winds of curiosity, interest, memory and imagination. Like my tumbleweed, I’ll be setting off  now on new travels and a different journey  – a journey toward deepened understanding of the wonders that I’ve seen.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. Thanks!

126 thoughts on “Tumbleweed Traveling

    1. Susan,

      I was thinking about you today. I came home ready for another visit to “our” prairie and was intending to call you. I think it’s surely too wet just now because of all the rains we got, but after a little drying out, it should be fine.

      I’ll have a couple of posts devoted specifically to the prairies, or certain aspects of them. I was blessed to have a guide through the Konza Prairie – an extremely knowledgeable docent who had access to every nook and cranny. I learned so much!

      And the Tallgrass Prairie was simply splendid. Their rains came at just the right time, and I walked through grasses at least six feet high. It was amazing to talk to a woman whose father-in-law used to ride the Kansas prairies on horseback, eye to eye with the tops of the stems.

      I could blather on at length, but I’ll save some of it for the posts. So good to have you stop by!

      Linda

  1. I too love the prairies. I’m entralled by the grasses and the tremendous diversity of plants. So many species- one would never suspect all that a prairie encompasses. I do hope that you will write more about prairies. I began a small prairie restoration on part of some farmland that I still own but alas I let go of the prairie project for I had no one to help me. It was looking good too. Oh well.

    I so enjoyed this post and I like all the treasures that you collected on your trip. All of this was so interesting. Thanks for a great read, Linda.

    1. Yvonne,

      I was astonished to learn that fifty species of grass can be found in Kansas. This trip, it was much easier to sort them out visually because their autumn colors had emerged. Like so many people, I make an instinctive connection between “grass” and “green”. This trip, I saw that grasses can be red, purple, rust, orange, white, yellow, and gold, as well as green.

      A couple of friends were curious about my return to the Flint Hills this fall. They noted, quite correctly, that I’d been through there the past two years. They thought a new destination would be better. I think that view of things assumes a static world. Last year, the leaves had fallen and the grasses were monochromatic when I traveled there. This year? I had a chance to see the prairie I’ve only heard people describe.

      What little I’ve learned about prairie restoration makes one thing clear. It’s hard work. Here’s a short intro to the work being done at the Tallgrass Prairie’s bottomlands section. Lots of people are saving lots of seed.

      You’ve done a great job serving the bees and butterflies of your area with your flowers, though. I suspect they don’t care if it’s restored prairie or a flower garden, as long as they have something to feed on.

      Thanks for traveling along!

      Linda

    1. Julie,

      Actually, you do. I didn’t know that until five minutes ago, but now I know some of the other names for Russian thistle used in your area, including wind witch, buckbush, and soft or prickly roly-poly. In Australia, there’s a grub that helps to set them free. You can read all about it here.

      It was a wonderful trip. I had to come home. I don’t think I could have absorbed one more thing.

      Linda

    2. I forgot to mention – your post about driving on gravel was a good one for me to read before leaving. I remembered the tips when I got to those gravel roads. It’s been a good while since I’ve driven on gravel, and it didn’t take long to remember some of the lessons.

  2. OH what a joy to peruse your story of places along the great prairie lands. I remember in my younger years referring to myself & and a friend as “tumbleweeds” as we road tripped around the country without any worries, just experiencing every stop with curiosity and wonder. The “clean curve of hill against sky” resonates beautifully!

    1. Monica,

      I grew up listening to the Sons of the Pioneers sing about the pleasure of “drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds”. They always came on WHO radio out of Des Moines as part of the noon market report, and I learned the song so well I still know the lyrics.
      Passing through one Kansas town, I saw a banner sign at the Co-op with current prices listed: Wheat, $7.19; Milo, $4.19; Corn, $4.52. It was enough to bring back the song.

      I’m hoping for permission to use the Tallgrass Express song as the track for a video slideshow of some of my better photos. They may or may not agree, but there’s no question their music deserves wider distribution around the country. And, yes – “clean curve of hill against sky” is perfect.

      Linda

  3. I’ve never been to Kansas or Missouri….Seeing these very special places through your eyes was just wonderful—and the photos were great! i look forward to reading more about your very special trip….! Peculiar, Missouri….what a Great name…..lol. So many interesting things in this post, not the least of which was your own special tumbleweed!

    1. OldOldLady of the Hills,

      You would have loved these hills, and I’ll have more to show you of them in the weeks to come. The people who live there seem more than usually passionate about their “place” in the world. Even the few younger people I talked to seemed keenly aware that they’ve been granted stewardship of a treasure, and willing to take on responsibility for it. Of course, that’s often true in farming and ranching communities. The connection to the land is primal, and asserts itself in so many ways.

      It’s not all hay-pitching and cattle branding, either. The arts are alive and well in these communities, and I’ll have more to say about that, too. Music, art and theater only add to the richness of life in the Midwest and Plains.

      There were a few other peculiarities that popped up that didn’t make it into this post. I had to draw the line somewhere! But they’ll be around.

      As for the tumbleweed, I can guarantee you it’s a great conversation starter. I may keep this one until my next trip north, and just throw it in the back seat. There were plenty of folks on this trip who thought I was the peculiar one for toting it around, but they did their laughing with kindness.

      Linda

  4. Glad you had a fun trip. There’s nothing like the wide open spaces of the prairies. The tumbleweed is the “West Texas Christmas tree.” Is that what you plan for yours?

    Folks always say how “intrepid” you are when a woman sets out on a trip by herself, but I saw a lot of Europe that way — and went where I wanted to go and did what I wanted to.

    I’m glad you made it home before the weather hit. We didn’t get much but a few showers up here. It’s getting to be that time of year when I’m getting out the lap robes and hunting out knitting projects, thinking of hot tea, and tuning in the internet radio.

    1. WOL,

      It was wonderful fun. I met so many nice people, and saw so much beauty, I may still be writing about it in January.

      I got a few of those sideways glances when I said I was going by myself. The truth is, having a traveling companion wouldn’t be of much use if real trouble showed up on the road. You know – like someone wanting to rob me of my tumbleweed. For most travel difficulties, like a failed water pump or finding yourself in a box canyon with a flat tire while the coyotes are howing, there are ways to cope.

      A friend asked this morning if I might put Christmas lights on TW. (See? He’s already got a nickname.) Probably not, and there won’t be any spray paint or glitter, either. He looks perfectly fine as is, though a little tinsel might be ok.

      That internal voice that told me Saturday morning to head for him was an expression of what I call “intuitive planning”. When I get a direct message from my subconscious, I pay attention. I’d been keeping an eye on things, and certainly made the right choice. All day Wednesday I sat around drinking coffee, processing photos and congratulating myself for my good sense.

      Linda

  5. Oh my gosh…. The colors. The sky. The delightful little things that popped up unexpectedly for you.

    Muse Cemetery? That would have pulled me right in.

    I did have to laugh at the thought of you running down that tumbleweed. It sounds vaguely insane but exactly the type of thing I’d have probably done, if I’d seen that army of tumbleweeds rolling by.

    1. Gué,

      I know Montana claims to be “Big Sky Country”, but the sky above Kansas doesn’t shrink from being just as big and just as beautiful. There were a few cloudy days, and a couple when the dust blowing before a 30-35 mph wind turned things a bit hazy, but all of it was gorgeous.

      Since coming home, I’ve learned that Dodge City is the windiest place in the county, with an average wind speed of 14 mph. No wonder those tumbleweeds were rolling like they were. The same day I caught the tumbleweed, I was given a tip for travel in western Kansas: always park with your driver side door downwind, so you can open it. If there’s a passenger – well, no one said life was going to be easy.

      It’s a fact that when I was up on Point of Rocks, a Santa Fe Trail overlook, I barely could get the car door open. No wonder establishing windbreaks was important to the pioneers.

      I did get pulled into Muse Cemetery, and I’m glad I visited. I found a sort of gravestone there I’ve never before seen – but more about those later!

      Linda

  6. That was a pleasant and almost familiar trip. My sister-in-law is from the western MO area. She has described it with similar characteristics as you.

    We’ve driven to Enid, OK, to see our son a couple of times since late May. The first time through the Flint Hills was quite a surprise. It is striking. I like the reach of the sky all the way to the horizon in an unbroken curtain. I understand why Clyde studied it so much.

    Thanks for the interesting travels.

    1. Jim,

      I thought about you immediately when I found Clyde’s marker. It was quite a surprise itself, since most I’d been reading had to do with the Santa Fe Trail, the establishment of ranches or towns, and the importance of creeks and rivers.

      If you’re at all interested in geology as well as history, one of the books I can recommend is Roadside Kansas: A Traveler’s Guide to Its Geology and Landmarks”. It provides not only a mile-by-mile commentary on Kansas roads, in most cases it’s written in tenth-of-a-mile increments. There’s a great glossary, and its conversational style that makes it perfect as a guidebook. With it, you can find terrific fossils as well as nooks and crannies of a state too many people pass off as “boring”.

      Linda

    1. ODRS,

      It surely is a small world. One of my cousins went to school in Manhattan. I always chuckle about it being called “The Little Apple”.

      My trip to Konza was simply marvelous. I’ll be posting more photos, as well as reflecting a bit on the work that’s being done there. One of the greatest treats was being able to see the bison “up close and personal”, although the fall colors were beautiful, too.

      And I brought home a feather from one of the wild turkeys. How they can disappear so quickly and completely into the grass is a mystery to me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You must have some wonderful memories yourself.

      Linda

        1. Yes, I have fond memories of Kansas. Ah yes, the elusive turkey. :D Now, that I’m home and allowed to view your photos on my big screen I have to tell you I am blown away. Linda, these are priceless. A job well done. And I thought your words had taken me back…

          I can’t wait for more,
          Audrey

  7. Morning Linda:

    I was expecting words about your trip, and this morning they dropped on me like morning dew. Cool and fresh.

    Even though I’ve never been to the Midwestern part of the States, I know exactly what you mean when you mention the tall grass of the prairies or the “clean curve of hill against sky”. In spirit I’ve been there in my previous lives. I know that for sure.

    The ruts of the Santa Fe trail, also brought back memories while I was studying U.S. History back in Changuinola in a lost hamlet called Farm #8.

    Your photographs, and I called them “photographs” and not “snapshots,” are significant to place you on the spot and adds realism to your experiences of your trip.

    Needless to say, I cherished the narration of your trip and the pictures that added flavor to the sojourn to the open spaces of America.

    Thank you, again, again, and again.

    Warm Regards,

    Omar.-

    1. Omar,

      The problem with a first post-travel entry rarely lies in finding words, but in limiting words. There just is so much to share. It was hard to find a way to give an overview without testing my readers’ patience. Besides, some things need to simmer for a while.

      I’m glad you like the photos. I still have quite an assortment to go through, and some I like much better than any of these. It crossed my mind that taking photos of the prairie is much like taking photos of the ocean – no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite “get it”. But some people have, and I’ll provide links to their sites for your enjoyment.

      Do you remember hearing about George Sibley when you studied the Santa Fe Trail? Probably not. I’d not heard of him until this past year, but he was one of the most important people in the Trail’s history. He was a surveyor, and I’ve found the story of how the surveying was done absolutely fascinating. I found some of his group’s encampments – more about that later, too.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. ‘Open spaces” surely is the key to understanding that part of the country. There’s something about the open land that opens us up in a way a city can’t. One’s not better than the other, but they certainly are different.

      Linda

      1. Morning Linda:

        I’m afraid I don’t recall reading about George Sibley, but I can find out with Google. Will do. Last night, in the quietness of darkness I read your blog post again. I loved it even more. Thank you.

        Can’t wait for more of your pictures. I said I would take a trip to the countryside, but my pocket said “No”. It’s still in the back burner until the wallet opens up, if you know what I mean.

        Bye,

        Omar.-

        1. I didn’t mean to be coy, I just am trying to contain myself so I don’t put too many “spoilers” out there. Sibley was one of those responsible for surveying the Santa Fe Trail. I found markers all over the place saying “Sibley camped here”. I was beginning to feel like he was the Kilroy of pioneers! What I learned about the way the trail was laid out is just fascinating. What they wouldn’t have given for your GPS!

  8. Linda,
    Isn’t it interesting how Linda Katz found a market for what she found in abundance in her own environment? I heard about a guy who inherited a holly farm from his grandfather. He only worked a couple of months a year. He had a thriving mail order business, selling holly all over the country at Christmastime.

    It sounds like you had a heck of a time on your vacation. Your pictures are wonderful. I love that beautiful changing tree and the apples, but all of them are great.

    1. Bella Rum,

      Not only that, Linda Katz’s original purpose was to learn website development. She had to have something to market, so she thought, “Ok. Fine. I’ll sell tumbleweeds.” It was a joke, until the money started rolling in. I thought the most unique story I read about her sales was that she’s sent them to homesick soldiers overseas. Forget the cigarettes and chocolate bars, Mama, Just send me a tumbleweed. ;)

      I did have a wonderful time. I tried to remember the last time I’ve gone off for two weeks or more, and it’s been a long, long time. Honestly, I think it was my trip to Liberia in 1985 (or ’86 – who can remember these things?) I started my business in 1990, and then Mom moved down here, and I surely wasn’t doing any traveling during those years.

      Not only are those photos from the cider mill pretty, their fresh cider was the best I’ve ever tasted. There’s a world of difference between what arrives in the stores and what you can get straight from the conveyor belt, press and strainers.

      Linda

  9. Linda, welcome home. I so enjoyed hearing about your travels and seeing things through your eyes and voice. I especially liked the idea of botanical migrations, and love the clever woman who sells tumbleweeds through mail order. I will have to add the Kansas prairies to my list of things to see one day.

    1. Rosemary,

      It’s really quite interesting that it was the rock that saved the Flint Hills prairie. It simply wasn’t suitable for a disc or plow, so the farming that took out so much land elsewhere didn’t happen there. Now, people are fierce in their determination to save what’s left, and it’s well worth seeing.

      It’s amazing to me, the ways in which plants have adapted to using the wind as a “tool” to help propagate their species. You already know a few things about that – I’m thinking of your winged maple seeds, particularly – but I met some other clever plants I’ll share with you in the days to come.

      Linda

  10. It sounds absolutely wonderful. I loved every word of this piece. Finding things in the natural world has always been a large part of my joy in travel. I love how you’ve shared yours. I am now very much bitten by wanderlust …

    Did you get the name of the painter? What is on his easel is so intriguing.

    1. Teresa Evangeline,

      Of course you’d focus on the natural world as you travel. There are so many delights to collect – some physically, some through photos, some only in the slow movement of memory once we’ve returned home.

      I think we’re both a bit like that bear that went over the mountain. We go to see what we can see – and we’re willing to allow the world to reveal its treasures to us. See: tumbleweed. See also: prairie sunrises. Meadowlarks. Elk and pronghorn. No less memorable, but of another order: finding a geocache box, and remembering that backing into barbed wire isn’t such a good idea!

      I didn’t get the painter’s name. We talked about the prairie, and why he preferred painting from life, and where I was going once I left the area. The last time I saw him, I gave him the maps and information I’d printed out at home about a couple of difficult-to-find places that he’d not heard of but was curious to see. I’d been there, and was happy to share. I like to think of him out there, painting.

      Linda

  11. Wow — I knew you were on the road but you were REALLY on the road! I was thinking of you a couple of days ago, wondering if you had returned home yet and how Dixie greeted you!

    I think perhaps you will encounter the plein air painter or his work again sometime. Three times means you were meant to see each other and learn something from each other.

    Your photos are fabulous — that incredible blue sky, the gas search, the color, the lines of the museum… Even if you didn’t write a word, I would be able to tell you had quite a fascinating and delightful journey. But when you add the quintessential Linda style — well, the post is a learning experience and a bit of armchair (or desk chair) travel on top of it all! This is territory I know little of. Now I know a little more!

    1. Jeanie,

      Yes, ma’am. I was on the road in a big way. One thing I discovered is that Princess loves gravel and dirt, and she’s not too bad at hill climbing.

      As for Dixie Rose, her kitty-sitter clearly should be nominated for sainthood. When she couldn’t find Dixie’s favorite toy, she bought another. She emailed me photos, to prove Dixie wasn’t spending all her time under the bed. She kept my African violets thriving, and she did all of the little things that can make leaving a hassle – picked up mail, put out trash, and so on.

      Dixie came out from under the bed about six hours after I got home, and within a day she was ready to be brushed. After all, a girl can look pretty scruffy if she doesn’t have her hair done for two weeks! I didn’t worry about her one minute while I was gone, and that made the trip even more wonderful.

      One of the interesting things about the photos is the variation in the sky. There were a couple of days when the wind was blowing so hard even the Kansas natives were talking about it. There was so much dust in the air – you can see it especially in that first photo of the red rocks in the canyon. I learned pretty quickly why many grain elevators have signs before you reach them that say, “Caution. Strong Cross Currents”.

      In the next evening or so I’m going to sit down with the maps, trace out my route and make more notes about what I saw. GPS lovers will poke fun, but I love my paper maps. Every time I go through the same territory but on a different highway, I trace the route using a different color. It’s fun to look at – a true travel diary.

      Linda

  12. Your trip was worthy of your writing and your writing worthy of your trip.

    I looked up Matfield Station. If I ever get back there that is where I will stay! I bet it’s interesting to be there when they burn the prairie, tho…

    I was in this part of Kansas in March, several years ago- cold and rainy and solid gray. I could only imagine what I was missing. Still, it was like a black and white movie and I drifted along in my out of body experience tracing family roots. It would be very hard to live there, but I can’t take my eyes off it.

    Thank you for this post. We share the rewards.

    1. Martha,

      Thanks for your kind words. You’d love Matfield Station. The folks who own it are creative and dedicated to sustainable living. One of the best landmarks around is their power-generating windmill. I didn’t have a chance to ask how their system’s rigged, but I suspect it’s pretty effective.

      The fellow who was my guide to the Konza Prairie has helped with controlled burns there, and it’s quite a deal. Other ranchers burn as well – it’s necessary for the health of the land. I’m not sure now of the exact figures, but I think I remember being told that, because the roots go so deep and the fire moves so quickly, only a half-inch (or so) of the root is affected, and the grass springs right back.

      I thought a time or two about how much fun it would be to be there in the winter. Then the wind would start howling again, I imagined it mixed with snow, and it didn’t seem nearly so appealing. Living through years of Iowa blizzards helps to keep my romantic tendencies in check.

      Linda

      1. That is true about burning prairies. Those deep roots are what make prairie plants so attractive and popular as landscape plantings now.

        Realizing the suffering of man and beast on the winter prairie years ago is enough to keep the romantic notions in check! Iowa was a good taste of it, for sure! And the KS wind is formidable!

        1. I learned that grasses make good handholds while climbing, too. A local gave me that tip after I was moaning and groaning about an experience with sticktights. Especially on embankments, he said to grab for the grasses, as grabbing for anything else probably would results in a different kind of “sticker shock”.

  13. “… it never had occurred to me that Muses, too, might have a natural life-span.”

    So this explains where to go when the muse just dies uncompleted… I’ll need to take a road trip and see how many of my caffeine induced muses are laid to rest on the eastern edge of Oklahoma.

    When I pulled up Muse Oklahoma on the map I discovered that in 2010 I drove the ridge-lines north of Muse going to spend the night in the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in Arkansas. Driving along the Talimena Scenic Drive was a break from a long hot Texas summer. Now I know what was down in the valley below when I stopped in the pull-offs to snap pictures.

    Thanks for the introduction to Muse.

    1. Gary,

      I can’t say how many Muses are there, but it’s a neat-as-a-pin cemetery, and home to a particular sort of tombstone I’ve never seen before. I visited several cemeteries, and as always there were discoveries to be made. I was surprised by the number of Scandinavian names in central Kansas, but then I remembered some Kansas towns have names like Lindsborg, and I found there was a good bit of Scandinavian migration during the mid-to-late 1800s.

      I know those ridge-lines. I drove them myself, and did the Talimena Drive. I may have stopped at some of those same overlooks for photos. The color hadn’t really taken hold, but it still was beautiful country. There weren’t many people around either, which made driving the roads much more enjoyable.

      One of these days I’ll show you what was in the Muse cemetery.

      Linda

  14. Much to our surprise, Peggy and I found ourselves in Turkey on one of our adventures. Linda. We had left the grave of Billy the Kid and headed south into Texas. We found a small museum featuring Bob Wills but it was closed.

    We were standing outside when a woman drove up and offered to open the museum. Our presence in town had been noted. :) It was a delightful visit and we left with a CD and listened to Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys as we drove across Texas. How appropriate.

    Later, I learned from my sister, the drummer for the group lived next to us in our first house in Diamond Springs, California. Bob showed up one night and they had an all night jam session. I was too young to remember. –Curt

    1. Curt,

      Some of the best museums in the world are the little ones with irregular hours, construction paper labels on exhibits and notes on the front door that say, “Call this number, and we’ll open for you”. You just were lucky enough not to have to call the number.

      The volunteers I’ve found in most of these places are pretty darned knowledgeable.They’re rooted in the communities, know the gossip as well as the history, and can tell stories with the best of them. What’s not to like?

      I found a great museum and collection of exhibits in Panhandle, Texas. There was a house, a windmill, a paddy-wagon, a replica of a dug-out, and assorted other items. It was Sunday, so the house wasn’t open, but there was enough to see to keep me interested for nearly an hour.

      If only there’d been a fiddler on the porch!

      Linda

      1. Have to agree about the small museums, Linda. Peggy and I have found great ones all across the country. And the staff members, often volunteers, are always glad to see you. –Curt

  15. Oh my goodness, you were in my very hometown! Kind of fun to see how we all are connected. Each October we have a historical festival to celebrate the “Burnt District Area” (Harrisonville), so if you’re ever in the neighborhood around that time, stop by again. They’ll be a cup of coffee (or hot cider) waiting, with your name on it :)

    1. Homestead Ramblings,

      I can’t believe it. I’ve been going through Harrisonville for the past twenty years. My mom and aunt lived in Blue Springs, and now just my aunt is there. I always come up 71, and then take Highway 7 from Harrisonville to Blue Springs. That’s almost as amazing as the fact that we nearly ran into each other at the Cider Mill!

      I’m so glad you told me about the Burnt District. I found this link to the historical marker and more information. The more I think about it, the more I think there’s a connection between what happened here and the Bushwackers that were operating around Council Grove. I’m a little “iffy” on my Civil War history in this area, but I’ll have the winter to do some studying before making my next trip.

      Such a pleasure to have you stop by. You know you’re always welcome!

      Linda

  16. Finally returned to my computer after a long hiatus, and yours is the first delight I gave myself. I traveled along with you and enjoyed all the sights and stories. You always spin a great story Linda, and I always look forward to seeing you here. Lucky tumbleweed to sit in your chair and remember the trip it has taken. Kayti

    1. kayti,

      I’d noticed that you’d been keeping a low profile, and hoped all was well. I’m just delighted that you’ve stopped by. Eventually, I would have come and chased you down, just like that tumbleweed!

      Kitty Dixie Rose finally discovered the tumbleweed today, and has done exactly nothing except sit in front of it and stare. My suspicion is that she made a move on it, and discovered it was prickly. With luck, the tumbleweed is safe.

      There are stories galore from the trip. I think you’ll enjoy seeing photos from the Crystal Bridges Museum and hearing a few tales, too. It certainly was a unique museum experience.

      Linda

    1. nia,

      Thank you so much. It really was a pleasure to choose photographs for this post. I wish I could have taken you with me on such a wonderful journey – although our blogs do pretty well for such sharing!

      It makes me so happy to know you enjoyed the post.

      Linda

  17. What a fascinating trip, Linda, and thank you so much for letting me tag along! I’m always happy to see a new post from you because I know I’m going to learn something — and you haven’t disappointed me here.

    As a former journalist, I find it somewhat amusing to read old newspaper copy. Besides the different phrases, of course, we see a bit of opinion interjected here and there, making for a more colorful read, I think.

    The tumbleweed really takes me back to when I lived in Texas. There’s something almost magical about seeing those dried bushes dance and play in the wind, rolling to who-knows-where! I can almost smell those apples — what a good purchase you made there! — and the closeup of the antelope is wonderful. They almost look like they’re asking you, Wha’cha doin’?!!

    1. Debbie,

      One of the reasons I love travel so is that it gives me a good excuse to dig into areas I know nothing about – or at least, very little. And I dearly love this quotation from Mark Twain:

      “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

      Armchair travel and an openness to the world around us can serve some of the same purposes, but there’s nothing quite like getting out and about to see how things are in other parts of the world.

      As for the great Cass County Tax Brouhaha, there are a great many more contemporary (and colorful) newspaper reports here . I finally figured out that the fellow who’s collected this treasure trove is maintaining a tax resistance website, which explains his interest in old Missouri bond cases. ;)

      As for the tumbleweeds, I got a phone call from a friend this afternoon who read this and suddenly remembered a road trip with her parents decades ago. Her mother saw some tumbleweeds, wanted one, caught it, and took it home to decorate for Christmas. Some holiday traditions have been around for a long time. I wonder if the pioneers decorated with tumbleweeds. In fact, I wonder if tumbleweeds even were around then. They’ve been introduced, and they don’t like grassland, so it’s entirely possible our great-greats on the prairie didn’t have to contend with them.

      Linda

  18. That is gorgeous color in your photo of the trees with the photo of the apples right below. At first, I thought I was viewing candy corn and when all that color came into focus, I realized they were apples.

    I had no idea that something as grand as the Crystal Bridges Museum was in Ark. I look forward to that post.

    So glad you found a gas station! Your plight reminded me of my dad’s plea to the back seats of our station wagon, “Keep your eyes peeled for a gas station.” Then, I knew he was really looking…as if we could find a clue of one’s whereabouts for him.

    Daughter #2’s in-laws are from Kansas. Some have stayed there, others have come in for family events coming in from the East and West Coast. Human tumbleweeds, they have found relevant lives in their new surroundings. Like TW, they stand out. And like you chased TW, I have chased some of these tumbleweeds around a room, persistent in getting to know them. In a group gathered around a room or table, they show how tightly bound they are to an appreciation for hard work, common sense, fiscal responsibility and just enjoying each other’s company. I love that daughter respects her FIL’s Kansas roots and finds them pretty special.

    Love the whole idea that NASA is using the tumbleweed to develop a design for the Mars Rover. Once again, I have learned so much in your two thousand words.

    1. Georgette,

      Now that you mention it, those are candy corn colors. I’d not made the association. What I did notice as I was leaving the mill was the line of trucks filled with apples waiting to be processed. Semi-loads full. That’s no small operation they have going. They’ve been in business about thirty years or so, and every time I mention them to someone from the area, I get the old “What? You didn’t know about them?” response. Their reputation for quality’s well deserved.

      You’ll be especially tickled when I show you a photo of a good friend I discovered at Crystal Bridges. It was another complete surprise, only one of many there.

      Hard work, common sense, fiscal responsibility and enjoyment of life are the values that shaped me. I didn’t always hold to them, but I’ve come back to them, as aging children will, and I appreciated being able to travel among people who so clearly embody the same values.

      We often think of “vacation” as getting away, but in this case it was a getting into that was so pleasurable. Life is life, and there surely are as many arguments, conflicts, griefs and puzzlements for the people of the prairie and plains as there are for the rest of us. But two weeks without snarkiness, disagreeableness, pot-stirring or blatant stupidity? My, it was refreshing. A complete absence of any radio, tv or social media helped make it possible. Lesson learned.

      Which reminds me of something else about Matfield Station you would appreciate. There was the usual small stack of books for those who might not have brought reading material. Among them? Mary Oliver’s poems and Whitman. That told me beyond any doubt I’d picked the right place to land for a few days.

      Linda

  19. Please blather on! You’d make a great travel writer.

    I never realized those were Russian thistle all dried and rolling off to town – or wherever. What a catch!

    Have you been to Muse Cemetery in East TX?- It’s hard to find, but I have a bunch of relatives buried there and they have “meetings” there at least once a year.

    The trip sounds glorious – all those grass varieties – and to be able to stroll out there – just like time travel? Experiences like that add so much to the history/literature read – so much easier to imagine – to identify with. The TX panhandle is also intriguing….now you have excuses to go back.

    Can’t wait to read more of the art and all the cool stuff you found

    1. phil,

      I looked up your Muse Cemetery and discovered it’s almost literally in our backyard – over near Alto. They have a post on gravefinder, too, where they mention their yearly meeting, the graveyard cleanup and “dinner on the grounds”. I haven’t heard that phrase used in a very long time. I noticed they have a formal Texas history marker there, and one of the names suggests a connection to another town I pass through on my “standard” way north – Gilmore.

      Now that I think about it, this trip was as much field trip as vacation. Being able to visit the Konza Prairie with a knowledgeable person, having guides to the geology and grasses with me, and taking time to follow the auto tours for the Santa Fe trail were fun, but informative, too. I learned a good bit, enough to make me eager to learn more.

      One notable thing about Kansas was that every tour route or site like the Cimarron Grasslands had guides available – even out in the middle of nowhere. Real, paper, guides that could be picked up by anyone and weren’t dependent on having a smart phone or computer printer. Not only that, they were protected from the elements and obviously cared for – even in the middle of “nowhere”. The Santa Fe Trail Association has done a particularly good job, and it made my trip even more delightful.

      I’m curious now to check out things like the Texas Birding Trail, to see if they have the same sort of support for travelers.

      Linda

      1. My uncle Jack lived in Alto. My mom was very worried that Muse would be forgotten and lost. I think she helped get the historical marker – she did a lot of research and secured markers for sites after she retired.
        We used to travel the Santa Fe trail during summers. Sounds like the groups are doing a good job not only preserving it/history but also making the information available.
        There’s a move here to do something like that with the TX El Camino Royal – which we all grew up with, but apparently is slipping into obscurity. ( Will try to send you links later…a little chaotic here with the double trouble twins)
        Can’t wait to catch up with you and your unwritten stories

  20. Linda , thanks so much for this travelogue. I love the prairie images. My dad was raised on the prairies, as was my wife. He was in the navy in WW 2 and said a disproportionate number of sailers were prairie boys, who were not undone by big skies and wide horizons. The openness is glorious! Allen

    1. Allen,

      I’m assuming those were the Canadian prairies your dad and wife were raised on. That’s the only part of Canada where I’ve spent any time, and very little at that. Some of our family gave it a try in Saskatchewan, but didn’t last long. They came back to Minnesota, where they said conditions weren’t so tough.

      But those Canadian prairies were impressive, for sure. I had a friend who was raised not on the prairie but in the Texas panhandle. Even he said that, as a boy, he’d sit and watch the grain waving in the wind, and imagine that it was the ocean. He joined the Navy, too.

      After living for a time in Salt Lake City, surrounded by mountains, I remember my first trip across western Texas. It was so open, and I felt somehow vulnerable. It was quite an unusual experience.

      Linda

  21. I got my history lesson for the week..Glorious! Just as I glanced at the response above I noticed the word glorious..weird! I guess glorious it was..Thank you for sharing! You would like Madrid, NM..

    1. Roberta,

      History’s fun, for sure. As for glorious? There was that, too – particularly at sunset and sunrise. The photographers have it right, I think, when they refer to “the golden hours”.

      I’ll confess I’m not sure about Madrid, NM. I watched three videos. Clearly, there are some darned creative people who live there, but the videos mostly showed shops and traffic. I don’t “shop”, and I hate traffic, so that wasn’t very appealing. On the other hand, if I’m ever in the area I’d be willing to give it a look. Thanks for the tip! ;)

      Linda

      1. Madrid is quirky. We were there on our way back from Santa Fe to catch the train. It was pretty lifeless at that time. I was limited to the amount of time I could run around and take pictures and it was not enough for me. We’ll go back to Santa Fe again. I loved being there at that time of year. The most spectacular moment was being a church and listening to children practice on a song for Christmas. It was a heavenly moment and then also visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was pretty special too…ps I hate traffic too and I marvel at those like you that travel to distant places. I would have to take all the backroads.. lol!

        1. But that’s the whole point – I do take the back roads! Have you ever read “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon? You’d love it.
          I did enjoy Santa Fe when I was there, and Taos. I especially liked Chimayo and Abiquiu. I’d go back there in a minute.

          1. Yes, I read it a long time ago…I loved it! Does he have any others that are as good or almost..I also like Across America but Peter walked..You would love, I think, Walking the Gobi, check it out and there is another by a woman that goes to Mongolia and rides a bike around. I don’t know the title. I love reading about these types of experiences. My oldest son hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, border of Mexico/Ca and did not make it to his destination to Canada do to a blizzard. I always thought how neat it would have been to walk with him for a while.. Check out Helen Thayer and if you have any other suggestions let me know. I need a good book to read. (:

    1. montucky,

      It was a wonderful trip, with consistently good weather and no problems. In short, it was a good memory maker.

      I thought of you when I began seeing the pronghorn, wondering if I’d have a chance to see elk. I did, as a matter of fact. I was pretty confident my photos of them wouldn’t be particularly memorable, so I just enjoyed the sight. The pronghorn were more abundant and more willing to hang around, so I was able to “capture” them.

      Linda

    1. Konzadocent,

      Oh, hooray! Sorting it all out and finding a coherent way to talk about it’s the hard part, as I’m sure you know. I did happen to come across some Konza documents online about the crews working the burns, procedures and all that. Very, very interesting, and there was at least one name I knew.

      I must say – one of the best parts of the trip was meeting up with an original Codgernaut. Not everyone gets that chance!

      Linda

  22. Such a rich post! What a lovely narrative — thank you for going to the time and trouble, especially for those of us who haven’t had a chance to travel there.

    btw — I read a comments thread you posted about “fake followers” the other day and am glad I found it. The onslaught of phony followers is driving me slowly crazy.

    1. Call of the Siren,

      Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I have an abiding fondness for the Midwest that has deepened over the years. Part of it’s my familial roots, but the values are dear to me as well – not to mention the beauty, creativity and deep appreciation of history that can be found there.

      As for those irritating followers… I suspect you bumped into the WP Forums thread. There was quite a discussion of the same topic on another blog I read. I can’t remember which it was now, but if it pops to mind I’ll link it.

      You’re not alone in being frustrated. I’ve dealt with the issue by asking, “Is this a problem, or a fact of life?” So far, I’ve thrown fake followers into the “fact of life” category and mostly don’t even think about them. If they ever turn into a problem, then I’ll have to work on a solution.

      So nice to have you stop by!

      Linda

      1. Thanks Linda (Shoreacres) — I’m just glad to know I’m not the only one getting inundated with strange followers. It would be nice if the WP platform allowed us to disengage marketers, etc.

        I’ve never spent much time in the Midwest, but I can appreciate what you say about the deep history there. That message really came home through your post, and I really enjoyed how your post combined travelogue, literature, and meditation along with narrated photos. I finished it feeling very satisfied. Like I’d had a good meal!

  23. Linda, I loved your leisurely narrative and felt as if I were ambling along the prairie trails with you. The Muse Cemetery was too cute. I was reading along on my iPhone the text then scrolled and saw the image and laughed! Love the imagery of tumbleweeds rolling in like a ‘botanical migration” just like the Sandhills flying on in at the Nebraska migration nexus. I lived in Ft. Riley, Kansas when I was in grade school and do remember vast yellow fields. What I remember most about Kansas, at that age, was making angels in the snow.

    Welcome back and oh that collection you brought back. That is the sort of thing I love to do, bring back strange natural treasures! I generally think I will make a still life of some sort to photograph of these collected items, but, they wait!!

    1. Judy,

      The comparison between the tumbleweeds and sandhill cranes is more apt than I would have imagined before seeing them. The tumbleweeds may not have wings, but they do “fly” when they really get going, bouncing up into the air for feet at a time.

      The rolling has a purpose beyond our amusement, of course. It’s how they disperse their seeds. In fact, I read in an article about Australian tumbleweeds that they lose only some of their seeds on each bounce, making it possible to spread the “wealth” over a much larger area.

      I like some sort of autumn arrangement on the table, and used to buy those little pumpkins and gourds. Now, I’ve got my collection of buffalo gourds and bur oak acorns in a bowl like this . Seasonal, decorative and filled with memories – what could be better?

      Snow angels! They were great fun for Iowa kids, too. I wonder if we’re hard-wired for them? When Houston got its Christmas Eve snow a few years ago, kids who never had seen snow were making snow angels. Maybe they had parents with snow-country roots!

      Linda

  24. Linda, the first thing I thought of when I read of your tumbleweed, was of when I was a child, listening to the, already old, song by Marty Robbins, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, on the record player. It rumbled and tumbled around in my mind for the rest of the day!

    Loved all those place names, especially Peculiar, and at least they were all easily pronounced. When I was much younger and traveling through Wales, I had great difficulty saying correctly the name of the town I was trying to get a lift to!
    Poor Dixie Rose, the things a feline has to contend with! :-)

    Wonderful photos, I especially loved the cotton one!

    1. eremophila,

      And when I hear that song in my mind, I always hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves that was included in the Sons of the Pioneers version I grew up with. It’s a wonderful song for leisurely traveling. It wouldn’t have done so well for a last segment of my trip, when I was trying to adjust to 75 mph traffic.

      Oh, Wales! I have a friend who moved to Tywyn, on the coast. When I saw that, I told her I wasn’t sure living in a vowel-less world was for me. Every time I mail a parcel to her, there’s great hilarity at the post office over the entire address.

      I was happy with that cotton photo, myself. One of the most useful pages I’ve found is Steve Schwartzman’s “About My Techniques” at his “Portraits of Wildflowers”. For the cotton, I tried to follow the advice in tip #3 – getting down on the ground and shooting upward.

      The round, prickly seed head is an example of trying to shoot horizontally to get a blurred background (#2), and the red cliff against the blue sky is an attempt to follow the less-is-more path (#14). Digital surely opens up possibilities for experimentation. I came home with fourteen cotton photos, and kept three. Choosing which to discard is part of the learning process. “This one’s no good” is fine, but figuring out why it’s “no good” is important, too!

      Linda

  25. I really needed to read your post with map in hand! Sure was wishing your first image had been a map with your route outlined in bold red! The word pictures you paint are fantastic, and the photos are just the icing on the cake.

    What a great trip! Did you holler hello across the way to my aunt, uncle, and cousins over near Bentonville? Actually, today is my uncle’s birthday, he’s 80–my dad’s younger brother and only one left of the 3 children who grew up in the Great Depression. He and his wife (my aunt, of course) moved there earlier this year from Calhoun, LA to finish out their lives near their daughter and two grand children. Maybe I should plan a trip up there to visit while they’re still alive and well.

    Your adventures are inspiring, Linda. Thanks for sharing!

    1. BW,

      Your wish is my command! This map isn’t more than an outline. There’s no way to trace the web of country roads I traveled on most internet maps. Still, you can get the sense of my “great circle”. I took the car in for her 15,000 mile service before I left. When I got home, the odometer showed about 18,400 miles – and I didn’t feel rushed through any of it.

      Happy birthday to your uncle! They surely do live in a pretty part of the country. I’d never been through there before, and it all was just lovely. I have a cousin in Mena, but didn’t stop there. We think we passed each other on the road between Ft. Smith and Bentonville – but we did see each other in Kansas City.

      I had a terrible time finding lodging around Bentonville, even though I tried to make reservations about two weeks before leaving. I ended up staying in Ft. Smith for two nights.As it turned out, I was there the weekend of the huge Ozarks craft fairs – apparently that’s the big draw for the autumn season. Even so, the drive between Ft. Smith and Bentonville was pretty and easy, once I got past ten miles’ worth of road construction.

      If you do go that way, save some time to drive the Talimena scenic trail across the mountains. I think it would be equally lovely in any season. Well, except for winter. There were signs around saying something like, “If you go up here in winter, we’re not going to come rescue you!”

      Linda

      1. Oh, music to a map geek’s heart! Now, that helps me visualize the entire trip much much more better (as they say down da bayou!). Thanks for the travel tips, and I’m definitely not going in winter, though! What a great adventure you undertook and girl, you did cover some miles! Thanks again!

  26. Your account of Peculiar reminds me of the naming of a tiny town outside Austin. According to the Handbook of Texas Online: “Nameless is on Sandy Creek and just off Farm Road 1431 five miles northeast of Lago Vista in northwestern Travis County. It was settled in 1869. When residents of the community applied for a post office, they had difficulty getting the post office department to accept the names they suggested. After six names were rejected, residents wrote back saying, “Let the post office be nameless and be damned!” The department took them at their word, and a post office called Nameless was established in 1880.”

    1. Steve,

      Well. I suppose we can rejoice that the post office didn’t chose the other option suggested by the residents!

      I wonder about those six rejected names. I’m sure communication issues made it difficult to know what names already had been used in other parts of the state. And there were “fashions” in names which probably led many towns to try for one of the “good” ones. Still, six tries must have been frustrating.

      I love studying the map and finding unique or amusing names. The Texas Panhandle has some great names, like Turkey – not to mention Levelland and Panhandle!

      Linda

      1. The original name proposed was Fairview, and another was Cross Creek:

        http://www.jeffreyskerr.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=137:qjust-let-it-be-nameless-and-be-damnedq&catid=1:jeff&Itemid=3

        When I first came across the name Levelland a few decades ago, I thought it was a name like Llewellyn and I mentally pronounced it Levélland, with the middle syllable stressed. Eventually it struck me that the name was really Level Land.

        I seem to remember that some years ago Texas Highways did a story about Texas towns with unusual names. I haven’t tracked down that article, but here’s another one along those lines:

        http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Ding-Dong-Noodle-and-Bug-Tussle-among-funny-2291232.php

        1. Oh, my gosh. I laughed aloud at the explanation for Ding Dong. And I was glad to see Edna and Inez included, along with Louise, all related to developers of Texas’s Macaroni line .

          When I first came across Levelland, I’d recently learned about the Llano Estacado, and tried to do that same thing with its doubled “L”. That didn’t work so well, and eventually I heard someone pronounce it in such a way that I could hear “Level Land”.

          Linda

  27. Linda,

    I’m so excited to see this travel journal post. Glad to know you’ve done some road trip, big time. Yes, this is a huge and thorough chronicle which I’ll definitely come back to time and again. Love all the photos… you just might be able to get several of these posts together and have it published!

    And of course, the fall foliage is my favorite, among many other beautiful images here. I’m most surprised though to see those colorful trees not in the New England states, but in Kansas. And the Prairies I’m very familiar with, but not that part of North America. So, this is an eye-opener for me. Keep them coming! And, yes, go out again for more travels. We’re all eager to see what’s ahead of the road. ;)

    1. Arti,

      I know you love the foliage, and I’ll have more lovely autumn photos for you. But I thought of you when I got to Crystal Bridges. I’ve so much enjoyed your visits to museums, and now I get to return the favor.

      As you can see, this museum has a distinctly contemporary feel, but the use of wood, copper and curves give it warmth, and it’s beautifully sited within the woods. Not only that, I was surprised to find some “friends” within its permanent collection.

      There will be more stories to come, as they sort themselves out in my mind. A few of my most delightful or interesting adventures aren’t even mentioned in this post. A couple of them are evidence of one of the great truths many people can’t imagine: life in “flyover country” can be as rich and satisfying as that on either coast.

      Linda

  28. Took a minute this time to follow your links, Linda, and I’m loving Jimmie Rodgers whom I didn’t know I knew until he opened his pipes and started yodel’n! I may not have known his name but I sure did recognize his voice and those old lovely tunes. Thank you for the link.

    You traveled a lot of territory. I sure did love seeing those arched signs. Especially the one in Turkey, TX!

    But, of all the lovely and humorous things you’ve shared my favorite was that *tumbleweed! And after all these long years when I read the title of the song you shared with Monica, why, I instantly I heard the refrain in perfect pitch. How does our brain do that? Amazing!

    I know there must be more to show and tell and I look forward with anticipation and what you will share with us.

    *Personal anecdote: When we were young, I was 14ish, we had one of our big Santa Ana’s blow through right before Christmas, and as you are probably guessing by now, it blew in stacks of tumbleweeds from the vacant land around us in SoCal. (Imagine that! Vacant land in SoCal! :) ) Anyway, mom had us clean up the carnage, but she saved three of the tumblers in ascending sizes. She then took them out to the back yard and proceeded to spray paint them white, planted a long pole in the front lawn, then skewered them up on the pole and decorated them…

    We had the only snowman in SoCal that couldn’t be melted in our 80 degree Christmas weather that year! :D

    1. Lynda,

      Jimmie Rogers was one of the artists we learned to dance to – in fifth grade. Yes, indeed. One part of our “phys ed” was dance class. We learned to square dance, folk dance, swing and jitterbug. My, how things have changed. But I’ll never stop smiling when I hear “Honeycomb” .

      That’s another example of what you mentioned – the power of music to evoke memories.Sometimes, it only takes a chord, or an opening bar or two from a song. I can spot “In-a-Gadda-da-vida” a mile away. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure, but the song certainly evokes a “time”.

      Your clever mother! I heard some stories about tumbleweeds being used as pumpkins, but I never saw one. A snowman would be perfect. As a matter of fact, they’d look pretty good with little lights, hanging from a big live oak like so many Christmas ornaments.

      When I think about the one I picked up in Nevada, I think it must have been tumbling longer than this one. It was more brittle, and didn’t have any seeds left. This new one’s heavier, and more flexible. I suppose when I finally pick it up to do something with it I’ll have seeds all over the floor. If I decide to throw it away, I’ll put it in a plastic bag – although I don’t think it would take hold down here, anyway.

      I’ve linked my favorite tumbleweed video before, but you may have missed it. I just can’t get enough of watching it!

      Linda

  29. Wonderful stuff Linda. I knew we’d all be blessed by your travels. :)

    I appreciate the way you travel. I’m sure this is not the route mapquest would have given you. We used to make long drives sometimes to visit distant family and I refused, whenever possible, to travel on interstates or eat at chain restaurants. They way you do it is much more interesting.

    I especially enjoyed the fact that you kept bumping into the painter. I reckon that should be unsurprising, considering what you both were seeking.

    1. Bill,

      There’s a time for interstates, especially at the beginning or end of a trip. And where the roads are open and the traffic light, I don’t mind at all chewing up a few hundred miles. But I’m a gunkholer at heart. I want to poke around, not get from A to Z so quickly I miss E, K and W.

      Mapquest or any of the other services couldn’t have given me a route, because I had only the roughest idea of where I was going. My first sight of the town called Peculiar was nothing more than a little highway sign that told me it was 16 miles that-a-way. So, I went that-a-way.

      I couldn’t even have depended on Google to take me to what turned out to be one of my favorite sites. They not only have it misspelled on their Google map, they have it mis-located.I’m still laughing about that. I depended on directions from locals and got there just fine.

      Of course, asking directions – or asking for an explanation or asking advice – is one of the best ways to begin engaging with people. Or you can just slam on the brakes and start asking questions, as I did with the painter. I certainly agreed with one thing he said: You have to come to the land to know the spirit of the land. No question about that.

      Linda

      1. That’s a great way to travel. Back when I had a gazillion frequent flyer miles and the dollar was strong, we used to take our summer vacations in Europe. We’d have a hotel reservation for the first night there and the last night there. Other than that we just set out in a rental car with no itinerary at all. We had a few moments wondering if we’d end up sleeping in the car (the same thing happened a few times on those long cross-country no-interstate drives here too), but it always worked out.

  30. I remember the thrill I felt the first time I saw tumbleweed in the flesh, as it were. Before that, I knew it only through Bob Nolan’s song, which he wrote while he was a caddy in Los Angeles. From what I’ve heard, there isn’t any tumbleweed at the Hillcrest Country Club. Thanks so much for taking us along on this adventure. You have a talent for putting the reader right down there next to you. Once again, Brava!

    1. Charles,

      There just was “something” about several songs from that time – not only Nolan’s songs about tumbleweeds and cool water, but also Frankie Laine’s “The Cry of the Wild Goose” and Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind”. They’re all wonderful songs for traveling, filled with the poignancy of arrivals and leavings.

      Speaking of “leavings’, I didn’t realize that the original song was “Tumbling Leaves”. I’m glad it was rewritten.

      It was an adventure, albeit of a quiet kind. I’m glad you enjoyed this first report, and thank you. Now comes the question of what to write about next.

      Linda

  31. What beautiful, amazing scenery…. And those colors! Just divine. I’ve never visited such an area, but have always wanted to. Big sky country! Thanks so very much for your always thoughtful, educational, poetic vision of our land and people.

    1. FeyGirl,

      You’d find plenty to tempt your camera, I suspect. Birds, butterflies, buffalo (!) – all there just waiting for the right eye to find them.

      The horizon and the sky are marvelous, and some of the sunrises and sunsets are beyond belief. That was one of the best things about Matfield Station. Even though I’m cautious now about driving at night, especially in strange territory, there it was possible to get out and about at night on foot, to listen to the prairie sounds and marvel at the stars.

      It’s so good to see you. I hope all’s well – miss your photos, but I know you’ll post when you can.

      Linda

    1. Dana,

      That’s it, exactly. “Rambly”. It’s a bit of an amazement to me now that I took so much in, yet never felt pressured or rushed. I suppose part of that was not having a checklist – the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” sort of thing.

      A few days there was a little too much dust in the air for the sky to really shine, but when the wind laid and the dust settled, it was the most magnificent blue!

      Linda

  32. Linda– So glad to see that your tumbleweed is safe and sound at home with you. Your writing makes me want to hit those gravel roads you so well describe. Wonderful stuff!—gary

    1. Gary,

      I can see the tumbleweed from my desk. Every time I look at it, I smile. Making memories is so much better than buying souvenirs.

      Honestly, there’s nothing like a road trip, with a little time to see the oddities, glean some history and meet people. It helps to remind that we’re people, too.

      Linda

  33. A captivating recounting of your travels, and a beautiful series of images, Linda. Your post certainly makes me want to travel.

    Very interesting links and great music. I’ve also looked up that art museum’s website, and it would be tempting to go that way just to see it.

    1. Andrew,

      Turn-about’s fair play, as the saying goes. How many times I’ve seen your fantastic photos from this or that place and thought – Oh! I want to travel, too! I’m glad to have evoked the feeling in you.

      I just was processing some photos from the museum tonight. There are a couple of pieces in the collection that are very special to me, and I had no idea they were there.

      Because it’s a new museum, they’ve been building the collection and snatching away purchasing some pieces that have been held elsewhere. I’ve read a story or two about art establishment noses being just slightly out of joint on either coast. After all – Arkansas? Who would go to a museum in Arkansas! Well, me. And a good many other folks. You’ll see!

      Linda

  34. Could that tumbleweed have ever imagined it would end up resting in the quiet comfort of a living room chair? More proof that a little direction and a little effort can produce amazing results. Standing out from the crowd is also a good idea, most of the time.

    I loved this post, Linda. As I mentioned before, I’ve never been to that part of the country. Now I’m feeling the pull.

    1. Charles,

      It’s not just the tumbleweed. When you think about it, most of us have landed in some mighty unusual places, not all of them as comfortable as that chair. What tickles me is the number of people who think I ought to gussie it up for the holidays somehow. Tinsel. Lights. Artificial snow. I can’t imagine doing such a thing. If I were going to do all that, I’d head off to the local Stuff-from-China store and buy a plastic tumbleweed to start with.

      If you and your clan ever decide to head to the American prairies, let me know. I have information. Personally, I’ve been looking at the maps and thinking about how nice it would be to see Winnipeg again. I’ve a friend in Calgary I’d love to see. Houston to Winnipeg to Calgary and home wouldn’t be bad at all.

      I’d even let the tumbleweed ride along.

      Linda

  35. Ah so many treats in this post. Your resident tumbleweed really made me laugh – what better place for it – I wonder what sort of conversation you can expect from it of an evening – maybe you can share your travel stories! I remember being very fascinated by tumbleweed when I was younger and watched a lot of westerns – it all seemed so alien, weird and spooky to us. I’ll be watching that video soon.

    Great photos, I love the one of the painter and the one of the sign in Peculiar. The prairie is amazing, I sooo want to visit. And really looking forward to hearing about your thoughts and observations in more detail.

    I think all my muses might be lying in that cemetery ;) Hopefully they’ll rise again soon!

    Glad you had a good trip.

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      I thought of you as I was exploring some of the ranchlands. Do you have your Stetson yet?

      I picked up a book of historical photographs detailing areas I traveled in the Flint Hills. Two chapters focus on the historic ranches there, and the cowboys/cattlemen. There’s one photo of herefords that made me think of your girls. And I couldn’t help comparing the photos of the large herds on the grasslands with the massive feedlots I saw. Midland Feeders has a capacity of 22,000 head. Sublette Feeders can take up to 42,000 head. I believe it was Midland where I saw a sign that tours were available. The next time, I’m going to plan for that.

      There was more than a muse or two in that cemetery – more on that later. The cemeteries were interesting, as always. So much is implied, but there are some flat mysteries, too, like the trees that weren’t trees in Muse. I’m hoping to find out a bit more about certain things I saw before writing about them (always a good thing, no?)

      Going through the Yellow Pages for Peculiar is a hoot. Would you buy your allergy meds at a Peculiar Pharmacy? What about a vehicle from Peculiar Truck? What about donating to the Peculiar Charitable Foundation? No wonder the folks I came across there were so friendly and good-natured. They’re laughing all the time!

      Linda

  36. Your muse is certainly in no need of the Muse Cemetery nor any other. Wonderful depictions of your sojourns. It gave me a hankering to hit the road myself, which I will, with Lori, in a few weeks, destination New Mexico. If you ever retire I suspect Chase County would suit you just fine.

    1. Tom,

      That move to Chase County probably never will happen, but it’s crossed my mind. My aunt said, “Why would you do that? You wouldn’t know anyone.” I said, “Not on day one, I might not.” Truth be told, I already know some people there better than I know my city neighbors, so that takes care of that argument.

      I’m going to do a post on the role of rocks in the area – not just the Flint in the Hills, but curiosities like Teter, the wonderful stone fences and buildings and some of the lookouts on the Santa Fe Trail. I’m going to have to include more of the fabulous Texas canyonlands, too. I was completely astonished by them. I nearly headed north to Castle Rock, but that will have to wait for another trip.

      By the way – do you know if there’s anything online about the guy who took his lift truck out to Teter, hopped in and took drop-dead photos? I’ve been looking, but haven’t surfaced it yet.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Linda

    1. Claudia,

      It would be theoretically possible to get some young ‘uns going, but I’m not so sure that’s the direction to go. Rather than getting the tumbleweed to settle down, I think I’d prefer pulling up a few of my own roots.

      Maybe that’s why I started cleaning out a closet today – getting ready to travel light!

      Linda

  37. This is an extraordinary post, and makes me extraordinarily homesick for the Midwestern countryside. You are so good at spotting wonderful details like those gates, and that you picked up a ball of tumbleweed along the way and gave it a seat of its own once home is priceless. I must get to the Tall Grass Prairies some day. Must, repeat, must. PS: I think I saw your muse in Poughkeepsie just the other day. . . She was holding a big ol’ ball of tumbleweed . . .

    1. Susan,

      Of course the tumbleweed has its own chair. It’s not one of those things you can shove into a closet or drawer and forget until the impulse toward housecleaning makes its semi-annual appearance. At this point, I’d be inclined to leave it there just for the amusement of Dixie Rose, who wanders over and sits in front of it, watching.

      When I look at it, I hear the prairie wind. Eventually, I might take it back to West Texas and turn it loose. On the other hand, it might have a story to tell. At least one Muse took on tumbleweeds and the result was a wonderful short film in the “fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly” genre.

      I watched the film again this morning and wondered – is it possible that I have Bumbleweed in my chair? Did he chose me to help him on his journey? Has he outsmarted the rest of that tumbling crew? Perhaps so.

      Enjoy the film – it’s so good!

      Linda

  38. I have bookmarked it for a listen! You may be amused to know, speaking of Dixie Rose, that our Nesreen severely restricts my time on YouTube. Unless I put on headphones, so she can’t hear the sound, she goes into high alert mode, and, knowing, in all cases, who the culprit has to be, makes a beeline over to cat #2, Mrs. Dalloway, to make her displeasure known!

    1. Dixie doesn’t mind such things as YouTube – or much else, truth be known. But I was a meanie last week and put on a video which was nothing more than an audio track of songbirds. Oh, my. She prowled this house looking for those birds until I took pity on her and turned them off.

  39. Your images of that museum has intrigued me. I’ve had a hankering to do some architectural photography on a road trip.

    I smiled at the thought of your driving here and yon with the tumbleweed hitching a ride. Certainly a conversation starter!

    Oh, that deck out in the open with the grasses swaying. Makes me want to snuggle down in a coat and sip something hot and focus on the far horizon.

    1. nikkipolani,

      My next post is going to be about my visit to the museum. I’ll be linking to the architect’s site, which has some fabulous photos – of course. I didn’t take the time or have the equipment for images that capture the whole of the place, but I have a few smaller images that at least for me show some of the aspects of it that appealed most deeply.

      The more I explored the full range of tumbleweed activity, the more astonished I became. I found a video that showed a house in Midland, TX, buried on one side, up to and over the roof. The plants acted just like snow in a blizzard. The poor home owner, new to the area, had taken down a fence. Bad move. ;)

      You certainly would love Matfield Station. There aren’t many roses about, but I hear in the spring it’s beyond belief when the wildflowers come in. I’m going to work very, very hard to try and save up enough for another trip!

      Linda

  40. Ohmygoodness.

    First, posts like this make me ache for the open road. If only my little Elliot liked his carseat a bit more, we’d take off for just about every place you mention.

    Second, why didn’t this post show up in my RSS feed, I wonder?! Will be checking that out and fixing it pronto.

    Third, and more generally, this is beautiful, nuanced, Linda-esque storytelling, all things I look forward to every time you post something new. I laughed out loud at the “tumbleweed turned to dust” detail. If I can’t travel now, I’m glad you can and are, because oh how generously you are in taking us along for the ride.

    Best!

    1. Emily,

      I have a feeling Elliot would have liked the trains that passed by Matfield Station, and the grasshoppers. He’ll soon be ready.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my little travelogue. We’ve all experienced in real life how stultifying “and then I went here, and then I saw that…” can be, even if it’s accompanied by photos. And the temptation to share everything can make it almost impossible for something memorable to “stick” with the reader.

      So – storytelling’s the answer, however it’s done. The fact that you recognized this as story makes me happy. And there’s no exaggeration about that tumbleweed turning to dust. That’s exactly what it did. It really was quite amazing.

      The next chapter’s Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. Elliot will love places like that when he’s just a bit older! I’ll be posting today, so you can check your reader to be sure it’s functional.

      Linda

  41. Wow– I feel like I’m missing out on enjoying these sorts of sites. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a true tumbleweed… I imagine I would probably try to run it down and stick it in my car as well :)

    Also: Pluto should totally still be a planet. That’s the saddest thing that’s ever happened ;)

    1. Aussa Lorens,

      There are a lot of wonderful things in the world – and I love the curiosities, like tumbleweeds. Of course, for some people they’re like crab grass or dandelions or the neighbor’s dog – just annoyances. But for someone who rarely sees on, they’re flat collectible!

      And I’m with you on Pluto. I suppose the scientists have their reasons, but honestly – I went to quite a bit of trouble to find just the right-sized marble for Pluto when I was constructing my grade school solar system!

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the pleasure of your comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  42. I’m late to this party, I guess. A delightful travelogue of places I’d love to visit.

    The revitalizing of the prairie grasses must be wonderful to behold. I recently saw Ken Burns, The Dust Bowl, which was marvelous and heartbreaking on so many levels. I was not educated as to how it all evolved and why.

    The tumbleweed in the living room? Is that because you live in Houston and there are no tumbleweeds? I understand seed pods, feathers, and cotton bolls, but tumbleweeds? We have them growing on the bottom half of our lot, but we mow them down before they grow up.
    However, your recounting of capturing the tumbleweed brought up an old memory of my beloved neighbor Nelda spray painting different size tumbleweeds white and making snowmen. She’d put them on a stick with a platform, much like the Christmas tree platforms, I guess…and give them nose and eyes and mouth.

    1. Martha,

      Oh, you know there’s no “late” around this joint, especially when it comes to prairies and rocks and such. They’re not particularly time-sensitive!

      There truly was great excitement around the parts of Kansas where I was traveling last month. The rains had come at just the right time to give a last growth spurt to the grasses, and they were wonderful to behold. Drought has been as much a problem there as it was in Texas and Oklahoma (and other places, too) and it still is lurking. Everyone is hoping for good rain and snow through the winter to help replenish things even more.

      As for the tumbleweed in the living room… You’re right that we have nothing like that here on the coastal plain. It’s been years since I’ve seen one. So, once I had it, I didn’t really want to let it go. That explains the back seat of the car. And by the time I got home, I’d grown rather fond of it, so I didn’t want to toss it out. But now? I don’t quite know what the next move should be, so it can sit in its chair until I figure it out.

      The only thing I’m sure of is that it isn’t going to get tinseled up or spray painted. A snowman’s clever, but I’m two tumbleweeds short!

      We are edging toward the holiday season, aren’t we? I’m rather looking forward to it – maybe this will be the year I get my Christmas cards out on time. ;)

      Linda

  43. Tumbleweeds.. Can you imagine, Linda, that I have never seen any ? In movies probably but I never realized what they were really.

    What a beautiful trip you made ! I simply loved reading you, I imagined traveling along those roads, looking at so many various landscapes, meeting people, visiting places. I loved the pictures too, the antelopes made me think of African areas. Thank you for this wonderful treat : great writing, pictures, vidéos, music.

    1. Isa,

      Of course I’ve rarely seen tumbleweeds, either. That’s why I brought one home with me! They do live in Texas, but Texas is a big place, and I don’t usually travel to “tumbleweed country”. I think I’ve found a place for mine to live permanently, up and away from the dangers of daily life. There’s a very high corner cabinet in the bathroom that I think is large enough to hold it. Figuring that out will be a project for this weekend.

      I never saw the great plains of Africa, or the herds of animals. I can see how the antelope would make you think of them, though. And my, they were beautiful. I saw them early in the morning, with the sun golden on them, I could have stayed there for hours, just looking.

      It was a wonderful trip, very healing in some ways.The midwest is where my roots are, and while it’s changed radically in some ways, in other ways it hasn’t changed at all. Oh, there’s technology now, and different farming techniques, and some flight to the cities. But people are coming back now for the same things that always have made it appealing: civility, friendship, a willingness to work together, a sense of history. It’s a fine place.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And you just have to see the links to the artist Nick Cave in my current post about the museum. His “thing” is combining textiles, dance and fashion! I hadn’t heard about him until this trip, even though he’s been active for years. But his work is marvelous.

      Linda

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