Monday, June 28, 2010

Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska

At the far western edge of Nebraska's Sand Hills is the town of Alliance.  The Sand Hills end very abruptly here and Alliance's only (to my knowledge) claim to fame is as the home of Carhenge.

Carhenge is a replica of England's Stonehenge. Carhenge is formed from vintage American cars all covered with gray spray paint. There are 38 cars arranged in a circle measuring about 95' in diameter. Some are held upright in pits and other form arches by the cars having been welded atop the supporting models. Carhenge replicates Stonegenge's current tumble-down state.

We can scratch this one off of our bucket list.

The Sand Hills of Nebraska

Heading west out of Omaha we could have driven the 450 miles of I-80 to get to the western edge of Nebraska. However, since we had driven that boring route before, when we got to Grand Island we decided to detour and take Hwy 2 through the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

We had no idea what to expect of the Sand Hills. We found that they sure don't look anything like what we expected to see in Nebraska.

About a quarter of Nebraska is covered by the Sand Hills, so called because the hills are entirely made of - now let's not always see the same hands - sand. The Sand Hills are Pleistocene sand dunes derived from glacial outwash eroded from the Rockies, and now (mostly) stabilized by vegetation.

Dunes in the Sand Hills may exceed 330' in height. The average elevation of the Sand Hills region gradually increases from about 1,800' in the east to about 3,600'in the west.

As much as 85% of the Sand Hills region is intact natural habitat, the highest level in the Great Plains. This is chiefly due to the lack of crop production: most of the Sand Hills land has never been plowed. The plant-anchored dunes of the Sand Hills were long considered an irreclaimable desert. In the 1870s, cattlemen began to discover their potential as rangeland for longhorn cattle

The fragility of the sandy soil makes the area unsuitable for cultivation of crops. Unsuccessful attempts at farming were made in the Sand Hills region in the late 1870s and again around 1890.

Today, the Sand Hills are a productive cattle ranching area, supporting over 530,000 beef cattle. The population of the region continues to decline as older generations die out and as younger generations move to the cities.

As the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States, the Sand Hills contain a large array of plant and animal life. Minimal crop production has led to limited land fragmentation; the resulting extensive and continuous habitat for plant and animal species has largely preserved the biodiversity of the area.

The Sand Hills are home to 314 animal species including mule deer, coyotes, red fox, meadowlarks, wild turkeys, native bat species and many fish species.

720 different species of plants are found in the Sand Hills. Of these, the majority are native, with only 7% exotics — half the percentage of most other prairie systems

Many of the plants of the Sand Hills are sand-tolerant species from short-grass, mixed-grass and tallgrass prairies; plants from all three of these can be found within the Sand Hills ecosystem. These plants have helped to stabilize the sand dunes, creating an ecosystem beneficial for other plants and animals. Better land management and grazing practices by the ranchers of the Sand Hills have led to less erosion over time, which has kept the natural landscape of the Sand Hills mostly intact.

The Sand Hills are part of the central flyway for many species of migratory birds, and the region's many bodies of water give them places to rest. The ponds and lakes of the region are lay-over points for migratory cranes, geese, and many species of ducks.

Most of the Sand Hills receives less than 20 inches of rain annually leading to the classification of the area as a semi-arid region. Plant and animal species of the Sand Hills region have adapted to the area's climatic extremes, which include 100°F summer days and -30°F winters.

If you like long trains, Nebraska Route 2 is a place to see them. They are carrying coal from Wyoming, and 140 cars is not unusual.

Thanks to Wikipedia for much of the foregoing information.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

College World Series - Omaha, Nebraska

Made a beeline from Pennsylvania to Omaha, Nebraska to watch Florida State play in the College World Series. Camping is scarce around there but we are very lucky and about 12 miles from the stadium is Offutt Air Force Base and they have a nice campground situated on a lake that we were able to get in to.

The Men's College World Series has been played in Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha for 60 years and this was the last year for that venue. A new stadium is being built for next year and much was made by the media about it being the last year for Rosenblatt. The Florida State Seminoles have managed to be one of the 8 teams in the World Series for 20 of those 60 years. Being the 20th year for the 'Noles and the last for Rosenblatt we were hoping that maybe, just maybe, they could finally win the big one and come home as the Champions.

The Seminoles did not get off to a good start and lost to the TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday in the first game of the series. Into the losers bracket – a place where the 'Noles feel at home. Through much really bad weather (until you have seen a lightening storm out on the plains, you have not seen a storm) and mediocre baseball played by other teams we waited.

Finally it was Monday and our opponent in the losers bracket was none other than our in-state rival and most hated foe – the University of Florida Gators. As hard as the Seminoles tried to give the game away, they managed to vanquish the Gators and send them packing back to Florida. After that win – it did not really matter what happened – we beat the #2 ranked Gators at the World Series. How sweet was that?

More waiting around and more bad weather. The Missouri River which runs between Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa was really on the rise by now.

While waiting around we went to the Strategic Air Command Museum that is about 30 miles from Omaha. We were not too impressed. SAC has one heck of a history and story to tell but the museum was just a bunch of static display aircraft. Should have gone to the Zoo.

Wednesday – and by now TCU has also fallen into the losers bracket and FSU has to play them again. We had spent the last few days laughing at the “Fear the Frogs” t-shirts. Seriously, who the hell is TCU in the baseball world and why would anyone fear a frog? We were about to find out – for the second time. FSU looked good early and by the 5th inning had a 7-2 lead, 7-3 in the 7th. We really did not have our hopes up – we have seen the 'Noles melt down too often. Then came the 8th inning –the 8 run 8th inning - an inning that will live in infamy (apologies to FDR). I can't talk about it – probably the biggest comeback in World Series history. FSU lost 11-7. How the hell do you give up a 2 out grand slam? And then another hit and another home run to make matters worse? Oh well –

All in all we had a great time and are glad we went. And no matter what – The SEMINOLES beat the gators at the World Series and we were there!! And – most importantly - Monte and Shelley were on ESPN close to the bottom of the 5th inning of the Wednesday game with TCU.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Family Celebration

Monte's Mom, Sara, was born on June 15, 1915. To celebrate her 95th birthday we had a little family get together on Saturday, June 12.

Sara lives by herself in a 2 story house that she has lived in for the past 67 years. Her eyesight and hearing have failed some but other than that she is a totally amazing picture of good health.

Sara had stated emphatically that she did not want any party so we kept it very low key with just a surprise Saturday afternoon drop in with cake and ice cream. I lost count of how many people “dropped in” but many grand kids, a few of the great grands, nieces, nephews, and friends of many decades just kept rolling in. Her daughters, Kass from Florida and Nancy from South Carolina were both here. Her sons Jim and Gary with wife Linda both still live in the local area and of course attended. Gary and Linda were instrumental in purchasing everything for the party and bringing over tables/chairs/canopy etc etc. The party would not have happened without them.

The weather was perfect, the company was outstanding, and a good time was had by all but most importantly, Sara had a good time and said it was just right.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Valley Forge, PA

While visiting with Monte's family in Pennsylvania we took a day trip to Valley Forge National Park. If you will remember from an earlier blog post, I mentioned that during the mid 1750's George Washington commanded British troops during the French and Indian War. By 1775 he had become a “turncoat” (in this instance - better known as a Patriot) and was now the Commander In Chief of the Continental Army.

Monte and I, like most of us, had bought into the story of Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78 as being occupied by an anonymous group of soldiers struggling against winter’s fury and clothed in nothing but rags. The reason many Americans picture Valley Forge as the pinnacle of misery is that this early and romanticized version of the encampment story became an important parable to teach us about American perseverance.

In 1777 the British had captured and occupied Philadelphia the patriot capital. To oppose them, General George Washington marched his 12,000-man army from New Jersey and by mid-December he had decided to encamp at Valley Forge where he could keep a close eye on the British.

Eyewitness accounts speak of a skilled and capable force in charge of its own destiny. Rather than wait for deliverance, the army located supplies, built log cabins to stay in, constructed makeshift clothing and gear, and cooked subsistence meals of their own concoction. Provisions, though never abundant in the early months of the encampment, were available.

Shortages of clothing did cause severe hardship for a number of men, but many soldiers had a full uniform, and the well-equipped units patrolled, foraged, and defended the camp. The sound that would have reached your ears on approaching the camp was not that of a forlorn howling wind, but rather that of hammers, axes, saws, and shovels at work.

Under the direction of military engineers, in one month the men built a city of 2,000-odd huts laid out in parallel lines along planned military avenues. The troops also constructed miles of trenches, five earthen forts (redoubts), and a state-of-the-art bridge over the Schuylkill River.

Disease, not cold or starvation was the true scourge of the camp. Army records show that two-thirds of the nearly 2,000 men who perished at Valley Forge died during the warmer months of March, April, and May, when supplies were more abundant. The most common killers were influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery. Dedicated surgeons, capable nurses, a smallpox inoculation program, and camp sanitation regulations limited the death tolls.

Perhaps, the most important outcome of the encampment was the army’s maturation into a more professional force. The Continental Army was primed and ready to move on to the next level just as a charismatic former Prussian army officer, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben, arrived in camp in February 1778.

Von Steuben’s hands-on training program helped the army become a more proficient marching machine. The Baron inspired a “relish for the trade of soldiering” that gave the troops a new sense of purpose and helped sustain them through many trials as they stuck to the task of securing independence.

On May 6, 1778, the army joyously celebrated France’s alliance with and formal recognition of the United States as a sovereign power. The expected arrival of the French greatly altered British war plans and triggered their evacuation of Philadelphia in June.

Washington rapidly set troops in motion to bring on a general engagement with the enemy. On June 28, at the Battle of Monmouth, N.J., Washington’s men demonstrated their improved battle prowess when they forced the British from the field.

By summer Washington could claim that the war effort was going well. Valley Forge was not the darkest hour of the Revolutionary War; it is a place where an already accomplished group of professionals stood their ground, honed their craft, and thwarted one of the major British offensives of the war. A long, hard 5 years of fighting lay ahead before the British would admit defeat and sign The Treaty of Paris.

A Backsplash for Linda

Although I have not been blogging, I have not been totally idle during the past 10 or so days. We are in Pennsylvania visiting with Monte's family. Among our other pursuits (mainly eating and gambling) while here, one thing I accomplished was installing a ceramic tile kitchen backsplash for my sister-in-law Linda.

Linda claims to like it – and that is the only opinion that matters.