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We're not in Kansas anymore

Last weekend Jon played the piano and acted in a performance of the Snow Queen at a conference of the Music Teachers Association in Kansas. Since they needed a prop car to get all the stuff from Ann Arbor to Kansas, and since we are a family that loves to travel by road, we drove there and back. The border of Kansas, by the way, is upwards of thirteen hours from Ann Arbor. We broke the drive down into two days of six to seven hours of driving each and broke each of those days into two blocks of driving separated by site seeing and a picnic lunch. In so doing we were able to take in the sites of four zoos, four national parks, and the Ansheiser Busch Clydesdale Stables all in one trip, not to mention Jon's show, a dinner with some music teachers, lots of weather, lots of construction, and a very exciting (and loud) fire alarm in the middle of the night. We had a great time, Calvin is really a great traveller, and we already can't wait for our next road trip adventure. Perhaps we ought to look into an AirStream.

Day 1, Zoo 1, the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana

Cool tiger.

Sweet tortoise.

Day 1, Zoo 2, Scovill Zoo in Decatur, Illinois

The tufted deer really liked Calvin. We really liked the tufted deer's teeth.

We road every train at every zoo on this trip, by the way, which might make up for the fact that we almost never ride the train at our own zoo. Or, more likely, it will just make him ask for that privilege more often.

Yeah, the goats may looks sleepy, but that brown goat got up right after this picture and tried FOUR TIMES to eat my skirt while I was busy taking pictures. Bad goat! Bad goat!

Day 2, potty stop 1 (and the only one you'll hear about), Griggsville, Illinois

On road trips we refuse to stop at cookie cutter locations for bathrooms or food. Instead we look for rest areas or use the bathrooms of the places we stop in for entertainment or food (again, never cookie cutter—we get enough of that at home). On day 2, after getting an early start with plenty of coffee, we were in the middle of nowhere looking for a quick stop between destinations when we saw a sign for a Visitor's Center in Griggsville. Getting off the highway it was immediately apparent that said Visitor's Center was not an easy on easy off kind of thing and we ended up driving about five miles further into nowhere before finding the small (don't blink, you'll miss it) town of Griggsville with a poll of bird houses worthy of someone's envy.

The Visitor's Center was hilarious—a tiny brick building as old as the town was small, with two old ladies sitting behind ancient machines (one computer, one typewriter). We perused their visitor's guides and listened to those two old biddies tease and flirt with a young guy who must have been employed by the town for general maintenance of their one street. Before we left we signed their visitor's book and asked some questions. Apparently the town used to make TV antennas that are now obsolete and when the factory(?) was no longer needed for that (some forty years ago) a man converted it for building Purple Martin Bird houses. They no longer make those, either, because that man died a few years back, but they are still Purple Martin Capital of the Nation, and when I asked the women what they did do in the town there was some general confusion. I guess it is probably now mainly a farming town. Only the human population was dwindling, though—we saw plenty of Purple Martins while we were there.

Day 2, National Park 1, Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, Independence, Missouri

In Independence we visited the ranger station in town and took a walking street tour of the residential area which included Truman's boyhood home and also his adult home where he lived with his wife, Bess (who also grew up in Independence and whose childhood home we also saw). They had nice signs.

Day 2, National Park 2, Harry S. Truman Farm Home, Grandview, Missouri

I actually liked this better than the the park in town. Although the farm home is boxed in on all sides by modern cookie cutter conveniences, the home has been well preserved and still has some of the original furniture in it. While waiting for the walking tour to start (which included ourselves only as participants) we had a really nice time talking to the park rangers, a man maybe a few years my senior. He'd actually grown up in Royal Oak and had worked at Isle Royal as well as in Sequoia in California before going to the farm home. He is what they call a lifer, or a permanent ranger, of which there are only about 250 to cover the 300 parks, so they tend to move around at times, taking new positions when old ones end. His chatter before the tour was very candid and informative about the park system and way of life, while his tour of the house was clearly rehearsed, but still informative.

The second ranger we talked to was an elderly woman who had taken part in the various organizations aimed at saving the farm home over the years and, in the early 90s, was part of the group that traveled to DC to again request that the home become a national park. On their second try, during Clinton's second term in office, the request was granted. Now she is a local ranger at the house. From her we learned all kinds of interesting, unrehearsed things abut the home itself, the history of the area, and Truman as well. Sometimes it's the people as much as the place that make site seeing interesting.

Day 3, zoo 3, Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, Missouri

While Jon was busy with rehearsing and hob nobbing in Olathe, Kansas, Calvin and I decided to scoot back over to Missouri and visit the Kansas City Zoo. the weather that day called for scattered storms but things looked alright when we left. Much to our chagrin we found a scattered storm on our way that nearly stranded us at a flooded zoo with no power. When they say storm there, they mean it. The picture below, by the way, is after the rain greatly let up, the storm had passed, and we had made a dash to the zoo from the somewhat deep parking lot, only to find out that they were without power.

We ended up having a great time anyhow. We waited for about an additional hour for the rains to let up and in the mean while the zoo staff handed out ponchos, bottles of water, and packets of animal crackers to the patiently waiting visitors. Apparently we were the only people from out of state (who, I ask, would wait around that long if they were from within the state and could just come back?) and we ended up being interviewed for and aired on the local evening news. We saw the zoo in a light drizzle while caring zoo employees drove around on golf carts offering to give patrons rides to farther exhibits. Plus we scored some neat ponchos, and a chance to see the New Guinea singing dogs, a species I'd never seen before, believe it or not. The only heartbreak was that Africa ended up being flooded and we didn't get to see the bat eared fox. Well, that and the train wasn't working since the power was out.

Day 4, Budweiser Clydesdales, a.k.a. Grant's Farm, St. Louis, Missouri

And Grant's Farm is more than just the Clydesdale stables, it's also a mini zoo of sorts. I'll never understand, though, why this wasn't a Clydesdale carousel.

I can't imagine every looking this bored if my job was to play hose with an elephant.

Free beer (two nicely sized cups of it each, in fact) and some yummy brats were a good addition to the day. Too bad I wouldn't call it real beer, but it was still fun and refreshing.

And the elephants weren't the only ones with splash time...

Day 4, National Park 3, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri

Grant's Farm, surprise surprise, is actually on the land that once made up the home and farm of Ulysses S. Grant, so the trip from the farm to the historic site was walkable. Strangely enough, Grant's actual farm was once known as White Haven. This is strange only if you note the color of the actual house.

The tour of this house was just as informative as the one of Truman's farm home, though the house was actually completely bare because they weren't able to procure the original furniture.

And, as was our luck on this trip, we met with quite the storm on our journey from the outskirts to the center of St. Louis. Lightning, thunder, driving wind and rains. Patience is a virtue, though, and it blew over in plenty of time for us to enjoy...

Day 4, national park 4, The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, or the St. Louis Arch and Museum of Westward Expansion, St. Louis, Missouri

We were prepared to enjoy the arch from the ground, convinced that an experience of that height might be traumatic for Calvin, but once he noticed the windows at the top of the arch he insisted on going up, so we did. The ride up is not for the claustrophobic, but in general is a non-entity, and the view from the top is not overwhelming in its height, because the windows are small and the structure itself is engulfing. Calvin loved it.

We finished the day exhausted; this was certainly the most fully packed day we'd planned yet, but we figured that since we were on our way home being tired wasn't of too great a concern (as opposed to needing good behavior for the conference in Kansas) and there were so many great things we wanted to see. We decided, though, to go easy on ourselves and stop at a hotel (in I don't know what town) an hour earlier than our original plan. Little did we know that the hotel we chose would have a fire alarm sounded only minutes after Calvin was settled into bed and on his way to dream land, sending outside into the night and keeping us from enjoying that extra hour of rest. Hind sight is clearly 20/20. Oh well, only one day of driving and site seeing is left.

Day 5, zoo 4, Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Little sleep or not, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo was quite an adventure, and we left absolutely no experience unturned. The sky tram, the log ride, the endangered species carousel, and the train...we tried it all. There was also ice cream, a wading fountain, and lots and lots of fun animals. This is one of the top zoos in the country and we can see why (even if nothing, and we mean nothing, beats the San Diego Wild Animal Park for wild creature experiences).

That would be Calvin riding a Manatee and Jon riding a Sun Bear on the endangered species carousel.

It's a gnu romance burgeoning at the watering hole.

He was soaked.  Good thing we had a suitcase of clothing in the car.

We thought he'd sleep in the car for the remaining leg of the trip, but no such luck. For our own amusement, and so that I wouldnt' have to fix dinner when we got home with nothing in the cupboards, we stopped in Marshall to enjoy the fine dining at Schuller's Inn and got home in time to fall into bed at a reasonable hour. Phew.

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