The U.S. road network is less than one hundred years old.

Arizona’s Enchanted Mesa was still far from the highway in 1964.

Click on photos to enlarge.

We strongly advocate driving across the U.S. sometime.  So much is missed travelling only by plane.  But imagine if there were no paved roads.

The modern American road system is less than one hundred years old.

Romans paved roads to support military conquests and run their empire.  Americans walked on brick-paved streets in Colonial times.  But in 1900 America was huge, still overwhelmingly rural and paved roads were a rarity.

Modern highways are taken for granted.

American Road: The story of an epic transcontinental journey at the dawn of the motor age by Pete Davis describes that era’s roads.  Published in 2002, it is not particularly gripping.  But it is filled with interesting facts and tidbits, especially for those who have driven across the country.

On July 9, 1919, the First Continental Motor Train, an Army expedition that included cars, trucks, motorcycles, ambulances, mobile kitchens, machine shops and wreckers, set out from Washington, D.C. for San Francisco, California.  There were nearly 300 men in 81 vehicles. Future President Dwight Eisenhower was among the officers.  The trip took two months and averaged five miles an hour.  There were times when some doubted they could do it.

Alaska’s gravel Dalton Highway goes 240 miles from Coldfoot to Deadhorse with no services.

The first production automobile was made in 1886.  Between 1904 and 1908, there were 241 U.S, producers selling cars, mostly made in small shops.  Henry Ford created the Model T in 1908, and that same year Durant founded General Motors.  By 1913, 485,000 automobiles were produced. Americans owned six and a half million vehicles in 1919.

But only the most adventurous could cross a state in a car let alone cross the nation.  Motor vehicles were common in towns, but the roads connecting those towns were mostly dirt.

Off the paved highway in Colorado.

When Alie and I drive “dirt roads,” we usually mean gravel roads that have been graded at some point.  As late as 1919, most roads outside major cities were just dirt, trampled down by passing generations of feet, horses and wagons.  As late as 1907, there was not a single mile of paved road in rural America.  In 1908, there were no road maps, no road signs, and in some places, especially west of the Mississippi River, no roads, just trails.

The Grand Canyon was long a barrier to western travel: Marble Canyon Bridge over the Colorado River.

The Lincoln Highway Association was formed in 1913 to support the construction of a transcontinental road — or more accurately, a transcontinental route over a collection of roads.  Automobile and tire companies wanting a place for customers to drive were among the major proponents. Cement producers also saw a market.

But in 1919, the Lincoln Highway was still a conglomeration of routes from city to city leading from New York to San Francisco.

One can still encounter unusual traffic crossing the U.S.

On the first day, the 1919 expedition went about 50 miles to Frederick Maryland.  On the second day, they discovered covered bridges were too low for the trucks.  During the next two months, they often discovered bridges were not strong enough and had to be rebuilt.

Progressive Pennsylvania had paved a steep and dangerous road through the mountains.  West of Pittsburgh, however, the roads were again unpaved, rutted and full of potholes.

One can clock traffic speeds over Nebraska’s I-80 where Eisenhower once struggled over dirt tracks.

Ohio also had a paved road, mostly brick, 13-foot wide.  You can still see part of it near Canton.

In Indiana, local private entrepreneurs sponsored one-mile long “seedling” roads hoping to encourage governments to follow through.  But most of the road was so dusty it clogged carburetors.

The road deteriorated as the expedition moved west.  Iowa farmers didn’t see the need to spend money on roads.  When the drivers weren’t blinded by dust, they bogged down in mud.  Where Interstate 80 now runs through Nebraska, the road was little more than a wagon trail.  Trucks bogged down in soft soil and sand.  In Wyoming, they literally followed the path of settlers’ wagon trains.  Bridges collapsed, their wood weakened in the dry air.

The “loneliest road” goes over Utah’s salt flats.

On our first trip across the “loneliest road” through Utah and Nevada, we made sure we had enough gasoline because there were few towns.  We were interested when we saw another car on the road. Trucks and cars driving  across those same salt flats in 1919 frequently broke through the crust into the silt below.  They couldn’t even be pulled out; they had to be dug out by hand and moved over a makeshift base of planks and sagebrush.

By comparison, California did have relatively good roads.  The first speeder was arrested in California in 1919.  Having spotted him but unable to catch him, a policeman chased him down in an airplane, landed on the road, and arrested the motorist who stopped thinking the pilot had trouble.  The driver was doing sixty miles an hour.

North Carolina’s “Road to Nowhere” was a government plan gone bad.

P.S.  Despite have driven across the U.S. a number of times, I found remarkably few pictures of roads in my files — “familiarity breeds indifference.”

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Memories of Hawaii

We visited Pearl Harbor December 7, 1970.

We have wonderful memories of Hawaii.

We first visited O’ahu in 1970.  I was a soldier in Vietnam.   It was late in an unpopular war.  Unlike today, many people did not “respect” soldiers.  Some even insulted those who chose not to let someone else go in their place.  And there were those who make life hard for their spouses at home.

But it wasn’t that way in Hawaii.  We were on R & R, rest and relaxation.  It was the first we had seen each other in eight months.  I was dressed as a civilian, and our goal was just to enjoy the place and each other.

Waikiki

How could you not enjoy such beautiful islands, beautiful beaches, beautiful hills and water.

But what we really remember was the people.  Time after time, shop keepers would ask if we were on R & R.  I suppose it was obvious: I had a military haircut and we walked everywhere hand-in-hand, probably about six inches above the ground.

“Don’t you want your discount?”  I never asked for a discount.  It was always volunteered.

On the last night, we ate in the venerable Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s dining room overlooking Waikiki Beach.  I was a soldier; Alie was a secretary.  We did not have much money.  But we wanted this final meal to be memorable and tried not to look at the prices.  After a while, the maître ‘ came by and asked if we were on R & R.  I happily thought we would get the discount here too.  We finally called for the check.  “It has been paid for by the couple across the room,” said the waiter.

In 1990, we went to Kauai for a vacation.  We stayed at the Coco Palms Resort, the hotel where parts of the movie South Pacific were filmed.

The Coco Palms had giant clam shell sinks.

Again, we enjoyed picnic lunches on volcanic beaches.  We bought fresh ripe pineapple, cut it up and ate it, dripping juice down our chins.

We drove into the mountains and gazed down on sharp canyons.  We walked to idyllic waterfalls.

The scenery stayed in our memories.  But once again, a few people made it a once in a life-time experience.

We were joined on our vacation by old friends Neville and Linda.  Neville was dying from stage four lung cancer.  Meals had to be on a rigid schedule, not our normal preference.  But what made it particularly difficult was Neville was understandably depressed.  It is hard to be joyous when someone you like is so unhappy.

Coco Palms postcard

When Neville and Linda checked in, they were told The Kingston Trio, a major folk group from our teenage years, would be performing a couple nights later.  They bought us the first four tickets.

On the night of the performance, we were early and in the first row.  Alie wondered if we could get an autograph for her friend Stephanie back home.  I went back to our room to get a pen and paper.

Walking back from the room, I noticed the Trio alone at a bar.  I went in and asked for an autograph which was graciously granted.  Then I apologized: “tonight you are going to be a quartet.  My wife knows all your songs and will sing along.”

Neville & Linda

About half way through the performance,  Bob Shane leaned forward, pointed at Alie and said, “she knows more of the songs than we do!”

As we were at the front of the room, we were the last to leave.  Once again, the Trio was in the bar, so the four of us went in to join them.  Alie again sang with The Kingston Trio.  Nick Reynolds, who with Shane was one of the original group, let Neville play his banjo.  We didn’t even know Neville had been a skilled banjo player in Australia.

From that night on, we all were on a high.  Neville was no longer depressed.  Life was still worth living, even if there wasn’t much time left.

Fortunately, I ran into Reynolds again and was able to tell him what a difference he had made.

The Coco Palms was destroyed by a hurricane and Shane, the only original trio member alive, is now retired.  But we have wonderful memories of Hawaii.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Swamp Buggy Races, Naples, Florida

A swamp buggy in Moorhaven, Florida.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Collier County, Florida has the highest per capital income in the state.  The 2017 Forbes billionaires list includes five people from Naples.  Forbes doesn’t list the top redneck events  but if they were to do so, Naples would make that list too.  Naples is home to the nation’s swamp buggy races.

Non-U.S. readers might not be familiar with the term “redneck.”   It is a derogatory term for a rural white man whose neck is burned red toiling in the sun.  Over the years, it came to be  an adopted term of pride by blue collar workers, especially in the rural South, driving pickup trucks, listening to country music and proud of their independence.

The Swamp Buggy Races are put on by an all volunteer organization.  They started in 1948 when a much smaller Naples community [Everglade was still the county seat.] had a picnic with contests like a tug-of-war.  Locals used swamp buggies, vehicles with huge wheels, to go out into the swamp to hunt.  When there are men and motorized vehicles, there will be races.  In those days, prizes included rifles, guns, sleeping bags and other camping supplies.

Today the not-for-profit corporation that runs the races contributes thousands of dollars to local causes.  It owns the Florida Sports Park which has stands, food vendors, and the “mile of mud,” a figure-8 shaped flooded racetrack.

The vehicles race in six classes: 4-cylinder; air-cooled; Jeeps; Pro-modified; 6 cylinder; and V8 Sportsmen.

They no longer race the top-heavy traditional swamp buggy.  These vehicles are designed for speed.  But they still race Jeeps. The winning Jeep in the race I watched took a hair over three minutes and six seconds to complete the two laps.  The winning Pro-Modified vehicle took 53.2 seconds.

There was plenty of barbeque and beer [Budweiser is a sponsor.] at the food concessions behind the stands.  On my way back from having a snack, I met the Swamp Buggy Queen, Erica Marie Flesher, an amazing young woman.

Queen Erica Flesher

Ms. Flesher is a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University [NCAA basketball fans might know FGCU as “dunk city.”].  She plays the bass clarinet and was invited to play at Carnegie Hall in 2014.  She enjoys mountain hiking and hiked Pike’s Peak and the Appalachian Trail at age 16.  During the summers of 2011-2015, she went on mission trips with her United Church of Christ church.  During the summer of 2016, she studied in Greece.

Vehicles compete in three races for the “Bud Cup.”  It used to be the three races were held during one winter season: November, January and March.  Ironically, last November’s race was flooded out by heavy rain.  Presumably it was the spectators not the racers who could not get to the track.  So now they are running all three races in the same year.  There was a race in January.  I attended the race in March.  The final race will be in November.

It is a volunteer organization, so their website might not be up-to-date, but you can find more information on Facebook and at https://swampbuggy.com/.

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The “cave” under the Lincoln Memorial: Washington, D.C.

Beneath the Lincoln Memorial 6 Sep 94

There is a “cavern” under the Lincoln Memorial.  It once had stalactites; it may still have them.

The Lincoln Memorial means so much.

For American history buffs, Lincoln was truly a giant among men, perhaps the only man who could have held the Union together through the Civil War.

More stalactites beneath the Lincoln Memorial 6 Sep 94

For others, it represents civil rights not civil war.  Marion Anderson sang there on Easter Sunday 1939 after being denied access to the Daughters of The American Revolution’s Constitution Hall.  Martin Luther King delivered his 1963 I have a dream speech from the Memorial’s steps.

Like almost any government project, the memorial was controversial and took longer to construct than expected.

Squabbles over design lasted from the 1860s until 1914.  One major concern was the swampy land where it was to be located.   The land was reputed to be a dumping ground for murder victims and not suitable for such a distinguished monument.

Early 1900s graffiti beneath the Lincoln Memorial

Most of the memorial was up by 1917, but World War I got in the way, and it wasn’t completed until 1922.

Marble and limestone (this is important to our story) from Alabama, Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee were used for the upper portion.  Massachusetts granite was used in the terrace walls and steps.

For Alie and me, it is all of the above and more.  It is a place of nostalgia and one unusual tourist adventure.

Two students on tight budgets in the 1960s would meet, one working late into the night in the “attic” of the Cannon House Office building, the other researching at the Library of Congress.  There were few places open late in the evening, even for a cup of coffee.  But we could visit the Lincoln Memorial 24 hours a day.  Security back then meant an occasional park policeman wandered by.  We sat between the columns, feet dangling over the side, looking at the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument and the National Mall.  Once, a full moon rose over the Capitol Building.

Our stalactite from beneath the Lincoln Memorial — yes it is upside down.

Fast forward to 1994.  The superintendent of a construction project at our condominium building was also the superintendent of a project to restore and strengthen the foundation of the Lincoln Memorial.  He invited us visit.  We did.

Entering through a metal door at the back of a bathroom [now remodeled out of existence], we found ourselves in a huge cavern.  Far above us was the floor where tourists trod looking at Lincoln’s statute.  We went down steps to the cavern floor below ground level.  The walls of the cavern on three sides were the Memorial’s foundation.  On the fourth side, the ceiling extended out ever-lower beneath the steps toward the Reflecting Pool.

Early 1900s construction workers put still-visible graffiti on support columns and walls.

Over decades, water seeped through fine cracks in the limestone.  Just as in a natural cave, the seeping water formed stalactites hanging from the ceiling.  We were permitted to take one.  We still have it.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Sculptor Daniel Chester French gave Lincoln an exceptionally interesting and pensive expression.  When you visit, walk to the far right and look at him.  Then walk to the far left and look at him.  From one side, he has a small smile; from the other, he has a small frown.

P.P.S.  As I wrote in another post, familiarity breeds indifference. In tens of thousands of my photos, I could not find one of the Lincoln Memorial.

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Why would you write about a pottery store? Punta Gorda, Florida

Some retail outlets are so unusual and successful they become tourist attractions.  Wall Drug in South Dakota comes immediately to mind.  But one is much closer to us: Pottery Express and Bamboo Farm in Punta Gorda, Florida.  As the name says, they sell pottery and bamboo, but you have to see it to believe it.

It is actually about ten and a half miles south of downtown Punta Gorda because it started out as a farm.  On a recent visit to find an herb container for our lanai, I met Gustavo who hails from El Salvador.  He told me he and his business partner Debbie started the bamboo farm on seven acres of scrub land shortly after Hurricane Charlie passed through the area in 2004.  They soon expanded into “all things landscaping,” and now Charlotte County promotes the business as a “destination” to visit.

Five of the seven acres are open to the public.  They have over sixty thousand pieces of pottery on display and twenty-seven varieties of bamboo.

The pottery comes primarily from Columbia, Mexico, Spain and Vietnam.  They also sell furniture from Indonesia.

One picks up landscaping ideas just walking around the property.  There are several small gardens, one with a large water feature.  There are large warehouses with pottery for both indoor and outdoor use.  Stacks and stacks of pottery, statuary and fountains are found throughout the five acres

I recall fighting to keep bamboo taking over our lawn and our neighbor’s when we lived in Washington.  Pottery Express says their bamboos are “non-invasive varieties of tropical clumping bamboo.”

Alie enjoys pottery.  We own small pots collected around the world, so it is hard to keep her away from their fine art pieces.  However, for now she settled for a few inexpensive Mexican Talavera items, vibrant ornamental pieces made in the tradition of sixteenth century Spain.

The farm is an interesting place just to visit.  But if you do wish to buy, the staff are extremely helpful, and signs explain the best uses of their products.  They even have golf carts to take you around and to bring heavy items back to your car.

Click on photos to enlarge.

For directions and more information, visit potteryexpress.com.

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On the edge of the swamp: Everglades City, Florida

Atlantic Coast Railroad depot: 1928-1956, now a restaurant

St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.  Nonetheless, portions of Florida were still wilderness into the twentieth century.

In 1912, C. G. McKinney, a  Chokoloskee island store owner, wrote complaining that two letters sent to him went to Everglade [now Everglades City] despite the fact that Chocoloskee was bigger.  Chokoloskee had ten families and two businesses.  Ted Smallwood ran the other.

Chocoloskee was an island; Everglade wasn’t. So in 1923 when Collier County was carved from Lee County to the north, Everglade was made its county seat.

A gator greets diners in the old railroad depot.

Hunters, fishermen and wanderers came though the area in the early 1800s.  Seminoles were said to have planted potatoes along what is now the Allen River.  Conflicts between the groups led to the Seminole Wars throughout Florida.  In one of the last battles, an Army surveying crew destroyed a Seminole plantation west of Everglade in 1855.  Eventually, almost all Seminoles were forced to move to Oklahoma with just a few fleeing into the Everglades Swamp where their descendants live to this day.

I enjoyed a great home-made black bean gumbo.

Barron Collier, who made a fortune in advertising, began buying millions of acres of Southwest Florida land in 1922.  In return for the creation of a county in his name, he agreed to finance the completion of the Tamiami Trail begun in 1915 from Tampa to Miami.  Naturally, the road would run through his land.

Everglade [as it was known then] was a company town and the headquarters for the construction of the new highway through the swamp.  Canals were dynamited and dredged along the road, and the fill was used for the roadbed.

1928 courthouse

Barron Collier gave the money for construction of many of the buildings in town and promoted a highway and railroad to Immokalee to the north.

The railroad depot was used in the 1957 film Wind across the Everglades starring Burl Ives and The Sound of Music’s Christopher Plummer.

Everglade became Everglades City in 1953.  The county seat was moved to Naples in 1962.  Today, the population has fallen to about 400 people.  But it still retains an “old Florida” flavor.  People hunt, fish and boat.  But today’s boats are more likely to be kayaks than “gator boats,” and most of the fishermen are tourists.  Everglades City proclaims itself the “Stone Crab Capital of the World.”

Nearby is the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park.  It is the entrance to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Reserve, an environment very different from the rest of the park.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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The Bear’s Ears: Utah

The Bear’s Ears dry west slope in 2009

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited the Bear’s Ears in Utah this week as part of a review of National Monuments.

President Obama declared the area a National Monument despite the opposition of the Utah Congressional delegation and many local people.

I haven’t researched it and take no position.  But the Bear’s Ears are a milkshake memory for Alie and I.

2005 looking back through juniper scrub

This blog’s long-time readers may recall my in-laws had a milkshake in 1947 that got richer, thicker and more delicious every year that passed.  No milkshake, including that 1947 one, will ever equal the memory.  We recognize that fallibility in ourselves and know some wonderful memories are probably “milkshakes.”

In mid-May 2005, we left our 5th wheel trailer in Blanding, Utah and took the truck west on state roads 95 and 275 to Natural Bridges National Monument.

This 2005 photo doesn’t do the deep greens of the distant meadows justice.

We didn’t have a GPS, and our map showed a dirt road, Elk Ridge Road, going north from 95 back to Blanding, so we took it.

The winding road twisted and climbed its way up the side of the ridge through desert plants, then scrub juniper forest and across a short mesa.

2005 looking north and east after passing through the Ears

Then we went through the pass between the Ears [9058 and 8929 feet high].  We were astounded.  We were in an almost alpine meadow.

There were green meadows with snow-melt ponds surrounded by tall pines.  We then descended into an aspen forest.

Alie asked “where’s Bambi?”  She was rewarded by the immediate presence of a deer in front of us and two more by the side of the road.

Subsequently we were glad to have a big 4-wheel drive truck when parts of the road turned into muddy quagmire and we had to ford the north fork of the San Juan River.  We continued the last few miles to Blanding once again in a more desert environment.

Driving the approximately 42 miles was a bit of an adventure.  But it was the surprizing beauty hid behind the Ears that will forever remain in our memories.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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