Cronuts for breakfast. Anyone whose had one, that’s not on a diet, should agree that it’s a delicious option – but we are in for a surprise. Still fluffy and light, Caleb has no problem cutting them down the middle. The chocolate hazelnut was like an orgy of flavors in my mouth, but the strawberry mascarpone tasted like soap – the cute pink bars found in small motels, but it’s not what I intended to ingest this morning – so I didn’t.
We are 45 minutes from the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site upon waking. This gives us plenty of time to park, watch the elderly couples walk around, explore the Prairie Trails, visit the gravesite, and take a peek at the downtown historic district. We learned that this treeless landscape used to be fatal in winter and full of summer fires until a young blacksmith invented a steel plow in 1837 – his name was John Deere. This small tool would change the life of West Branch and bring it into its Golden Era of Agriculture.
Rangers are making their rounds and buildings are opening their doors. The Presidential Library and Museum looks impressive from the outside and the fee charged helps keep us on schedule. We visit the Friends Meetinghouse where the Quakers held segregated (guys and gals) silent meditation services. At the visitor center we watch a film that shows Hoover’s youth, the impression he made on the world, his fulfillment of presidential duties, and the public services he continued to work on after his time as the 31st in Office.
Traveling on a holiday has its ups and downs – as long as you remember to prepare. We hadn’t. The parks we encounter today are open and not crowded, but it’s our fault that we had to crave perogies and kolaches while heading towards Omaha, Nebraska that’s known for its Czech desserts and availability of a Polish-style dinner. We inquired in a pet store and gas station – the only two places we could see people inside. We settled for leftover pizza and an afternoon walk with the dogs.
Being nearby and enjoying ourselves so much last time we decide to make a return trip to Homestead National Monument of America. A few weeks ago, when this trip began, we had pulled up to the park booth as usual, but this time our annual pass was nowhere to be found. We had left it at home in our smaller passport book and had with us the explorer anniversary edition – sans pass. Luckily the park system is still giving the military a free card and we get one for our larger passport book.
This gets Caleb thinking that now that I have two it’s time he gets one of his own. We buy him the kids’ passport companion and I’m happy to see his eagerness in filling it in. He will get his first chance for a ranger signature (only ones that stand out in conversation, knowledge, and kindness) while at Homestead. We had planned on walking the dogs from the Heritage Center to the Education Center, a distance of about half a mile. That changed when we went inside and met Ranger Molly.
Caleb got to try his hand at making butter and we admired the corn husk dolls made by previous visitors. We started discussing our last visit and an hour later we had talked about travels, education, history, and parks in New Zealand. We had walked out to the car when Caleb made his decision as to who could sign his book. Molly was more than thrilled and honored to be the first to autograph his passport.
The Kansas state sign on the 81-S entrance is unique – as they all are, but I like the way this one incorporates a Latin phrase, “through difficulties to the stars” with 34 stars representing their admittance to the Union in 1861. We stop in Belleville for a snack and upon seeing a f’REAL! gas station milkshake machine (which first caught our eye in a Wawa station on the east coast some years ago) we try a new flavor – cake batter. I’m usually not one for unbaked-goods in other dessert forms, but this cake in a cup included some tasty factors – creamy, frosty, and sweet.
Further down the road is something we hadn’t thought about. Kansas is known for their collection of the largest this and that, but they also get to claim to have a town as the geological center of the contiguous United States – Lebanon. There are a bunch of different signs, markers, and a corkboard that remind visitors where they are and have newspaper clippings with background information – who found it and when – a government survey in 1898. The landmark here is the chapel that seats 8 with one podium and four windows.
What looks like a short drive on the map always takes longer in reality. The sun is starting to set and we stop to see a house with rocks piled up on the rear and one side to protect from tornadoes. I don’t know if it works or not, but the house is still there. I’m used to seeing the sun’s rays come through the clouds at all bright points in the day. What I have yet to see until now are rays emanating from the horizon. For those that think the Great Plains are boring it’s either because they’ve only seen crop squares as they fly over or they live there and have forgotten to appreciate what makes the state one of the great.
I stayed with my grandparents once when I was still losing teeth and Caleb and I drove through during winter in 2011 and there have been visits in-between. I’ve seen some of the cities and I’ve seen the cornfields, but I had yet to watch the coming of night in Kansas. We set up camp near the lake at Webster State Park. I got to watch light turn to dark, the stars shine bright and plenty, and to see a childhood favorite – lightning bugs. It’s the simple, natural, and unexplainable parts of my youth, and tonight, that I love best.