Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gunslinger Territory


        Dr. Bobo stood next to the picnic table where Christopher stirred bacon on an aluminum pan in preparation of our breakfast. "I checked the temperature awhile ago. Before sun up it was already eighty degrees," Dr. Bobo observed.

        "I believe it," I said. In spite of the high temperature, everything felt clammy from the humidity.

         Primate guided the car away from the campground within 30 minutes, and within another 30 minutes we walked through the open gate and down the long, gravel road towards the Illinois high point. The private road gained 125 feet as we traversed the 1.2 miles alongside cultivated fields on the lower levels, then through woods nearer the summit of Charles Mound at 1,235 feet.

Christopher & Dr. Bobo On IL High Point

        We moved on. There was no time to waste.

        Back in the car, while Primate drove, Dr. Bobo consulted maps and road directions to our next point.

        Christopher consulted his cell phone for texts and e-mails. "I've got to go home. Can you drop me at an airport? I just got word my roommate is screwing up. My neighbor says, 'He's gotta go.' If I don't deal with it I could get evicted."

        "We're going right by Dubuque Airport," Dr. Bobo said.

        Christopher learned flights from Dubuque were expensive, so declined to fly from there. "Six hundred dollars, that's too much."

        "We can drop you at Omaha, but it will be late today. Maybe, Kansas City, Missouri, just 30 miles out of our way?" Dr. Bobo offered. Dr. Bobo and I already discussed this and considered it no inconvenience to our plans. Primate considered the extra distance trivial.

        We headed south past Davenport and Moline.

        I heard Dr. Bobo say, "It's 94 degrees."

        In my peripheral vision I saw him looking to the side of the road and glanced over to see for myself. A digital bank sign flashed the time of 10:30AM. As I looked it flashed the temperature of 94 degrees. That made me feel even hotter.

        We continued south to the odd tip of Iowa. We parked and crossed over the chain that dangled a sign that suggested NO TRESSPASSING and walked about one-quarter mile to the muddy bank of the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers, then considered we were at the low point of Iowa.

        We drove west towards the Kansas City airport through the oppressive heat, the sun occasionally blocked by clouds. As we neared Kansas City, MO, bank signs showed temperatures of 106 and 104 degrees. We dropped Chris at the airport and said our goodbyes at 4:15PM.

        Primate drove us north through Missouri, back into Iowa, then west into Nebraska, then turned south again following Dr. Bobo's directions.

        We came to an open gate at a levee before the road south entered Kansas.

        "I didn't expect that to be open. It was locked when I looked at it on Google," Dr. Bobo said.

        Primate turned left onto the levee and maneuvered us down the dusty, vegetated path almost to the river. We bushwhacked the remaining 100 feet to the bank, and scrambled down to the muddy, flat edge of the Missouri River.

        Dr. Bobo determined the border with Kansas with his GPS device and we called that low point of Nebraska. "Good, I don't think I could have hiked this."

Primate Rests At the NB Low Point.

        Several photos ensued and we high-tailed it off the levee to reduce the odds of getting locked behind the gate.

        North beckoned again. The temperature seemed to be less stiffling once we drank cold water at a rest stop. We found a campground late afternoon so had plenty of time to relax.

        "The temperature should drop tomorrow," we were told by one of the managers of the campground.

        The breezes increased to a steady wind and brought welcomed relief from the heat. A shower with a cool-down helped improve my disposition.

       I offered to share my beer with Dr. Bobo. Primate didn't care. Canned chili and instant rice, flavored with spicy peppers, and a half-a-beer chaser went down well.

       We covered another 657 miles today. Low points - twenty six; high points - twenty.


        The clear sky, and mild temperature, bode for a more pleasant day. We continued north. Iowa farmland flattened. Hills, seen in the distance to either side of the road, provided me some relief to the flatness.

        Near Sibley, Iowa, before the border with Minnesota, we came to Hawkeye Point, 1,670 feet, located on private farmland. Primate stopped the car in front of the signs and plaque and with a 50-foot walk we stood and took photos at Iowa's high point.

        Northward, we proceeded up the western side of Minnesota, alongside the border with North Dakota. The sun shone bright in a near cloudless sky, but the temperature was, at least, more bearable than yesterday.

        Primate wanted a break from driving, so Dr. Bobo consented to take a turn. "It's 86 degrees," Dr. Bobo yelled as we neared Dawson. The car clock read 2:45PM.

        We targeted South Dakota next, crossed the border to Big Stone Lake, where we ate sandwiches for lunch, then commemorated touching the lake's edge for another low point.

        We headed west. Rolling hills replaced flatter terrain, birds congregated around lakes by the roadside, and the crops gradually shifted from corn to wheat.

        I couldn't live in a place like this, it's too isolated.

        Dr. Bobo found us a possible campsite near Pierre. An easy tent setup, then late dinner at a restaurant, got us to bed about mid-night.

        Low points - twenty seven; high points - twenty one. The odometer today topped 676 miles.


        Dr. Bobo's footsteps on the gravel pad of our campsite prompted me out of the tent at 6AM. We packed up in the cool air, sans mosquitoes, and drove away for an early morning start.

        Mount Rushmore beckoned.

Primate Ponders How He Would Look As Part of Rushmore.

        Our route led us past it, so we stopped to marvel awhile, then we moved on to Custer State Park for our next goal.

        I felt fatigued from my first step. Doubts about doing the three-mile hike to the high point of South Dakota plagued me, in spite of the breeze and mild temperature. Within a short period perspiration covered my face, even though the trail climbed gradually, but I began to gather energy and my doubts waned as I advanced.

        Dr. Bobo looked at his GPS device. "It's only one mile from here, as the crow flies. The elevation gain from the parking lot is 1,100 feet, but the trail gains and loses elevation along the way, making the truer gain about 1,600 feet." The trail requires three miles of travel to the South Dakota high point from the parking lot, however. "This is my favorite hike," he added.

        "Yes, I agree this trail is better, you don't have to fight your way around boulders, like the ones on Katahdin and Mt. Marcy," I said.

        At the summit of Harney Peak, 7,242 feet, we examined the defunct hotel and ate our lunch sandwiches.

Primate Stands At The Highest Natural Point Of Narney Peak.

        Onward south, out of the Black Hills, into Nebraska, and over rolling hills where cattle grazed. This felt even more desolate and isolated than yesterday.

        As we neared the southwest corner of Nebraska, near the tri-corner with Wyoming and Colorado, we took gravel roads, alternating between south and west directions to work our way to the high point, referred to by the property owner as Panorama Point, 5,424 feet. The setting sun colored the distant clouds and provided an enhanced backdrop for our photos.

Dr. Bobo On NB High Point.
Primate Touches NB High Point.
        Dr. Bobo and I discussed the possibility of adding the high and low points of Colorado to this trip while Primate drove us back to the civilization of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, careful to avoid animals on the road at dusk.

        BEEP, BEEP! The antelope standing by the roadside turned away and fled.

        We found a campsite, a fast food restaurant for dinner, concluded we should postpone Colorado until next year, and went to bed late again.

        Low points - twenty seven; high points - twenty three. The odometer recorded another 527 miles.


        I stirred to a quiet surrounding. Dr. Bobo's sleeping bag was not in the tent and the sun hung about two hands above the horizon, one hour for each hand is a good estimation. I figured it was about 9AM. The warm air in the tent also prompted me to get up.

        "Good morning," I said to Dr. Bobo. "How long have you been up?"

        "About two hours."

        "You could have woke me up," I said.

        "I figure you wanted to sleep," he responded.

        Primate put us on the highway and set the cruise control at the speed limit. The weather good, the road uncongested, we started the long count down of miles to home.

        Dr. Bobo took a nap. Primate steered the car along our way. I wandered around in my storage closet of stories of the old West, triggered by names on highway signs as we went - Cheyenne, Laramie, Medicine Bow, and the Platte River.

        Gunslingers rode on horseback across these plains, traded shots with adversaries, drank whiskey in saloons in little towns scattered all over. Pioneers walked alongside and rode in wagons searching for a better life. Miners hurried to other places in a fever pitch. Indians pondered how to deal with the encroachment of white men. Cattlemen came and fenced off the open land.

        The highway led us over higher terrain. I pointed out an elevation marker to Dr. Bobo. "Eighty two fifty nine. The road's been climbed since we started this morning."

        This country seems even more desolated than that of yesterday, drier, less inviting, more open and exposed to the scorching sun and cold blasts of winter winds. I wouldn't want to life here, either.

        The mile markers counted down towards zero, signifying the border with Utah.

        Primate inquired, "You drive, Dr. Bobo?"


        During stretches of highway between small towns, I saw few houses, but no cattle. Dried grasses and small shrubs provided color contrast to the exposed soil and rock, but offered no reassurance of my survival here, if I were left to fend for myself. Glad to be whisked along at high speed, I hoped my conveyance of passage through here would not fail me.

        Dr. Bobo consented to drive. He drove us through the remainder of Wyoming, then Utah, past the Great Salt Lake and across the salt flats, and then into Nevada. We stopped at Winnemucca for the night.

        We logged another 823 miles today.

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