Posts Tagged ‘Interstate 80’

Heartland 4 – Nebraska – Little Ruins on the Prairie

July 19th, 2016

A Drive Through The Heartland 4

Nebraska – Little Ruins on the Prairie

Midwestern Stories of Rust, Decay, Blight and Collapse

Keith Round Barn Under Tornado Sky, North Platte, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Keith Round Barn Under Tornado Sky, North Platte, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

(Continued from the blog post, “Heartland 3 – Starke Round Barn, Red Cloud, Nebraska.“)

European settlers continued to pour into New England, Southern and newer states in the young American republic in the 1800s. German and Scandinavian farmers from Pennsylvania preceded most other original colonial states in the move to the first frontier, which we now know as the Midwest. They bumped west in wagons, by horse and later by train in search of good farming land.

Good farmland they found in the Midwest, with plenty of rain and the ideal climate for a plentiful yield, despite cold unproductive winters. The soil was also rich West of the Mississippi, but when the woodland and grassy fields gave way to dry grass and sage prairie West of the 100th Meridian in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas and Eastern Colorado, the rain ran out. The rain ran out in fact, but not in wishful thinking. Land boosters successfully sold potential new homesteaders on the confabulation that rain follows the plow. Miraculously, it did for almost half a century, a period later discovered to have been abnormally wet.

Interior, Burned House, Franklin, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Interior, Burned House, Franklin, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

This century the water chickens have come home to roost. Water is growing scarcer and scarcer in the most westerly portions of the Midwest. Changes in farming technology have also taken a toll on the small farmer. With the rise of big, centralized agriculture, small rural farming towns are losing population all over the country. This affects even more communities in the Midwest because of the proportionally larger number of towns supported by farming.

We have all seen in the national media about urban blight in Detroit, Chicago and other Rust Belt cities, but decay is rampant in urban areas nationwide, as well as in rural areas and small towns in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Indiana and Nebraska. Those last two states: Indiana and Nebraska suffered most in the Midwest. Both states are full of boarded up small towns, abandoned farms and even whole villages that no longer exist, as in no buildings and little sign of occupation on the land. This trend has been under way for 30 or even 50 years, but has been most acute in the last 10.

Defunct Texaco Service Station, Riverton, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Defunct Texaco Service Station, Riverton, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

In the town of North Platte, Nebraska I first noticed the trend most. According to the National Register of Historic Places and several other guidebooks, at least four round barns supposedly exist in the city of North Platte. Interstate 80 runs through the newer part of North Platte, the Union Pacific Railroad runs through the older part of town and the entire city is situated between the South Platte and North Platte Rivers near the confluence. Despite its location on the traffic lanes from several eras, in the west-central part of Nebraska and the west-central part of the U.S., North Platte has at least partially fallen on hard times. Though new buildings are still popping up downtown, older homes and stores farther out are sinking into disrepair and falling down.

Abandoned Buildings and Pepsi Vending Machine, Inavale, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Abandoned Buildings and Pepsi Vending Machine, Inavale, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

Out of the four round barns in the city of 25,000 population, only one still stood when I was there in 2015: The Keith Round Barn. It was overgrown with dark windows blocked or boarded up from inside and a roof with sections open to the sky. I could not approach the barn or get within 50 yards of it because it stood in back of a farmhouse in the process of being rebuilt, with a cable that blocked the only open space passage to the barn.

Occasional tornadoes and the regular blasting wind, extreme winters and broiling-humid summers wreak great havoc on houses and farm structures, especially on roofs in the Midwest. Many other towns had receded much more than North Platte. The smaller towns in the south-central part of Nebraska such as Macon, Franklin, Riverton, Inavale and others were either partially or almost completely abandoned. In Franklin I stopped to photograph a home that had burned several years before, but remained standing in its burned out state.

Abandoned Farm Near Fairbury, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Abandoned Farm Near Fairbury, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

The towns of Riverton and Inavale were particularly hard hit by changes in farm sizes, methods and fortunes that have contributed to bleak periods in the local economy. Farther east on US Highway 136, not far from Fairbury, I found an entire farm abandoned. The barn hung by two walls as the other two walls were about to fall, the windmill spun in the wind drawing no water, the outbuildings were gloomy, dark and rotting into the ground, the main farm house with the roof nearly collapsed had one wing crushed to the ground and everything had been overgrown with hemp, kudzu, tall grass and willows. The only living beings still around were grazing cows and one bull that I had a standoff with I will share later. Even Beatrice, Nebraska, which for the most part was well painted and in good repair, when I was there included many boarded up homes and businesses.

Northwest Perspective, Western Barn With Sheds, Abandoned Barn Near Fairbury, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde.

Northwest Perspective, Western Barn With Sheds, Abandoned Barn Near Fairbury, Nebraska, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. (Click image to see larger.)

Any country is only as strong as its heart. If this view of the Heartland is any indication, our society is in deep trouble. Yet, I also found much reason for hope in the Heartland. Detroit and other rustbelt cities are rebounding, each at a different pace. Detroit is not only rebuilding its auto industry, it is also diversifying industries. Artists have taken to inhabiting and painting up inexpensive neighborhoods and currently the Motor City pulses with an art renaissance. More on Detroit in future blog posts in this series and in my nonfiction book-length narrative with working title, “A Drive Through The Heartland.”

(Continued in the next blog post, “Heartland 5 – Elijah Filey – Barn Builder, Mason and Founder of Filey, Nebraska.”)

Winter Snow On Desert Landscapes

March 7th, 2011

Angular Boulders, Snow Covered Mesa, San Rafael Swell, Utah, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

A road trip across the Western United States can take many courses. Often when driving from the Denver area to Northern California people travel north on Interstate 25 into Wyoming, then take Interstate 80 west into Utah and Nevada. This route is the fastest by a little over an hour, but it is more developed and goes through flatter, less interesting country than other alternatives. The route I like is direct and nearly as fast, but much more scenic and remote. I take Interstate 70 west from Denver over the Rocky Mountains, down into the Colorado River canyon, through Grand Junction and into Utah’s Canyon Country, past the turnoffs for Moab and Canyonlands National Park, Arches, The Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion National Parks, over the San Rafael Swell, until Interstate 70 meets Interstate 15. To read more about one special trip to some of these destinations see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.” I then go south on Interstate 15 a short way to Beaver, Utah, turn west on Utah State Highway 21, go through Milford and into Nevada, onto US Highway 50, the “Loneliest Highway in America,” past Great Basin National Park and Wheeler Peak, through Ely, Eureka, Austin, Reno and into California.

Wheeler Peak With Snow Streamer, Great Basin National Park, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

This itinerary takes me on a traverse of one of the world’s most majestic mountain ranges, the Rocky Mountains, climbing to over 11,000 feet at the top of Loveland Pass. It winds through the enchanting headwaters and upper canyons of the Colorado River and the verdant foothill farmland of the Rocky Mountains’ West Slope. From the great heights of the Rockies, Interstate 70 drops all the way to 4,075 feet when it crosses the Green River in Utah. It then rises again to cross the plateaus, canyons, hoodoos, monuments, bluffs, arches and other spectacular formations of the Colorado Plateau of Southern Utah. With all of this breath-taking scenery left behind, many people consider Nevada plain, but Nevada has an elusive beauty of its own with the roller coaster traverse of Basin and Range, mountains and valleys. Nevada is one of the places where the West lives up to its reputation for wide open spaces. With up to 80-mile straightaways, Highway 50 crosses huge dried up prehistoric glacial Pleistocene lake beds, sometimes still in the form of mud flats, sometimes sprinkled with sage, sometimes lush with grasslands and ranches. Then the “Loneliest Highway In America” roller coaster ride makes a few turns and rises over mountain ranges between the giant valleys. Each mountain range sequesters its own secret old mines, ghost towns, rugged canyons, forests, mountain meadows, rushing streams, snow-capped peaks, small settlements, ranches and mineral deposits. US Highway 50 is a road tripper’s dream, but its beauty is somewhat hidden and subtle, it does not blare at the traveler, but whispers like the ghosts lurking on its dusty side roads.

Juniper Tree Skeleton Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

In the winter any route from Colorado to Northern California is susceptible to sudden storms, icy roads, blizzards, bitter below zero daytime high temperatures, heavy snows and snow drifts. Driving is risky with few guard rails on the steep, winding, approaches to the passes over the many mountain ranges that run north-south and all but block passage to the unprepared traveler. Any venture through this near wilderness, must not be taken lightly in the winter season and must be planned around the weather. Such adventures must be well-timed to avoid heavy winter storms that pass from West to East across the open expanses and often leave unwary motorists stranded for days in their vehicles waiting for assistance that may never come, or at the least may come too late.

So far I have been fortunate most of the time to have good traveling days even in the winter, with only minor snow or rain showers while on the road. One time I drove in horizontal snow with up to five inches on the pavement, not able to see far beyond the front of the hood, just trying to limp to the next town with a motel. In mid November 2010, a low pressure system hit the Western states. This storm system produced heavy snows and temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit in mountain towns in Northern California and in Boulder, Colorado, as well as -25 degree weather on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The roads were treacherous enough to question making any kind of journey at all, but according to the Doppler radar a window of opportunity opened up where it looked as though I could leave Boulder, Colorado and make it over Loveland Pass, out of the Rocky Mountains and down into lower terrain in Utah before the next major rack of clouds and snow hit. Sure enough I made it over the Rockies and into Utah by evening sailing clear. I imagined that I would drive as far as I could before the storm hit, find a good place to stop and wait out the system’s passing over night.

Dried Desert Flowers In The Snow, Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

As I breezed through Green River, Utah the sky was still completely clear and full of bright stars and moonlight. From Green River it is about 104 wide open empty miles to the next town of any kind, Salina, Utah. About half-way to Salina the wind started to blow much harder and clouds began to dot the sky. Within another 10 miles tiny flakes of snow mixed in with the high winds. I was still about 40 miles from Salina. As I drove directly into the storm, the snow fell heavier and heavier. Soon it was piling up on the pavement. Fortunately, I was in my truck, which is four-wheel-drive and good at negotiating snow, unless the roads are also icy due to cold temperatures as was the case that night. By this time I was about 30 miles from civilization in Salina, the snow had become very heavy and the road was obliterated beyond recognition, even though Interstate 70 is a four lane freeway in that area. I thought about stopping, but decided I would press on because I didn’t want to get buried in snow on the side of the road. Needless to say, the last 25 miles were very slow and half the time I was merely hoping I was mostly on the road. Apparently the locals and other travelers had turned off for the night and retreated from the storm. I was nearly alone on the Interstate. Then far ahead I spotted a lone big rig truck plowing its way through the mess. I drove up behind and used the big truck’s taillights as a guide, hoping that his sense of the road would prove accurate. This went on for what seemed like hours and then we came up on a snow plow. The truck and I had been going about 10 miles an hour, but the snow plow was going about five miles an hour. The last 12 miles took 2 1/2 hours. I have never been more happy to see a freeway off ramp than that night in Salina. As I slowed even more to nose down the off ramp, my truck began to slide to one side. Fortunately I was able to correct and stay on what was left of the off ramp. I fish-tailed to the right, across and up what looked like the driveway to a local motel. The cheesy, low-budget room with internet access, color TV, half-broken wooden veneer furniture and musty bedding seemed like the coziest room I had ever slept in.

Rabbit Tracks And Shadows Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Morning came quickly as I had arrived late and hit the hay around 2:00 am. I dragged myself to the 1970s era window curtain, pulled it open and beheld a new world. There was about six inches of new snow, but the skies were blue. I waited until around 9:30 am to get rolling, hoping that by then the snow plows would have made a few passes. Once I made it onto the freeway, both lanes were clear and the slow lane was even half dry. I didn’t loose any time as I drove off down the Interstate at near normal travel speed. Driving late into the night was now taking its toll on my body, but my persistence paid off as I had smooth sailing nearly all day except some snow patches on the road on the high passes and some slow-going around Ely, Nevada where there was still a lot of snow on US Highway 50. The real payoff came in the form of the gorgeous scenery freshly covered with new snow. I was on a deadline and couldn’t stop too often, but I did allow myself to stop for as many photographs as I possibly could dare. I made it to my meeting late, but it was quite a day photographing along the “Loneliest Highway in America,” well worth driving one evening in a blizzard and risking getting stuck on the side of the road in the middle of the high desert in the snow.