|FLINT HILLS GRASSLANDS|
|OKLAHOMA CASINO (INDIAN POWER)|
|LLANO RIVER, TEXAS|
We had quite a trip, putting on just over 4,000 miles. Leaving on Thursday, January 20, we drove to Madison for the Friday Urban Forestry Council meeting, which I will not dwell upon except to say that the state’s budget shortfall will necessitate major changes in Department of Natural Resources programs, and we will have to work through them as best as possible, hopefully without giving up too much ground in the important urban forestry arena. But, we are advisory only, and who knows what the final impact will be. We met the new Wisconsin DNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp, who seems both amiable and determined to streamline the agency, within the Governor’s developing austerity budget. Friday evening we drove on to Albert Lee Minnesota in below zero temperatures on somewhat slick roads.
We then took I35 south all the way to Texas, the weather being frigid until we got past Kansas City, when it warmed up considerably. We saw a flock of over 200 turkeys, and a number of migrating Sandhill cranes just SW of KC. The Kansas Throughway goes through the southern portion of the Flint Hills grasslands, one of my very favorite landscapes. The annual burning of the Flint Hills prairies had not yet begun. The burning of the prairies, done to eliminate woody vegetation and benefit the grasses, is an awe inspiring sight, particularly at night, when fires can extend to each horizon, their red-orange flames dotting the charred landscape on the night’s black canvas. Whether or when to use controlled burns on grasslands is dependent upon the soil and vegetation types of each region, the extent of human habitation and other factors, including historic and social considerations, so you will not see it done everywhere. In any case we got to Texas and Dutch, Leslie and granddaughter Allison in good shape and had a very nice visit. The weather was lovely the several days we were there, and not wishing to wear out our welcome on Thursday we headed to Mason, in the southwestern Texas Hill Country. I had made arrangements for us to tour Blue Mountain Peak Ranch on Friday, and I will relate that experience in tomorrow’s blog. Our last night in Texas we stayed in Dalhart, north of Amarillo and just south of the New Mexico border in the Texas Panhandle. We have gotten used to Texas driving protocol (minimum 75 MPH on all roads, move over onto the wide shoulder when a vehicle bears down from behind at Autobahn speed). We saw huge flocks of Sandhill cranes that evening, one flock we estimated at over 500 birds. The next day we drove across northeastern New Mexico, a picturesque region of ancient, extinct volcanoes…beautiful high-plains country (over 8,000 feet in elevation in places) with lots of cattle and antelope (the latter impossible for us to photograph). We got into Denver in mid-afternoon on Sunday and fell immediately into a very deep freeze (-17 degrees) with blizzard conditions. We had a lot of time to spend with family, as school was cancelled for several days and everyone stayed home from school and work. We tracked the major snow and ice storms on TV from Denver through the Midwest (Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and areas south) and out to the east coast, and saw our best opportunity for travel being just behind and over it, so we headed north on Thursday morning, staying in Valentine Nebraska the first night back on the road, and in SE Minnesota the second night. We came home through Minneapolis and Duluth. It took longer to get home than we anticipated, as we were quite road weary and couldn’t keep up our earlier pace.
But, we missed the big storms completely, although it was very cold and windy on the northern plains. We saw antelopes again in South Dakota, as well as many pheasants picking gravel on the roadsides. The Nebraska Sandhills pothole country, usually a great wildlife viewing area, was still completely frozen in, and there were no migratory waterfowl. By the time we got home, Texas was still in the deep freeze, with rolling blackouts to conserve electricity.
If I know Texas, there will be a huge push for more and varied energy production so that it will never again have to be dependent upon Mexican electricity in an emergency. The Texas Panhandle has spawned thousands of electricity generating windmills in the last couple of years, which is very obvious and impressive…but they can’t be run with ice on their blades. There is a lesson here for the entire country; we need energy redundancy, with a mix of oil, coal, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar and biofuels (I still am wary of nuclear power). Higher fuel prices stimulate energy production, but if conservation is encouraged only through taxation, it will not stimulate production, but will simply reduce consumption, thereby lowering profits and discouraging new production. The market is the answer to our energy problems.
We do not need energy from anywhere else if we determine to be independent, and we certainly shouldn’t need to rely on oil from the volatile Middle East. We would have liked to try E85 fuel but I am not sure the ’06 Chevy Silverado pickup is really equipped for it. In Iowa E85 was $275.9, worth a try. Gasoline prices ranged from $319. 9 when we left Bayfield to a low of $285.9 in Texas and $315.9 in Colorado and the plains states. We averaged 17MPG while driving fast, using regular, with lots of warm up idling and much of the time in auto four wheel drive. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the GM four wheel drive system.
It was good to get home, we had a good visit with everyone, and we were fortunate with weather and road conditions. Neighbor Zach cleared the driveway a couple of times so there was minimal shoveling to do when we got home.
We have determined that we will not bother with XM satellite radio, as driving cross-country listening to local radio is very enlightening. We find Tex-Mex, or Tejano music (we listened to it from Oklahoma to New Mexico) particularly appealing, as it is very much like the Milwaukee music we grew up with, being a lively mix of Mexican, German, Czech and Polish dance music. What an interesting culture we have, with Mexican American musicians adopting and thereby preserving our traditional northern European music! Our parents would have loved it, except for the lyrics being Spanish rather than German. Driving across the Dakotas we listened to talk radio that explored the intricacies of oil and gas exploration and taxation, and the engineering and politics of rural water districts. Our free, and still free-wheeling, country is fabulous, and all we have to do to be educated concerning our economy, natural resources and politics is to open our own eyes, ears and minds. Today there is nothing we cannot know, and therefore nothing we cannot do.