Monday, August 5, 2013

The View From the Top

I've heard this joke at least 20 times, usually when traveling outside of the Midwest and after telling someone that I attended college in Iowa or have family living in Nebraska:

"What's the best thing to come out of Iowa/Nebraska?"


"Interstate 80!"

Ha, ha, ha.

This joke pokes fun at the inaccurate assumption that Iowa and Nebraska are boring states through which to drive. And while I'm willing to admit that Interstate 80 has nothing on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway through Oregon or Highway 36 through Colorado's Rocky Mountains, the pristine farms, rolling hills, and expansive skies in Iowa and Nebraska are downright beautiful compared to the scenery I've taken in along Kansas' highways. Sorry, Kansas. But driving from Oklahoma to Nebraska on I-35 and I-135 is about as interesting as watching...paint dry? Water boil? I find myself challenged to come up with a comparison. (If we're missing something on our drives, please let me know.)

The joke also implies that the states themselves have very little of interest - in the way of people, places, and experiences - to offer as members of these United States, which leads me to assume that the joke "tellers" have never traveled more than a 1/4 mile off of Interstate 80.

Our trip to the Midwest included a visit to picturesque Mahoney State Park, just off Interstate 80 between Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska and less than 30 miles from the Iowa/Nebraska border. Tom and his brother, Grant, took the kids first and attempted to play a round of disc golf while I went for a run through the park, and when I finished my run I took the kids so that Tom and Grant could actually play a round of disc golf.

After everyone got to do what they wanted to do at the park, the five of us climbed to the top of the observation tower. Well, Will ran to the top of the observation tower while the rest of us climbed, slowly and cautiously and white-knuckling the side railings, to the top of the observation tower.

Side note...When I was four years old my parents took my little sister and me to Niagara Falls. I remember standing on a ledge, peering over a guard rail, and watching in amazement as the tremendously powerful sheets of water crashed down hundreds of feet below us. I wasn't scared, but I knew that my mother was terrified because she never loosened her death grip on the back straps of my green, corduroy overalls. As we climbed the observation tower, and because Hallie was small enough to easily fall through the gaps in the open stairs or side railings, I held onto her hand with the same fear my mother had felt and strength she had had 30 years earlier.

The view from the top was stunning: blue skies, lightly painted with thin, white clouds; the Platte River, slowly meandering through the bushy treetops; and lush, green terrain as far as the eye could see.

My photos don't do the view justice. I could barely take my hands off the railing to snap the pictures, let along mess with my iPhone's camera settings; instead I just pointed, clicked, and nearly dropped my phone the 47 stories (not really, but it felt like it) down to the ground in my flustered hurry to grab hold of the guard rail once again.
The Platte River looked a little like thin, chocolate mousse.
Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, anyone?
The view was beautiful, but I couldn't help wanting to return to "earth" as quickly as
possible. I wasn't afraid of heights until five years ago - why/how does that happen?
Will, Hallie, Tom, and Grant. Will is the only one smiling because he
was having fun. The others are really just gritting their teeth together.
Interstate 80 is a top-notch freeway (really, it is. I have thousands of miles of cross-country interstate and highway driving experience, and would choose to cruise I-80 over most other freeways), but it's in no way the best thing to come out of either Iowa or Nebraska.

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