Mar 31, 2008

Pony Express and Labyrinths

North Platte LabyrinthWe woke to the sound of semi-trucks leaving. By 7 am the truck-stop parking lot was empty. By 7:30, housekeeping was working it's way down our hall. We had pulled into the truck-stop motel late last night, lured by a huge blinking sign declaring PETS WELCOME. I walk Merlin, pack the car, and venture into the truck-stop metropolis for breakfast. CNN blares from a dozen TVs suspended over tables throughout the restaurant. I order French toast with a bit a bacon for Merlin, trying to ignore the drawling bad news over my head. The southern California wild fires dominate the stories and I’ll be asked more than once if I’m driving away to escape them. At least gas was getting cheaper, as we drive east towards Washington, DC. The first morning stop is a labyrinth in North Platte. We find it sprawling behind the First United Methodist Church parking lot, a lovely smooth gravel and brick construction. Built in 2005 as an Eagle Scout Project, it’s over 80 feet across. I enjoyed it’s simplicity and clever use of interlocking bricks and solar powered garden lights.

A Lincoln Highway sign at the next rest stop announces that we are standing on the Oregon Trial and the Platt River Pony Express route. Nearby Gothenburg is apparently the Pony Express Capital of Nebraska so we have to investigate. We follow signs to a 1860 Pony Express Station, Pony Expresslocated in a lovely shaded park. Merlin enjoys sniffing around the old cabin, appreciating the antlers and buffalo coat, while I chat with the docent. My dad worked for the U.S. Post Office for over 30 years and I fondly remembered the Pony Express patches on his uniforms. We picnic in the park, appreciating our solid metal horse-wagon stocked with stores of bottled drinks and boxes of energy bars and kibble, grateful we’re not walking to Oregon.

Early settlers called the flat grassland prairie of the Nebraska Territory the Great American Desert and I can see why Nebraskans invented Arbor Day. The name Nebraska is an Oto Indian word for flat water, the Platte River. As we speed past dry corn fields towards Kearney, located exactly between San Francisco and Boston, I’m getting a bit anxious about our progress. Half way to Boston doesn’t feel far enough to Michigan. Nonetheless, I detour to the St. Francis Medical Center to visit a 60 foot rock garden labyrinth which I’d heard was quite impressive. It turns out to be a rather a long strip mall traffic jam from the freeway, and constructed of curious sharply pointed rocks. St. Francis LabyrinthBeing a hospital, Merlin isn’t allowed to wander the grounds so after a few snapshots, we drive away to find lunch. Over a chicken salad, I realize we had crossed another time zone, some time this morning. With another hour lost, we agree on an early night outside Lincoln. Merlin requests lodging next to King Kong Burgers. We settle in with fresh supplies, watching the twilight deepen out our big eastern picture window. When the sun sets over the prairie, the stars shine like no where else on Earth. We munch our dinner by candle light, watching a near full moon rise with diamond brilliant Uranus above the flat empty East.

Day Six: Nebraska. 322 miles.


MartyG said...

Should it be "Oregon Trail"?

A Lincoln Highway sign at the next rest stop announces that we are standing on the Oregon Trial and the Platt River Pony Express route.

Cindy Pavlinac said...

The 2,000 mile Oregon Trail in the mid 1800's was a trial and ordeal by anyone's reckoning. Merlin and I are certainly glad it's now paved .