Through Iowa to Omaha

Heading west from Cedar Rapids this morning I kept seeing a bird sitting on the poles alongside the road and flying over the cornfields. I have now identified it as a red-winged blackbird. This blue flower grows on the roadside here but I have yet to identify it and all the other flowers seen so far. I am slowly finding websites that can help with the flowers and have the Audubon Bird app on my phone which saves me lugging bird books around.
Flower by cornfileds Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Much of the old Lincoln Highway in Iowa is a gravel road so we created a fair bit of dust as we drove along them. We even passed a couple of wineries which I did not expect to find here but it was too early in the day and they were closed. Near Colo, we saw the first sheep and goats in the state (cows being the only farm animal seen so far) and also more deer. We stopped for coffee at Niland’s community-run café which sits at the intersection of Routes 30 & 65; the Lincoln Highway and the Jefferson Highway. I had never heard of the latter ‘From Pine to Palm’ route which runs from Winnipeg to New Orleans. Something to explore perhaps? The old gas station has been restored and is now a museum but the motel is up and running again.
Nilands Cafe Colo Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Further on, lunch was in a small park in Carroll where this stall was selling shaved ices. He was not doing great business as the temperature stayed stubbornly in the low 70s with a fair amount of cloud cover. He was a Jimi Hendrix fan we assume, as he had a large poster of him on the back of the stall door. Other musical snippets from today are: 1. I read somewhere that Antonin Dvorák stayed in Iowa with his family in the summer of 1893 and wrote the ‘New World Symphony’ while here and 2: at one point we were passed by a car in which the passenger (who looked as if he should be auditioning for ZZ Top) sat combing his beard.
Cart in CArroll in Iowa 3 July 2016-1
Today we crossed the Missouri-Mississippi Divide and then crossed the Missouri just before entering Omaha and Nebraska. Iowa has the section which is the most northerly of the entire Lincoln Highway. The best sign of today was one for ‘Woodbine Optimists’ Club’. This was intriguing and after a bit of digging around I have discovered that they are a community organisation who do youth work. R30 continues past Omaha but as the highway goes through Omaha and passed through the very street we are staying on, we are staying here for a night. The downtown area around the old market has lots of interesting shops, restaurants and bars. There is a fantastic secondhand bookshop: Jackson Street Books which was even open on a holiday Sunday evening. We had dinner at the Louisiana Kitchen which has live jazz but on Saturday not Sunday sadly. Tomorrow we head further into Nebraska.

Into Illinois and eastern Iowa

Mileage wall Illinois 2 July 2016-1

By the time we reached this mileage wall in Franklin Grove Illinois, we had clocked up almost 1000 miles. Today did not get off to a great start as the folks in the room next to ours decided to party until after midnight last night. Down at breakfast, the cook had failed to show up for work and so there was no hot food. As we left the hotel I saw a rather unhappy fellow in chef’s attire having a cigarette outside the kitchen. Eventually we were on our way, rejoining R30 near Valparaiso and getting back on main street America. James found some country music and classic rock on the radio so he was happy and we were back alongside the railway for much of the day. Joliet and Plainfield Illinois are familiar places from Route 66 which we drove in 2013. There is a brief section where the two roads coincide.
R66 LH sign Plainefield IL 2 July 2016-1
We crossed the bridge over the Des Plaines River in the opposite direction to the last time and this is the photograph I took then.
Bridge over Des Plaines River at Joliet
After Plainfield the road switches to R31 in Aurora and then R28 in Geneva. As road travel increased in the early 1920s, a shortage of hotels developed so camping sites were set up along the highway and Aurora has one of the shelters that were built and which have been restored. We were soon back in the cornfields with a few Trump posters and the odd Bernie one. Some extremely long freight trains passed us in several places or were parked up. Many of the small towns we passed through have murals and other historical sites.
Illinois Mural 2 July 2016-1
The Lincoln Highway Association’s HQ is in Franklin Grove and has a gift shop. The woman inside thought we were southerners at first. As I signed the visitors’ book I noticed that there had been none for a couple of days and she was very keen to fill us in on all the history she could. We eventually escaped and had our lunch in a park at Dixon which was holding various sporting events and a petunia show. Saturday seems to be the day when everyone mows the grass alongside the road. In other places, wildflowers are left to grow alongside fields and roads. In the UK some of the nature organisations are trying to persuade landowners and councils to delay mowing grass verges until wildflowers have set seed so that they are not wiped out.
Through the cornfields Iowa 2 July 2016-1
We crossed the Mississippi River at Clinton and entered Iowa back on Route 30 alongside factories spewing pungent fumes into the atmosphere. The last time I was in Iowa was around 20 years ago attending the biennial international conference of a small scientific society I belonged to. Our president at the time was based at the University of Iowa and the conference was held there. At immigration at Chicago O’Hare, I was asked why I was visiting the USA and when I told the officer the reason he replied ‘I ain’t never heard of a conference in Iowa City’. Soon we were back in flat farmland until nearer to Cedar Rapids where small hills appeared. After crossing the Cedar River, we found our roadside hotel for the night.