Reading about travelling westward on the train north

England was beginning to move again yesterday after the Christmas break but not for long as the M6 was completely stationary in both directions last night and other roads were reporting problems. I was glad that I was taking the train this morning. Scotland is recovering from two severe storms over Christmas, while in Northern England we had much less severe wind and rain. We left the house in frosty darkness with all the stars visible as James took me to the station. In the lounge, I watched a TV programme highlighting the benefits recent wet summers and mild winters have had for farmers who have could keep animals outside for longer and cut more hay from the long grass but also the adverse impact it has had on many insects and wildflowers that need shorter grass to survive and birds such as barn owls who cannot see their prey in longer grass and whose numbers are declining. Yet another consequence of climate change.
Not driving meant that I could dip into a book I found on Tuesday at Cavern Books, Dagfields, near Nantwich: It is David Haward Bain’s The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads and the Urge to Go West. In 2000, the author (who is an established non-fiction writer and academic at a Vermont college) travelled along the routes followed by the early rail road, Lincoln Highway, California, Oregon and Pony Express trails with his family. He had more time than we could squeeze out of our jobs on our transcontinental drive and has researched and added much of the associated history along the way, including that of his own grandmother’s family. There is also a selection of old photographs in the book.

He began in Missouri, travelling north up the river valley from Kansas City and Independence where the California and Oregon trails often began. We passed through St Louis on our Route 66 drive before continuing southwest and here is the Lewis & Clark memorial by the river:
At Omaha, his route coincided with the Lincoln Highway on Route 30 and our drive as we entered Nebraska on R30 from Iowa.
One of the things I enjoyed in Nebraska was the prairie grass in the Cottonmill Park near Kearney.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
By the time I had reached this stage of his book, dawn had broken in South Lancashire and the sun was fully up well before we reached Carlisle. The Cumbrian hills were covered in frost and mist but there were still large pools of water in the fields in southern Scotland. As I emerged from the station in Edinburgh, it was much milder. The city is gearing up for the Hogmanay celebrations and it will get much busier over the next two days. I shed my woollies and as I walked to the shops from the flat, noticed large numbers of branches on the ground from the surrounding trees. I will be out tomorrow to do a few things in town and looking forward to Friday to meeting friends and celebrating James’s birthday.

Driving to Denver

We had breakfast this morning listening the weather reports which were full of storms and tornadoes further east and fires in Elko County where we are heading later. As we left North Platte on R30, all the firework stalls were selling them off half price. In Sutherland we found another mileage fence. Our mileage to Frisco will be a little more than that on the fence as we are diverting down the Denver loop, exploring the Rocky Mountains and the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
Mileage fence NE 5 July 2016-1
In Paxton we were diverted onto the interstate for a few miles because of roadworks and also had a new experience: Chihuahua in the road. We are used to sheep and cattle escaping onto the road but this was a new one. One of the locals was trying to catch him, somewhat unsuccessfully. We were now definitely in ranch country and saw cowboys on horseback rounding up cattle.
California Hill NE 5 July 2016-1
California hill, just to the right of the road in this photograph was on the waggon trail to California and Oregon between 1841 and 1860. So many travelled this route as the terrain restricts other ways and deep ruts are still visible on the hill. We crossed into the Mountain Time Zone and near Big Springs we switched to R138, still alongside the railway and the South Platte River. After entering Colorado, we fancied a coffee in Julesburg but the first place we saw was shut and looked as if it was out of business. The Old Ford Museum was also closed but we peered in the window at the vintage car and other items inside. It was looking as if only the essentials were open: the pharmacy and the liquor store. James popped into the liquor store who directed us to a coffee shop round the block. The towns in this area do not announce their population on their signs but their altitude. Sedgewick which we passed through is at 3,500ft. I am still adjusting to measuring altitude in feet and not metres. Near Sterling we passed a huge recycling centre suggesting Colorado might be more advanced than some of the other places we have passed through. In the town we picked up a few essentials and the woman on the checkout asked where we were from and then told us that she had had people from Denmark in the day before. Further on we passed two huge factory farms, the first with hundreds of cattle and bison, the second with just cattle. Lunch was on the green at Fort Morgan where families were picnicking in the sun. Some children were setting off fire crackers left over from 4th July celebrations. Nearer to Denver the mountains at last appeared ahead. As we had gained an hour, we diverted to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and wandered about looking at plants, insects, anthills, the odd bird and prairie dogs. A better time to visit would have been earlier or later in the day but that was not possible. While I was taking photographs, James was watching lightning over the mountains and then we continued the last few miles into downtown Denver.
Flower in Wildlifer Refuge CO 5 July 2016-1


The Union Pacific Railway and the River Platte were our constant companions today, driving through Nebraska. The long freight trains were still running despite the Independence Day holiday and just as back home in the UK on a holiday, rail repair work was going on. Another similarity to our bank holidays was the cloudy sky and some drizzle as we left Omaha. The Lincoln Highway leaves the city by R6 (passing through a community called Dundee) and then heads back up to R30 on R275. Here we could see signs of recent heavy rain with pools of water in the fields and irrigation machines standing unused. I overheard a local say that they had had 2 inches last night which was very welcome. Just out of Fremont there were rusting old motel signs by the road and anti-abortion posters which we had also seen in western Iowa. We passed through Rogers (population 95 and the smallest town so far) where for the first time on this trip I had no signal on my phone. Further on, we then crossed the Platte into Columbus and had brunch at the T-Bone Truck Stop. There were no trucks there today, just a few locals.
T bone Truck Stop 2 Columbo NE 4 July 2016-1
There was a speedway circuit nearby but nothing happening there today. We had at last started a gradual increase in elevation, with each town we passed through being a little higher above sea-level. My first view of the Great Plains was from a plane. I had been invited to give a talk in Santa Barbara in 2002 and having not been further west than Chicago before, was very keen to watch the landscape changing below. Our next encounter was on the California Zephyr which takes 2 and a half days to get from Chicago to Emeryville CA. I remember the excitement when an incline and a curve appeared in the track after miles of a straight flat line through the cornfields. Today, the sun appeared just before Grand Island. In the town, Kermit’s Car Wash were trying to sell fireworks and someone in a frog outfit was outside trying to entice customers in. We had another break in Cottonmill Park on the west side of Kearney where people were fishing and boating. It has a prairie reserve which you can walk or ride through. Hundreds of insects were buzzing in the grasses and feeding on the flowers and I saw a red bird which I think was a cardinal bird.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
Flowers Cottonmill Park Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
We now had prairie grass instead of flowers by the road and in Cozad, crossed the 100th meridian. I saw a raptor being mobbed by smaller birds but this was such a quick flash above the road that I could not identify them. Before our stop in North Platte we kept seeing persistent mirages of water across the road ahead and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. We were now in rolling hills with horses in the fields and the saw the first sign for a ranch. Our route also coincides around these parts with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and the Pony Express. Tomorrow we are taking the Lincoln Highway loop to Denver.