Apr 28

The southeast corner of Wyoming, the highest point in Nebraska

Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, August 5 — After leaving Cheyenne, I headed east on I-80 almost to the state line and then turned south to reach the Colorado-Nebraska-Wyoming corner and the highest point in Nebraska. The two locations are within eyesight of each other, but not direct driving distance, and the landowners don’t want you to walk between. I drove Colorado gravel for about 15 minutes, adding that state to this trip. This is the second state high point I’ve visited.

Local wildlife near the tri-state marker, visible at the end of the fence line, above the spigot of water pumped from the windmill.

Facing northwest. I am standing about a foot onto the Colorado side. The base is built from stones from each state but the ground has crept up on the side coordinate labels and a black plate covers the top.

No snow-capped peak here. I thought of putting something Iowa State-related on the top — this is, now, at the western edge of Big Ten country — but instead I’ll refer you to NINE-SEVEN because of EIGHT.

Is there anywhere else that a state’s border is visible from its highest point?

Finally, I got back onto 30 and took that to Kimball. Before the trip, I asked the Nebraska Department of Roads if US 30 enters via the two-lane or I-80, since the signs contradict themselves; I was assured that the Lincoln Highway is the correct route.

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Apr 27

Great Plains Trip Day 4

August 5, 2016: View of I-80/US 30 from the Wyoming Welcome Center, the highest point on the interstate.

Kimball, Nebraska — From a college football stadium to a tri-state corner, this day had a little bit of everything.


The first stop of the day was before I even left Laramie, at War Memorial Stadium. The “Bucking Horse and Rider” silhouette is everywhere around Laramie; in addition to being the logo for the University of Wyoming, I learned later that day the shape is the longest-running drawing used on license plates.


The I-80 rest area southeast of Laramie is a haven for highway history. It’s the highest point on the interstate and US 30 in the country. There are informative panels about the Lincoln Highway and the state in general. There’s a monument to Lincoln, and a monument to Henry Joy, the father of the Lincoln Highway. (The Joy monument was moved from Rawlins, a site he had picked out but was abandoned after I-80 was built; the Lincoln monument was moved its original location a few miles away, the highest point on the original Lincoln Highway, in 1969.)

A war-weary version of Abraham Lincoln is used for his monument.

I had yet another monument to see, the one for the Ames brothers, two miles away from the interstate. Oakes and Oliver Ames — the former the namesake of Ames, Iowa — were “instrumental in completing the Union Pacific section of the [transcontinental] railroad,” a marker at the monument says. But Oakes Ames’ involvement in the railroad turned into his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal. The monument was placed near the highest elevation of the railroad — but as UP improved its system, huge segments of the first transcontinental were left behind, including the one past the Ames monument.


A short distance east of the Ames monument is the “Tree in Rock,” which was along the railroad route, and then US 30, and today is between the lanes of I-80.


I exited off 80 to follow the Lincoln Highway again into Cheyenne, which goes right into downtown and the Cheyenne Depot Museum, and found myself at… a food truck rally. So I got a wood-fired pizza before going into the restored depot and seeing the museum and the model trains upstairs. The whole museum was excellent and highly recommended. The main area of the former depot was open and had a map of the railroad inlaid on the floor (with Omaha marked for the starting point and date, July 10, 1865).

With the capitol closed for construction (and already visited, in 1995) my only other stop was the state museum. It was also excellent and highly recommended. It does a great job of telling the state’s story chronologically, in the traditional museum way of artifacts and informational panels.

To be continued…

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Apr 26

Great Plains Trip Day 3

August 4, 2016: Pioneers literally wore down the stone here. Oregon Trail ruts, Guernsey, Wyoming.

Laramie, Wyoming — This would be my first entry into Wyoming in nearly 16 years. But first, some auto work. After that, I stopped at Rebecca Winters’ grave (PDF) on the east side of Scottsbluff, then I was off on 92.


Route: Downtown Scottsbluff, US 26, NE 92, WY 92, US 26, I-25, WY 34, US 30, to end of BL 80 and back, WY 130, I-80

In Lyman, barely on the Nebraska side of the border, I saw an old school and went to photograph it. Then someone pulled up behind me and then it looked like he was writing in a notebook. I was about to leave but then thought, I need to find out what’s going on here. He’s a student at Nebraska-Kearney, and he’s on a mission to visit every incorporated place in Nebraska! He only has 530 cities to see (and only 149 of them are above 800) in a much bigger area. It was a great moment, and if I hadn’t had to wait for the windshield chip I wouldn’t have met him.

I traveled the westernmost part of Highway 92, into Wyoming, and photographed its end in Torrington, clinching (more or less) the entire route of the four-state Highway 92. I then took US 26, at 70 mph, to Fort Laramie, where I figured I needed to eat. There was only open place, a little mom-and-pop diner.

Restored and un-restored buildings at Fort Laramie. For as remote a place as this is (comparatively), quite a few tourists were there that afternoon.

I spent almost two hours at Fort Laramie (and learned, much later, that I had mis-set the date on the camera.) I spent another hour seeing trail ruts and Register Cliff near Guernsey.

“Old Army Bridge over the Platte River, erected in 1875. This bridge was a vital link between Cheyenne, Fort Laramie and the military outposts, Indian agencies and gold fields of the Black Hills Dakota region. Placed by the Historical Landmark Commission of Wyoming, July 1951″

Register Cliff, 15 minutes from the trail ruts. If it’s 160 years old, it’s history; if it’s 50 years old, it’s graffiti.

I-25 is posted at 80 mph and while traffic was sparse it was an experience. “Next fuel 70 miles” after Wheatland. Yes, definitely the West.

At Morton Pass on WY 34, I experienced something that few Americans do today: A cell phone that said No Service. Shortly after that, it started sprinkling. It stopped around the time I reach WY 34′s end at US 30/287 — the westernmost point of this trip, and what I wanted to be the westernmost point of a continuously traveled stretch of US 30 throughout the country.

I followed 30 into Laramie and then went to the Wyoming Territorial Prison. It was ALSO open until 7 (Hooray!) and it was an informational, entertaining visit.

Wyoming Territorial Prison, Laramie.

There were some others touring the prison, including a couple with small dogs. Museum staff caught up to them in the horse building and told them to “vacate the premises” because one of the dogs did what dogs do. Seriously, who is inconsiderate enough to bring dogs inside historic buildings?

After tonight, it would be on to the next historic trail portion of vacation, east on the Lincoln Highway. 

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Apr 25

Great Plains Trip Day 2

August 3, 2016: Entrance to Scotts Bluff National Monument via old NE 92. NE 92 used to end much farther east, at NE 61 in Arthur County, but then was extended across the state and joined WY 92.

Scottsbluff, Nebraska — Where does the West begin?

Is it the Appalachian Mountains, or the Mississippi River? Is it the north-south run of the Missouri River, where places like Council Bluffs, St. Joseph, and Independence were the starting points for great Western transportation routes, then on a line to the south, where as Will Rogers said, “Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out”? Is it 100 degrees West longitude, the approximate demarcation of the Great American Desert?

Or is it where you’re not reasonably sure of finding a pit stop 20 minutes in the direction you’re traveling?

I was about to go where comparatively few have gone before — as far as both population and 21st-century roadgeeking are concerned. At the time, McPherson County (total pop. 539) and Arthur County (pop. 460) ranked among the 20-least-visited by county counters at mob-rule.com, but they would be my 1399th and 1400th.

The McPherson County seat of Tryon is an unincorporated village.

Route: NE 92, NE 88 to Courthouse/Jail rocks and back, old NE 92, old NE 71, NE 71 down to CR 40 (Banner County) and back to US 26

A Big Breakfast with Hotcakes at the Broken Bow McDonald’s would have to serve as my fuel, as I would not see another place to eat until the end of the day. However, as a prepared Scout, I did have granola bars and Gatorade that came in handy later. Early clouds cleared rapidly, giving me nothing but sun as I drove through the Sand Hills, often with no other cars to see on NE 92.

The view from Ash Hollow State Park, Oregon Trail ruts at left.

I stopped at Ash Hollow and Windlass Hill, where you can see Oregon Trail ruts and a pioneer grave. I’d been here once before, in 2009, but in a rush without a visitor center stop. Starting here, 92 engages in its dance with US 26, joining and separating the rest of the way. I also dipped south to see the Courthouse and Jail Rocks south of Bridgeport.

Preserved grave of Oregon Trail pioneer Rachel Pattison at Ash Hollow.

If you look at the map and wonder why US 26 isn’t simply routed east to US 385 north of Bridgeport, there’s a travel-related answer: Because then you would miss Chimney Rock. Right now, though, 26 was under construction, and with the landmark in sight…PTACK! a pebble or small rock, probably kicked up by the car in front of me, threw a ding into the windshield.

As seen on the Apple //e! OK, not quite.

For the Oregon Trail travelers, Chimney Rock marked the completion of one-third of the journey — the easy part. Today, it’s literally less impressive than it was 175 years ago, after attacks from erosion and lightning. But it’s still a pretty sight, and has a nice visitor center.

From there, Scotts Bluff (the natural formation) is visible, a real sign I’m in the High Plains. And in summer it’s open until 7. Thank you, National Park Service! The late sun made for spectacular views.

View from the top of Scotts Bluff in the summer evening light. Chimney Rock is barely visible in dead-center background, above the middle bluff peak.

Highway 92 used to run through Scotts Bluff National Monument, but now 92 is on a bypass west and north of Scottsbluff. I got one of a surprisingly few hotel rooms available and made some calls to deal with the windshield.

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Apr 24

Great Plains Trip Day 1

August 2, 2016: The Golden Spike Monument in Council Bluffs marks the east end of the Transcontinental Railroad, as designated by Abraham Lincoln himself. However, the first rail bridge to Omaha didn’t open until March 1872.

Broken Bow, Nebraska — This trip is about two-lane roads and historic trails: NE 92, the Oregon Trail, and the Lincoln Highway. As a member of the Oregon Trail Generation, with those factors in mind, there’s really only one way to chart the passage of time, right?


Oh yeah.

Route: US 30, IA 330, I-80 with old IA 925, I-29, 25th St, 9th Ave, get to IA 192, US 275, US 75, I-80, I-680, US 6, NE 92

With the threat of rain along I-80 I took 30/330 to Des Moines, and it worked surprisingly well. West of Des Moines, I picked up the White Pole Road, aka IA 925, aka Old Highway 6, and also made stops in Earlham (unvisited) and Walnut (school). Then, in Council Bluffs, I stopped to see the Golden Spike Monument, and took pictures of the new South Omaha Veterans Memorial Bridge. By now, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I got to my first Lincoln Highway item: the brick section in Elkhorn.

Preserved brick section of the Lincoln Highway between 180th and 192nd Streets. With the upgrade of US 6 (West Dodge Road) to a full freeway, the east end is reached via the 168th Street exit. Built in 1920, it was only part of the Lincoln/US 30 for a decade, until it was rerouted via Blair.

From there, it was time to get familiar with NE 92. Really familiar. Sadly, this exacting travel got an asterisk; I had to take about 10 miles of gravel where 92 was closed off for bridge construction. Otherwise, the conditions were perfect and I got to Broken Bow, setting up camp for the night at the Big 12 Motel.

Fresh with the spirit of exploration, I attempted a local delicacy. They call it a Runza.

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Apr 21

Dispatches from the frontier

The Washington Post went to Kiron, Steve King’s hometown, and put its observations on the front page earlier this week. The article doesn’t set out for a particular point, more of a “day in the life” of pretty typical Iowans.

This is the second report from Crawford County in a month. The New York Times went to Denison and Orange City in March. Apparently, enough NYT readers don’t understand what it means to start a story with “ORANGE CITY —” that the paper will be ushering in the end of the dateline as we know it.

Whether these are examples of trying to see why Steve King keeps getting elected, an installation of decline porn, or both is up to the reader.

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Apr 20

The 1981 map and the tail end of the Great Decommissioning

The disclaimer on the 1981 Iowa highway map.

From the start, I have limited the reach of Iowa Highway Ends to those state highways on the 1981 map and later. (For the US routes, since there are far fewer, any once-existing state line is fair game.) I set that because the Great Decommissioning of 1980 was a watershed in both the scope and purpose of the Iowa highway system. Also, finding the precise in-town endpoint of a highway that hasn’t been signed for decades can be difficult because it could change over the years. Spurs would have a few blocks added or subtracted in an effort to be more consistent in where in the business district they ended, or in relation to a construction project.

There are multiple dates involved in the creation or turnover of a highway, and there can be months in between:

  • The day(s) the local jurisdiction (city/county) accepts.
  • The day the Highway Commission approves (or, when the system was expanding, the day of the meeting the number was designated).
  • The day the signs go down or are put up, or the road opens.

Unless Jason or I have been able to track down that last date, we’ll typically use the second for historic routes, first based on my days spent going through microfilm Highway Commission minutes to get the starting dates for many routes and now on a read-through of the legal descriptions to get the ending dates. A substantial majority of those routes affected in 1980 had both jurisdictional transfers and signs down in July. Otherwise, if I can find it, the date a road opened or closed gets top billing. (Until a year ago, getting that for the 20th century relied on hours of scrolling through newspaper microfilm or my visits to the DOT library in 2006.)

With the online information, and notes from the 1980-81 route logs that I made in 2010, the breakdown of the last spur highways involved in the Great Decommissioning looks like this:

  • On the 1981 map, but not in the 1981 route log: 42*, 95**, 155, 166, 213, 219, 226, 231, 246, 328*, 365. Then there’s IA 154, which we know was replaced by IA 187 in November 1980.
  • On the 1981 map, but already turned over inside city limits: 125, 237, 351, 352, 356. Also the part of IA 114 in Wellman, which still ran south to IA 92 until February. For these routes, I have added the city limits as a “temporary” end, no photo necessary.
  • Turned over in their entirety in 1981: 216, 303, 326, 390
  • Not on the 1981 map, but not turned over until April: 90

That makes 23 highways that, in some fashion, existed on October 10, 1980, but not January 1, 1982***. To simplify that in the index, I lumped all but IA 95** into a “Late 1980 or 1981″ category on the index. Any route that had an endpoint changed in 1980 or 1981, but was/is still around, is treated normally.

Coincidentally, that leaves 23 spur routes that were dropped over the next 20 years — until the Second Great Decommissioning. If I had based my website on the 1983 map instead, the spur index would be 17% smaller.

While making all those changes, I also altered the color for the “Late 1980 or 1981″ numbers in the table. Finally, IA 216 had been omitted from the index at some point; it’s in now. Those responsible have been sacked and replaced with 40 specially trained Ecuadorean llamas.

*The county portions of 42 and 328 were turned over in December, and while Riverton took its piece Dec. 29, Galva didn’t. Because you can’t sign a route inside a town when it doesn’t connect to the system, it got a secret “900″ designation. The same thing happened in Murray, Unionville, and Woodburn, but those numbers had been taken off the 1981 map already.
**IA 95 was supposed to be deleted in 1980, but Adams County “refused to accept jurisdiction of their portion” and the road was designated IA 951 in 1983 and lived another decade.
***IA 244 and 362 had both the old and new versions on the 1981 map, but for simplicity’s sake, I only deal with the latter. IA 91, 333, and 428 had neither.
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Apr 19

Why we don’t have a 2017 map yet

The first part of the year used to herald the annual arrival of two Map Days. One, in late winter, would be the release of the full RAGBRAI map in a Des Moines Sunday Register. That appears to have been discontinued in favor of trickling out daily maps on the website; a composite map of the entire route isn’t released until later (there’s one for 2017 now).

The second, a more recent Map Day, is when the Iowa DOT puts the new state map online. The widespread release of the paper copy follows soon after. In 2015, the first year of a newly established two-year cycle, the map didn’t come out until the beginning of May and the print version didn’t get an official announcement until June.

I’m kind of surprised that there wasn’t an online-only “updated 7-1-16″ version to show the US 71/IA 196/IA 471 shuffle, but the only precedent for that would be a late inclusion of new US 34 in 2014.

This time, even if May/June is going to be the new time-frame for releases, I think there’s a second reason for a delay in issuing a new map — the DOT is waiting for Gov. Terry Branstad to resign. The governor has a “Welcome to Iowa” message on the back of each map; the lieutenant governor’s photo was added in 2000.

I pointed out in 2015 that an odd-year printing would sync up with gubernatorial elections — inauguration in January, map in March(ish). But a modern mid-term resignation is not something Iowa has experienced; the closest is when Robert David Fulton* was governor for 16 days in 1969 until Robert Ray was inaugurated (and it was Ray’s name on the map).

If there wasn’t a delay, and Reynolds lost in 2018, the state map would never feature the face of Iowa’s first female governor. So, since there’s less of a rush to put a map out than even a decade ago, it makes sense to take the time. Branstad won’t be confirmed as ambassador to China until the first week of May at the absolute earliest, but a 2017-18 map released on Memorial Day 2017 is better than a 2017 road atlas issued on Tax Day 2016.

*Had Branstad served out the current term, Iowa would have gone 50 years with only four governors. Instead, Iowa will go just over 47.

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Apr 18

The new R&T lofts

June 11, 2013: View down the staircase that runs the height of the 1918 Register & Tribune Building.

The historic Register & Tribune Building in Des Moines, where I worked for a decade, is almost ready to open as a giant apartment building, KCCI reports. (Video at the link.) It’s a huge transformation, discombobulating even.

The newsroom space (where you see the reporters working on iMacs in the decade-old file footage) is part of the 1949 addition. The giant hole that was once the pressroom underneath is still vacant, though.

Kyle Munson wrote a column about touring the renovated building, which has a slightly different address.

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Apr 17

I wrote a check for 67 cents

Ever since the IRS stopped mailing income tax forms, I’ve been free-filing my taxes online with H&R Block. It’s been fine — or at least it was, until this year.

For 2016, my withholding ended in “9.33″ — but the taxes-owed number ended in zero. That meant technically I owed 67 cents, but since the online prep rounds the numbers, I was marked for the full dollar. Then I got a very unwelcome alert message.

“Since you contributed to a Health Savings Account (HSA), you’ll need to use H&R Block Deluxe to prepare this year’s taxes. Complete your return in H&R Block Deluxe for an additional $34.99.”

This is not directly related to the Affordable Care Act, except inasmuch as HSAs have become more popular. But because I had an HSA, H&R Block saw fit to make me pay. It worked last year, so this is a change.

But no one ever told the tech support people. I was on the phone for half an hour trying to find out if I could at the very least get a PDF of what I’d already entered. After much work, I did, sort of — as a 1040EZ, except you have to fill a full 1040 with an HSA (form 8889).

The woman on the support line and I commiserated about the bait-and-switch. I told her I would put in a good rating for her if there was a survey after my call.

“The phone survey system is not available at this time.” Click.

I laughed for a good long time. Then I got editable PDFs and filled in my numbers, to the cent, and paid my 67 cents, plus the 49 cents I had paid for the stamp, plus another 49 to mail the Iowa form since I wasn’t allowed to file that one electronically without the federal.

The check was cashed at the beginning of March.

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