Friday, August 31, 2018

Scene on the Road CO, NE and IA

We're currently on a cross country road trip from New Hampshire to Oregon and posting about sites along the way. This post is about road scenes in CO, NE and IA.

Interstate Highway 76 (I-76) runs from I-70 in Arvada, Colorado (near Denver) to an intersection with Interstate 80 near Big Springs, Nebraska
The interstate was fairly scenic through parts of CO. The Colorado portion was planned and built first. We traveled from Denver CO to Lincoln, NE.
Interstate 80 (I-80) in Nebraska runs east from the Wyoming state border across the state to Omaha. In October 1974, when it completed construction of the stretch of I-80 spanning the state,
Nebraska was the first state in the nation to complete its mainline Interstate Highway System. Nebraska has over 80 exits along Interstate 80.

I-80 through NE is considered by many as the most boring stretch of interstate in the country. (And, having driven it, we can agree with that consensus.) According to a couple of internet sites, there was debate over putting I-80 through scenic parts of the state vs. the cheapest way to build it which would place it in a totally flat location in the Platte River flood plain. Apparently, the bargain plan won because it is a very flat drive.

In Iowa, construction of I-80 took over 14 years. The first section opened in September 1958, in the western suburbs of Des Moines. The final piece of I-80 in Iowa, the Missouri River bridge to Omaha, Nebraska, opened in late 1972. 

Interstate 80 is the longest Interstate Highway in Iowa. It extends from west to east across the central portion of the state through the population centers of Council Bluffs, Des Moines and the Quad Cities (Davenport, Moline, Rock Island, Bettendorf, East Moline). 

The majority of the highway runs through farmland, and roughly one-third of Iowa's population live along the I-80 corridor. We saw a lot of cornfields along this route.

We also saw some of these windmills along the route. These windmills may not appear very large when seen along the interstate. However, but at a couple of rest stops, we saw separate tractor trailers carrying the components. Each windmill blade was being loaded on a separate trailer; the upright post or stanchion was usually loaded onto several tractor trailers.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Second Tallest Capitol

We're currently on a cross country road trip from New Hampshire to Oregon and posting about sites along the way. This post is about a stop in Lincoln, NE.
This was the most unusual state capitol we'd seen in our travels thus far — the Nebraska state capitol in Lincoln is often called the "Tower on the Plains.” Its 400-foot tower can be seen up to 20 miles away. It was the first state capitol to incorporate a functional tower into its design and it's the tallest building in the city.

Measurements list the capitol at 400 feet, making it the second-tallest U.S. statehouse. It's beat by the Louisiana capitol which is 450 feet tall with 34 stories and is the tallest building in Baton Rouge and the seventh tallest in Louisiana.

The Nebraska capitol is anchored by a three-story square base. This square base houses offices most visited by the public. The main floor (second floor) houses the office of the Governor of Nebraska, the Nebraska Supreme Court, the Nebraska Court of Appeals, and the Nebraska Legislature.

The Nebraska Legislature is the only state unicameral legislature in the U.S. In government, unicameralism is the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber.
Legislature Chamber
Supreme Court
There are 15 stories in the capitol (three mezzanines exist within the tower between the third and fourth floors). The Memorial Chamber on the 14th floor is the highest publicly accessible level, has four observation decks that offer views of the city from 245 feet above ground. (Unfortunately, it had rained the morning of our visit and the observation area was closed to visitors due to possibly slippery tiles.)

The capitol was the product of a nationwide design competition won by NY architect Bertram Grosvenor. The present building, the third to be erected on this site, was the nation’s first statehouse design to radically depart from the typical form of a state capitol and to use an office tower instead. It was built in 10 years (1922-1932) in four phases. The building, furnishings, and landscaping was completed at under the planned $10 million budget and was completely paid for when completed.

Constructed with Indiana limestone, the capitol has a low, wide base in the plan of a “cross within a square” which creates four interior courtyards. The square base is 437 feet on a side and three levels in height. The building’s exterior stone carvings represent historic events in the 3,000 year evolution of democracy. From the center of the base, a tower rises 362 feet, crowned by a gold-tiled dome with a sculpture

"The Sower" is a monumental sculpture on top of the 400-foot tower. This symbol of agriculture is shown as a barefoot man wearing a sun hood, shirt sleeves and pant legs rolled up as he works. The 3/8 inch thick bronze sculpture is reinforced by an interior steel framework and weighs nearly 9-1/2 tons. It was created by NY sculptor, Lee Lawrie. (His most prominent work is the 1937 free-standing bronze Atlas at Rockefeller Center in NYC.)

The ornamental interior features numerous marble-columned chambers with vaulted polychrome tile ceilings, marble mosaic floors and murals depicting the natural and social history of Nebraska’s Native American and Pioneer cultures.

The city of Lincoln's Municipal Code places height restrictions on structures within the designated Capitol Environs District, which maintains the capitol's title as the tallest building in Lincoln. It was also the tallest building in Nebraska for many years, but is now the third. (Two Omaha buildings surpass it; the 634-foot First National Bank (2002) and the 478-foot Woodmen Tower (1969).

In 1976, the National Park Service designated the capitol a National Historic Landmark. The designation was extended to include the capitol grounds in 1997.

Our personal opinion was that this capitol was certainly the most unusual one we visited  in terms of architecture. However, it was our least favorite in terms of the interiors compared to previous state capitols visited in Wisconsin, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rocks That Rock

We're currently on a cross country road trip from New Hampshire to Oregon and posting about sites along the way. This post is about a stop in Morrison, CO.

The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, 10 miles west of Denver, gives a whole new meaning to the term “classic rock.” This place really rocks, both geologically and musically. It's a pity we were not able to attend a performance here.

At 6,450 feet above sea level, the 738-acre Red Rocks Park is a transitional zone where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The natural amphitheatre of Red Rocks was formed over 200 million years. 

The area that Red Rocks now includes was once an ocean floor many, many years ago. Gradual earth movement slowly raised great sandstone ledges from the prehistoric ocean floor, to form the "walls" of the amphitheater. The walls of the amphitheatre contain records dating back to the Jurassic period of 160 million years ago. Nearby dinosaur tracks have been discovered as well as fossil fragments of the 40-foot sea serpent Plesiosaur.

Amphitheatre is the Canadian and British spelling of the word; however it's part of the Red Rocks official name. The amphitheatre was was modeled after the Theatre of Dionysus (amphi is around in Greek). The Roman Colosseum is an early example of an amphitheater, as is the present-day Hollywood Bowl. The U.S. spelling is amphitheater. 

Red Rocks is a geologically formed, open-air concert venue not duplicated anywhere else. With Mother Nature as the architect, the design of the amphitheatre consists of two, 300-foot monoliths, Ship Rock and Creation Rock, which provide a perfect acoustic backdrop for any performance. Both of these monoliths are taller than Niagara Falls and almost as tall as Big Ben in London. 

Red Rocks is a part of the Fountain Formation, a thick stripe of pink sedimentary rocks that stretch along the Front Range’s eastern edge. These colorful rocks form Balanced Rock in Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods and Boulder’s fabulous Flatirons.

The area of Red Rocks, originally known as the Garden of Angels (1870s-1906) has attracted the attention of musical performers since the early 1900’s. Entrepreneur John Brisben Walker, called it Garden of the Titans (1906-1928) and envisioned artists performing on a stage nestled into the acoustic surroundings of Red Rocks. He produced a number of concerts between 1906 and 1910 on a temporary platform, and so began the history of Red Rocks as an outdoor entertainment center.

In 1928, the Denver Parks manager convinced the City of Denver to purchase the area from Walker for $54,133. The park long called by its folk name "Red Rocks” officially became known by that name. The city worked to make it a public concert space by enlisting help from the 1933-1942 federally-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Work Projects Administration (WPA), labor and materials were provided. (WPA was the largest American New Deal agency, that employed millions of people to carry out public works projects. Almost every U.S. community had a park, bridge or school built by the WPA.)

The amphitheatre was designed by Denver architect Burnham Hoyt, who modeled it after the Theatre of Dionysus at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, with an emphasis on preserving the natural beauty of the area. Plans were completed in 1936 and the amphitheater was dedicated in June 1941; however actual construction spanned 12 years. 

The highest seat at Red Rocks has an elevation of 6,435 feet. The amphitheatre has a total seating capacity of 9,525.  Red Rocks Amphitheatre was once listed as among the Seven Wonders of the World.

The amphitheater is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver, CO. The first performance each season is a non-denominational Sunrise Service held on Easter Sunday, a tradition that started in 1947.

A concert was scheduled for the evening of the day we visited and the area was being  while the band rehearsed in the afternoon. Fortunately. we were able to spend time looking around before it closed. We heard the group to appear that night, Nathanial Ratliff & the Night Sweats, rehearse for awhile. (From what we heard, it's not a concert we would've wanted to attend.) Concert attendance is not inexpensive; general admission tickets start at $50 and upwards depending on the popularity of the performer (remember the seating here is stone, no padded seats or backrests). We were OK with admiring the area's natural beauty, which was completely FREE.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Scene on the Road, NV, UT and WY

We're currently on a cross country road trip from New Hampshire to Oregon and posting about sites along the way. This post is about road scenes in UT and WY.

After spending a  few days visiting with friends in Oregon, we started the return trip to NH. Below are some of the road scenes as we drove Utah and Wyoming.Most of the photos were taken while Grenville was driving. The posted speed limit on Interstate 80 varied between 75 and 80 mph.

Nevada was the first state we travelled through after leaving Oregon. Our first stop was Reno, and then next was Elko. I-80 is the Interstate highway that most closely approximates the route of the historic Lincoln Highway, the first road across the U.S.
Interstate 80 (I-80) traverses the northern portion of Nevada. The interstate serves the Reno–Sparks metropolitan area and passes through the towns of Fernley, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Carlin, Elko, Wells and West Wendover on its way through the state.

When it completed construction of the stretch of I-80 spanning the state in October 1974, Nebraska was the first state in the nation to complete its mainline Interstate highway system. The state has over 80 exits along Interstate 80 and is about 430 miles long and 210 miles wide.

Utah followed Nevada and the portion of I-80 in this state is 196.35-miles long through the northern part of the state.
I don't know the name of these mountain ranges, but they were very impressive.

I-80 extends for 402.8 miles through the state of Wyoming and reaches its maximum elevation of 8,640 feet above sea level at Sherman Summit, near Buford, which at 8,000 feet is the highest community on I-80.
We stayed in Rock Springs, WY and stopped at the Old Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins.

Farther west in Wyoming, the Interstate passes through the dry Red Desert and over the Continental Divide.

At a scenic pullover we stopped to admire this scenic view of a reservoir, where there was a lot of water sports activity. We're not sure, but It might have been in an area known as Curt Gowdy State Park.

Luckily, the skies were fairly clear the day we were traveling and the views were quite spectacular. Unfortunately, I don't know the names of any of the these mountains. 

We were in awe at so many landscape changes driving through these three western states, but there were many stretches of repetition (and boredom) as well. We saw a lot of brown (and more brown) and cattle (and more cattle), plus lots of sage brush but not a single buffalo or cowboy on the range. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Jailed Again

We're currently on a cross country road trip from New Hampshire to Oregon and posting about sites along the way. This post is about a stop in Rawlins, WY.

We hadn't planned to visit another penitentiary after visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary, which was depressing enough.

That said, this stop at the Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, WY, just happened that way. As we were driving along I-80, the prison showed on the map as a point of interest. And, of course, we decided to stop in for a tour.

It's a vast place and depressing to say the least. An estimated 13,500 inmates were kept here during the prison's years of operation from 1901 to 1981.

The cornerstone for what became Wyoming’s first state prison was laid in 1888, two years after the territorial Legislature approved a $75,000 appropriation, but due to funding issues and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for 13 years. It's a fortress-like penitentiary. Depressing enough when in use, it's grown more dismal over the years with crumbling concrete and peeling paint. 

During our tour, we learned that 250 people died here. Fourteen men were executed, others died of natural causes, committed suicide or were victims of inmate violence.

In December 1901, the prison opened with 104 cells (Cell Block A), no electricity or running water, and very inadequate heating. The first inmates arrived in December 1901, when male prisoners were transported by train from the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Women convicts were added in 1902 and served their sentences in a separate ward. They were only housed at the prison until 1909 when transferred to Colorado.

Overcrowding was a constant issue, and the first of several additions to the penitentiary was completed in 1904, adding 32 cells to the west end of the original cell block. 
A prisoner uprising occurred in 1912 because of deteriorating conditions. A second cell block, constructed in 1950, included hot running water and cells for solitary confinement. In 1966, a 36-cell maximum security addition was built. 

We toured the now weed-filled prison yard which once contained baseball and basketball facilities. The catwalks which guards once patrolled are still there.

Our tour led us past the remains of several factories on the prison grounds.From 1901 through 1917 the prison had a broom factory; inmates burned it down during a riot.
The factory was rebuilt and operated as a shirt factory which brought the state revenue until 1934, when a federal law was passed that prohibited the sale and transportation of prison-made goods inter-state. The factory closed and 193 was re-opened as a woolen mill which won an award (“Navy E”) in 1942 for the superior quality blankets produced for the military during WW II. In 1949, the prison changed production one last time, producing license plates until its closing in 1981.

In 1916, the penitentiary added a “death house” which consisted of six cells to house inmates on death row, and an indoor version of the "Julian Gallows." 

To spare a hangman any pangs of conscience and to avoid paying an executioner, a  Wyoming architect James Julian, was commissioned to design a new "humane" gallows. Using this method, a condemned prisoner hung himself by standing on a trap door that opened when his body weight forced enough water out of a counter-balanced bucket. (We saw a demo in the gift shop and, yes, it was as awful as it sounds.)

In 1936, the prison added a gas chamber when it replaced hanging as Wyoming’s method of execution. 

In total, the prison carried out 14 executions; nine men were hanged, and five were executed in the gas chamber by the use of hydrocyanic acid gas.

(Visitors are allowed to sit in the gas chamber, but we declined this offer.)

The addition of the second cell block in 1950 temporarily relieved overcrowding, and included solitary confinement cells, a much more efficient heating system, and hot running water which wouldn’t be installed in the original cell block for another 28 years. 
A maximum security addition was completed in 1966. This addition included 36 cells and was reserved for serious discipline cases.

Our tour included the prison cafeteria and dining room with its prisoner-painted murals on the walls. The dining room originally had wood tables and benches which prisoners would break up and use as weapons and stainless steel tables and benches were installed and bolted down.

The prison closed in 1981, after serving the state for 80 years It sat abandoned until 1987 when a low budget movie was filmed on location and caused damage to the prison which was not yet a historic site. In 1988, the Old Pen Joint Powers board assumed ownership of the penitentiary, renaming it The Wyoming Frontier Prison and establishing it as a museum. 

It's listed on The National Registry of Historic Places and "welcomes" an estimated 15,000 visitors annually. There's a small museum  where highlights include a doll-sized working model of the "humane" Julian gallows and a display of rope samples from successful hanging. 

After visiting  prisons in two different states, we can say we don't plan to add any future ones to our "must-see" places. Once is enough and twice was even more so.

And, as before, just make sure you leave with everyone you came in with. This fellow was once again briefly incarcerated. Happy to say, he made a complete get-away.