Walk, don’t run

I spent last night at the darkest place east of the Mississippi, Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It is the best place in the East to stargaze and to see the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the blue sky during the day turned into a very gray sky by the time the sun set; so much for a final gaze at the stars. People had come all the way from the Philadelphia area to take photos and see the Milky Way for the first time. I hope they have more luck tonight; however, the forecast this morning wasn’t great.
Today, I headed south on highways 44 and 144, both lead through the mountains, yes mountains. At 2,400’ they qualify as mountains. The drive took me thru beautiful Clinton and Union counties. I just wish the roads would have been a little less bumpy and just a bit wider. I had to keep my eyes glued to the road and could only enjoy part of this great scenery. This area must be spectacular in the fall with all the leaves changing colors.
I followed some tiny roads south of I-80 to get to highway 192 east to the R.B. Winter State Park. The park has a lake and a swimming beach, just what you need in this kind of weather. I had my reservations about a state park on the weekend, but figured for one night it would be OK. Well, within minutes of getting to the campground I was certain that I would not spend the night here, not even one. The parking lots were filled with cars, people walking around in swimsuits, the beach was packed, I guess you get the picture. I had no interest to be subjected to crowds and the noise that comes with it. I’ll have plenty of that when I am back in NYC. I headed for the park office and asked if there are any dispersed campsites in the adjacent state forest where I could stay overnight. These are primitive campsites, no water or electricity and they are free. All you need is a permit issued by the bureau of forestry. After a little research the very nice park employee had me on the phone with the forestry folks and they faxed over a permit. I am staying in the woods about two miles from the commotion, wonderful.

The way I like it - quiet, no neighbors

It was too early to call it a day and I decided to go for a little walk in my “neighborhood”. Usually, when you hear noise in the woods it comes from squirrels chasing each other or from a deer. I don’t know why, but when I heard a noise I looked for a stick as protection, not that it would have really helped. I kept on walking until I came around the bend and saw a black bear less than fifty yards away on the trail. I very carefully walked backwards until I couldn’t see the bear anymore and than walked at a steady pace in the opposite direction. No, I didn’t stick around long enough to take a picture. I like an adventure, but I am not stupid. After that almost encounter I was even more alert to the noises around me and I was glad to be back at my camper.
It is going to be a wonderful dark and quiet night, just the bear and I. Good night.

Inching back to New York City

Much time and many miles have past since my last post. I started writing posts, but didn’t finish any. I have not been in the mood to write, the inevitable end of my journey has been looming over me. I have stayed in places longer than I usually do, hoping to avoid the return to NYC, no such luck. It is not that I hate to go back to the city, I love that place. It is more the fear that I have to sell my truck which would mean the end to any future travels. I just can’t afford the truck and rent.
Don’t get me wrong, it has not all been gloom and doom since my last entry. I had a very nice write-up in the online version of GoMagazine, including a small slide show of some of my photos. Let’s see what comes from this publicity.

Hay bales

I left Iowa crossing the Mighty Mississippi River into Wisconsin. The flat cornfields were replaced by very hilly even mountainous terrain where fields moved up the hillside, a welcome change of scenery; forests instead of just gatherings of trees. I stayed for four nights in the tiny town of Avoca, population 608, at the city park campground, adjacent to a baseball field. I treated myself to some Little League games.
A friend of mine told me that I had to visit Madison, the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin. Madison is a vibrant and progressive college town and to me a very large city (pop. 233,000+). I street camped for two nights in a very nice residential

Madison Capitol Building and city lights reflecting in Monona Bay

neighborhood at Monona Bay with views of the State Capitol Building, stunning at night with the city lights reflecting in the water. I even caught a glimpse of the 4th of July fireworks finale from my camper, not bad for a free camp spot. I always thought that California campgrounds are expensive, but they are nothing compared to the prices charged in the East where campgrounds are only open for six to seven months. I have seen places charge $60 per night! Bet they don’t have a site with a view of the Capitol Building. Large cities are a pain to explore by car so I did the next best thing and rented a bicycle for the day. I make sure to have my own bike on my next trip. After exploring the downtown and surrounding area, I managed to go for a swim in Lake Mendota; the other big lake in Madison, unfortunately the water was full of algae. I was glad that there were showers at the beach/park. I can’t say that I really liked Madison. It’s not a bad city, I just didn’t like it.

Brooklyn town sign

I headed south from Madison via Brooklyn to Illinois. I stayed west of Chicago, no need to get myself into another large city. In Illinois I briefly stopped in West Brooklyn. It is fun to travel through all those namesake towns. I visited Manhattan in Kansas and in Illinois and I stayed overnight in Warsaw, Indiana.
Once I entered Illinois the towns seemed to move closer and the farms seemed smaller. Even the little roads have traffic, no more peaceful cruising through the countryside. I had returned to the East. I thought Iowa’s roads were bad, but the roads in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania were not any better. What happened to those shovel read stimulus projects? Let’s fix our roads. The roads I was on today were so bad that my camper moved a good inch within the truck bed, not good.

Hay bales

Illinois was followed by Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Indiana and Ohio are a bit of a blur. I was driving close to 200 miles a day and I only spent the night at each stop for three days. That might not seem like much to you, but I had been driving around 100 miles a day. If you haven’t followed my blog, driving my pick-up with the camper is nothing like driving a regular car or just a pick-up. My rig weighs 11,000 pounds, is top heavy and almost as wide as a lane. Driving on two lane highways with no shoulder takes my full concentration and a 200 mile drive takes six hours. Never mind narrow roads through small towns where I always fear to hit the roadside mailboxes with my huge mirrors.
Why the rush? I was trying to meet-up with my hiking buddy Ron from Nevada. He was visiting his sister in Erie, PA. He wasn’t sure how long he would stay and I didn’t want to miss him. It took Ron only four days to drive the 2,200 miles from Nevada to Erie. In contrast, it took my three and a half months and close to 7,000 miles (=NYC to L.A. to NYC and ½ way L.A.). I guess I was doing a little more “sightseeing”.

Amish farmers harvesting spelt

It was great to see Ron again and to meet his sister and his friends. We roamed the countryside and visited his Amish friends in Pennsylvania and New York. I felt very privileged when we were invited into their home to have lunch.

Amish buggies driving down the road

It takes a little bit before you realize that there are no electrical outlets, no rugs or carpets, no framed pictures or photographs. The big stove and oven are wood burning and there is only cold running water, no flush toilet; a clutter free household. The fields are still farmed the old fashioned way with horse and plow. In the barn you find the workhorses and the horses that pull the buggies. I knew about all this before I met the

Amish buggies

Amish, but it is very different when you get to experience some of this first hand. I admire that the Amish community has withstood the pressures to modernize in any way and has stuck with their “simple” way of life. I am aware that there are issues within the community, especially when it comes to leaving the Amish. You have to choose between family or the “English” world. You can’t live in both. A decision I am glad I never have to make.
I am leaving Jamestown, NY and head back into Pennsylvania. I don’t like to see all those NY state license plates, makes me feel like I am home.

Amish spelt harvest

I have two weeks left on this incredible journey. My goals when I am back in NYC are to write about all those stories I promised, to edit my photos and to find some additional part-time jobs, not necessarily in this order. Hopefully, a photo book will follow soon as well.
I dread having to empty my camper and move back into my apartment. I am just not ready for stationary life.

Lucky, lucky me

I am just one lucky traveling gal.
A couple of days ago when I was traveling from West Bend to Charles City, Iowa I ran into a farmer, figuratively speaking. I just caught a glimpse of corn

Filling truck with corn

being loaded into a big truck, something I had never seen before; after all, I am a city girl. I had to turn around. I pulled up next to the grain silos where the farmer was standing. I asked if he would mind if I take some photos of the process, not at all. He told me the corn was for ethanol production and we got talking. During the thirty minutes it took for the truck to fill-up we talked about the misconception of ethanol production, hog farming, corn harvest, the difference between sweet corn (for human consumption) and feed corn (for livestock feed and ethanol production) the floods and travel. He pretty much

Ethanol plant - unloading corn

echoed what I had heard during a conversation I had with the nice owners of the Wolverine Wash back in West Bend. Big Oil vs. ethanol. I had always heard that one needs ¾ of a gallon fuel to produce one gallon of ethanol. What I had not heard, and you might not have either, is that ethanol production creates a byproduct called Dried Distiller Grains (DDG) which is used for livestock feed. It fattens up livestock faster than corn itself. So, one bushel of corn (56 lbs) produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol and roughly 17 pounds of nutrient dense livestock feed. The industry has also become more efficient in the last couple of

fermentation tanks

years. At the end of my conversation with the farmer (sorry, we never exchanged names) he asked if I would like to come to the ethanol plant with him. Too bad, he was going north and I was headed east. Iowa is one of five ethanol producing states (Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota are the others) and this conversation made me curious and I figured there had to be more plants around and maybe I could just visit one on my own. I was in luck; there is a plant in Charles City, the town I was staying in. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky when I asked if I could take a peak inside. The answer was simply Nope, no can do. No explanation, just no, too bad.

Fermentation tanks

By now you must be asking yourself: “Why is she calling herself lucky?” Well, on the next leg of my trip I saw some trucks loaded with corn pulling off the highway into what looked like an ethanol plant, yup Homeland Energy Solutions (HES). Let’s give it another shot. I pulled right in behind some trucks and headed for the office. When I stepped out of my truck I was greeted by this sweet smell of yeast (used in the corn fermentation process). Did I stand in front of a bakery or an ethanol plant? I don’t think you ask yourself that question when you stand in front of an oil refinery.

Ethanol bins

Once inside, the reception was different as well. “Sure, not a problem. We’ll be happy to give you a tour.” Kevin, the plant manager at HES, first answered some of my questions and then gave me an hour long tour from start to finish of the process. I even was allowed to take photos! Starting with the unloading

Loading dried distiller grains

of the trucks, what takes thirty minutes to load only takes three minutes to unload. The corn gets ground into fine grains, fermented, the byproduct gets dried resulting in DDG, ethanol – shipping out to oil refineries via train to be added to the gasoline, DDG shipped out by train or truck. This is the CliffsNotes version of the tour. The whole thing was very impressive and the numbers were staggering. I didn’t take notes, but if you are interested in more detailed information go to the HES website www.homelandenergysolutions.com and watch the video. Buffering takes a little bit be patient.
Thank you Kevin for taking the time and thank you for the education!
My hopes for the day had been to make it to McGregor at the Mississippi River. However, I only made it to McGregor Street, really, in Clermont, Iowa. Due to the unexpected ethanol tour it had gotten late in the day and I knew I wouldn’t make it to my planned campsite. When I drove through Clermont my first

Clermont - old public school

reaction was, I want to stay here and take a closer look. I turned into a side street and asked a mother and daughter duo walking down the street if there are any overnight parking places. Yes, there is a campground just outside of town. I had kind of seen the place, but didn’t feel like spending money for the night. After a little debating I just pulled into a parking spot down the street. The duo was kind enough to talk with the lady who lived in the house I parked in front of. Not a problem. Turns out that Arlene is also the town historian and she told me about the town’s brick making history and the State governor Larrabee who built the school in town back in 1912. The next morning Arlene gave me a tour of the school. Built entirely out of brick with three foot walls, no flammable materials were used on the inside, just metal, tile and brick. If that wasn’t enough, Arlene gave me some yummy Amish friendship bread. When you bake it you are supposed to give away a loaf or two. Usually, I only get to drive through a town and have to make up my own story about its history, this was a real treat to hear the actual story behind a town. Thank you Arlene.

Downtown McGregor

I was headed to the Yellow River campground in the woods near McGregor. I was ready for some dry camping. The campground is located several miles outside of town and I figured I might as well check out the town before I continue to the campground. The “turn here” sign appeared too quickly and I couldn’t make the turn, darn. I continued down the road looking for a good place to turn. I saw a recreational area sign and turned. Look at that, there is a campground here. It was a county campground right outside of town. Same amenities or lack there of as the campground I was headed for, just much closer.
Saturday was another of my laundry days, you see I still have to take care of the same chores everyone else has. Unfortunately, the laundromat in McGregor was a dump. On the bright side I met James, who lives in the apartment behind the laundromat. We chatted for a while; he was wondering what on earth I

Traveling the backroads

was doing in McGregor. He was not anywhere as interested in nature and her beauty as I was. He disappeared back into his apartment just to come out a few minutes later with a little ceramic lighthouse. You know those souvenirs you buy when you are in a coastal town. He gave it to me, just like that. He collects lighthouses he told me. He wanted to give me also a large wooden lighthouse, but I told him it was too big for my little space. I thought it was really sweet of him.

Now you know why I consider myself lucky.

A little Iowa trivia. Did you know that Iowa has ski resorts? The temperatures during the winter drop well below 0 F (-16 C) ranging between -10 and -20 F (-20 to -30C) with lots of snow. Who knew?

Mississippi River and Blackhawk Bridge, Iowa & Wisconsin

The western part of the state is pretty much all agriculture with gently and sometimes steep rolling hills. The east, however, has forests and beautiful bluffs along the Mississippi River.

Regretting not being in New York City

Heritage of Pride March - rainbow ballons

Today is the first time in over fifteen months that I regret not being in New York. I woke up to the wonderful news that just before mid-night Friday the NYS senate had passed the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing same-sex marriage. I wish I could be celebrating with my fellow New Yorkers, especially during tomorrow’s Pride March down Fifth Avenue.

Happy Pride!

Photos are copyright protected

Please note that ALL photos on this site are copyright protected. They cannot be used for any purpose without PRIOR written consent.
If you would like to purchase a photo you can click on the link to my photo collection on the right.
Today, I found one of my photos on the news website The Real Timer. The photo was used without my knowledge or permission. The site had the nerve to put (c)landscapesacrosstheusa.com in the upper corner of the photo, making it look like the usage was legit. Shame on you, you STOLE my photo. You rather use low a resolution photo than to pay for a high quality version. There are plenty of people out there who want to give away their photos for free; I am not one of them!
Real Timer, pay me or take my photo of your website!

Words I don’t want to hear anymore

Nimrod Dam - Arkansas

Severe thunderstorm, tornado watch, thunderstorm warning, tornado warning. I would much rather hear: sunny with temperatures between 70 and 80 F, light winds, low humidity and chance of precipitation less than 10%.

Picnic table under water at the Beaver Lake

Last night the county I slept in was under a tornado watch until 4 am. I wish I hadn’t turned on the radio. A watch is not really that bad; it means that the conditions exist for a tornado to form. By 10 PM thunders were rolling and lightning was flashing. The wind sounded like a freight train barreling down the

"Little Golden Gate Bridge" no more

road. My camper was on my truck and we were just swaying a little. I am not made for these kinds of weather conditions, especially not when I live in a box. I saw some of the damage on my way east, downed trees and in one case a roof had blown off a barn.

Flood waters from the Missouri River flooding crop fields.

Rainfall in the Midwest has been much higher than normal this year. The Missouri River is overflowing on all corners. I had planned on driving close to the

Crossing the Missouri River

South Dakota border from Nebraska, but decided against it because of flooding and closed roads. I was fortunate to cross the Missouri River in Decatur, Nebraska. On the Iowa side the river had already come within 20’ of the road.

The road used to reach the house. The river is 1/2 mile away

Whole towns are under flood threat or have already flooded and farmers are loosing their crops. The floodwaters are supposed to be around for several months! Can’t we ship some of this water off to the Southwest?

Iowa = agriculture

I remember driving through Iowa on interstate 80 some fourteen years ago, the trip from LA to Chicago. I was not particularly fond of the state. The roads were bad and the scenery was boring. If I remember correctly, I called a friend to keep me from getting bored out of my mind.

Farm country

Some things don’t change; the roads are still pretty bad, very bumpy. But I haven’t gotten bored yet and I have been driving through fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa for a couple of hundred miles. Sprinkled in with the fields are wind turbines and hog farms. The buildings for the hogs look just like the chicken houses back in Arkansas, but the smell is distinctly pig. It is really amazing to see nothing but cultivated fields as far as the eye can see. No forests or even larger groupings of trees.

Grain elevator and wind turbines in cornfield

Overall Iowa is flat, not as flat as I would like, but Kansas and Nebraska were hillier. I entered the state by crossing the Missouri River at Decatur, Nebraska. I was lucky to still make it across the bridge given the current flood stage of the Missouri. I followed highway 175 from Onawa to Mapleton. Not expecting to see any larger hills I was surprised when I saw this large uplift in front of me, the Loess Hills. They are 200 feet high and span from Sioux City all the way down to the Missouri state border, some 200 miles.

Hog farm

The area in the west is somewhat hilly and fields are planted on terraces just like the rice paddies in China. Having seen several agriculture states I find the differences in barn construction and grain silos from state to state interesting. Red barns versus white barns, single silo versus attached silo rows. Come on, there is nothing else to see, might as well find something interesting.

Iowa grain elevators

I spent two nights at the Black Hawk Lake State Park in Lake View. The lake is one of very few natural lakes in the state and not the result of dam building. Note to self: Do not stay at state parks during the summer on weekends if you want peace and quiet!
Since I didn’t know anything about Iowa, I asked the rangers at the park where to go and what to see and I consulted my Road Trip USA book. Between the two I came up with a route through Iowa and some interesting places to see.

Grotto of the Redemption

The first stop would be West Bend, in northwest or central Iowa, depending on whom you ask. I had read about this grotto a German catholic priest, Paul Dobberstein, had build between 1912 and 1954 when he died. Once again, I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away when I drove past and mind-boggled once I started to walk around the Grotto. This man had traveled around the country to collect rocks, petrified wood, precious / semi precious stones and quartz in various colors to build this absolutely amazing structure. Millions of rocks. If you like rocks or are into geology, you have to see this place. I don’t have the words to explain it and photos don’t do it justice. The Grotto covers an area the size of a small city

Grotto of the Redemption

block; it is the largest grotto in the world. I have traveled around this country a lot and I have seen many beautiful and incredible landscapes and still I found this man-made Grotto to be among one of the most amazing things I have see. Dobberstein’s imagination, craftsmanship (he was German) and his use of nature’s creation just made for one spectacular structure. You have to see it with your own eyes to get the full grasp of it.
Let’s see what other surprises Iowa has in store for me.

We don’t choose the road we travel, the road chooses us

Well, at least some times. Let me explain. Before I left Joplin I had mapped out a route to Laurence, Kansas where I was visiting a friend. The idea was to head straight west out of Joplin into Kansas where I would head north on highway 59. I have no idea what possessed me or why I changed my mind as I was already sitting in the truck and was ready to go. I just said: “I would like to spend a little more time in Missouri.” So instead of heading west, I went 60 miles north and then west on hwy 54 towards Fort Scott, Kansas.

Restored historic Fort Scott

I was already in the turning lane when something struck my eye and I decided to check out Fort Scott instead of bypassing it. I had not researched the place nor had I ever heard of it. Was I in for a treat! I am not a big history buff, especially when it comes to the American War and the Civil War. I am much more interested in the architecture of the town. The town of Fort Scott has done a great job restoring its old buildings from the mid / late 1800s. I don’t think that I have seen many small towns which managed to revitalize their historic district like Fort Scott. I even felt like doing a little shopping, not one of my favorite pastimes. I stopped in at the life+style kitchen supply / cooking store on Main Street. I bought some wonderful oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies, yummy and asked one of the ladies working in the store what I need to see given that I only had 15 minutes. Cynthia said that I had to see the Twin Mansions just a few blocks down the road. She picked up the phone and called the owner of the Twins, now a Bed & Breakfast place (www.LyonsTwinMansions.com), to find out if she had time to show me the home. The funny thing was that Cynthia first misdialed the number for the Twins, but still knew the person at the other end by name, it is a small town. I was in luck, Pat the B & B owner had time and she gave me a full tour of one of the twins built by a banker back in the 1870s. Beautiful woodwork, high ceilings, just what you would expect of a

Lyons Twin Mansions Bed & Breakfast

grand Victorian house. If I hadn’t already told my friend that I was coming that day (I had originally planned on being there by Memorial Day) I would have spent the rest of the day exploring Fort Scott. Hopefully, there will be a next time. You just never know what happens when you don’t stick with your plans.
I am skipping over my visit at my friend’s place, the beautiful Flint Hill area and the rest of my stay in Kansas for the time being.
About 14 years ago I spent the night in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was on a business trip driving a big van from Los Angeles to Chicago. You can tell I like to drive. I remember that I liked Lincoln, I didn’t really know why, it was one of those feeling you get when you enter a town. Now that I was back in Nebraska I wanted to check out the place more closely. I didn’t recognize anything and I didn’t have this immediate, “I really like this place” feeling either. Lincoln has grown by leaps and bounds since I visited last (1997 pop. 211,000 / 2010 – 258,000). I would call it a big small city, State capital and home of the University of Nebraska. I spent the morning hours driving around town and I liked what I saw. The old manufacturing buildings of the Haymarket had been converted to shops, restaurants and bars. The commercial main streets were busy, but the residential neighborhoods were nice and quiet. Several parks and tree lined streets. People, mainly students, were biking everywhere, a rare sight in a large American city. It is also a walkable city, to some extend. Would I move here, I don’t know. I saw a sign for a 750 sq. ft. one bedroom apartment for $425, don’t know what the wages are like, but you can’t even get a garage parking spot for that kind of money in New York City.

The Haymarket - Lincoln

Lincoln has a variety of ethnic grocery stores, thanks to a diverse population, a big plus. However, fresh fish is hard to get in the middle of the country. I had dinner at the Capital City Grill and I ordered tuna, again. This time it was prepared the way it should be, but I could tell the fish had been frozen. There is just nothing better than nice fresh fish. I can’t wait to go to one of my favorite seafood restaurants in NYC, Ocean Grill, and order some crab cakes.
I am getting a little off track, sorry. I didn’t want to spend another night in Lincoln and was loading my camper back onto the

Sunken Gardens - Lincoln

truck when I noticed that one of the turning signals on the camper wasn’t working. It was a wiring problem and a broken bulb. It took me a bit to fix both. The signal works, but I still get a fault message in the truck, not good. Of course when it rains it pours. My inflator for the airbags, additional support for the rear suspension, did not work. It worked just fine yesterday. I can’t really drive safely with a heavy load (last weigh-in 11,000 lbs.!!!) without inflated airbags. Fortunately, a fellow camper had a compressor and inflated the bags. At this point it was three o’clock and my mood was not so rosy any more. Bare with me, I am getting to the point.
Once again, I had picked a route before all this happened, but guess what, I didn’t stick with it. Since I left Nevada, I have gotten more comfortable with camping outside of regular campgrounds, i.e. parking lots or streets; the big plus: no charge, the disadvantage: no hook-ups. But with increasing temperatures I am less dependent on electricity since my solar panel charges my batteries. I just have to find a place to dump gray and black water every couple of days. As I was driving along, I started to fade, four o’clock energy lull. All I was thinking of was asking a farmer if I could stay on his land for the night. Just north of Prague, really, was a sign for a recreational area at a lake, I missed the first turn off, put managed to pull into the second one. To my delight it was a very small campground, only 8 or 9 sites, no hook-ups, a beautiful quiet setting and NO charge. There are only few campgrounds where you can stay for free, some even with hook-ups. It might be difficult for you city rats to get excited about campgrounds and hook-ups, but if you have been on the road for as long as I have (today 15 months!), this is gold. There is only one other guy here with his truck and boat, should be a quiet night at the Czechland Lake. Thank you Mother Road!

I received this e-mail today from Joplin and I would like to pass it on to everyone.

The AmeriCorps groups here currently need more volunteers to help us with debris removal, home deconstruction, data entry, call center support, and warehouse support. If you are able to volunteer again, or come for the first time we would greatly appreciate it.

Please contact the volunteer hotline if you have: heavy machinery, want to schedule a group, or want to volunteer as an individual. The number is available from 9am-5pm. Volunteer hotline is: 417-625-3543. Walk-ins are always welcomed just go to the MSSU football field to check in.

The different faces of Joplin

My time in Joplin has come to an end (June 5). After ten days, eight in the field, of volunteering my body is exhausted and it is time for me to move on. The heat and humidity (60%) down here have been quite oppressive; 94 F in the shade if you can find any. With the trees gone and the houses flattened shade is a commodity hard to come by.

Yours truly totally exhausted

On Saturday I called it a day after working for four hours in the heat picking up debris. Debris = 2×4 beams, roofing materials, sheet rock – most of the time soaking wet (the day after the tornado Joplin was hit by a thunderstorm), fiberglass insulation (gets all over your skin and itches like hell), siding, building walls, basically anything you use in the construction of a house either in small pieces or big chunks or even whole walls, tree trunks and branches, personal belongings. All that gets separated into piles; tree stuff, home building materials and metal are the big ones. Trees/branches are supposed to get mulched, home building stuff ends up in the landfill or gets burnt and metal will be recycled. Any personal belongings we find are set aside for the homeowner to decide if (s)he wants to keep it or not. Unfortunately, we never knew if what we found actually belonged to the people who lived in that house or if it belonged to their neighbors near and far. By the time I left Joplin garbage trucks started to remove some of the debris piles. I believe this will make a big difference and show that progress is being made. However, it will be awhile before the rebuilding can begin.
Volunteers were taken by school bus to the various clean-up areas and over and over again I could hear the first time volunteers say: “this is not what you see on TV” and “this looks so much worse in person”.

Overlooking the devasted area near 20th Street

As I mentioned in my previous post, I stayed 20 + miles east of town in the countryside. A beautiful location, but the drive “home” was too much at the end of the day. Just by chance the lady at the University bookstore offered me to stay in their driveway five minutes away, lucky me. Mary Kathryn and Tom live right at the edge of the destruction. Fortunately, their house was not damaged and they only lost one tree. From their driveway you can see the start of the devastation across the street. Thank you Mary Kathryn and Tom for letting me stay at your place and for having me “over” for dinner.

Tom, Mary Kathryn and me

I have worked with some great volunteers. I am always impressed when I hear from how far away they came or that they are sleeping in their cars in the university parking lot. One young kid lost his job in Wisconsin, took all his money to drive down here and is sleeping in a small tent on the university campus lawn. He got poison ivy all over his legs, stepped on a rusty nail and he still plans on staying here as long as it takes. That’s what I call dedication. The university didn’t object to the handful of tents on their lawn, but they didn’t spread the word about bathroom facilities. It took awhile to figure out where on campus the not so official showers and flush toilets were located. Even though I have a shower in my camper, I didn’t want to even drive a mile after a day out in the field without having showered beforehand. My skin was covered in grime; my arms itched from the fiberglass, never mind the overall sweatiness. On my second day I wore shorts, but quickly realized that jeans, even though much warmer, do a better job protecting my legs from the itching fiberglass.
One of the days I didn’t work in the field, I helped out at a donation warehouse. People had dropped off loads of clothing, food and toiletries. All that needed to be sorted and organized. Did you know there is organic herbed chicken with pasta BABY food in a jar? Why?? Anyway, Joplin residents who had been displaced would come to these warehouse locations and pick-up what they needed for the moment. It is hard to comprehend to have to start at zero. Even harder to comprehend is how some people take advantage of these bleak situations. We had to cross-out the barcodes on all new items we received because word had gotten out that some people were re-selling these items. Hopefully these were only isolated instances.
I spent the last day of my volunteering duties doing some data entry. After spending days in the heat moving and lifting heavy stuff I figured I’ll give my body a break and sit in front of a computer in an air-conditioned room instead. All those hours the volunteers put in need to be logged.

Historic Main Street

The tornado destroyed about 30% of Joplin; however, you can drive around town and never know what happened. People in the unaffected areas, even if they are only a block away from destroyed homes, go on with life as usual. It was odd to see people mowing their laws and trimming the edges.

B & B Victorian home

I had planned on visiting Joplin long before this disaster happened and so I decided to play tourist for an afternoon after work. I drove to the old / historic downtown. Joplin used to be a zinc mining town in the early 1900s and many of the old merchant buildings along Main Street are still standing. A little to the west of Main Street is a residential area with several very nice Victorian homes. None of this was touched by the tornado.

The number of volunteers that sign up and go out into the field under AmeriCorps’ organization has dwindled. On Sunday only a couple of hundred went out into the field for debris removal versus thousands last weekend. Let’s hope that people will continue to come out as long as they are needed.

Wow, volunteers everywhere

I have now been in Joplin for four days and I am still amazed and excited about the continued outpouring of volunteers. Today I worked with three folks from Chicago; Larry, Jack and Lauren. They drove through the night to get to Joplin to help for the next three days. They are not the only ones that have come a long way; two young women drove 15 hours from northwestern Pennsylvania to help. It goes on and on like this. People have come from near and far. AmeriCorps is organizing the volunteers and they are doing a great job. A lot of young people have come out, but you can find people of all ages, even kids who come with their parents. It is an amazing effort to clean-up Joplin. In addition to the thousands of volunteers picking-up debris and cutting down trees you have hundreds of people preparing food for the people displaced as well as for the volunteers. People drive down the streets handing out cold drinks and sandwiches. It is so inspiring that even though I am exhausting, I have a hard time going to sleep at night. I feel guilty sleeping in just a bit when I hear how long people drove to get here. I have yet to hear someone say a bad word about anything, except about the looters earlier in the week. What kind of person steals from someone who just lost everything?

Hard working volunteers Lauren, Larry and Jack from Chicago in front of a cleaned-up house

The other day I dropped of two boys who were looking for a place for the night at a church. When I saw the large parking lot I figured I could ask if I could park there overnight. I spoke with Kelly at the church and she wasn’t sure if I could, however, I was more than welcome to stay on their property, I could even plug into their electric. She and her husband David live 20 miles east of Joplin. It seems to be in a different world. Hay fields, cows, frogs and crickets. Just the kind of beautiful scenery one needs after spending the day in rubble. Everyone has been very helpful, except the owners of my first campground who were not willing to give any kind of discount.
The magnitude of this disaster is hard to comprehend. The tornado tore up an area one mile wide and six miles long, that’s a whole lot of destroyed homes.