Westward Ho

Regular readers of my blog know about my goal to visit the national parks. We bought an American Eagle Pass for $10 when Jim turned 62 which allows us entry into all national parks during his lifetime and we’re definitely getting our money’s worth! Each September we try to do a road trip within the U.S. coinciding with our wedding anniversary. In 2015, that road trip was to Utah because they have 5 national parks in close proximity to one another. While I thought we’d previously been to at least one, I couldn’t remember which one. It turned out we’d ducked into Zion National Park briefly, but we’ve now fixed that omission.

One of the great things about a road trip is stopping along the way. It’s not just about the destination. And one of the great things about retirement is we’re not hampered by a schedule. We can take as much time as we like.

Our first stop was the Strategic Air & Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. Well, actually our first stop was in DesMoines to see our kids as we drove through but other than our awesome sons and a decent breakfast while we had the oil changed in the car, there was nothing particularly noteworthy to report. Anyway, if you’re a fan of military aircraft and history, the SAS Museum is for you. I’m not especially fond of military aircraft but I do love history. Jim, on the other hand, is a big fan of this place. This was our third visit.


Atlas ICBM in front of Strategic Air and Space Museum


View of Hangar A

My favorite was the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders exhibit. On April 18, 1942, a group of 80 volunteers led by Jimmy Doolittle took WW2 to Japan’s homeland for the first time on a daring mission to bomb Tokyo and other cities. The object was to show the Japanese they were not invulnerable after their attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The successful mission raised American morale tremendously.


B-25N “Mitchell” bomber like the ones flown in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo


Life magazine showing FDR pinning the Congressional Medal of Honor on General Jimmy Doolittle and photos of some of the 80 heroes from the bombing of Tokyo

The nose cone from a nuclear-tipped ICBM caught my eye because it looked like a pencil.  The U-2 plane like the one flown by the American spy, Gary Powers, also intrigued me having just seen the movie, Bridge of Spies, about swapping spies with the Soviets.


Nose cone from nuclear-tipped ICBM


U-2C “Dragon Lady”

I can’t tell you the maximum speed of the world’s fastest aircraft, the Blackbird, because it’s still classified, but the cruising speed is 1320 mph. Lockheed built just 32 of this craft  to replace the U-2 for high-altitude strategic reconnaissance, i.e., spying.


SR-71A “Blackbird”

After traveling 530 miles on the first day, we spent the night in North Platte, Nebraska. The following morning we made straight for Chimney Rock. Along the way, we discovered a historical mile marker at Windlass Hill Pioneer Homestead and stopped for a look about.


Windlass Hill Pioneer Homestead

The first scenic landmarks we spied were Courthouse Rock, named for the courthouse in St. Louis, and nearby Jailhouse Rock.


It’s no wonder Chimney Rock was the most famous landmark for pioneers traveling the Oregon, Mormon, or California Trail. With a height of 325 feet from base to tip, you can see it for miles. It marks the end of the prairie and the beginning of more mountainous terrain ahead. When I saw Courthouse Rock, I thought, “Is that it?” But when I saw Chimney Rock, it was unmistakable and it would have been for pioneers, too.


Our first view of Chimney Rock in the distance


Nearby campground with Chimney Rock in the background


Chimney Rock and Visitor Center


Yikes! This gave me pause for thought.


Jim at Chimney Rock

Believe it or not, Chimney Rock was originally called Elk Penis by early Native Americans.  Here’s a photo of the actual explanation at the visitor center for doubters.


Sign at the Chimney Rock Visitor Center


Say goodbye to the prairie

Our plan was to stay in Estes Park, Colorado and get an early start the following morning  driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. This was the first of several challenges looking for accommodations. After numerous calls and internet searches on my smartphone, the closest city with a vacancy was 33 miles away at Longmont, Colorado. We took it.

We chose The Rib House for dinner. What a find! With outdoor seating in a lovely residential neighborhood on a beautiful evening and a feast of tasty BBQ, we left full, restored, and ready to take on the mountains the following day.


Jim approaching The Rib House, Longmont, CO


Outdoor seating at The Rib House, Longmont, CO


Josh’s Sampler Platter (we shared)


Post dinner sunset with our next stop in the distance

Based on events of September 2015.


Next time: Rocky Mountain National Park












Categories: Food, History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Westward Ho

  1. Westward ho! Love this look into your travels west. I think the national park pass is an amazing idea. You might be interested in following a blog written by a college classmate of ours. She and her husband are working at various parks in their retirement, living in their RV and having all kinds of adventures. She details a lot of history on her blog as well. Her blog is Sharing Horizons.http://sharinghorizons.com


  2. What a fun idea!! I love that air & space one!! My dad is a pilot so I just think that stuff is super cool 🙂


    • if you’re an aircraft fan, SAS is so close to Omaha, you should check it out when you’re near there. It’s one of those little gems that don’t get a lot of traffic.


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