2012 Road Trip Photos #3: Abilene Presents the Eisenhower Museum and a Perplexed Bear Drowning in Chocolate

Upon leaving Topeka in the morning of Day Two, our first stops were an hour down the road in Abilene.

Their Visitors Center was quaint, but not open early enough for us on a Sunday morning.

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2012 Road Trip Notes on the Go, Day 2: the Plains, the Plane, the Hills, and the Bill

Today was 270 miles of Kansas plus 160 miles of Colorado. The unifying visual theme was unseemly drought damage.

The rolling hills of eastern Kansas didn’t last long and gave way to a lengthy journey earmarked by occasional herds roaming freely around endless, sickly yellow waves of grain. Breaking up the post-hillside monotony were countless anti-abortion billboards and handcrafted signs, all dotting the charred, flattened landscape. So many heartfelt expressions targeting the same thoroughfare gave the impression that Kansas’ share of I-70 is a teeming powderkeg of wanton lust and convenient Planned Parenthood centers.

After a hotel breakfast of lukewarm buffet sandwiches, our first diversion was in Abilene at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. We don’t normally brake for every Presidential museum, but a combination of historical significance, convenience, and lack of competition made this the perfect follow-up to yesterday’s brief stop at the Truman Museum. The gift shops at both museums were even selling the same “Ike and Harry 2012” merchandise, which appears to tie in to a website that I’m too tired to read closely at the moment.

The Eisenhower complex consists of the visitor center/gift shop, a functional research library, a museum, his boyhood home (tours only, no freely roaming inside), and a chapel containing the final resting place of President and Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, along with their son Doud, who passed away too soon at age four. A small church stage and modest pews provided visitors the opportunity for moments of reflection. It was as apt a place as any for us to be on a Sunday morning, hundreds of miles away from our home church.

The less apt follow-up was a stop at Abilene’s Russell Stover factory, whose storefront sells all the Stover candies and Whitman’s sampler that a family could want, whether or not any holidays are imminent. The intense smell of chocolate pervades their air and punches you in the nose when you enter, even if you like sweets. Their backroom is all clearance-sale items — bags filled with deformed factory rejects, and numerous pallets of holiday leftovers dating back to at least Halloween 2011. I spent fifty cents on a timeless sugar-free sampler, while my son splurged on a three-dollar eighteen-inch-wide heart-shaped Valentine’s Day gift box, the kind whose unwieldy size says, “I’m really, really sorry that you think my stalking you is creepy instead of charming.” After paying, he opened his goodies and found that half of them tasted precisely five months old, and the other half were cherry-flavored, which to him is even worse.

Another recurring motif in Kansas, besides suffering flora: military things. As we passed the exit for Fort Riley, we noticed a parking lot out back filled with ominous black helicopters. (As great a photo as it may have made, parking outside a military base to take photos may have sent a wrong message.) Kansas’ very own Manhattan wasn’t nearly as awesome as the Manhattan we visited last year, but it did have a sign proclaiming itself the future home of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which sounds only slightly benign. Still further down the road, stationed in the town of WaKeeney was a small, decommissioned fighter jet for any and all looky-loos to come poke and prod. When we detoured for an impromptu photo op with it, an older couple of geocachers were peering into the holes and opening the hatches in search of their elusive quarry of the day, deposited somewhere within this one-vehicle roadside exhibit.

We also digressed through the town of Oakley, home of a large Buffalo Bill statue and Buffalo Bill Cabin, ostensibly a gift shop but closed for the day. I’m not sure if this was a one-day inconvenience or a transitional state. Behind it, another house was in mid-construction. A flyer told us the cabin itself is for sale, but not the property. Moving and foundational arrangements, per the flyer, will be left to the discretion and responsibility of the buyer. We passed on the generous offer.

Prettier and closer to the interstate was a towering easel in Goodland, upon which rests a giant-sized replica of one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, part of an ambitious Canadian painter’s planned seven-continent project. The painting itself is lovely at any size. The construction crane parked underneath the mega-easel was less photogenic.

After Kansas, our first 160 miles of Colorado were vaster, slightly hillier, even yellower fields. We were disappointed that their fair state’s alleged mountains weren’t simply flocked at the border to impress and intimidate us immediately upon entry. It’s our understanding the mountains will present themselves tomorrow once we venture further west into Denver proper.

We couldn’t decide whether or not to be disappointed that our approach to the hotel was surrounded by storm clouds. In light of recent conditions and events, I wouldn’t blame the residents if they threw the storms a ticker-tape parade.

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