Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.
Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center Volksmarch - Sat., Aug. 19, 2017

Fifteen minutes from Grand Island, Nebraska is the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center on the Platte River. This is the location for either a 5k or 10k walk today. Crane Trust has opened its tall-grass prairie along the Platte River to us for our walk and mowed trails through the tall grasses.

According to Crane Trust's brochure:

"The Crane Trust and its Nature and Visitor Center are dedicated to the protectection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds through leading science, habitat management, community outreach and education."
At the Nature and Visitor Center, you can see:

  • Guided Crane Tours (during migrations) 
  • Genetically pure bison herd
  • A movie about cranes
  • Educational displays
  • Miles of natural hiking trails
  • 35-foot observation tower
  • Hornady Art Gallery
  • Crimson Crown Gift Shop
Normally, people flock here in the spring to view the sandhill crane migration, although temperatures can be 20 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. Even Jane Goodall shows up for VIP tours. 

When we arrived at 8 a.m., we checked in for the walk and headed out to see what we could see. Since it is two different 5k loops that start at the same point, we will decide halfway through if we will do the second loop. The initial part of the trail is paved and passes informative displays on sandhill and whooping cranes. 
Sandhill crane info
Whooping crane info
Whooping crane migration facts
I hope you took time to read these if you are into birding. The information is so interesting. 

Sandhill cranes are one of the oldest avian species in existence. Each year, approximately 500,000 sandhill cranes pass through the Platte River Valley in mid-February on their northward migration. They spend 4-6 weeks resting and replenishing energy reserves before continuing northward to Canada, Alaska, or Siberia. There is also a fall migration.

The whooping cranes are much bigger and much rarer. Whoopers stop over from 2-3 days to rest and feed. Both can be seen at Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center during migration times.

Our path took us past a few more plaques telling about the genetically pure bison herd, the riverine wetland, and plants and animals that we might (or might not) see. 

A 35-foot observation tower loomed over us on the left. I was the only one in our group who went up to see the view of the Platte River. Turns out, it was the best view of the walk!

Volksmarchers at Crane Trust
View of the Platte River from the observation tower
Pedestrian bridge across the Platte River
from the observation tower
Pedestrian bridge from river level
Reading an interpretive sign
The Platte River at Crane Trust from river level
The cranes roost in the open in shallow sandbars of the river. During the day, a single meadow may contain 100,000 birds. Bird concentrations as high as 10,000 birds per 1/2 mile are not uncommon. Unfortunately, they are not here at this time of year. Although, we did see one sandhill crane standing in a different river on our way back to the motel.

From our first 5k trail we did not see much more of the river. We heard from others later that the second 5k portion did go along the river for a way.

One last view of the river before we walked through
the tall-grass prairie
As we walked along the river, I heard bob whites but never saw them. The trails were mowed through the tall meadow grasses. If they hadn't mowed, we would have been up to our waists or shoulders in grass!

A gentleman walking through the mowed meadow
I was surprised by the number of wildflowers we saw, many of them were new to me. Here's a sampling. (Sorry, I don't know the names of all of them.)

A type of goldenrod
Woolly verbena (?)
Purple loosestrife (?)

Snow on the Mountain
Wild bergamot flowers
Rocky Mountain bee plant
Below are some pod plants that remind me of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" movie I saw when I was a child.

Pod plants

Once we were in the meadow there was very little shade and no more views of the river. Other notable sights were the old windmill and a pond. No bison were in the meadow today. (That is a good thing.)

A very large toadstool
The windmill
A pond we passed toward the end of our 5k walk
It was hot and we decided not to do the second 5k walk. We met up with some more walkers on the bridge and stopped for a photo.

Once we had our Volksmarch books stamped, we spent time in the Visitor Center watching the movie about cranes, looked at the animal displays, and spent time in the gift shop.

Sandhill cranes (photo captured from the movie)
Sandhill crane artwork
Another beautiful piece of art
Visitor Center lobby and gift shop
Mural above front entry desk
It was lunchtime so Susan asked the ladies in the gift shop where would be a good place to eat. They suggested Runza, which is a local chain. A Runza sandwich is a large pieroshki (meat/vegetable filling wrapped in an enclosed bun). They were okay, but not our favorite. I've had home-made ones before that were much smaller and much tastier.

Our activity tonight was supposed to be a star party out in the country. A number of people were going to set up telescopes on a ridge and they invited everyone to come out to see the Milky Way, planets, and whatever else they could find. We found out at the end of our walk this morning that the Star Party was canceled due to a forecast of inclement weather. Oh, well. That's okay. We made the most of it.

After lunch, I took a two-hour nap and then Susan, Darren and I went to see "Logan Lucky." It was a fun movie about a couple of hillbillies who decided to rob NASCAR. All of us enjoyed it. It was a smartly done, tight, robbery movie with a lot of hijinks and "dumb" criminals. I can see a sequel coming. 

We had the evening free, so I worked on photos and blogged. The thunderstorms hit around 11:00 p.m. The rain pounded on my motel room window. 

Time for sleep. Tomorrow we have a 10k and an 11k walk. 

Lights out.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Nebraska Meet and Greet with an Evening Walk - Part 2, Fri., Aug. 18, 2017

Friday, August 18 (continued):

At 5:00 p.m., we were at St. Mary's Parish Hall for the Nebraska Wanderfreunde Trailblazers Club Meet and Greet for the four-day Solar Eclipse Walking Weekend. A cadre of volunteers greeted us as we entered. The first order of business was to sign a waiver form, then our weekend walking packet was handed over. 

If you wanted to buy raffle tickets, that was next. There was another table staffed by volunteers selling eclipse- and Volksmarch-related wares.  Then we passed a table with MANY flyers about upcoming walks put on by other clubs around the country. (Note: People from 21 states are here for the walking weekend, not to mention all the others who are here solely for the eclipse.)

Those planning to walk this evening continued on to the next table to sign up and pay $3.00 for the walk tonight. (It was an added walk after the original event registration paperwork was sent out.)

The Meet and Greet included "light snacks" and beverages. It was a veritable feast. Food choices included turkey and ham sandwiches, wrap slices of different varieties, chips, dip, veggie trays, grapes, cheeses, and an assortment of cookies. If you went away hungry, it was your own fault. 

During the Meet and Greet we had an icebreaker. Before the weekend, participants had been asked to let the coordinators know an interesting fact about themselves that other people wouldn't know. When we arrived at the Meet and Greet, we were handed a page of 25 interesting facts, each in a box. Our icebreaker was to go around the room, introduce yourself to other people, and find people who matched the facts on your sheet. When you found a person who, for example, collected dolls and swords, you had them sign that box. (And, yes, that was one of the real boxes.) [Note: Yours truly suggested this icebreaker. I had done it before at another event. My fact was not used--I rode in a Goodyear blimp when I was a child.]

I thought it was fun to go around the room and chat with people, although it was a little tough to interrupt people's conversations. Some of the most interesting facts were these:

  • have a horse and goat in our living room (never did find this person)
  • have donated 100 gallons of blood (didn't find this one either)
  • have traveled on all seven continents
  • speak Czech
  • have walked 100 miles in one day
  • have ridden a bicycle across the country (I actually found three people who have done this: a husband and wife, and another man. The husband and wife did it together, but the other gentleman did it a different year with a different group on a different route.)
  • have a black belt in karate
  • own eight guitars
  • is a current or past Volksmarch Club president (actually there were quite a few people who fit this category but only one signature was needed per box)
  • is an advanced level swing dancer
  • teaches knitting
You get the idea. At a pre-determined time, the emcee asks how many people got all 25 (no one), and on down the line. I think someone got 23, I got 19, and they continued on until they ran out of prizes. If you won, you got to choose a prize off the table. I chose an eclipse lapel pin (because I collect pins). 

At 7:00 p.m., there were going to be guided 5k and 10k walks of historic downtown Grand Island, Nebraska. If you wanted to go in smaller groups or by yourself, you could do it that way too, as they handed out maps if you wished to have one. 

Susan, Darren and I took off on our own, but along the way we walked and talked with other people. It's fun learning who's at the event and where they come from.

We walked through neighborhoods and past where Henry Fonda's boyhood home was located. (It was moved to the Stuhr Museum grounds.) There are beautiful old homes, and they represent many architectural styles. 

It was still 88 degrees outside but, thanks to the thoughtful trail mappers, we went in neighborhoods and parks with lots of shade. Two of the parks have lakes: Suck's (pronounced Sook, like in book) Park and Pier Park Lake.

Suck's (pronounced Sook, like book) Park
Suck's Park trail sign
Pier Park Lake at dusk
Statue of Liberty replica
at Pier Park Lake
Pier Park Lake
We also went through the Nebraska State Fair Park. The fair will be next weekend. Apparently, one claim to fame at the Nebraska State Fair is they have "The fastest, flattest marathon course in the nation." [Bob, are you listening?]

Dates of the fair this year
Nebraska State Fairgrounds
We then walked back into the downtown area. Below is the Hall County Courthouse.

Hall County Courthouse at dusk
A pretty mural sponsored by
Moonshell (Arts Council)
More artwork
Below is the recently renovated Grand Theater. It's very nice of them to welcome all of the "Eclipse Chasers."
Eclipse chasers are welcome here
Renovated Grand Theater
In the photo below is St. Stephen's Episcopal Church where Teddy Roosevelt attended a service in 1903. This church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
The last of the sightseeing on our walk was a tribute to the Lincoln Highway in Pioneer Park on 2nd Street. 2013 was the Centenary Year for the Lincoln Highway.

From Pioneer Park we walked one block back to our car at St. Mary's Cathedral. This is a wonderful walk. The walk instructions, courtesy of the Nebraska Wanderfreunde Trailblazers Club, had the historical facts noted in my blog.

Thank you so much to ALL the volunteers who made this Meet and Greet and walk a success. It took a lot of coordinating to make it all come together. A tip of the proverbial hat, muchas gracias, danke shoen, obrigado, dank je, cảm ơn bạn, merci beaucoup, and dekuji.

I can't wait for the rest of the walks. Over and out.

We saw a polar bear in Nebraska - Part 1 of Fri., Aug. 18, 2017

First off, it's been a crazy month so far. We moved into our new single-wide manufactured home at the end of July. I'll write a separate blog about that adventure.

Three weeks after we moved in, I left on a Volksmarching weekend with Susan and Darren. At 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17, we headed from San Antonio to Grand Island, Nebraska...IN ONE DAY! That's 14 hours and four states. It's good we had three of us taking turns driving.

At one point, when Darren was driving, I-35 went from 70 mph to 0 in a few seconds. All of our luggage shifted forward. But we did not get in an accident. It was construction that took the northbound freeway from two lanes to one. Roadside construction signs informed us that it would take 14 minutes to get through the back-up at speeds of 10-15 mph. HA! Our speed was 0-5 mph, but we made it through. The length of the construction was a bridge. The back-up was miles.

Along the way, we stopped to gas up, eat, and go to a grocery store. During one stretch when I was driving, I became very sleepy, so we pulled over at a historical marker and Darren took over driving. The historical marker happened to be one for the Oregon Trail.


At the same stop, we also so this marker for a re-enactment of the Pony Express Centennial Re-Run that took place in 1960.

Our rooms were ready for us when we checked into our hotel in Grand Island, Nebraska about 7:30 p.m. Comfortable describes our digs for the next few nights. I have a king bed, desk, chair and ottoman, small refrigerator, and a microwave. Susan and Darren's room is similar, but they have two queen beds.

We were exhausted. All of us got a very good night sleep.

At 6:15 a.m. on Friday, we met for breakfast in the motel's dining area. The food was good with plenty of it. I had scrambled eggs, bacon, two small pancakes (from a pancake-making machine), and lots of sweet watermelon. 

Fueled up, we headed an hour east to Seward, Nebraska, to do their Volksmarch. The temperature was 71 degrees (a welcome relief after San Antonio's blistering 100-plus-degree temperatures).

The first thing we discovered about Seward is that it is Nebraska's 4th of July City, and has been since 1868! People come to Seward by the tens of thousands for the 4th of July.

Seward, Nebraska, wants us to be sure we don't confuse them with Seward, Alaska, 4,135 miles away.

Downtown Seward has a vibrant vibe, with businesses filling in historic buildings. A little later in the walk, we came back to the Square, and ate and shopped. But first, our walk...

The Rivoli Theatre has a restored, colorful face. I love the Art Deco look. The movie, however, is completely modern.

In 1871, the city of Seward became the Seward County seat. Here's Seward's Neo-Classical Revival Courthouse.
Seward County Courthouse
Love the spiral staircase on this side
 Anyone looking for a Mack truck utility cart? I know just where you can find one in cherry condition, and cherry red to boot.

Down a number of blocks, we turned off the main road into the Parade of Flags plaza that was sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club. They did an excellent job displaying state flags, territory flags, and flags of each branch of the Armed Forces.
Parade of Flags
Parade of Flags

They even put in benches!
Parade of Flags
Northern Mariana Islands flag
At this point, we left the road behind and hit the bike trail. I enjoyed checking out the wildflowers.

Black-eyed Susans

Missouri Goldenrod

Showy Partridge Pea
Six-foot-tall thistles
The bike path crossed under Plum Creek. A local woman out walking her dog said, "Wow! The creek is really high." (There had been some strong thunderstorms the day before.)

Plum Creek
The bike path bridge over Plum Creek
Coming around the corner on the bike path, I remarked, "That looks like a polar bear ahead."
Sure enough...a polar bear in Nebraska.
The lady walking her dog was a wealth of information, so we asked her about the polar bear. It is a float for the holiday parade the weekend after Thanksgiving. 
Pretty "cool" don't you think?
Next we walked through nice neighborhoods, back through downtown Seward, past the other side of the courthouse, and we decided to do a little shopping on the Square. We found a great bookstore selling eclipse postcards, a great collection of jigsaw puzzles, and books about the solar eclipse, in addition to their other books. We spent a few dollars there and bought up almost all of their remaining eclipse postcards.

Downtown Seward
Seward County Courthouse
County courthouse and statue
Seward water tower
While the walk was good, the biggest surprise came at the end and it wasn't even mentioned in the walk write-up: the Nebraska National Guard Museum. Outside displays include tanks and a beautiful sculpture of jets in flight.

Darren in front of a medium M60 "Patton" tank
M113 Armored personnel carrier
M59 Armored personnel carrier
Nebraska National Guard Museum
Fantastic sculpture in front of the museum
Medium tank: "Sherman" or "Easy Eight"
If you do this walk and the museum is open, be sure to check it out. Did I mention it is FREE? This was our favorite part of the walk. I think we spent about an hour to an hour-and-a-half there.

First, we watched the movie and then we roamed around the museum. It isn't very big, but it's chock full of interesting things to read and see. For example, the plane below is a replica of a Curtiss Pusher biplane. 

Replica Curtiss Pusher biplane

A few more photos of the museum...

Susan Medlin, AVA Southwest Regional Director

Susan Medlin

Medal display

We finished at the museum and finished the walk. Then we went in search of food. At the Chamber of Commerce we found a brochure with local restaurants. Cafe on the Square sounded good. Darren looked it up and it had four stars. We bit.
Susan and Darren at Cafe on the Square
Interior of Cafe on the Square
Their menu has so many good choices. We had no trouble finding what we wanted to eat. Susan and I had the Oriental Salad. Darren had quiche with Hollandaise sauce and fresh fruit cup. Our salads were not the usual large restaurant size. They were more a dinner-side-salad size. The salads came with a nice-sized roll. 

Susan wanted to get onion rings; however, they were out. We were being good with the salads because we wanted peach crisp for dessert. Guess what? They were out of peach crisp! Someone didn't plan their supplies very well. If we had been able to order the extra items, the restaurant would have made $18.00 more on our table. Oh, well. Not so good for them.

When we finished eating, we headed back to Grand Island to look for an ice cream parlor for dessert. Their Garmin directed us to Annabelle's Ice Cream Parlor via a circuitous route that was three times longer than it needed to be, only to find out Annabelle's was no longer there. It had been replaced by a laundromat! No suds for me, thanks.

Fall-back position? Dairy Queen! Garmin did get us there. I have taken a liking to the Triple Truffle Blizzard. Mmmmm. The Grand Island Dairy Queen is a small mom-and-pop franchise so they offer their own specials. They have a buy one, get one for 99 cents special on Blizzards right now. Susan and Darren were able to take advantage of that.

We took our Blizzards and headed back to our rooms. It was time to rest before the eclipse weekend started with a Meet and Greet from 5:00-7:00 p.m., followed by either a 5k or 10k Volksmarch. Susan, Darren and I opted for the 10k walk. It was in the high 80s F. when we started. Thankfully, we went through neighborhoods and parks with trees. The sun went down as we neared the end of our walk, but it didn't cool off much. I will write about our second walk of the day in a Part 2 blog for Friday.

Travel Bug out.