Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Traveling the Backroads

July 25

169, 14, 218, 56, 63, 8, 50, 87, 3, and W69 – those were the 230-miles of roads that took me from Saint Peter, Minnesota, to Iowa’s Backbone State Park today. And what a delightful day in spite of increasing thunder and lightning – and threatening rain! The pace of travel is slower – 55 mph – and there is so much to see. Several of the roads are designated wildflower scenic byways – and they lived up to their name. Thanks to recent rains, the roadsides were full of color. I love the backroads.

bluebirds were once the most common birds in this state
85% of Iowa was once covered with tall grass prairie; now only 1% remains
the black walnut tree is a native Iowa tree
Iowa had 1.5 million acres of wetlands before settlers arrived and drained many of them to make land more suitable for agriculture
Also, before settlement, about 7 million acres of the land was forested; today only 2 million acres remain


“What’s that sizzling sound I hear?”
“Get up! It’s SPAM and eggs, my dear!”
--Spam print ad from the 1930s

I took a midday driving break at Austin, Iowa, to tour the Spam Museum. Austin is one of two locations for the production of Hormel products. The museum is “16,500 square feet of Spam nirvana.” The entry has a “wall of 3,500 Spam cans.” The displays included a WWII display along with the sign, “GIs made fun of it, but Spam played a crucial role in turning the tide of the war.”

The museum also includes multi-media and inter-active exhibits about the history, old cans, a letter from Eisenhower, along with a puppet show, game show, light show, and much more.

The skies were dark and stormy behind me and on both sides as I drove to Backbone in the northeastern part of the state. I found this lush campground with not much trouble – heading toward the “modern” campsites in order to have an electrical hookup.

The camping area is pretty deserted and it was raining lightly as I drove through to find the best campsite for me. Site 20 looked good, but before I could get backed in and hooked up, the sky cut loose and dumped rain for about 30 minutes.

A ranger came by this evening to alert me to a “severe thunderstorm warning until 1 a.m.” I fell asleep listening to rain on Jeremiah’s roof and remembering a funny story someone emailed about Noah and the “second great flood.” This is a humorous commentary on getting anything built in this day and age. I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s clever.

Noah in 2005

In the year 2005, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in the United States, and said, "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me.
Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans."
He gave Noah the blueprints, saying, "You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights."
Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but no Ark. "Noah!" He roared, "I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?"
"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I've been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbors claim that I've violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision. ”
Then the Department of Transportation demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it.
”Getting the wood was another problem. There's a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls - but no go! ”
When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. ”
Then the EPA ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood. ”
I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I'm supposed to hire for my building crew. ”
Immigration and Naturalization is checking the green-card status of most of the people who want to work. ”The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience. ”
To make matters worse, the IRS seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. ”
So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark."
Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.
Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you're not going to destroy the world?"
"No," said the Lord. "The government beat me to it.