39: Iowa

Driving westward from Chicago, the sprawling suburbs slowly faded into farmland. I then crossed the Mississippi River once again, to leave Illinois and enter Iowa.

Downstream, the Mississippi River was experiencing record flooding. Several places (in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana) where I had been just a month ago were now flooded. Here in Iowa (near the “Quad Cities” of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois), I could tell that the river was very high, but it was not overflowing its banks.

Crossing the Mississippi marked the symbolic 3/4 point of my trip; I was now back in the western US. (Later, when I re-cross the Continental Divide, I’ll be back in the “Pacific West”.)

The I-80 bridge over the Mississippi River. Looking eastwards from Iowa back towards Illinois

"Freedom Rock", near Menlo, Iowa. (A local artist repaints this frequently with patriotic themes.)

This was my first visit to Iowa. Beforehand, I had imagined it to be a rather boring state – and I was right. It wasn’t quite as boring as I’d expected, though, because (for most of the state) the ubiquitous farmland is set among gently rolling hills – not flat-as-a-board land as it was in the Texas panhandle or western Oklahoma. The towns and (few) cities are tidy, but generally unremarkable. The state is more than 300 miles wide; I was glad when I finally finished crossing it.

Before European settlement, most of Iowa was prairie – but today, almost all of it has been turned into farmland (mainly wheat or corn). Iowa now has the lowest percentage of remaining uncultivated land of any US state. However, a small area in central Iowa – the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge – has been restored to look the way that it did before European settlement – including several grazing buffalo.

Buffalo grazing in the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Driving through the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Earlier in the trip, I found a small town (Winslow, Arizona) that was trying to take advantage of a brief mention in a song. Here in Iowa, we have another small town (Riverside) with an even more dubious claim to fame: The ‘future birthplace’ of Captain James Kirk from the “Star Trek” series!

Riverside, Iowa - the 'future birthplace' of Capt. James T. Kirk from "Star Trek"

38: Wisconsin

Chicago is a huge and sprawling city. Its southern suburbs extend into Indiana, and its northern suburbs extend into Wisconsin. During my stay in Chicago, I made a brief trip north to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which – like Chicago itself – lies on the shore of Lake Michigan.

I had seen large parts of Wisconsin in two previous visits, so this time, I was content to visit the state just briefly.

Kenosha Harbor, on Lake Michigan

"Frank's Diner", Kenosha

37: Illinois

Sears Tower, Chicago

Chicago, Illinois is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. – but that’s probably because I’ve never been there in the winter. My three previous visits to the city had been in summer, when it was sometimes uncomfortably warm and humid, but the weather was clear and pleasant during this Spring visit.

During my first visit to Chicago in 1990, I went to the observation deck at the top of the Sears Tower, and I decided to repeat this on this visit. Back in 1990, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. 21 years later, however, other buildings – in the Middle East and Asia – have surpassed it, and it is now the 8th-tallest (or perhaps the 5th-tallest, or the 2nd-tallest, depending on how you measure it). Its name has also changed; it is now officially called the “Willis Tower”, although almost everyone in Chicago still refers to it as the Sears Tower.

View from the top of the Sears Tower: Looking North

View from the top of the Sears Tower: Looking East

View from the top of the Sears Tower: Looking South

Downtown Chicago from Lakeshore Drive, at night

Downtown Chicago from the Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

"Cloud Gate" (aka. "The Bean"), Millennium Park

"Cloud Gate" (aka. "The Bean"), Millennium Park - from the inside

36: Indiana

After briefly visiting Michigan (from north-western Ohio), I drove quickly along Interstate 90 across northern Indiana. Most of this region of Indiana is rustic and pretty – except for the north-western section (the cities of Gary and Hammond), adjacent to Chicago – which is heavily industrialized and ugly.

As I drove across northern Indiana, I wasn’t sure what I was going to photograph. Most of the countryside here is pretty, but not exceptional. Then, I stopped for lunch in the town of Middlebury, and was surprised to see several horse-drawn buggies being ridden on the streets. It turns out that this part of Indiana has a large Amish community. The Amish are a Christian group who live an extremely conservative lifestyle – without cars or electricity. The town has accommodated the Amish community by setting up special hitching spots for their buggies.

An Amish buggy on the streets of Middlebury

A hitching spot for horse-drawn buggies, in Middlebury

As I drove through Indiana I crossed back into the Central Time Zone, regaining one of the three hours that I lost on my trip across the country.

35: Michigan

Earlier in the trip, I was able to visit two states (Colorado and Utah) very quickly, by going to a point where four states meet. Now, I was able to visit Michigan quickly by going to a point where three states – Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana meet. In the summer of 2007 I spent several days driving around Michigan (and Illinois and Wisconsin). This time, however, I stayed in Michigan for only a few minutes.

Fortunately, the rainy weather that plagued me the past couple of days (as I drove through upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) has now cleared!

This stone marks the point where Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan meet. (Indiana: front left; Ohio: front right; Michigan: rear)

Looking towards Michigan from the Indiand-Ohio-Michigan boundary stone

34: Ohio

As I entered Ohio, I re-entered the “Midwest” region of the country (a region that I had entered briefly when I passed through corners of Kansas and Missouri on the outbound leg of the trip). The term “Midwest” seems a bit strange for this part of the country – especially for Ohio, as it is so close to the East Coast – but the term dates from the time when the United States was clustered around the Atlantic Coast, with most of the true ‘west’ of the continent being unexplored.

Because of the rainy weather, I drove quickly through Ohio (taking Interstate 90 that runs along the northern edge of the state), with few stops. I did, however, stop briefly in the city of Cleveland, on Lake Erie. In the rest of the country, Cleveland has a reputation of being a dump, but to me at least, the downtown area looked quite nice. (Winters here are undoubtedly awful, though.)

A view of the Cleveland waterfront: The "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" building in the foreground, with the Cleveland Browns football stadium (and a ship) in the background

33: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a small coastline on Lake Erie (one of the five Great Lakes). The largest city and port on this coastline is also named Erie.

I passed quickly through this area while driving between New York State and Ohio. (This was my third visit to Pennsylvania; I had previously visited Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.) I stopped briefly at Presque Isle State Park to take a photo of the city of Erie, but unfortunately because of the rainy weather I wasn’t able to take a good photo.

The city of Erie, as seen from Presque Isle State Park

26: New York (revisiting)

When you hear the name “New York”, you usually think of New York City – but geographically, New York City is merely a small part of New York State. Because New York State stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Canadian border, any circuit of the 48 contiguous United States has to pass through New York (and also New Hampshire) twice. On my trip, I passed through New York State a second time while returning westward from Vermont.

I drove westward along Interstate 90 through upstate New York, passing through the cities of Saratoga Springs, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. This region of the country has traditionally relied upon milling and manufacturing, and so has struggled economically in recent years as those industries have declined. I saw several closed factories as I drove along I-90.

As I drove though this region, I encountered the first significant period of bad weather on this trip. (Prior to this, I had experienced just a few hours of light rain in Maryland and Maine.) The rain started as I drove westward, and became persistent as I passed through Buffalo (and later, Pennsylvania and Ohio). It was also unusually cold for Spring: about 46 degrees F (8 degrees C).

(Weather was also big news elsewhere in the country, with the Mississippi River seeing record flooding. Several parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana that I had visited a month ago are now underwater.)

Old mill, Rock City Falls

"The World's Smallest Church", near Oneida

"Anchor Bar" in Buffalo, where "Buffalo Wings" were invented

Buffalo City Hall

Because of the rain, I gave up on my original plan to visit Niagara Falls (which is not far from Buffalo). I had already visited Niagara Falls – from the Canadian side – in 1990. By most accounts, the view of the falls from the Canadian side is better.

32: Vermont

This was my first visit to Vermont – one of the country’s smallest and least populous states. It soon became clear that Vermont – with its rolling hills, farms, and small towns – is also one of the country’s most beautiful states. The weather also cooperated during my two days there: sunny, with temperatures around 70 F (20 C). Spring is a nice time to be visiting Vermont; Winters here are said to be very harsh.

View from Bradford, Vermont, back across the Connecticut River towards Piermont, New Hampshire

Covered bridge near Barre, Vermont, in the late afternoon

Tulips in front of the Vermont State Capitol, Montpelier

Sunset on Lake Champlain, from Burlington, Vermont. (New York State is in the background.)

"Ben & Jerry's" ice cream factory tour, Waterbury

Woodchuck(?) roadkill, near Lyndonville

On my second (and last) day in Vermont, I went mountain biking (for the second time on this trip). I rode some of the “Kingdom Trails“, near the village of East Burke.

Kingdom Trails: Top of the hill

Kingdom Trails

30: New Hampshire (revisiting)

Returning westward from Maine, I once again passed through New Hampshire, en route to Vermont. I began by visiting “Madison Boulder” – a huge granite rock that was deposited from several miles away during the last Ice Age.

I then visited Mount Washington. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington – in the White Mountains – is the tallest mountain in the eastern U.S. This area is renowned for its bad weather, but the day I visited (in mid-May), the weather was sunny and mild. Unfortunately, however, the road to the summit was still closed (and about a week away from opening) due to remaining snow at the top; I was able to drive only halfway to the summit.

Kingdom Trails

Kingdom Trails

Madison Boulder

Mount Washington