Friday, July 24, 2015

Going West - 1800 miles and nothing but cities?

Anyone following my cross country trip from Baltimore to Denver so far may ask: What about all those places in between? Is there nothing worth mentioning?

If you had this question, this article is for you .

You may be interested in the fact that there is a small town named Baltimore just east of Columbus. 
Or you may like to hear that you can avoid Breezewood, one of the most hellish places in the Interstate system (in its evil design intent), by taking I-68 towards Cumberland and then use US 40 towards Uniontown connections to get back to I-70 just east of Pittsburgh. The section on US 40 is like a throw-back in time when this was THE way to the West, the old National Pike with wayside stops, motels and roadside attractions.

For Marylanders where billboards are not permitted along public highways, the proliferation of those in rural landscapes such as the middle of Kansas is at times disturbing.
billboards advertising some sort of civilization

Turning off the major artery on the odd chance of discovering a hidden gem is a time consuming endeavor not recommended when the destination is still hundreds of miles away. And yet, so tempting.

So I found Blackwater, MO, a tiny railroad town with a few hundred residents and a fully deserted but nevertheless picturesque main street.

Then there are those smaller real towns large enough to have all the stuff but still manageable in size, towns like Lawrence in Kansas, a town with a wonderfully vibrant main street with many real shops that sell toys, shoes, clothing and other useful items and which in the age of Walmart usually long have bitten the dust.

"Flyover country" turns out pretty varied on the ground even in the vast plains of Kansas where there are grasslands, cornfields, tress, bushes, slight elevations that allow gigantic views. There are small oil pumps, grains silos and once in a while a small agglomeration of man-made structures that too often lack any type of place making or visual order that would be pleasing to the eye. The more those tiny towns kept structures from the distant past, the better they look. Something that should always make current architects and planners wonder. In Burlington Colorado a sign points to old town. It turns out to be a zoo of a few old buildings corralled into some section of a vast paved area
City Hall, Blackwater, MO
surrounded with a fence. There stand old Conestoga wagons and a museum has a collection of artifacts from the past, as recent as objects from WW II and a Nazi flag that soldiers from Burlington had taken when liberating a small French town from the Germans. Thus war opened up the world to the sons of the town. Today that is easier and it appears that the town has lost many younger people to new places because what is left appears to be only a shadow of the past, no matter that there are five stoplights hanging above deserted intersections, still changing between green and red, because stop lights are one of the silly measures of greatness that small towns developed when traffic engineers ruled the world.

It is hard to imagine to live here or in one of those real small dusty towns with a grain silo or a water tower as their landmark and I don't share the nostalgia about that kind of life that some cultivate. Cities were created as exchanges for goods, ideas and to meet people and this function grows with size, at least up to a point. This function remains even in the age of the internet and small handheld computers that allow connections even in the ultimate isolation capsule, the car and certainly in Colby or any other small speck in a wide and majestic landscape. But the virtual connections do not replace the real ones and the tight soicial control in small places has not diminished because of technology.
"Old Town" Burlington, CO

Near Denver I turn onto Colorado 86 to take in the increasingly more varied landscape with its pine groves and a couple of small towns that look like the Wild West in the movies. Plaques on the roadside remind of wagon trails and Indian attacks. A real estate office sells 50 acres for $150,000. Not bad 45 minutes from Denver and a clear view of the Rockies. But this outpost will not remain surrounded by landscapes once the Denverites will arrive here. A dozen or so of miles on, one can see that change with all the accessories of drive throughs and fast food places that make any place look like the other.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

this article needs further editing

Main Street of historic Blackwater, MO

Train station Blackwater

Main Street Lawrence, KS

Main Street Lawrence, KS

Lake near Lawrence

Manhattan, KS is surprisingly large, congested and surrounded by "anytown US"
accessories such as Staples and Walmart

what most people remember driving across Kansas

small towns along Kansas 24 are often little more than cluttered  structures
and mobile homes and a water tower

every hill allows vast views into the far distance and the endless stretch of
the road

Stoplights are the pride of small towns. Colby, KS
Main streets are huge, presumably for wagons to be able to turn around.

Colby's largest structure is not a grain silo but a community college

Stoplights are the pride of small towns. Colby, KS
Main streets are huge, presumably for wagons to be able to turn around.

at the interchange with I-70 all places look alike

Scenic route Colorado 86

Small Colorado town on 86 with a touch of Wild West

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