Friday, April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Contribution

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh, no you didn't!

Did this dude seriously just stick his tongue out at me?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back to the East


Well, time to head back east.  Explored seven-states and traveled almost 4,000 miles (the equivalent of a drive from Washington, DC to Anchorage, Alaska) in the past couple weeks.

States explored this April

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kansas University

for J

 Tree forts, Awesome.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

So far 54 tornadoes have been reported from today's storm, with Mississippi and Alabama getting the brunt of the storm, as was expected.  Wasn't planning on chasing today (if I was, my plan was to stay at the SE-corner of Missouri last night, and then to follow the storms across the south-central U.S. in the morning).


As I figured I was too late to track any of the real activity, I decided to half-explore / half-track the one storm I thought had potential.  I ended up starting in eastern Oklahoma and tracking the storm across Rogers, Arkansas and up through Table Rock Lake to Springfield, Missouri.  While I was surrounded by some very intimidating clouds (below picture was the standard view of the day), I managed today to stay out of the hail and 70+ mph winds this storm recording through careful GPS navigation on my Doppler display.


Near Springfield, MO

While there was a clear wall cloud that I tracked for miles, I never positively saw anything touchdown (despite a lot of semi-funnels that were sticking-out).  According to the National Weather Service though, a F0 did in fact touchdown 5-miles east of me at the exact time I was driving through (18:40) and was recorded with 80 mph winds.  I swear I saw a clear funnel at this point while looking over the lake, but it was only two quick looks I got and I shrugged it off as my mind playing tricks on me.  I guess I'll never know.

 After leaving Springfield, heading east to intercept storm brewing in southeast

Another 11 hour day and 600 mile drive.

Oh, Arkansas

Friday, April 23, 2010

Long day.  Chased storms through Nebraska (primarily around Lincoln, Omaha, and Fremont), and then back across eastern Kansas/western Missouri.  Hit with hail several times, largest being about the size of a nickel or quarter, and my car didn't seem to enjoy it.  Chased in a lot of tornado watches/warnings, but no sightings despite very strong activity at times (so much activity that it was very challenging to shoot.

Best part of the day was around Rock Port, MO where I was almost completely surrounded by thunder-storms, but with a clear view of the stars directly above me:


After meeting up with and following a crew of about 8-storm chasers, I have verified first-hand that (a) these guys are friggn' nuts, (b) they have no idea where they are going judging by the amount of u-turns they pull and (c) they drive like maniacs.  Below is one of the vehicles from the Discovery Channel show "Storm Chasers."  Also followed the storm chasing crew that provides coverage for The Weather Channel.  My respect for that has substantially decreased after I found him at the back of the pack following every other storm chaser's ideas.


At times the sky was gaining some pretty interesting colors.  Below is as-shot with slight increase in saturation, but no addition of color:


10 hours of chasing / 600 miles today.   That makes for 3,000 miles in the past week (the equivalent of driving from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco...and then a couple hundred miles more)

NOTE: Check back later for an update to this post (more pictures/stories).  Sorry, but I'm tired.
Today marks only the second day of storms for me since getting out here, but we were only hit with rain.  While no luck today on any worthwhile storms, hoping for a safe yet more active day tomorrow.

Wilson



Is it really necessary to label your garbage trucks 'inedible?'

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Welcome to Iowa: You must be lost

I finally made it to Iowa today.

I'd rather have been in Nebraska.

 Rejected state motto's

In all honesty, Iowa was actually really nice, but without having gone into the cities, it was very similar to Nebraska's landscape and left me a little bored when it came to finding something I wanted to capture.

First thing you see when entering New Hampshire is a liquor store.  First thing you see when entering Iowa is Stoner Drugs.

Naturally, I decided I had to find and travel the first road I came across that was not intended for cars.  The result was I got stuck on some sort of wildlife preserve on a one-way road; I didn't realize this until I was a mile or two in.  It was either keep driving the road until I came out somewhere, or drive in reverse down the 8' wide road that had steep drop-offs into the streams around it.  As I am still living by my motto of No U-Turns. Ever. I drove through it, parking next to every "No Parking. Do Not Stop Vehicle" sign I found.  I should mention that this is where Iowa stood apart from Kansas, Nebraska, and just about every other state I've been in; while there were shotgun shells everywhere, for once none of the road signs were shot to pieces!  Iowans must be a bit more proper.  Or maybe they just have really bad aim.

I saw plenty of wildlife running around, but I was too concerned with getting out of the place to patiently wait to get good shots.  What I did do was wander into the wetlands barefoot (bad idea but I didn't want to get my shoes wet) to get a variety of different shots of how the area was growing in.


This makes my fifth state in the past two weeks.  Speaking of which, another Kansas fact I forgot to mention the other day (which I unfortunately did not get a picture of):

You know you are in Kansas when...
        ...you are filling your tank next to a man pumping gas wearing only a bathrobe, who is standing next to his wife (wearing only her pajamas) who is smoking a cigarette.

 Eh, what the heck, I'll throw in one more...

You know you are in Kansas when...
        ...you are driving behind a twenty-year old GMC truck that is going 35mph in a 55, when it suddenly accelerates to approximately 70mph while swerving towards a flock of turkeys crossing the road, only to slow back to 35 after failing to hit any of them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You know you are in Kansas City when...
          ...vanity plates are unprecedentedly blunt and disturbing:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Route 66

Starting driving down Route 66, only to find out that it is actually closed.  Well, here you go--the end of a national landmark:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

St. Louis, Missouri

Made it to St. Louis, Missouri early this morning to walk the city and see the Gateway Arch.  I refused to pay for parking and opted instead to park along the water front (literally a couple feet from the water), next to a "No Parking" sign, located inside of a small gated-lot labeled "Employees Only."  That's two good reasons to tow my car, and one good reason to get a new rental when the river rises.

 
By late morning the park was full of tourists, and school buses packed with sugar-filled children continually pulled-up to shuffle the little devils onto the scene.  It took me ten minutes to take the below shot because people couldn't stop touching the sides of the arch, and every person that moved once they saw me was quickly replaced by a couple more.

The tourists stuck to the typical spots for their picture-taking, while I wandered through brush, between buildings, and up trees to try to get different angles of the monument.  These spots ended up giving the best shots of the structure, even though not a single tourist was within 300 feet of me. Eventually I was spotted, and for about 15-minutes another photographer casually followed me around.


After a while, I ventured over to Illinois to take pictures across the Mississippi River.  I ran into Malcom W. Martin while there, though was amply disappointed in the sculptor's choice of footwear for him.  Personally, I thought he looked better in Birkenstocks:


After reading underneath the arch, walking more than four miles around the city, and enjoying a delicious steak lunch with a cold beer, I left St. Louis to resume my journey along the back-roads of the mid-west to become more familiar with the real culture.  It was there that I became familiar with what is sure to become the fastest growing religion in the world: Cowboy Church.

Sitting alongside of the road in farm country was a normal looking barn, with the odd addition of a "Welcome Cowboys!" banner hanging above a Cowboy Church sign.

Yes, this is real.

The apparent aim is to add a western twist to the Catholic faith; cowboy hats are required for admission, baptisms are done in a cattle tank, and they even have their own Ten Commandments:

1.) Just one God.
2.) Honor yer Ma & Pa.
3.) No tellin' tales.
4.) Git yourself to Sunday meeting.
5.) Put nothin' before God.
6.) No foolin' around with another fella's gal.
7.) No killin'.
8.) Watch yer mouth.
9.) Don't take what ain't yers.
10.) Don't be hankerin' for yer buddy's stuff.

From what I was able to find, the sermons are extremely short because of the fact that they try to make use of the rodeo ring set up within the barn.

I wish I could have attended.


On the way back home I also came across one crazy invention at one of the rest stops: all-in-one sinks. Basically, you stick your hands into this hole and soap shoots-out automatically into your hands, and then the water faucet turns on right afterward.  After about ten seconds, the blow-drier turns on to finish you off.   This is all in the same spot.

I don't know if I loved or hated these things, but they certainly were intriguing.  I took each sink for a test drive and possibly broke one while trying to figure out how it worked.

Long weekend; I'm finally going to try to get some sleep tonight after traveling 1600 miles in 48 hours.

Closing stats (from my quest to be true to the mid-west way of life):
2 - Steak meals consumed per day
1 - Milkshake consumed per day
8 - Times the radio plays "I'mma Be" per 9 hours
7 - Miles per hour under the speed limit to drive if you want to go the speed of traffic
30/30/30/10 Radio Rule - % that is religious talk radio / % rock 'n' roll music / % country music / % Black Eyed Peas

Saturday, April 17, 2010

1,000-Mile Journey

24 hours.

1,000 miles.

Run-ins with the police, wild animals, wild fires, and a heck of a lot of wrong-turns on roads you don't want to get lost on.  

But I'll get to all that.

Drove to western Kansas late last-night and crashed around midnight at a dive motel above a sports bar.  This most certainly was a bad idea; music was blasting until 2am, and that was followed by occasional screaming and door slamming.  The whole place was a classy establishment, with almost every light bulb smashed out, smokey halls, and a front desk attendant with three fro picks in his hair.  I think I'll sleep in the car next time.

I left Hays, Kansas at 5am for a two-and-a-half hour trek to the outskirts of Grinnell, in hopes of finding their salt formations in time for sunrise.  While the first 45-minutes were fine, the next two hours were a challenge; road closures blocked my route south, back-roads listed on my maps did not actually exist or were otherwise impassable, and the roads I did find were definitely meant for 4WD trucks only.

Roads I did not want to break-down on

For much of these dirt roads, small birds flew alongside my car, and occasionally deer and other wild animals ran along side as well.  After an hour on these back roads, I finally made enough lucky turns to find the formations just in time for sunrise:


I was miles from civilization and was able to sit and enjoy my surroundings in peace.  Birds constantly flew up to me with a curious eye, and all around me were deer playing in the fields.  It was absolutely stunning.  After an hour, I decided to start heading towards my next stop.


I was near the border of Colorado, but decided head back east instead.  It was about that time when I thought to myself, this is the kind of trip where I will get pulled over for the first time.  The car didn't have cruise control, it was 100% flat and wide-open and therefore impossible to judge speed, and of course I was already 500 miles down in 12 hours.  Well, about five minutes later I got pulled-over for 75mph in a 70--I don't know what it is with the mid-west but five-over in the Northeast is considered dangerously slow, not speeding.  Anyways, I started talking with the State Trooper about sights to photograph along my way back.  Then we talked about my job.  Then my childhood.  Then my southern accent before he finally sent me on my way with just a warning.
It took me a few minutes to realize the real reason he pulled me over.

Where I was, the only vehicles on the road were tractor trailers and the extremely muddy trucks of the locals.  Suddenly the officer sees a sparkly-white foreign car stroll by with out-of-state plates, windows completely down and the driver (hooded and wearing sun-glasses) in an all-out headbanging fit to some crappy Top 20 radio station.  It was probably at this exact moment that he thought, "well, that ain't right."

Before putting on his lights, he pulled up along-side my car and probably noticed that I was driving in the exact opposite direction of Texas (where my plates indicated I was from) and despite being far from home incredibly early in the morning, my car was 100% empty.  The first questions I was asked after he stopped me were: Where are you going this early in the morning?  If you aren't Texan, who's car is this?  You are 600 miles from your hotel at 8am and all you have is a camera and the clothes on your back?  I'm pretty sure he thought I was a drug runner.  Anyways, after that initial confusion, we had a great chat and I get the feeling he was happy to see someone from the east coast actually being interested in touring around in the middle of nowhere (you know you are in Kansas when you pass a billboard that reads "Applebee's is open late!  Exit to the right in 82 miles!")

On the way back across I-70, I stopped again in Hays to go see the fort where Dancing With Wolves was shot.  I didn't see Kevin Costner, which was a bit of a disappointment.  I did however get to pet some buffalo I found (in actuality, they are American Bison) which was a first for me  Unfortunately, I didn't get any great pictures of Buffy The Hay Slayer (shown below) because I try to make a habit of not dying before 11am in the morning.

 I've seen roadkill move faster than this guy

Impulsively, I decided to head to Wichita, Kansas.  As I continued this long-trek, I occasionally stopped to travel back roads, visit the local shops (favorite gas-station t-shirt: "Kansas Farmers: What we plant in shit, you eat!"), or tour the miles and miles of wind turbine farms (which required a lot of trespassing and wasn't worth it at all).

As is the way of life out here--every. single. sign. has bullet holes in it

What was worth it was my stop in a rural sandwich shop, where I was delighted to find that they decided to place the only mirror in the bathroom along the side of the urinal.  This meant that (a) using the urinal felt extremely voyeuristic and (b) in order to check one's physical appearance, one would have to bend down over the urinal in order to see anything

I took pictures of it until my sandwich was ready.

 

Wichita was a great city to walk through, though it was also quite the experience; one block would be extremely poor, the next would be ritzy parks, the next would be abandoned buildings, and then once again followed by some gorgeous buildings.  They also placed statues of horses, children, and just general objects all along the sidewalks downtown.  It felt slightly curious to be standing at a crosswalk next to a bronze statue of a man reading the newspaper.  He was shorter than me though, so that was a plus.

For the drive back to Missouri I went through Strong City in order to traverse the tall grass prairies and to chase the wildfires.  Along side the road at one point I found a horse roaming the fields, and he was beyond thrilled to get my attention.

I found a horse along one of the back roads and stopped to pet him (which appeared to make his day) before continuing until I found the best place to inhale as much wildfire smoke as possible.

I got about two pictures off before and ran up to me and demanded a massage

 When I finally managed to pull myself away from him, I continued on through the prairies, which were half black and burned and half green and thriving:

I drove through miles and and miles of these small wild fires 

All-in-all, one heck of a great day traveling through the plains.  I may not have made it to Oklahoma or Colorado--despite being very close--but 1,000 miles in 24 hours is a respectable amount of traveling.

Closing thoughts: after one full-day of the radio, I heard "I'mma Be" by the Black Eyed Peas eight (8) times, followed up by "Soul Sister" seven (7) times, and trailed by probably five other songs tied at six (6) plays.  The fact that I therefore spent over an hour of my day today only listening to "I'mma Be" and "Soul Sister" is incredibly disturbing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chased my first storm since coming out to the mid-west. Unfortunately, the most I experienced was some strong winds, rain, and a little bit of lightning.  Followed the storm across NE Kansas through St. Joseph, Missouri before giving up.  Below shot was from my one-hour trip on back-roads, weaving between farmland, occasionally passing a tractor or two:


When I got passed by a retro-fitted Jeep with a WWII-style machine gun rack sticking up from the passenger side and a 10-year old boy sitting behind the wheel with his mom in the passenger seat, I finally decided it was time to stick to the main roads.  I can't apologize enough for not getting a picture of them, but frankly, I was pretty horrified at the time and didn't want to be too obvious about my efforts to photograph them.  Sadly, the best I managed was a picture of their garage, which openly displayed to me the reason why (a) I got lost so many times and (b) why I almost got into so many accidents:

The entire garage was lined with these signs

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Downtown Kansas City

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Missouri farmlands looking over Nebraska

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I followed a bunch of back-roads in Nebraska today until I got stuck on a single-lane dirt road (not shown here) and had to drive in reverse for a mile to get back to the other dirt-road (which I also had no idea how to get back home from).  Every intersection on that road had clear visibility of 100% nothing for miles, and any road signs I passed were riddled with bullet holes.  It was still remarkably beautiful and I didn't see another person for over an hour while traveling on these roads:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

No.

I mean seriously.

Stay off this guy's property.

When the only path to safely squeeze between all the "No trespassing!" signs requires walking directly through the firing path of a freakin' cannon, I think it's time to consider trespassing elsewhere.