We’ve been making tracks. From the cornfields of Iowa and the Fort Scott experience, we headed just across the Missouri border to the little town of Diamond, Missouri and the George Washington Carver National Monument.
Known as the ‘Peanut Man’, this humble black man born into slavery during the Civil War years, rose to become a premiere American botanist and inventor. In 1943, President Roosevelt established this national monument, making Carver the first black American to whom a national monument was ever dedicated.
A little history … Moses and Susan Carver, Missouri settlers, bought George’s mother, Mary, in 1855 for $700. His father was a slave on a neighboring farm and was killed in a wood hauling accident. During the Civil War, George, his mother and a sister were ‘ku-klucked’, in his words, i.e. kidnapped, and sold in Arkansas. Moses Carver sought to find them and bring them back, but only George was found. After the kidnapping, George and his brother, Jim, were brought to live in the Carver home and raised by the Carvers.
We walked the one mile Carver Trail loop around the grounds through lush, verdant forest. A statue of young George, the plant doctor, dominated the entrance to the path. Deer were browsing contentedly and we startled a fat muskrat who hightailed it back to the refuge of the Williams Pond.
Interestingly, as we walked through the prairie to return to the Visitor’s Center, I came across a fairly exotic flower which I could not identify. I asked a ranger for the park’s wildflower list. They didn’t have one … in a park dedicated to a world-renowned botanist. Hmmm … the ranger did refer to a Missouri wildflower book and identified the bloom as a white passion flower.
I remember learning about Carver in school, but the enormity of his contribution to agricultural progress was evidently lost on my youth. He was the ultimate ‘green thumb’, a world-renowned pioneer in soil conservation, crop rotation and fertilization. His 300 uses for the peanut which he presented to Congress earned him the title of ‘peanut man’ and allowed Southern farmers to employ new methods of cultivation and begin growing new crops like peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes.
Then we were speeding along flat Oklahoma highways. The corn was not quite as high as an elephant’s eye, but I sang O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A anyway … much to David’s distress. We sped through miles and miles of grassy flat plains dotted with tired little towns. We stopped in Enid to have an early dinner with David’s older sister with plans to tackle a few more miles before nightfall. As we left the restaurant, huge storm clouds were building and by the time we finished a small reprovision at the local WalMart, the sky tore open with wind and heavy rain. We waited an hour then made a run for it to Blue and ended up spending our first boondocking night in a WalMart parking lot. It wasn’t bad actually and Blue looked significantly better after his evening shower.
The following morning was bright and clear and we continued on. The endless flat fields were interrupted by windmills and oil pumps. We passed through the tribal nation lands of the Wyandotte and Osage people. They really got a raw deal on viable lands.
In the western part of the state, the flat prairie land seemed to rise up in bright red buttes and mesas. We stopped at Gloss Mountain State Park for breakfast and hiked a well-maintained trail to the top of the butte for spectacular views of the craggy terrain below.
A BP refinery took up a vast amount of land. The price of diesel, by the way, was the lowest we’ve paid in all of our travels ($2.79/gallon) … we filled up. This was a particularly long day for us … 400+ miles. We crossed into the Oklahoma panhandle then into Kansas and finally into ‘colorful’ Colorado.
We stopped briefly at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, but it was close to closing time and we wanted to explore more. We spent the night in LaJunta and returned to the fort the following morning. As we neared the fort, we noticed zebra and gazelles in a ranch corral. Wait a minute! Zebras and gazelle in Colorado? Yup!
I’d visited Bent’s Old Fort on a mother-son trip with Brennan about 25+ years ago and I’d forgotten what an outstanding job the National Park Service had done in reconstructing this historic adobe trading fort based on original architectural drawings, historical accounts and archaeological evidence. It’s an impressive place.
Situated on the Arkansas River, the fort was a center of fur trade on the Santa Fe Trail. Opened in 1833 by the brothers Charles and William Bent and their partner, Ceran St. Vrain, ‘the fort became one of the pillars of the Western fur industry in the 1830s and 1840s. The fort played a major role in the US expansion into the Southwest leading to the establishment of the present-day US boundaries.’
We walked; we explored each room; we poked our heads into each nook and cranny. Oxen and horses roamed freely in the surrounding lands and sometimes they explored the fort as well. We spotted a peacock and wondered whatever it was doing here. We were reassured by a costumed docent that peacock were indeed here, according to historical journals. Evidently, peacocks are skitterish critters and react noisily if strangers approach … an early warning system for the fort residents.
We walked the two mile trail along the river lined with willows and cottonwoods and through the tall prairie grasses where sunflowers and milkweed attracted dozens of butterflies and dragonflies. The heat was oppressive.
After passing fields of melons on the vine, we made a quick stop at a local produce stand in Rocky Ford, the sweet melon capital of the world, and purchased a sweet, ripe cantaloupe for tomorrow’s breakfast. We spent the night in Pueblo. My last visit to Pueblo was for emergency surgery on a broken ankle after a hiking accident in 1995. They did a good job evidently because the screws are still in place and my ankle is holding up well.
Tomorrow? Well, we haven’t quite figured that out yet. Join us next time to figure out where we’re going.