Road Blog: Chicago to Kansas City (Kansas)


My brother Chris, his son Liam (he’s 12), and I started out from Chicago to drive to California. I’m actually doing an errand–picking up my dad’s car and bringing it out to Berkeley–and since it’s spring break for them, they’re along for the ride.

To break up the Interstate highway slog, I like to get off on side roads occasionally. I suggested the possibility of driving out U.S. 20 through northern Iowa and northern Nebraska to northeastern Wyoming, and then making our way down to Interstate 80 near Rawlins. What I liked about the route: it would take us within about 30 miles of Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Sioux; it would also take us right past Fort Robinson, Nebraska, the site of a tragic episode in the 1876 saga of the Northern Cheyenne attempt to return to Montana from a reservation Oklahoma.

But the weather along that route: not good. It was supposed to be fine through Wednesday, at which point we’d be starting across Wyoming. But rain and snow, and then heavy snow, are forecast for much of the corridor we’d be taking. The weather along Interstate 40 and other central and southerly routes seemed much less problematic. So we headed southwest from Chicago this morning in the rain.

We stopped early in the afternoon at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. I happened across this spot with my son Eamon about five years ago when we spotted a highway sign pointing us to the “Mother Jones Memorial.” That had to be investigated, and it turns out Mary “Mother” Jones (1830-1930) is buried there along with many members of the United Mine Workers and other coal-mining unions.

Maybe someday I’ll make a day of it down there. Today, we stopped for 15 or 20 minutes, not really long enough to take in much more than the main attraction. The marker above, with the Leaning Jesuses, is along the lane to the Jones monument (which is just visible in the left distance).

After this, we took state routes and country roads to Grafton, where we took a ferry across the deceptively calm-looking Illinois River (the image below; the river is running high, and much of the lowlands east of the river are under water), then to the Golden Eagle Ferry, which crosses the Mississippi on a bend south of, but upriver from, the mouth of the Illinois.

On the Missouri side the boat unloads you onto a floodplain road that’s less than a 10-minute drive to a freeway that leads into I-70. We skipped a detour to a temporary Missouri River ferry (in Glasgow, where a new bridge is being built), stopped in Independence to see Harry Truman’s place, looked at some of the important Mormon-related sites in town, then crossed the river after dark into Kansas.

Tomorrow we might cross paths with John Brown.  


5 Replies to “Road Blog: Chicago to Kansas City (Kansas)”

  1. Dad, I assume that you went by the temple in Independence. An interesting tidbit that you may not know is that it was designed by a Japanese-American architect from San Francisco that also did the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. amongst others.

  2. Yes, we did go by the temple. It was by far the most interesting thing we saw in our few minutes of touring the town (a few minutes — ridiculous, I know). What made it more interesting was having a little bit of the background on the Joseph Smith and Mormon connection. In other news, we stopped by the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County, Kansas, where you and I also stopped in 2004. Had lunch in Cottonwood Falls and had a key made at the local general-type store; the proprietor turned that job into a half-hour process. We did not hurry him along.

  3. “An interesting tidbit that you may not know…”
    I don’t know your son, and I only sorta know you, but I can tell he’s a chip off the old block.

  4. Somewhere, I have pictures of Jane and me at the Mother Jones gravesite, discovered by us in exactly the same manner.

  5. My only regret re: that place is the fact my Uncle Bill, the Red priest, died before I could take him on a field trip down there. He would have been in some sort of heaven seeing that place.
    Another “find” there: a gravestone across the road for a married couple with the Cards logo inscribed next to the husband’s name (he died a few years ago at age 90) and a Cub s logo next to the wife’s name (she’s about 86 and still resisting interment).

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