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.  




Two classes of beings frequenting our neighborhood in atypical numbers these days: Mormon missionaries and spiders. The Mormons are less interesting to look at, but they do leave postcards offering to explain the meaning of life. The spiders don’t have much to say on existential and spiritual matters — unless you buy into “Charlotte’s Web,” which I doubt is a true story — but they’re endlessly fascinating to watch if you’re not likely prey. We’ve got at least three big ones that have spun webs outside the house; this one’s next to the front porch (click for full-size image).

[Further research — for instance here and here and here and here — suggests our arachnid visitors are variously called pumpkin spiders, garden spiders and cross orb weavers, aka Araneus diadematus. They’re orb weavers, their venom is of low toxicity to humans, and they’re found throughout Western Europe and North America.]