Day 4 We had driven until we were west of Kansas City and stayed at another hotel after St. Louis. We hadn’t planned on staying at hotels but we were pressed for time after leaving late and reaching our next stop after dark. Campsites seemed too much of a challenge after driving so much, unfortunately, and our camping gear stayed in the trunk. We headed west for Topeka, KS where we had heard about their State House cupola being accessible to visitors. It sounded like an interesting thing to do, and so we went. It was even better than we hoped!
We entered the building on a lower level and went through security. The staff seemed happy to have us; it looked like a slow day even for Topeka. Everyone seemed genuinely proud and welcoming as they told us that the building recently completed a 13-year renovation. Sadly, a cupola tour group had just left and there was only one tour per hour. But, thinking quickly and using his formidable charm, Mr. Fantastic spoke with the staff person, explained our plight (we couldn’t wait an hour with so much driving to do) and asked if we could join the tour already underway. The lady, stirred into action to help the traveling Easterners, immediately got on her walkie-talkie and arranged matters with the tour guide. We were taken around back to an elevator and joined the tour.
Wow! The building was glorious! See that domed ceiling with the chandelier? That’s just for aesthetics- we were to climb above it later in the tour. There were copper and marble stairs, gorgeous woodwork, detailed wall friezes, polished floors-it was stunning.
So, if the St. Louis Arch didn’t bring on vertigo and fear of heights/ acrophobia, this place just might. According to our guide, who was maybe too nonchalant about the whole thing, we went up 296 steps to reach the top. I myself have always had a healthy respect for precarious heights, but this walk made me actually nervous. The tour was just two people other than ourselves- a burly man and a woman with an EMS shirt on. The man declined to ascend the final 80 stairs or so, and the woman seemed unafraid but decided to stay with him and didn’t go much higher than he did. I continued gingerly up the steps, checking often for sturdiness of the cast iron staircase and gripping the rail more than necessary. Eventually I couldn’t look around me, but could only focus on the stairs. The final ascent was a spiral staircase, I know this because I took the picture below, however I didn’t look around much at the time. I kept focused on the step in front of me in case I fell or dropped something or, as I kept thinking illogically, jumped. Why did I keep thinking that?!
None of those things happened. The rest of my family climbed the staircase and stepped outside. I was lagging behind but eventually I joined them. It was windy up there, but the sturdy rail remained my friend and I walked around the cupola. The views were great. After a while, we went back inside and went down the steps, again, for me at least, looking only at the steps!
Day 5 Before this day was over, we would drive for 12 hours in four states- Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. I had never been in three of those states, and, looking around, it appeared that not many people in fact were there at all! We learned from our road atlas that Wyoming ranks last in population among the 50 states, boasting only 500,000 residents. I was content just watching the landscape. The kids were on their screens a lot but occasionally looked around, impressed with the views.
We stopped in Green River, Wyoming and had lunch. The Sweetwater County Historical Museum was across the street from the restaurant. They had fossils, turn-of-the-century items, an historic ventriloquist dummy, and an exhibit on outlaws. There was a short documentary film we watched about the cruel treatment of Chinese immigrant railroad workers- the day we were there happened the 130th anniversary of a massacre there. I didn’t take any pictures but here are Cleverly’s:
Footnotes: FSM: we had a bumper sticker on the driveaway with the following logo and we had no idea what it meant:
When we passed another car with the same sticker in California, we realized they could be kindred spirits or maybe enemies depending on the significance of the three letters and the little guy. We finally looked it up online and we were psyched!! It is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a statement against the teaching of creationism in schools. I absolutely loved this, since I adore Biology and the elegance of evolution and used to teach it in public schools myself. High five, driveaway car owner!!! And for you, too, random California driver!!!
budget: we stayed in hotels for the 4 nights it took us to get from Chicago to San Francisco. It turned out the hotels allowed us all to stay in one room, and they all included breakfast so it didn’t kill our budget as I’d feared. Since we wanted to spend time in San Francisco rather than in the West, we were able to drive further each day rather than seek camping. It wasn’t what I had planned but it worked out ok. We stayed outside of major cities where we hoped hotels were cheaper, they were around $60-100/ night. Meals seemed to be about $50 for the 6 of us, so not including gas we were at around $200 per day for those high-mileage days, not too bad.